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The Mitsubishi Model A: The first automobile built in Japan

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is one of the better known Japanese car makers in the market today. The company is based in Minato, Tokyo, Japan and is the sixteenth biggest automobile manufacturer in the world. Mitsubishi Motors is formerly the automotive division of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

In 1884, after the Meiji Restoration, Yataro Iwasaki started the company that would become Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. He started the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – Yokohama Machinery Works which as in the business of ship repairs. The three diamond emblem of the company was reminiscent of the family emblem of the Tosa Clan which first employed Yataro Iwasaki.

Mitsubishi-Model-A (1)

Mitsubishi translates to “three water chestnut” which often denoted diamonds in Japanese. Later on, the company was renamed the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. It was during this phase that they started to venture into different industries and was also involved in the automotive manufacturing.

In 1917, the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co introduced the first Japanese production car which was named the Mitsubishi Model A.

The Model A was a four-door sedan that could comfortably sit seven passengers and was heavily based on the Fiat Tipo 3. The Model A had a 2.8 litre straight four engine that had an output of 35bhp. It had rear wheel drive and could reach speeds of 60mph. The car was hand built and was intended to be sold as a luxury vehicle for the Japanese elite. The Model A was championed by Kiyota Iwasaki who was the fourth president of the company and nephew of the founder.  

Mitsubishi-Model-A (4)

The Model A was a very well engineered car and showcased Japanese craftsmanship at its finest.

Sadly, it was also very expensive and could not compete with cheaper American and European made cars of the era. Only 22 were built and the production was halted after only four years.

The Model A would be the only production passenger car it would build for forty years. Mitsubishi would focus on heavy industries such as building ships and aircraft. The very well known Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane would dominate the skies of World War II. Mitsubishi also focused on building trucks and buses under the Fuso brand.


In 1960, the company introduced the Mitsubishi 500 which would be the first passenger car of the company since the Model A. With the success of the automobiles built by Mitsubishi, the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation was created to focus on car manufacturing. It was led by Tomio Kubo who was an aircraft engineer.

Currently, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is majority-owned by Nissan and is part of the Nissan-Renault alliance. The Mitsubishi group still has a stake in the company. Mitsubishi has been successful in its entry into motorsports namely in Rally racing. The most popular and successful rally car is the Lancer Evolution series winning both driver and manufacturer championships in the World Rally Championships. Mitsubishi also has the most wins in the Dakar rally with the Mitsubishi Pajero.

Photos from Mitsubishi Motors.

Jonno Rodd

Jonno is the hype-man for some of Australia's most rad brands. His passion for adventure, new tech, and off-roading, means there is no really automotive topic beyond Jonno's interest.

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