I've driven the Ford Raptor and I'm not a fan. I've jumped the Ford Raptor and I'm not a fan. This is partly due to not liking the vehicle, and partly due to the type of attention the truck attracts: Monster-drinking bros, MMA fans, and guys who own lifted trucks. (Sometimes all three things are the same person.)
Sure, it's used in U.S. off-road competition and, sure, it's an immensely capable vehicle. I respect it, and I respect what it can do.
I just don't like it.
There's another off-road homologation special, however, that I do really like.
Mitsubishi is known for the Lancer Evolution, a range of production cars homologated for World Rally Competition…I really don't need to talk about the Evo. You know about the Evo.
They're less known here in North America for dominating the (Paris-)Dakar rally, a gruelling, ever-changing competition that back in 1997 ran from Dakar, Senegal to Agadez, Niger, and back to Dakar.
Only the toughest vehicles can make it to the finish, and back then there was still a chance for production-based trucks to compete for overall victory.
The Pajero Evolution was a beefed-up short-wheelbase Pajero, fitted with a tuned 3.5-litre MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system) V6 engine. With dual overhead camshafts, variable valve timing, and dual-stage intake, it made more than 280 horsepower at 6,500 rpm.
A five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission were available. Figure around seven seconds to 100 km/h (62 mph), and a limited top speed of 180 km/h (112 mph).
Underneath, the suspension was totally re-engineered: a wider track, double wishbone independent coil suspension, and lots of suspension travel. It's got an incredible 240mm (9.4 in.) of wheel travel in the front and 270mm (10.6 in.) in the rear.
The Evolution is normally rear-wheel drive, but rocks a Super Select 4WD system with three settings: high range, high range with diff lock, and low range with diff lock. The idea was to give drivers total control in all conditions—free of complicated computers, or "off road" traction control, of course.
Inside, here's two words for you: Recaro seats. Er…that's about it. No messing around with Bluetooth and navigation and all the conveniences of modern machines.
And how'd it all shake out on the Dakar? They won overall a year later, in 1998. Production on the Pajero Evolution ended in 1999, and it remains a highly sought after machine. Expect to see a few in North America once import restrictions are lifted—it'll be fully U.S. legal in 2022. It's legal now in Canada, and I've heard a few have already been brought here…
Of course, the Pajero Evolution isn't the strangest or most successful Dakar machine—hell, the Evolution isn't even the strangest Pajero.
But that's a story for another day.