King Of The Desert
As far as iconic international motorsport events go, and particularly in the rally world, there is non more revered than the Paris-Dakar Rally.
Known as a ‘Rally Raid’ and first run in 1979 the Paris-Dakar is a gruelling 10,000 km run taking 15 to 20 days through some of the roughest terrain imaginable, pushing man and machine to the limit. Starting in Paris the route went south to Sete, where a 3-day ferry transfer took the 182 vehicles to Algiers in Africa. From there the route again travelled south across Niger, finally turning due west for the long run to Dakar, the most western point of Africa. The terrain is varied and extreme, the route taking competitors through dirt roads scattered with rocks and boulders, mud, sand dunes and ravines. Whilst the first 20 years of events were mostly starting from Paris, the new century saw events start in varying countries and the rally being renamed to ‘Dakar’ only.
Enter Mitsubishi with their road-going Series 1 Pajero released in 1982, a car they promoted as ‘The Ultimate Adventure Vehicle’. To prove their claim, they boldly entered an almost stock Pajero into their first Paris-Dakar rally in 1983 finishing 11th outright against 385 entrants. Bolstered by their success they again entered the same event in 1985 this time completely dominating and winning outright with driver Patrick Zaniroli and Co-driver Jean Da Silva.
In 1991 the Series 2 Pajero was released and Mitsubishi, keen on continuing the marketing benefit of successful rallying, continued to enter albeit more modified versions of the Pajero with continuing success and outright back to back wins in 1992 and 1993. By 1997 new Dakar rules required manufacturers wanting to enter the popular T2 Production Class, to meet homologation rules by producing a minimum of 2500 road-going versions. In response, Mitsubishi created and built, a non-coincidental number of, 2500 road legal versions badged the Mitsubishi Pajero ‘Evolution’.
The Evolution model was easily identifiable with wild wings, spoilers, huge fender flares and a twin nostril style hood scoop. Upgraded hardware included a 3.5 litre 24v DOHC engine, now with a Mivec variable timing system, and dual plenum variable intake producing 275 BHP at 6500 rpm. Available only in a 2 door body, a double wishbone independent suspension was used on the front and the rear used a multi-link independent suspension unique to the Evolution. With 4wd as standard, the Evolution also received front and rear limited-slip Torsen differentials in addition to the standard centre differential, and to help it survive high-speed jumps, Mitsubishi reinforced the frame and installed skid plates.
In 2001 German driver Jutta Kleinschmidt won the 2001 Dakar rally in an updated ‘Evolution’ being the only woman to win in the history of the event. All up the ‘Evolution’ Pajero’s won 12 Dakar races between 1985 and 2007 holding the world record, to this day, of the most wins over the events 21 year history. A mighty impressive result.