After a 2-year hiatus, I found myself back in Norwalk, Ohio, drinking craft brews in an overpriced hotel parking lot with my extended family. If you want to split hairs, the only real DSM I’ve ever owned was a fire-gutted 90 GS-T I bought for its engine and left for a shitty landlord to deal with when I moved out. Otherwise, I cut my teeth on 2GNT (2nd generation, non-turbocharged) cars, ground them into dust with not-a-DSM GVR4s, and now, well, there isn’t much debate about 4G54-powered Pajeros being mistaken for DSM. That said, I’ve always considered myself a DSMer. Once a DSMer. Always a DSMer.
The Buschur Racing Shootout is a family reunion. A solid majority of the people I hung out with that expensive weekend in Ohio were in Vegas for my wedding in 2007. I’ve been bullshitting with them online since 2001, and getting together with them in Norwalk since 2004. I was happy to spend European vacation money on a long weekend with the people who have played such an instrumental role in who I am as a gearhead.
In years past, I’d fly into Chicago or Indy and hitch a ride with a brother. This year, however, the bulk of my trip this year was paid for with Employee of the Year points won through a program at work (still rocking the day job) and I had post-Shootout plans. I would need my own wheels after the Shootout, so I flew into Cleveland, picked up a rental car, and did the driving for my brother Thura, who was flying in last minute from Austin.
Monday morning after the Shootout, the hotel parking lot was empty. A small handful of us milled about out back, trying to put off the inevitable. Hugs were exchanged, alongside a couple more inappropriate, inside jokes, and we parted ways. After a quick lunch at Olive Garden in the suburbs, I dropped my buddy Thura off at the airport in Cleveland, then drove 3 hours back west, through Detroit, over the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, and spent a couple days visiting another long time online friend – Michael Banovksy.
EASTWARD, HO! (TORONTO!)
My time with Mr. Banovsky and Kay was great, but we’re all here for the Delica story, so we’ll save that for another time. Knowing it would be at least a year before I was back in Canada, I decided to make the stretch goal of visiting Right Drive to test drive a dream – a 1989 Mitsubishi Delica Super Exceed. It took me a little over 3 hours to get to Toronto from Banovksy’s in Chatham, what with the slower, Canadian speed limit and a stop for my first Tim Horton’s Double Double and Timbits. (Burger King better get this right.)
Drivers seemed to pick up the pace the closer we got to Toronto, but were still relatively mild mannered compared to what I’m used to back home. In fact, I think I was only aggressively passed by 3 assholes – all of whom had American license plates. (Go figure.) With my Google Nexus 5 guiding me along the path of zero tolls, I jumped from crowded highway to packed parkway, until I finally ended up in the center of the road construction universe – Kent.
RIGHT DRIVE HQ
Traffic was already starting to build as I fought my way through the construction zones leading to Kent, the suburb where Right Drive is headquartered. Their main office is a smaller little building on a corner, shared with a Chinese restaurant. I told the receptionist I was there to see Michael and – for the umpteenth time – I was shaking hands with a fellow gearhead in another country. (You really gotta try it sometime.)
Michael had a film company calling about a mixup with a JDM car they needed for a scene. They were expecting “the blue one,” but got “the burgundy one” instead, and they needed the blue car immediately. Problem was, the blue car was fresh off the boat, kept popping main fuses, and Michael’s team was still trying to get it out the door. While he made a couple phone calls, I checked out the R-spec Silvia, Renault Sport Spider F1 (one of only 1800 in the world), and BMW Z1 on the tiny showroom floor.
Outside, there were JDM dreams aplenty. A bright red Honda Beat. A beige Nissan Pao. A Subaru GC WRX STI 555, complete with 555 livery package. A gleaming white Mitsubishi Evo IV RS. And so much more. Like a customer’s Mazda Eunos Cosmo 3-rotor coupe. You know how the cars in Grand Theft Auto look like real cars, but not really? Well this thing looked like a GTA car in the flesh. Stunning.
SOCAL BOUND SUPER EXCEED
Tucked away in the back corner was Lee Watson’s 89 Delica Super Exceed. Like a giant loaf of gunmetal bread, it called to me. Moreso than the other Delica they had parked up at the front of the lot, or the little Toyota Hiace, or the Gen 2 Pajero 2.8TD, or even the Mitsubishi Jeep parked next to it.
This was more than just another Delica. It was Lee’s; a guy I’m interviewing because Michael told me he’d try getting me in touch with another American who had bought a Delica back when I did my initial, “JDM Dream,” interview four months prior. It was a van I might just cross paths with at the High Desert Trails rally next spring because Lee lives about an hour away from the event, in Lancaster, California. And it was – aside from the automatic gearbox – EXACTLY THE WAY I’LL BE SPEC’ING MY DELICA.
DELICA DRIVING EXPERIENCE
Having sat a few weeks without use, Lee’s Deli needed a jump. We couldn’t get to the battery in the trunk of the BMW 750 parked in front of it, so Michael pulled the Gen 2 Pajero 2.8 over and connected the cables. The little – scratch that, these things are massive in the flesh – Delica fired right up with a cloud of cold, black diesel smoke. I parked the Pajero back up front, and Michael followed suit in the Delica.
After a quick walk around to check out all the novel features – power sliding curtains and Crystal Lite Roof shades, rear AC and heating controls, and all the optional, camping extras the last Japanese owner had installed – Michael told me to climb up into the driver’s seat and buckle up.
I activated the windshield wipers at the first right turn. Seems most of us LHD types tend to do that. (Turn signal and wiper controls are swapped on JDM vehicles. FYI.) And this being my first forward control vehicle, driving felt just a little bit strange compared to the last RHD vehicle I drove on our World Tour in 2012 – a VW Golf TDI. Still, things were pretty straight forward, and I had no trouble carrying on a conversation with Michael as I drove a strange new vehicle through a strange new city in a foreign country.
Despite having less than 100hp – and a slushbox automatic – the 2.5L turbo diesel Delica had plenty of grunt to hold its own in traffic. Compared to my 2.6L gas/petrol Pajero back home – which makes a hair over 100hp, has a 5-speed manual gearbox, and easily weighs 1,000lbs (450kg) less – it really didn’t feel any slower. There were a couple times I needed to “get on it” a bit to merge into this lane or that, but I never felt like ZOMGZ, I MUST FLOOR ALL THE THINGS. Around town – and off the beaten path – I’m sure these things do just fine.
THE RIGHT DRIVE EXPERIENCE
As we drove Lee’s Delica around, I brought up some of the big questions I had about importing a 25 year old, never sold in my country, Mitsubishi. Particularly, the powertrain warranty Right Drive offers. Now, the week before I left for Ohio, I spun a main bearing in my current 25 year old Mitsubishi (Pajero) on the way home from work. I still have a mostly sold 23 year old Mitsubishi (Galant VR4) up on jackstands in my garage that hasn’t moved under its own power since 2008. And the day after I was getting home, a 27 year old Mitsubishi was getting dropped off at my house for an engine swap before I would return to work. Needless to say, Vanessa (my wife) is a bit apprehensive about my dropping US$15,000 on another old Mitsubishi.
Don’t take my comments herein verbatim, but Michael explained their warranties are basically universal powertrain warranties like you might get on any used car in America. You get a period of time and miles coverage, and should you need repairs, you simply take the vehicle to a certified shop for repair. Done deal. You can’t fix it yourself for $300 and get a check for $1500, but as much as we all work on our own vehicles, we also tend to know a good shop or two in town. It’s peace of mind.
I also wanted to know about all the bits they replace on the vehicles before they sell them. Apparently, because the temperature tends to stay within a certain range over in Japan, they get real rubber tires over there. These aren’t legal in North America, as the temperature changes could lead to premature failure. So that set of 31” BFG ATs I want on my Delica? No problem. The Engels/ARB/Dometic fridge I want for the back? They can do that too. Spec your mods, have them installed and rolled into the loan.
We pulled back onto the Right Drive lot, shut the Delica down, shook hands, and said our goodbyes. Much as I’m sure we both could have spent the evening talking cars (and drinking beers), we both had pressing matters. Michael still had to get “the blue one” sorted and delivered, and I still had a 6 hour drive back to Cleveland.
CLOCKWISE: A LAP OF LAKE ERIE
Less than 24 hours before my flight home was scheduled to depart, the sun was setting (and rush hour traffic was mounting) in Toronto, and I hit the road toward Buffalo, New York, en route back to Cleveland. Seeing as I would be going right past my company’s Mississauga data center (which has had an opening for MY job for months, I might add), I had to stop in for a quick visit to met a couple people I email from time to time. Brijesh gave me a whirlwind tour and I was out front smoking another cigarette and pulling up GPS directions to my hotel back in Cleveland just after 6PM.
It was dark by the time I rolled out of Buffalo, New York, and my GPS, still avoiding toll roads (in Canada), had me on some creepy, foggy 2-lane backroads with limited data connectivity for a couple hours, but I finally found the New York State Thruway, ran the Patriot up to closer to 75mph (ah), and pressed on toward Cuyahoga County.
The city where I was born – but haven’t visited since 1997 – looked beautiful at night with all its skyscrapers and buildings lit. Traffic at midnight on a Thursday morning was almost nonexistent. It was like I had the entire city to myself. Fitting end to my epic adventure. 30 minutes later, I stumbled into my hotel room 5 minutes from the airport, an exhausted mess. My flight would be boarding in less than 6 hours and I’d have to leave earlier than usual to drop the rental car and catch a shuttle to the terminal, but I’d just completed a lap of one of the Great Lakes, spent a couple days with a really good friend in Chatham, and got to drive a Delica for the first time. WORTH IT.
A WAKING DREAM
I could have spent an entire day test driving cool cars at Right Drive, but we just didn’t have the time (and I suspect that might have been a bit excessive). Maybe, instead of dreaming about owning my own Delica Super Exceed, I should start reading up on Federal import rules and regulations and maybe try talking Mike into selling me a Right Drive franchise here in Phoenix so I can have that cake and eat it too.