Off-roading and camping are two things that blend well together today. Why plant your stabilizers down at a campground when you can crawl your way to a spot in the middle of nowhere? That opportunity is something offered by this 1996 Mitsubishi Delica JB500 camper. With it, you’re getting a turbodiesel engine, four-wheel-drive with low range, and still get everything you need for a fantastic road trip. It’ll get you just about everywhere you need to go unless you live in Maine.
Back in February, an Autopian reader and car importer convinced me to import another car from Japan. This time around, I’m looking for a glorious Toyota Century or a cute MGF roadster. Because I love getting things for dirt cheap, I’m looking for a high-mileage example of either car. Auction statistics show that these cars do exist and they do sell for peanuts. However, I didn’t realize that high-mileage examples of these cars are rare and when they do show up, they sometimes have huge red flags. So, I’ve made no progress on this front.
That hasn’t stopped my eyes from wandering and looking at other vehicles that I could buy.
Every once in a while I look for a Japanese camper, specifically one built out of something like a Toyota Coaster bus. Annoyingly, I’m finding it difficult to get my bus fix as well. What I did find is still pretty cool. Check out the 1996 Mitsubishi Delica JB500 camper above!
Mitsubishi Has Sold Campers For Decades
The Mitsubishi Delica has been a popular van to import from Japan. These vans have the cabover style that enthusiasts love and you can find them with diesel engines, manual transmissions, and legitimate off-road equipment. And since they’re larger than vehicles in the kei class, you can drive them on the highway. The very first Delica went on sale in 1968 and here is what Mitsubishi has to say about it:
Responding to the rapid growth in demand for light trucks of under one-ton payload in the mid-60s, the Delica Truck with a 600 kg payload went on sale in July 1968. Features distinguishing the Delica Truck included its payload that was some 20 percent larger than other models in its class, class-topping power output, the first 3-seater in its class, soft lines using a curved windscreen and ride comfort on a par with a passenger car.
In June 1986 the Delica series underwent its third full model change, the first in seven years. When development work on the third-generation series began in the spring of 1983 there was a proposal to create a semi-cab-over engine body which would improve impact safety and allow a walk-through but the design team eventually decided to retain the full cab-over-engine configuration of the previous generations for its superior space efficiency. The new Delica Star Wagon’s monocoque body structure was chosen for its safety and durability. The more rounded “soft cube” styling put the emphasis on space efficiency.
To a “Living room on wheels” theme, Delica Star Wagon was fitted with multi-seat, multi-audio and multi-climate control systems and was available with the first Crystal Lite Roof in its class, enhancing further the light, airy and open ambience to the interior. The 2.0 L engine and 2.5 L dieselturbo engine delivered brisk and feel-good performance both on and off road. The Delica Star Wagon 4WD featured an upgraded equipment specification worthy of its status as the series’ image leader. To firmly establish its position as the leading cab-over four-wheel drive engine in its category, Delica Star Wagon 4WD sported full-feature off-road performance together with improved comfort. In August 1988 an automatic transmission trim level was added to the four-wheel drive lineup.
In Mitsubishi’s own telling of the Delica’s history, the manufacturer notes that it was paying attention to the RV industry. In 1972, in response to consumer demand to go camping, Mitsubishi launched the Delica Camping Van, a Delica with a pop-top roof tent. Mitsubishi goes on to note that the Delica name is actually a contraction. “Delica” comes from the English term “Delivery Car.”
This Delica JB500 Camper
According to Ottoex Adventure Vehicles, the Delica JB500 is the work of two coachbuilders. The first is Vantech, a builder of Japanese campervans and motorhomes. This company has been around for well over 30 years and is best known among enthusiasts for these Delicas.
The other company is Reimo, a van conversion company based in Egelsbach, near Frankfurt, Germany. Reimo has been around since 1980 and the company specializes in van conversions, but it also offers camping equipment like gas and water supplies, insulation, air-conditioners, camera systems, televisions, tents, monitoring systems, furniture, and more. Look inside this JB500 and you’ll find Reimo logos on a few pieces of equipment.
Perhaps the best part is that Vantech and Reimo are both in business today, so this JB500 isn’t entirely an orphan. Some parts may be discontinued, but I bet you could find replacements should the equipment break.
Going back to the exterior for a moment, what you’re looking at is a Delica L300 (third generation) with a fiberglass Class C-style camper body on the back. I love the use of durable fiberglass; this a camper that has endured for a long time and should have lots of life and adventures left in it. The body has a few neat features like a rear camera, an embedded ladder, and a roof rack. An equipment rack is built right into the body.
As I said before, the Delica that this camper rides on is four-wheel-drive. Unfortunately, turning it into a camper does appear to eat up breakover and departure angles. These angles aren’t stated, but just from eyeballing it you can conclude that this probably wouldn’t survive Moab without getting banged up. That said, it will go far more places than any typical American coach will go.
Moving inside, something I love about these Japanese campers is that they’re often fully equipped. This one is no exception. Up front, you have seating for about four people in comfort. You could probably cram six in here if you were really close to your mates. A bed hangs over the cab, which has a pass-through to the RV compartment.
Move to the back and you’ll find a gas two-burner stovetop, a refrigerator, a sink, and a pantry. It isn’t noted but I do spot a propane heater and there may be an air-conditioner as well. Or at the very least, air-conditioning was an option. Rounding out the interior is a wet bath with a shower and a toilet. Holding tanks aren’t mentioned, but these are often equipped with 15-gallon fresh water tanks.
Power in this Delica comes from a 2.5-liter 4D56 turbodiesel four. Finding exact numbers for this engine has been difficult, but it seems like in this configuration, it’s making 98 HP and 177 lb-ft torque. This is a slow ride, but one that should average above 20 mpg at cruising speed. As I said before, power routes through a manual transmission and four-wheel-drive system with low range.
Perhaps the best part, depending on your style, is that this camper is about 16.5 feet long, making it a compact unit.
Now comes the part that stings a little. This camper does present in overall good condition with the equivalent of just 73,000 miles on its odometer. The selling dealer is asking $34,950 for it, which is a lot cheaper than any new camper van with all of these features. However, it’s still a lot of money for a 27-year-old Japanese import. Also, as I’ve reported before, the state of Maine continues to ban these vans from its roads and urges other states to follow. Thankfully, thus far those other states (Georgia, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York) are only focusing on kei imports.
There’s also the problem that this was built to work on 100V, which might be another hurdle once you get it.
Still, I dig it and one day I’d love to drive one. In fact, if you own one of these and want me to drive it, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For the rest of you, this camper can be found at Japan Direct Motors in Irmo, South Carolina.
(Photos: Japan Direct Motors, unless otherwise noted.)
[Correction: An earlier version of this story said that this van is running on 220V. I was thinking about a different region. I apologize for the error.]
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Yes, its cool; but I’m not going to wish mitsubishi reliability on anyone. These things have issues without all the extra camper stuff. Would of been better off using a Toyota Hiace; the same basic formula except the legendary diesel from the hilux and same bullet proof aw4 tranny found in XJ cherokees. (Can we still say tranny? Gender neutral gear selelctor?)
Thanks for the umpteenth piece of automotive trivia I never knew until I started reading articles on this site.
Never knew that Aisin built the same transmission for Jeep AND Toyota.
I LOVE it! Mercedes, thank you for continuing to find these things (and for being the best writer The Autopian is lucky to have).
Why don’t more companies build things like this today? Does every camper have to be bigger than my house? Something with room for two people to sleep, a toilet, and sanely sized to be able to drive without needing an oversize permit, is perfect (at least for me).
As nice as it is, $34,950 still seems like a batshit crazy price.
A few years ago I was at Ocean Beach in San Diego when I met a Chilean couple in one of those. They were headed to Alaska. So far, so good.
I’ve seen a few similar rigs on Toyota and Nissan chassis including 4×4 but this is my first Mitsubishi. I like the Westfalia style interior details but the left side door and RH hookups could be inconvenient. The 100V AC shouldn’t be an issue, they run 60Hz frequency like the US and 100V stuff runs fine on 110V as I discovered with grey import Makita tools. Just install a US standard inverter so your domestic stuff doesn’t suffer undervoltage
Correction: they run both 50hz & 60hz, but one would hope that this camper could compensate for both:
I wanted a Delica for overlanding, I was going to make it great, this is even better.
Shame a family happened, now that is just too small.
Amazing! It seems expensive, everything is expensive these days.
I like most of the JDM stuff a lot, but I’m not sure I see a good argument for these.
The 4D56 with a turbo is a very sensitive engine even when not overloaded with a heavy RV body.
They are very prone to overheating and cracking/warping the head.
A non-turbo 4D56 will last forever, but that’s only 75-ish horsepower.
I like to think I’m moderately mechanically inclined but I would be very afraid to take one of these on a long US road trip that typically includes long high-speed stretches and high mountain passes.
If it breaks down, you have zero parts locally available here in the US, near zero repair options as very few shops know these.
Yeah, I saw a Delica smoking and limping along the shoulder of US-89, in the Navajo Nation, trying to make it to Flagstaff about 60 miles away, with a long uphill grade ahead of them. One of my first thoughts was, “Where are they going to be able to get that fixed?”
This. Would of been much better off with a Hiace.
“There’s also the problem that this was built to work on 220V”
Really? Japan household electricity is generally 100 volts AC. Some areas operate at 50Hz, others at 60Hz.
Yep. It’s 100VAC (nominal), with eastern Japan typically operating at 50Hz and western Japan operating at 60Hz. There’s a good chance most things will still work on US power, but sourcing a AC-DC-AC power transformer to use with this to convert our 110VAC 60Hz power to 100VAC 50Hz power would be pretty easy.