This was the Japanese Fitito that marked a milestone in the 60s

The Mitsubishi 500 was born in 1960, three years after the Fiat 500, and its similarity is curious

Although the reasons are completely different, the The automobile world seems to be following a path that is somewhat familiar to many of producing countries at other times in history. Today, due to the urgent need to lower polluting emissions and protect the environment from greenhouse gases, various measures are being taken to achieve these objectives.

The conversion to electric cars is the best known but it is not the only one. Shared cars, rental of vehicles for a certain period of time, the return to healthy personal mobility as the bicycle, the electric skateboards and the urban carsalso called microcars, are other ways to reduce air pollution.

The Fiat 500 was an accessible and affordable mobility solution for a market that was beginning to grow after the Second World War
The Fiat 500 was an accessible and affordable mobility solution for a market that was beginning to grow after the Second World War

These small urban cars, which allow you to move quickly and economically around big cities with low fuel consumption and a much more affordable price, It is not the first time that they have emerged as a mobility solution. Something similar happened with the oil crisis caused by the Sinai War in 1956, but also a decade earlier, in post-war Japan.

And it is that the small eastern country, after surrender and the US occupation that lasted until 1952, had to be practically completely rebuilt. With World War II, Japan lost 42% of the national wealth and 44% of the industrial capacity, which included energy, facilities and production machinery. The economy was almost completely stopped with severe food shortages and a population of 80 million people. The reconstruction was based on two premises: equality and competition.

The "japanese phyto" it had a two-cylinder engine in the rear position, like the Fiat 500 in Italy had debuted 3 years earlier
The “Japanese Fitito” had a two-cylinder engine in the rear position, like the Fiat 500 in Italy had released 3 years earlier

In this context, the Kei Car was born, a concept that had the purpose of allowing the average Japanese citizen to have access to a car. For that, those cars had to have some parameters that framed them as such. They couldn’t have more than 2.8 meters long, nor engines of more than 150 cm3 for 4-stroke engines or 100 cm3 for 2-stroke engines. But since those dimensions and powers were similar to those of the famous three-wheelers from Eastern countries, for 1955 the body length was increased to 3 meters and the cylinder capacity to 360 cm3.

This is how cars like the suzuki-suzulight in 1955, the Subaru 360 in 1958 and the Mazda R360 Coupe in 1960. But he was also born the Mitsubishi 500, which although it did not have the tax benefits of the Kei Car for exceeding the maximum displacement, caused havoc in the market for being a very accessible option for users.

The main difference with the Fiat 500 was in the rear engine compartment, which had a shape that simulated a trunk.
The main difference with the Fiat 500 was in the rear engine compartment, which had a shape that simulated a trunk.

From its shape, its appearance and its mechanics, it could be said that it was the Fiat 500 of the Japanese. It was featured in the 1959 Tokyo Show but it began to be marketed in 1960. It had a 2-cylinder 493 cm3 forced-air-cooled engine that was positioned horizontally at the rear of the body. Engine power reached 21 hp at 5,000 RPM.

Curiously, the gearbox was three gears forward and reverse, but with a complex distribution for driving, since the first gear was in the upper left position, the second was in the lower right, and the third in the lower left. The reverse gear was in the free box of the “H”, that is, in the upper right position.

Another quality that he had Mitsubishi 500 era that had rear opening doorswhich allowed better access to the two rear seats. But the way, that so much similarity seemed to have with the Fiat 500 that had been born just 3 years earlier in Italyhad been generated in wind tunnelquite an innovation for the time. In fact, this little car It was the first Japanese car to be designed with aerodynamic studies achieved in this type of facility.

In 1962, Mitsubishi decided to race in the Macau Grand Prix as a way to showcase its product to the countries of the region.  They won overwhelmingly
In 1962, Mitsubishi decided to race in the Macau Grand Prix as a way to showcase its product to the countries of the region. They won overwhelmingly

The bestseller of the Japanese 500 was such that in August 1961 it was decided to go up a performance step, giving the 500 SuperDeLuxe version with a 594 cm3 engine that reached 25 HP of power.

With this version, Mitsubishi was also encouraged to race, preparing several units to compete in the 1962 Macau Grand Prix. The idea was to show its qualities and improve sales even more, but especially to start showing the car outside of Japan. And they achieved it with absolute success, because not only did they win the race in their category, but they were dominant by occupying the first four places in Class A, which admitted vehicles up to 750 cm3. That was Mitsubishi’s first participation in motor racing.

Mitsubishi’s history in competition had golden chapters in the World Rally many years later with the Galant and Lancerbut that is another story, in which surely that first successful experience was just a memory.

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