Mitsubishi Magna: Classic

By: John Wright, Photography by: Wheels archives

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Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna
Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna
Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna
Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna
Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna Classic: Mitsubishi Magna

Often maligned, the Magna was a surprisingly good steer, according to Wrighty. And he’s never wrong

Mitsubishi Magna: Classic
Classic: Mitsubishi Magna

 

MITSUBISHI MAGNA

I may have been the greatest fan of the first-generation Magna outside Mitsubishi. When callers asked me on my radio program (on 2GB from the late-1980s to early-’90s) to recommend a car, the answer was often ‘Magna’.

The Australian automotive industry has long been renowned for ingenuity and the Magna is a leading example of this trait. In the early-mid 1980s, Mitsubishi’s question was "How do we replace Sigma?" Its new Galant was front-wheel drive and narrow-gutted. Good as the Sigma was, it was beginning to show its age. The arrival of the optional 2.6-litre engine helped sales but that engine would not fit across the nose of the Galant.

Doubtless Mitsubishi Australia’s product planners had soaked up the public’s desertion of the Commodore in favour of the Falcon with its w-i-d-e interior. MMAL – and before it, Chrysler Australia – was cavalier with archives. In the late 1980s, when I asked various Mitsubishi executives whether the decision to widen the Galant was taken in order to make the interior wider or to fit the Astron engine (or both), no-one could say. Let’s go for both, which was certainly the outcome.

Mitsubishi took the Galant and spliced-in several inches of additional width. This move was so bold that when Toyota Australia finally got a broader Camry in 1993 the PR team insisted we say ‘Wide-Body Camry’!

The TM Magna was launched in April, 1985 and the TN followed two years later. Electronic fuel-injection was standard on the up-spec Elite and it added a further 10kW to the carburetted engine’s tally of 83, along with a similar increase in torque (up from 195 to 205Nm). There was a four-speed automatic available when rivals could muster just three ratios.

But those initial 1985 cars earned the Magna nearly as bad a reputation as the XK Falcon. Cracked engine blocks, broken automatic transmissions and rust in the roof were not laughing matters.

Immense though the early problems had been, they were mostly fixed by the time TN superseded TM in 1987, and entirely resolved by 1989’s TP.

The Magna went okay, while it was working, with the five-speed manual the stronger and more reliable performer.

I was astonished when I drove one. At that time the benchmark front-driver was the Audi 100 CD. If anything, the Australian car was even more refined. It made the VK Commodore and – even more so – the XF Falcon feel crude, noisy and harsh. There was also nearly as much room inside the Magna as in the lumpy Ford.

By the TP – last of the first shape – Magna’s modest performance and average fuel economy were counting against it. Astonishingly tasteless two-tone paint combos with (un-)matching interior décor on the Elite further dated what was otherwise an exceptionally good car.

 

*****

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