This summer, I’m going to help put the hybrid powertrain from a hybrid Mitsubishi Outlander into an ancient 1917 Mitsubishi Model A. And by “help,” I mean stand in a corner and try not to hurt myself while the craftsmen at West Coast Customs cut and weld and create, and Mitsubishi writes checks to make it all happen.
In reality, the project is not so much “an Outlander engine going into a Model A” as it is “a Ford Model T being modded to look like a Model A and then grafted onto the chassis of an Outlander.” The electrified Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid, no less.
Yeah, it didn’t make total sense to me at first, either.
But the 1917 Mitsubishi Model A was the first car to wear the three-diamond badge, and technically the company’s first “production car,” if you count 22 examples as a production run. With such a small batch to ever exist in the first place, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that none of the original Mitsubishi Model As are still known to exist.
Those 22 cars, which look a lot like Ford’s Model T insomuch as most cars made in the early-1900s cars look very similar, were built by hand by Mitsubishi while it was still primarily a shipbuilding company an entire century ago.
Mitsubishi’s 100-year anniversary is what inspired the company to fund this unique build, and West Coast Customs had the vision to mate the old car body with a new car powertrain.
I went to see the West Coast Customs shop in Burbank, where Will.I.Am’s wacky DeLorean, a Range Rover body made to fit a golf cart, and various other odd automotive treasures were parked. In this eclectic garage, the sacrificial Model T and hacked-up Outlander were in the early stages of being prepped to bond together.
“So are where are we going to do the fish tank? Or what about a bowling ball washer,” I asked West Coast Customs chief Ryan Friedlinghaus, who had definitely heard that question before.
“That’s really not what we do here,” he said with a laugh.
If you’re not familiar with West Coast Customs, remember MTV’s Pimp My Ride where X to the Z Xzibit would get ahold of people’s beaters and have them turned into the most obscene and hilarious custom cars you could imagine? Well, this is the shop where all that debauchery went down. Or at least, this company at its previous location.
Friedlinghaus doesn’t deny that MTV did a lot to raise the profile of his business, but his team made sure to tour me around the facility to show me that they actually take their work seriously and no longer field requests to put fireplaces in trunks.
While I was there, I saw just about everything from old and new Rolls Royces, Porsches, Mustangs, Ferraris, Cadillacs, cars, trucks, SUVs and vans at various stages of restoration and resto-modding. But none of them looked like the goofy caricatures we saw on the MTV show.
“So, like, is the track width, uh, remotely close,” I asked Friedlinghaus, still having trouble envisioning how these two cars were going to get mated.
“No. No, no. It’s off by, like, feet. Not inches,” he replied. “There’s going to be a lot of fabrication going on here.” Indeed. That should make this build that much more interesting to watch!
At this point, the Outlander has been stripped down to a skateboard and the “Model A” has pretty much been gutted to have its wooden structural components replaced with metal ones and receive some more reinforcement.
My plan is to check in on the WCC crew a few times over the next couple months as they make Mitsubishi’s dream of resurrecting its heritage come to life. I hope you’ll come along for the ride, this should get interesting.