Overlander Spotlight: Cole Pennington’s 1991 Mitsubishi Pajero

For the next edition of our ongoing Overlander Spotlights, we spoke our good buddy Cole Pennington about his JDM rig and some of their adventures together.

Who are you and what do you do by day?
Hi. I’m Cole Pennington, and I’m an editor at the popular wristwatch site HODINKEE in New York City by day. But to be completely honest, I do the same thing by night. Watches, cars, and trucks, all day and all night.

What was your vehicle born as? Year, make, model? How long have you had it?
My rig was born as a 1991 Mitsubishi Pajero in the Mitsubishi Motors Corporation plant in Gifu, Japan, called Pajero Manufacturing Co., Ltd, specifically set up to manufacture the Pajero. Even if the name isn’t familiar, the truck might be: In Japan and other markets outside the UK and United States it was called the Pajero. In the UK it was called the Shogun, and in the US it went by the Montero. My specific truck stayed in Japan, as it’s a JDM model featuring a five-speed transmission mated to a 2.5L turbodiesel motor. That specific drivetrain was never available in the US market. The truck spent its life in Japan and came over to the US in 2019. It only had about 40,000 miles on the odometer when it got here. I’ve had it for a little under a year, but I’ve been busy putting some serious mileage on it! I have no idea why the previous owner didn’t put more mileage on it, but I’m making up for lost time.

Can you tell us about your three favorite mods or features?
I initially approached this truck with big plans for a thorough build, but the more I thought about it, the more I embraced the idea that it’s only original once. The Pajero platform is popular with modders, but with such low mileage and the truck being in near-perfect stock condition, I decided I would preserve what makes the truck have a certain sense of shibui, and instead concentrate on properly maintaining it and getting as much use out of it as possible. It’s easy to throw big tires on it and jack it up, but keep in mind when you do that you’re essentially changing the final drive ratio, which isn’t ideal with such a small displacement diesel engine. I’ve committed to maintaining the balance that Mitsubishi engineers achieved in 1991. This means minimal drivetrain modifications.

The interior has been removed and I’ve set up a little dwelling inside. It serves as my bedroom, my office, and my storage unit on my travels. It isn’t the Four Seasons, but it works just fine.  I’ve added a bull bar in the front with some auxiliary lighting, and a rack up top to throw my fishing kayak on top of. All over the world the Pajero is used as an absolute workhorse in stock form. I remember the first time I saw what it was capable of was when I was in rural Thailand, and a local offered us a ride up a steeply inclined muddy road. We were set to hike it, but I took the ride simply because I almost didn’t believe it could be done in the truck. Sure enough the Pajero made quick work of it. A few years after that I was on a Land Rover expedition in Siberia’s Altai Mountains, and the only other vehicle besides Defenders on the expedition was a Mitsubishi Pajero, again in stock form.

That’s the magic of the Pajero, it’s far more capable in stock trim than most modern SUVs designed to be sold to Americans to drive to the office. And it’s from 1991! The 4D56T motor that’s in it is even used in farm equipment. I’ve put 15,000 on it in the past year and at 55,000 miles, the motor is really just getting broken in.

What’s been your favorite trip/destination with your rig so far?
I’m on it right now! Back in New Jersey I loaded up the truck with fishing gear, camping gear, and my road bike. Right now I’m in the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas and just had the opportunity to fish for trout in the White River as well as getting in some time on the trails in the mountains. I’ll slowly wind through the deep South until I reach the Gulf of Mexico, where I plan to get into some spearfishing. The truck is outfitted for sleeping in, and I’ve even set up a makeshift office to get work done while I’m on the road.

I think my favorite thing about the truck isn’t actually about the truck itself, instead it’s the endless possibilities it represents. The truck landed in Virginia from Japan, and I timed picking it up with Bridge Day, a BASE jumping festival in neighboring West Virginia. That was the first trip, driving from Richmond to Fayetteville for a weekend of camping and watching BASE jumping.

Where to next? What’s your dream expedition?
Next stop on this trip is Natchez, Mississippi, where I’ll hang out for a few days. There are some great trails in the backwoods of St. Catherine’s Creek that I’m going to explore. On the way there I’m looking to visit Cajun Country; there are still some small towns where Louisiana French and Creole is spoken. Those are the places I’d like to go, and I bet a RHD JDM Pajero has never visited before.

As for my dream expedition, I wrote a story for HODINKEE about a watch used in an Antarctic Expedition called the McMurdo Sound Sediment And Tectonic Study. During my research I came across a few trucks that had served the New Zealand team at Scott Base. These trucks were being used on the most extreme environment on earth, and what a treat it would be to do something similar if I ever get the chance.

Follow all of Cole’s offroading and watch-related adventures on Instagram.