Thanks to their success, the Pajero, Montero and Shogun names were also applied to other, mechanically unrelated models, such as the Pajero Mini kei car, the Pajero Junior and Pajero iO/Pinin mini SUVs, and the Mitsubishi Pajero/Montero/Shogun Sport.
The first Pajero prototype was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in November 1973. The Pajero II prototype followed in 1978, five years later. Mitsubishi’s aim was to create more of a recreational vehicle, not just an SUV.
In January 1983, the first Pajero made its debut at the Paris Dakar Rally, taking first place in 1985 at only the third attempt. To date, the Pajero is the most successful vehicle in the Dakar Rally. This not only gave the Pajero an offroad reputation, but also helped in the sales department.
The first generation made its debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1981, and was launched in May 1982. Initially, it was a three-door, short-wheelbase model available with a metal or canvas top and three different engines options:
- 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol (2000/2.0)
- 2.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol (Astron 2.6)
- 2.3-litre naturally aspirated diesel (2300 D)
- 2.3 liter turbocharged diesel (2300 TD/2.3 TD).
It was loaded with features that had previously not been seen on a Japanese four-wheel-drive car: a turbocharged diesel engine, a front double wishbone suspension with torsion bar springs, power steering and suspension seats. This made the Pajero a four wheel drive vehicle which integrated all the amenities of a passenger car.
In January 1983, only a year following its launch, mildly tuned production Pajeros entered the world of motor sport.
The Pajero, however, failed to appeal to everyone. It was seen to be a commercial vehicle, and since it was only available in a short wheel base form, it didn’t really appeal to those with families.
Hence, in February 1983, Mitsubishi came out with a long wheel base, five door model, to serve the needs of a larger target market. The long wheel base model was available with a choice of two different engines; a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol (badged as "2.0 Turbo" and "2000 Turbo" in some markets) and a 2.3 liter turbocharged diesel (badged as 2.3 TD or 2300 TD).