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Weekly Craigslist Hidden Treasure: 1997 Mitsubishi Montero Sport

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And oldie but a goodie.

If you think gasoline prices are cheap today than clearly you don't remember the mid- to late-1990s or you weren't born yet. You see, gas prices, in some parts of the US, hovered at around $1.00 per gallon, give or take. You could literally drive as much as you wanted, on or off-road, and didn't have to worry about a hefty bill at the pumps. It was a good era that unfortunately came crashing down when the Great Recession struck. Suddenly, Americans were eager to ditch their fuel-sucking SUVs for more sensible smaller cars and crossovers.

Before that happened, automakers were fully invested in SUVs, both foreign and domestic. Mitsubishi was one of them. The Japanese automaker also has a celebrated SUV history, with its Pajero becoming the first SUV to win the grueling Dakar off-road endurance race. This durability transferred to road-going vehicles as well, including the Montero Sport.

Those who know their Mitsubishi SUV history will be aware there was also the Montero, which was simply a renamed Pajero for the US market. The Montero Sport was also sold in the US, but was known as the Pajero Sport in Europe. The first generation Montero Sport entered production for the 1996 model year and was based on the Strada pickup truck's rear-wheel-drive platform. Like the larger Montero, the Montero Sport offered an independent front suspension with torsion bars and a live rear axle. In 2000, it received a suspension upgrade from rear leaf to coil springs.

Throughout its lifetime a number of engines were offered, but Americans received only gasoline engines and no diesels. At launch, the base engine was a 2.4-liter inline-four with 161 hp and but this was dropped after the 1999 model year; it just wasn't powerful enough for a rig this size and weight.

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The remaining engines were 3.0- and 3.5-liter V6s with 174 hp and 223 lb-ft of torque and 197 hp and 223 lb-ft, respectively. Obviously the latter is the preferred choice because of additional power, but a majority of 3.0-liter owners were satisfied. A five-speed manual transmission is standard while a five-speed slushbox was optional. These engines and gearbox combos were fairly common for the time, though compared to today's SUVs, including the base models, these old school figures are somewhat laughable.

The Montero Sport soldiered on in the US through the 2004 model year. It remained on sale in a few other global markets, but Mitsubishi decided it was time to change course in the US. The Endeavour mid-size crossover was the Montero Sport's replacement beginning in 2005. The Endeavour, unlike the Montero Sport, was designed specifically for the American market and was even built in Illinois. However, it rode on the same front-wheel-drive platform that underpinned the Galant sedan. Mitsubishi officially entered the crossover market, which was the beginning of the end for its American SUV sales.

Today, Mitsubishi USA sells mainly crossovers. Think of the Montero Sport as one of the last hurrahs. Fortunately, they can also be found for fairly cheap, such as this 1997 example on Craigslist Los Angeles.

This RWD model has a total of 167,000 miles and is powered by a V6, though the ad doesn't specify whether it's the 3.0 or 3.5. Generally speaking, this 22-year-old Montero Sport appears to be in pretty good condition. The tires look fairly new, the transmission runs smooth, and the brakes and engine are strong. The asking price? Only $1,400. Clearly this SUV is priced to sell. It may not be a proper 4x4, but this RWD '97 Montero Sport is still a capable SUV in countless ways.

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