From Challenger to Concept: Mitsuoka’s Whimsical M55 and the Evolution of Automotive Fun

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Mitsuoka M55
Mitsuoka M55 (Credits: Car Expert)

The Dodge Challenger has enjoyed a commendable 15-year stint on the market, leveraging the nostalgia associated with its 1970-1974 predecessor. However, if you fancy channeling your muscle-car daydreams into a compact hatchback, Japan’s unconventional automaker, Mitsuoka, has an intriguing proposition – the M55, currently in conceptual form.

Mitsuoka, a distinctive player in the automotive landscape, boasts a unique approach. With just 80 employees, it stands as Japan’s youngest automaker while upholding the country’s oldest auto manufacturing traditions. Each neoclassic car undergoes meticulous hand assembly by two craftsmen, a process that spans up to two months. Despite the lighthearted whimsy evident in their creations, Mitsuoka takes the manufacturing process seriously.

Mitsuoka M55
Mitsuoka M55 (Credits: Car Revs Daily)

The M55, essentially a Civic hatchback beneath its exterior, features a manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine. Mitsuoka then transforms it into a Charger lookalike, injecting a delightful blend of humor and ingenuity. The departure from Mitsuoka’s usual Euro-themed models, like the Viewt, showcases the company’s evolution under the leadership of general manager Minoru Watanabe.

Watanabe’s vision, initiated after the company’s 50th anniversary in 2018, resulted in notable successes like the Mitsuoka Rock Star, a Mazda MX-5 infused with 1960s Corvette essence. The Buddy, another triumph, combines Toyota’s reliability with the nostalgic charm of the K5 Chevy Blazer. Surprisingly, these handbuilt gems are relatively affordable, with the Buddy priced at $45,000 and a two-year waitlist.

The M55’s design seamlessly merges rear louvers and a square-jawed domestic American iron front, presenting a convincing facade from the front. However, the profile reveals the underlying Civic, while the interior boasts retro-look seats. Mitsuoka plans to showcase the M55 in Toyama and Tokyo over the winter, emphasizing its conceptual nature. Still, speculation looms regarding potential production if demand surfaces.

Given Mitsuoka’s limited production capacity and its focus on Asian markets, the M55 might not grace U.S. shores officially. Yet, the M55 raises an intriguing question: How much extra would U.S. buyers be willing to pay for a commonplace car infused with a substantial dose of personality? While the business case remains uncertain, the mere existence of the Mitsuoka M55 is a cause for celebration in an automotive world often characterized by seriousness – a refreshing dose of pure fun.

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