MC 9

Some of you may remember the fateful day last spring when our Japanese-language reporter Go bought what was probably the cheapest car in Japan by acquiring his current ride for just 980 yen (US $8.30). Nine months later, not only is his 1997 Mitsubishi Minica still firing on all three cylinders under its hood, but it recently passed its mandatory biennial safety inspection, called shaken in Japanese.

In celebration, Go treated the Minica to a wash for the first time since he drove it back to Tokyo from Nagoya. With a fresh coat of wax, it was looking better than ever, but Go still wasn’t 100-percent satisfied with the car’s appearance. See, Go believes the Mini is just an overall cooler car than the Minica, so he set out to transform the latter into the former using the finest vinyl sheets and magic markers he could find.

While some might call trying to add a dash of stylishness to an ultra-compact that’s already more than 15 years old a waste of time, Go insists his Minica is a diamond in the rough. Like his own gasoline-powered Cinderella, all it needs is a few cosmetic touch-ups to bring out its true beauty. Enlisting the help of gal pal Debuneko, Go drove his car to a parking lot in Tokyo where the pair got to work.

Due to the bond he’s developed with the vehicle over the past year, Go could tell the Minica was nervous. So, before getting started, he went over the three parts of his dress-up tuning project:

1. Make the roof white
2. Add white racing stripes to the hood
3. Black out the grille

▼ Basically this

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Figuring he’d put the machine’s mind at ease, Go and Debuneko whipped out one of the vinyl sheets and started covering the roof, just as they’d planned. What they hadn’t intended to do, though, was to also add an almost infinite number of wrinkles and air bubbles to the sheet’s surface.

▼ Not part of the plan

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Instead of the roof of a youthfully hip, British-inspired, German-engineered runabout, it was starting to look like a patch of geriatric, shriveling skin…that had been attacked by mosquitos. With Debuneko chastising him for his sloppiness, Go peeled the sheet off and reapplied it…and then gave it a third try, still ending up with less-than-smooth results.

▼ Artist’s rendition of Go grumbling, “This is not good…” with the poor, worried Minica asking, “What’s not good? What?!”

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With it becoming clear that there was no way the pair was going to eliminate every air pocket from under the wrapping, Go hit upon the solution of just slapping the sheet on the roof, using a box cutter to pop any bubbles, and placing another piece of camouflaging vinyl over that. Once that was done, it was time to move on to the hood.

Compared to the roof, Go figured this would be a snap. After all, they’d be working with a shorter distance, smaller area, and less pronounced curvature to the sheet metal. Piece of cake, right?

▼ Wrong

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Once again, this proved to be trickier than he’d imagined, with the first attempt once again ending with wrinkles, air bubbles, and cracking. At one point, it was bad enough that Go half-expected the Minica to go pale with fright and embarrassment, but trooper that it is (and being made of painted metal instead of flesh), the car remained, as ever, in its deep blue hue.

▼ Looking better

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▼ Roof coloring and stripes finished, Go remarks, “Eh, good enough,” to which the Minica retorts “Like hell…”

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Now entering the final stage of the project, Debuneko was thoroughly convinced of Go’s lack of aptitude for this kind of work. Armed with this knowledge, she volunteered to handle blacking out the grille entirely on her own, leaving Go’s hands free to photograph the process.

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In all honesty, it would have been easier to use spray paint than oil-based markers. However, most public parking lots frown on customers blasting away with spray cans on the premises, and if you’re the kind of guy who buys a 980-yen car, it goes without saying that you’re not the kind of guy who’s going to rent a dedicated auto garage space for the day in which to do your cosmetic modifications.

For the Minica-to-Mini project, Go decided to use Magic Inky markers. It’s important to pick out a single brand and stock up ahead of time, since even if they’re all listed as “black,” the difference in shade between one company’s products and another’s will show up when you use them both on the same part of the car.

So, how does the Minica look after its three-part makeover?

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Actually, not half-bad, considering the almost complete lack of preparation, specialized skill, or financial outlay that went into it.

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It’s even more impressive when you consider that Go and Debuneko only spent 30 minutes on the whole thing. And just in case you think it only looks passable because of the shadowy surroundings obscuring glaring flaws, here’s the Minica in the light of day.

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▼ This is probably its best angle.

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▼ Meanwhile, in profile, it looks almost exactly the same as it did before.

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So in the end, did Go achieve his goal of making something that could pass for a Mini if you just caught a quick glimpse of it buzzing by in traffic? Maybe, maybe not. But between the wash and new look, it’s about twice as cool as it was before, and given its low sticker price, has probably also doubled in value.

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Photos: RocketNews24
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