The fifth running of the event was held in 1983, a memorable year as MITSUBISHI MOTORS was taking part in the adventure for the first time. During the post-war years, MITSUBISHI MOTORS obtained a license to produce jeeps. The Japanese automaker had set its mind on manufacturing an original cross-country 4WD vehicle to meet new global needs. In 1982, the MITSUBISHI PAJERO/MONTERO had been launched in Japan. It was a 4WD cross-country with a new concept offering outstanding off-road capability, superior on-road maneuverability and comfort. It eventually became a major global hit, and participating in the Dakar Rally was a suitable strategy to spread the PAJERO/MONTERO name around the world.
For its first attempt at the Dakar Rally, the company opted to participate in a class in which only a few modifications to the production cars were allowed. The automaker fielded four such PAJERO/MONTEROs in the event. The base car was a canvas top PAJERO/MONTERO fitted with a 2.6L 4G54 gasoline engine. The engine research department at the Kyoto Plant (Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture) fine-tuned the engine, polishing the intake and exhaust manifold ports, swapping out the exhaust system and adopting a reinforced clutch. Before shipment to France, the engine was installed in a strengthened engine compartment through the use of cross members. The vehicles were then shipped to French Société Bernard Maingret (SBM), a racing preparation outfit contracted by Sonauto, MITSUBISHI MOTORS’ import agent in France. Sonauto put the finishing touches on the rally cars by reinforcing the chassis, modifying the bodywork and installing safety equipment such as roll cages.
For the fifth edition of the event, the Ténéré desert was part of the course for the first time. The Ténéré desert stretches approximately 700 km from Dirkou in eastern Niger to Agadez to the west. The region is a sea of sand with gently undulating sand dunes that stretch out endlessly. The harsh but beautiful trans-Ténéré route eventually became one of the most iconic images of the Dakar Rally. The event started from the Place de la Concorde in Paris, entered Niger from Djanet in southeastern Algeria and crossed the Ténéré desert. It then made its way down to Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, then northward to Mauritania, and finally southward toward Senegal. The route consisted of a 9,257 km overall distance including 4,047 km of competitive stages (SS). At that time, there was no rest day until the finish in Dakar, making the event one of the hardest challenges for the participants. At one point, severe sandstorms caused the cancellation of three special stages. It was one of the toughest rallies so far with a completion rate of slightly 32%.
United Kingdom's Andrew Cowan was the driving force behind the MITSUBISHI PAJERO/MONTERO debut at the 1983 Dakar. He also played an active role in the World Rally Championship. He won the rally in the non-modified production car category, finishing 11th outright among a field of 385 entrants. At the same time, he also won the marathon class, a category that prohibited replacement of major parts such as the transmission. Teammate George Debussy of France came in second in the class and 14th overall, securing a spectacular 1-2 finish for the PAJERO/MONTERO in that class. The MITSUBISHI MOTORS team also won the Best Team Prize, which was a great reward for their first Dakar Rally. The overall winner was famed driver Jacky Ickx and his co-driver Claude Brasseur in a Mercedes-Benz 280 GE.