Mitsubishi Motors first entered the Dakar Rally with an unofficial entry back in 1983, when Andrew Cowan and Colin Malkin finished 11th overall in their Pajero/Montero. The first factory entries were submitted in the following year's Paris-Algeria-Dakar Rally. Cowan and co-driver Johnstone Syer finished third overall, with team mates Rigal and Fourtico in seventh place.
The beginning of the Japanese manufacturer's heritage on the world's greatest off-road rally had begun. A trio of Pajeros for Cowan, Patrick Zaniroli and Bernard Beguin began the 1985 Dakar and Frenchman Zaniroli gave the team the first of its record-breaking nine victories. Cowan finished second.
Pascal Rigal was the highest-placed of the three entrants in third overall in the 1986 Dakar, although both Cowan and Zaniroli took nine stage victories between them on the way to fifth and seventh places in the final classification.
Japan's Kenjiro Shinozuka joined the Mitsubishi Motors line-up in 1987 and completed the podium places behind Ari Vatanen and Zaniroli, who had switched to the Range Rover team. Cowan finished eighth and the Dutch Tijsterman couple were 12th in a privately-run Pajero/Montero.
The Dakar was gaining in reputation and strength each year and 311 cars entered the 1988 classic, with Mitsubishi fielding three Pajeros/Monteros for Cowan, Shinozuka and the Frenchman Pierre Lartigue. Shinozuka improved on his best ever finish with the runner-up position and a little known Frenchman by the name of Jean-Pierre Fontenay was 12th in his Mitsubishi.
The 1989 Dakar headed through Tunisia and Mitsubishi Motors fielded its strongest ever team, with Lartigue and Cowan joined by ex-Grand Prix driver Patrick Tambay and Jean Da Silva. Tambay won his first Dakar stage between Dirkou and Termit and finished third. Tijsterman, Shinozuka, Fontenay and Da Silva were classified as finishers in a Mitsubishi Motors dominated top 10.
Mitsubishi Motors expanded its official entry to five cars in 1990, as the event crossed through the Libyan deserts en route to Dakar. Lartigue, a returning Zaniroli and Shinozuka were joined by factory team newcomers Fontenay and ex-sports car racer Jean-Louis Schlesser. Peugeots filled the podium, but Cowan and Shinozuka were fourth and fifth overall and a young Japanese driver by the name of Hiroshi Masuoka finished 10th in a privately-run Pajero/Montero.