Is The Mitsubishi FTO A JDM Car?

When it comes to Japanese cars, there is one term that seems to cause more confusion than anything else.

That is JDM (short for “Japanese Domestic Market“).

If you’re not familiar with this concept, then we recommend that you read our comprehensive JDM meaning guide here for more information on what JDM actually means.

Over time, the term JDM seems to have become synonymous with any Japanese car – or at least any interesting/quirky Japanese car, particularly of a performance variety.

The word JDM conjures images of the Toyota Supra MK4, Nissan Skyline GT-R and Mazda RX-7.

However, like with all aspects of life, there are “levels” to the Japanese car game. The likes of the Supra and Skyline GT-R sit at the top, but there have always been a number of excellent tier two (maybe even tier three) Japanese performance cars.

One example of this is the Mitsubishi FTO.

The Mitsubishi FTO always played second-fiddle to its bigger brother, the Mitsubishi GTO (or 3000GT as our American readers know it). If you’d like to learn more about the GTO/3000GT, then you can read our 3000GT buyer’s guide and model history here.

To many, the FTO was just some mythical sports coupe that existed in Gran Turismo games:

In a Mitsubishi’s official “Facts & Figures” report from the year 2000, the company had the following to say about the FTO:

“Small brother of the GTO, this sports coupe gives full expression to MMC’s fun-to-drive philosophy with well-balanced proportions wrapped in dynamic and aggressive styling and INVECS-II with Sport Mode automatic + manual override transmission”

However, despite being the younger, upstart sibling, the FTO was a well-regarded car in its day, and was even the first sports car to win Japanese Car of the Year for some time.

The FTO was popular thanks to sharp handling, attractive looks, and commendable power.

In particular, the higher spec FTOs came with a 2 litre V6 – churning out around 200hp in top trim (GPX). There was a less powerful V6 option available, but the most desirable is the MIVEC-equipped version, which is similar to Honda’s VTEC system. The FTO could also be specced with a fairly innovative tiptronic system that attempted to learn your driving style and respond accordingly, as well as provide a manual override option.

In this old Best Motoring clip from 1995, you can see the top-spec FTO GPX going head-to-head against the recently-launched Integra Type R. Although the Type R beats the FTO (thanks primarily to its significant weight advantage) there isn’t a huge difference in the outcome, with less than half a second in it. In the real world, there isn’t much to it at all.

If you’re on the market for a “tier two” Japanese performance car from the golden era of the 1990s, then a Mitsubishi FTO could be a sound buy. You can read our Mitsubishi FTO buyer’s guide and model history here for more information.

But is the Mitsubishi FTO a JDM car?

In this short edition of Car Facts, we explore whether or not the FTO was a true JDM car.

The FTO Was Originally A True JDM Car

If you’ve read our article on the true meaning of JDM, then you’ll know that a proper JDM car is one that was only ever intended for the Japanese Domestic Market.

This means – for example – that the Toyota Supra Mk4 is not a true JDM car, because there were export models built for sale new in the United States, Europe and Australasia. However, there was a JDM version (which featured things such as claiming to comply with the 280hp limit and having a 180km/h speedometer).

The Mitsubishi FTO, on the other hand, was originally a true JDM car.

It was initially built only for the Japanese domestic market, and not for export.

FTOs were exclusively sold through Mitsubishi car dealerships called “Car Plaza” and “Galant Shop” (from what we can gather, Mitsubishi Motors once had these two separate brand names, and some models were exclusive to one brand or the other in certain areas).

From the “Facts & Figures” report we mentioned above, you can see that the car was sold across both dealership chains:

fto jdm dealership chains

In this respect, the Mitsubishi FTO is a JDM car.

… However, the story doesn’t end there:

Grey Market Popularity Led To Official Distributorship

Thanks to the good reputation of the FTO, it soon found popularity outside of Japan as a used, “grey market” import.

Basically, importers would bring in FTOs from the used Japanese car market and then resell them in the UK, New Zealand, Australia etc.

In the first instance, this wasn’t done through official Mitsubishi channels (hence being “grey” imports). For example, by the end of the FTO’s production in 2000, over 20,000 had found their way abroad as grey imports.

However, over time Mitsubishi figured out that the FTO was a popular enough option to warrant some official distribution into these other markets. In the UK, this was first done under Mitsubishi’s “Red Zebra” import program, which basically provided an official import channel for used FTOs (as well as other performance Mitsubishi models, such as the Lancer Evolution – read our Evo buyer’s guide here).

The Red Zebra program was designed to give UK-based buyers the option to purchase a verified, used import with confidence. From an old edition of Design Week (which was primarily focused on the brand name component) we found the following line: “After consultation with our dealers and the general public, the Red Zebra name emerged as a distinctive and strong in-house brand title. The Red Zebra brand will signal that Mitsubishi Motors’ traditional values apply to used as well as new vehicles.”

Similar programs existed in countries like New Zealand as well.

Towards the very end of the FTOs production, Mitsubishi started selling a limited number of new cars as well. However, the vast majority you see on Western roads are used imports (either grey or official) from Japan.

Don’t believe us about the new FTOs?

Here’s an example from Turners Cars in New Zealand (Turners is the biggest car auction/dealership company in NZ) that was featured on their blog back in 2019. This particular FTO was first registered in New Zealand back in 1998. What is interesting in this article is that they refer to this FTO as a JDM Gem, despite it not being a JDM car!

NZ new Mitsubishi FTO

Using, we can see that this particular FTO was definitely NZ-new, meaning it was not a used import and therefore not a JDM example as it was built for export.

That being said, the vast majority of FTOs on the road in any country are JDM examples that have been exported overseas.

Recap – Is The Mitsubishi FTO A JDM Car?

Long story short, the Mitsubishi FTO was originally a true JDM car.

Mitsubishi built it only for sale new in the Japanese market.

However, due to it being a great car to drive (and winning awards in the Japanese domestic market) a large number found their way to markets like the UK and New Zealand as unofficial “grey” imports.

This – in turn – led to Mitsubishi starting to bring some used examples in as official imports, and eventually an even smaller number of

Don’t forget to read our Mitsubishi FTO buyer’s guide and model history here if you’d like to learn more about this “unsung hero” of the golden era of Japanese performance motoring.

The FTO is a great car – if you can find a good example you should strongly consider getting one. Although it never reached the same prominence and popularity as its big brother, the 3000GT/GTO (due in part to the FTO originally being a JDM-only car) it offers a great blend of sharp handling, free-revving NA power, and good looks.

What do you think about the Mitsubishi FTO? Leave your opinion in the comment section below – we would love to hear from you!


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

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