This could be the only Debonair in Uganda

Thursday September 16 2021

Nuwagaba’s Deboinair has been in his family since 1969. PHOTOS/roland nasasira

By Roland D. Nasasira

Eugene Nuwagaba has owned a 1968 Mitshubishi Debonair for about 15 years. It has been in his family since 1969 when it was registered under registration number UVW 499.

When Nuwagaba inherited it, one of the plates was missing. He has since painfully, replaced them with the seven digit number plate that has been in use since the late 1990s.

Car specs

The Debonair runs on a four-cylinder 2600cc automatic transmission engine.

By style and design, it is boxy in nature and borrows its shape from the old fashioned Lincoln Continental, which makes the Debonair a luxury car.

“You cannot attach value to sentiments. There is no one who can convince me to sell this car but its value is upwards of $40,000 (Shs144m). Even on the international market, a Debonair is not a readily available car because it is hard to come by. A well maintained car costs more than a restored one,” Nuwagaba speaks of the 53-year old luxury.


In Uganda and possibly in East Africa, Nuwagaba opines that his could be the only Debonair in the region because he has never seen another anywhere, not even at the classic car events he has been to.

And much as he has never tested how fast it can accelerate, he is sure the Debonair can cover very long distances. He has driven it twice to Mombasa, about 1,134 km away and to his native Kabale District in western Uganda. It cost him four full tanks to Mombasa and back to Kampala. Its full tank capacity is 75 litres. It is not a racer but a cruise car that goes up to 180km/hour. 

Car interior features

The Debonair has many unique interior features. It was among the very first cars to be fitted with the alcantara interior.

Alcantara is a sued-like textile that is commonly used as a substitute for leather and vinyl in vehicle interior trim. It rarely ages and does not pick dirt easily.

Other cars with such interiors, according to Nuwagaba, may include the Lexus, Mercedes and the BMW.

The alcantara interior, Nuwagaba adds, is more authentic and durable than cotton and other synthetic material used in present day cars.

It is also one of the few cars that have radio control for the back passengers. You can turn it off or on from the control panel that is positioned between the driver and co-driver’s seats. 

“It also has an air purifier just below the rear wind shield that sucks out any kind of foul air from the car interior. The colour and texture of the floor mats matches that of seats. The rear seats have reading lights positioned above passenger heads and this does not in any way affect the driver at night,” Nuwagaba says.

Ordinarily, the Debonair is supposed to use the five-inch halogen lamps at the front.

With time, these no longer have good visibility at night. They were replaced with five inch xenon headlamps. The rear lights are the ordinary square lights, with three brake lights, three parking lights and two indicators.

The bigger the number of lights, the fancier and flashier the car was. The rear back line is more of a whole boulevard street of lights.

It has ordinary wheels with 14-inch wheel caps.

The steering wheel is very thin and can be a little uncomfortable when you have just held it but more comfortable as you get used to driving it.

Service and maintenance

The Debonair uses ‘normal’ oil and size two oil filters.

Nuwagaba however, adds a product known as motor honey, a car lube that increases oil viscosity to make it a little heavier than ordinary oil

It also uses ordinary round air cleaners and spark plugs. It is all about knowing where and who to purchase them from.

The biggest challenge, according to Nuwagaba, are body parts but others such as shocks, stabiliser bar and suspension bushes are consistent, just like bolts.

He services it after driving for 5,000km and sometimes less. It depends on how much he drives it.

“The colour of the car varies because it is more functional. I rent it out most times for video shoots and filming,” Nuwagaba adds.

Old is gold

Nuwagaba drives the Debonair over the weekend and when he is ‘happy’. When driving an old car, you do not mind about how many kilometres it covers using one litre of fuel.

“I strive to get the best out of the car and sometimes have alterations which may not be to factory specifications. For example, I installed the apex filters and air filters. The air cleaner and fuel filter have been altered to get better efficiency but this does not necessarily mean fuel efficiency, but I just want to be sure I can go back home at the end of the day,” Nuwagaba says.

Its comfort, Nuwagaba concludes, is relatively good when loaded. If it’s the driver alone, it gives them the bumpiness of a pick-up but it is more comfortable with passengers. 

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