By on August 8, 2011


Chrysler spent a couple of decades selling Mitsubishis and Simcas with Dodge and Plymouth badges in North America, and the Mitsubishi Galant/Lancer-based Colt line went through the most twists and turns. At first, Plymouth-branded Colts were sold as Champs, but by the mid-1980s both the Dodge and Plymouth versions were called Colts. The difference? Damn if I can find one that goes deeper than emblems.

Imported for Plymouth! This generation of Colt has become quite rare on the street, though they seemed as common as Corollas and Civics when new.

While Japanese econoboxes of the 1980s were mostly pretty miserable machines, I do sometimes miss their weird, vaguely science-fiction-ish interiors. And remember when cars had interior space not completely used up by cockpit-style consoles and cup holders?

This is the bread-and-butter, non-turbo, non-Twin-Stick Colt, complete with 4G15 Orion engine. The Colt of this era wasn’t much known for reliability, but it was cheap and sipped gas. The entry-level Colt E two-door hatch listed at $5,372, or about 300 bucks cheaper than a new Chevette. The ’86 Subaru STD (yes, there was a car called the STD) could be purchased for $4,989, and the bottom-of-the-barrel ’86 Excel went for $4,995. The Colt was a far superior vehicle to the Chevette, STD, and Excel, and so was a pretty good deal at the time (though the much better Civic two-door hatch was just a C-note more expensive).

And now almost all of them are gone. I’d like to think that a few Colts of this vintage will stay with us, though I’m certainly not willing to rescue one myself.

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26 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Plymouth Colt...”


  • avatar
    The Comedian

    Back then I think Mitsubishi didn’t call their equivalent the Lancer, they name it the Mirage for the US market.

    • 0 avatar
      solracer

      At the time the Colt/Lancer shared the same chassis and were pretty much the same car. In Japan Mitsubishi called the 4-door a Lancer and the 3-door the Colt. In the USA both three and four doors were called Colts by Chrysler while Mitsubishi. which sold only the 3-door, called theirs the Mirage.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    Oh the memories…

    My first car was a ’87 Dodge Colt. Gold with a beige interior, 5-speed, black wheel covers and pinstripes down the side.

    Didn’t know how to drive a stick when I bought it, but that car took my abuse happily. By the time I was finished with it I painted the steel wheels a matching gold, added a rear wing from the Colt turbo, and upgraded the AM/FM radio with a cassette player from a Honda.

    That little Colt ran for years after I sold it, outlasting my second and third cars. I imagine it just simply disappeared into a cloud of rust one sunny morning.

    • 0 avatar
      ZekeToronto

      Oh the memories indeed! My father had a Chrysler store in the 80s and as a student I had two Dodge Colts. The first was the previous generation car (the first front driver)–an RS model in black, with the cherished twin stick. I remember a few of the old timers who bought them would refer to the second stick as a “ruxle”, after the nickname for the 2-speed final drive gears in trucks and busses.

      My proudest moment was when I mastered the twin stick–with one hand I could run up and down all 8 speeds, without the shifts taking any longer than normal. It was kinda like heel and toeing, but with a hand instead of a foot. Although the question “why?” never entered my mind, I’m sure those 2-H to 3-L (and opposite) shifts required more manual dexterity than I could muster nowadays!

      My second Colt was a silver Turbo of the generation shown. It had a 5-speed–which was really just the same old 4-speed unit, whose overdrive now worked in fourth gear only (and was activated by an electric switch inside the “5-speed” shifter). I didn’t have this one very long, but I’ll always remember the night I flipped it onto its side in a ditch full of several feet of soft, newly-fallen snow. [No coincidence that it was my first front driver powerful enough to exhibit torque steer.] Amazingly, in the daylight the next morning, we couldn’t find a single scratch or dent on the body.

      We don’t seem to have many cars of this cheap and cheerful variety any more. Although I probably wouldn’t pick a Colt for a resto project, thanks for triggering some happy memories!

      • 0 avatar
        solracer

        Interesting. I had a ’79 Colt RS and later on an ’86 Mirage Turbo just like you did. My Mirage was red and just like the Colt I kept it for 150,000 miles. Sold the Mirage to a friend’s girlfriend and she blew up the motor the next day. A few phone calls and I found a low-miles replacement engine for less than $400 which she agreed to pay to put in rather than give me the car back.

        The Colt met a more interesting end, it was stolen and rolled, fixed with parts from a friend’s identical wrecked RS and then backed into twice. After all that it still ran and drove ok so it was sold for next to nothing to a local mechanic. Would love to find a nice example of either but all the ones I’ve found are either in Florida or are in poor shape.

        Oh and it’s a “Ruxstel” axel, referring two the aftermarket two-speed rear end sold for the Model T. Combined with the planetary 2-speed T transmission this resulted in 4 forward speeds. It wasn’t a “twin stick” as the Ruxstel shift lever was the only lever (the T shifted using pedals) but the result was the same.

  • avatar

    For some reason, I was always enamored with those side marker lights. I forgot how sleek and space age that dashboard was!

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I saw one of these just yesterday, in that metallic sky blue Mitsu used back then. The one I saw had the ‘Colt E’ over the right tail light without any ‘imported for..’ badging.

  • avatar
    Kosher Polack

    Mom got one of these as a college graduation gift right a year or so after I was born, and it lasted at least until I was 8 or 9, old enough to be amazed watching Dad take the engine apart to show me all the valves, pistons, crankshaft, etc. (including one piston that had a massive hole in it) after which it was sent off to the heap. Neither of them have very fond memories of that car, nor I, because vinyl seats are very, very hot and the prevailing attitude at the time was that car seats are for WASP babies.

    I don’t think I’ve seen another one since 1993, though.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    If you went to a Plymouth dealer in 1978, you had two cars to choose from. Mitsubishi’s Colt line, sold as the Champ, and the new Horizon. One was imported and offered a coupe, a sedan and a wagon, and the other was domestically produced in Illinois, and only came as a four door until a coupe came out a year later. The sedan and wagon were rear drive. The coupe was front wheel drive.

    The Colt line up was retained by Chrysler because it was what Chrysler offered in it’s showroom during the 1970s. Colts were sold as Dodges and as Plymouth Champs. However, what was more profitable? Importing Mitsubishis, or producing Horizons and Ommis?

    The Colts and the Horizon were hard edged box designs, that is, the Colt sedans and wagons – but Mitsubishi offered a modern space age take on the subcompact box design in coupe form. It took the Civic-GLC-Golf-Horizon design and softened it, added twin stick manual transmission, and a lower sticker price. Importantly, it was FWD, while the rest of the Colt line was RWD. While the sedan and wagon plodded along within the market nicely, the coupe found a nice niche and became popular. From 1978 until 1983, the second generation Colt with it’s neat space age subcompact hatch design found a soft spot.

    This car replaced that second generation in 1984, and Mitsubishi made the entire line up FWD, so the Colt/Champ’s uniqueness ended. Consquentially, sales declined due to it’s styling invisibility as well as newer market competition in the FWD field.

    I wouldn’t bother trying to save this vehicle either.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who misses the freedom to move your legs around like you used to be able to do when FWD came about and one of the advantages was that nice room up front no matter how small the car was, now of course with the fighter jet-type cockpits your legs got nowhere to go which makes the whole FWD movement seem even more useless.

  • avatar
    calhounje

    I’m so cheap I actually owned two of these. One I bought new (the one with the weird 8 speed shifter thingy) with my first professional paycheck and drove until the synchros went. The other one I bought years later as a semi-joke second car for $200 from a guy at work. Every inch of sheet metal on the entire thing was dented and I remember the black painted bumpers were 80% rust. This became one of my favorite cars EVER. I taught 3 of my friends to drive a stick in it, carried bags of cement in the back, drove it to work every day and never, EVER did a thing to it including changing the oil. (It leaked so much, I figured the oil was fresh enough) I had it for 3 years, drove it more than 30k, got married in it when the “good” car decided to quit that day, and eventually GAVE it to a friend who drove it until the struts popped through the hood. I loved that crappy thing….

  • avatar
    catbert430

    I had a 1985 Mitsubishi Mirage that looked jsot like this except for a blue interior instead of red.

    It was a 4-speed; not a 5-speed.

    I’d like to say the memories were fond, but the reality is that they weren’t.

    The engine was too weak for keeping with traffic on any sort of upgrade. The windows were perpetually fogged up in warm weather due to out-gassing of the vinyl upholstery. The A/C (only optional equipment I had) was seriously weak. The rear hatch rusted and it had a habit of losing windshields and rear backlights at the slightest provocation.

    I was so happy to get rid of it that I sold it for less than I had recently paid for an new A/C condensor.

    I never felt the need to consider Mitsubishi at all when considering subsequent cars.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    We bought one of these new for the wife back in the day. In fact, it was the last truly ‘new’ car that we ever purchased (having since wised up to the realities of automotive depreciation). It was even white with the red interior, but hers had the plastic cladding on the sides. For some reason my wife thought that looked really cool. It kept running with minimal interventions until the mid 90’s when someone hit it and rendered unworthy of repair, and even at that stage she was sorry to see it go.

  • avatar
    solracer

    Back in the ’80s I had both a ’79 Colt hatchback with a twin-stick and a ’86 Mirage turbo with the 5-speed. The twin-stick had been discontinued when the 2nd-gen Colt/Mirage came out in 1985. I discovered however that the “5-speed” was just the old twin-stick with a solenoid that would perform the high-low shift when you went from “4th” to “5th”. In other words it had 1-4 low and 5 high gears of the old twin-stick. I bought a shift knob with a button (from the 4wd Vista) and hooked it up to the 5th gear sensor giving me the old twin-stick behavior with the 5-speed.

  • avatar
    SP

    One of the pithiest jokes I have ever read in my life is the simple, two-word phrase:

    “Plymouth Clot”

    Enough said.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    Only 83,000 original miles? $5k might sound cheap, but back in the mid-80’s it was a lot more than you might think. Can’t believe that thing was put out to pasture before even 100k miles.

  • avatar
    gottacook

    I don’t think “Chrysler spent a couple of decades selling Mitsubishis and Simcas with Dodge and Plymouth badges in North America” is accurate with respect to Simcas. I recall seeing a Simca hatchback (under its own name) in a Chrysler-Plymouth showroom in 1970. Within a year the Simca had been replaced in showrooms by the infamous Plymouth Cricket, which was a renamed British product.

    • 0 avatar
      Volt 230

      And turned out to be the worst car possibly ever imported by an American car maker.

    • 0 avatar

      The Omni/Horizon was also a Simca product.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Other than styling, the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon and the Talbot Horizon had very little in common. They didn’t share engines, transmissions, or chassis design. The body panels weren’t interchangeable. The Talbot didn’t even have struts locating the front wheels of its torsion bar front suspension while the Dodge Omni had struts and coil springs. The Omni was far more of a Rabbit clone that happened to be dressed as a Talbot Horizon than it was an adaptation of the Talbot Horizon for the US market.

  • avatar
    Mike_Canuck

    My first car was a 1998 Colt E, sedan, light blue/dark blue interior…paid $500 for it in ’97 and drove it ’till 2001. I actually got $300 for it on trade in!! It had vinyl seats, no radio and no power steering. The 3-speed auto shifted so hard if you were laying into ‘er, that it blew the exhaust off shifting from 1st-to 2nd one day….right in front of the police station. I still don’t know why they didn’t stop me. But yet, I still miss that car. Like many others, it never needed an oil change since it leaked enough that I just topped it off, and well it was rusting pretty bad…still, was sad to see ‘er go. There was a guy in my neighbourhood that actually had a mint-version of one just a couple of years ago, and when I finally thought of visiting him, it was gone…bummer.

  • avatar
    YotaCarFan

    The first Japanese car I set foot in was my father’s Plymouth Champ (generation previous to that pictured here) with the dual stick shift. I was a teen at the time and was awestruck by the high-tech futuristic dashboard of that car. It was very reliable — it only suffered a broken clutch cable and broken setback lock mechanism during 10+ years and 150K+ miles of usage. It was underpowered, though. My first car was a used 1987 Hyundai Excel 5-speed, which repurposed the shift range solenoid of the dual-stick transmission to select a 5th gear as pointed out by another poster. It, too, had a reliable engine.

    After reading this article I looked at Mitsubishi’s USA car website out of curiosity/nostalgia. “mitsubishi.com”: “Error, access forbidden. “www.mitsubishi.com”: confusing portal with “click for english website” button. I clicked it and got another Mitsu portal site. I clicked “country” and got a map. I clicked the “USA” icon and got a list of a dozen Mitsu subsidiaries in USA. I found and clicked the tiny “mitsu motors USA” link and finally got to the proper website. The Mitsu car website looks like it’s formatted for a cell phone display — very tiny box with content on large blank web browser screen. I clicked the “vehicles” button and their lineup appeared. It’s positively pathetic! They have nothing appealing to someone wanting a family car, a high tech car, or an economical (but not crappy) car. Lineup: 3 variations of Lancer HoonMobile, 2 variations of Eclipse pony car, the Galant (exterior looks too much like ugly Dodge 300 and interior looks disgustingly cheap), and 2 models of SUV. Looking at their Japanese website (http://www.mitsubishi-motors.co.jp/lineup/index.html#/car), I see they have a nice assortment of “normal” vehicles. This company appears to have abandoned efforts for the USA market in terms of marketing and lineup, yet they’re still wasting money keeping a presence here. I simply don’t get it.

  • avatar
    DougD

    Dad had one just like that for a commuter. We didn’t think of it as an odd car at the time, since it replaced a Subaru which was considerably odder.
    I’d more or less forgotten about that car, but looking at the photos brought back instant memories of the clutch pedal and gearshift, both of which were so springy and boingy you’d swear they were made of rubber.
    It was a very reliable car, but a prodigious ruster in a salty climate. Eventually the wiring harness corroded and we couldn’t keep up with the wires falling off, so to the junkyard it went about 15 years ahead of this one.

  • avatar
    jayzwhiterabbit

    My grandmother had this EXACT Colt until she traded it for a Cutlass Ciera in 1993. It was light brown and had an automatic, but it was a hatchback. She frickin’ LOVED that little car…it was dead reliable and great on gas in a way that modern cars can only envy. The funniest thing is that my grandmother, who grew up in WW2 with stories of Japanese atrocity, didn’t realize what she was driving was actually an Asian import. And at the time I remember what a vocal critic she was of people driving those “lil’ old tin-can Toyotas.” She swears to this day she didn’t know it wasn’t domestic, although after the Ciera died this past year she immediately went out and got a 2012 Toyota Corolla. People change, LOL.

    The Colt is still her favorite car of all she ever owned.


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