By on December 30, 2009

anybody remember me?

As is all-too obvious, I have a particular soft spot for older Japanese cars, especially the more obscure varieties. So when I walked into this Cordia, I just had to stop, shoot and write. I haven’t seen one since moving to Oregon, but there might well be some logical rationale behind that: the Cordia was almost surely was never sold there. Good luck finding any Cordia, or its Tredia sedan sibling, but if anywhere at all, its going to be here in California.

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In our recent Colt/Champ CC, we covered the Mitsubishi-Chrysler tie-up. By the early eighties, Mitsubishi wanted more of the action than just wholesaling cars to Chrysler, and pissed off its partner by going into business in the US by itself. Since the Colt and Space Wagon were tied up by Chrysler, Mitsubishi began by sending a trio of the more stranger-named cars just about ever to hit these shores: Cordia, Tredia and Starion.

The Cordia name was explained as a combination of cordorite, a lustrous mineral, and diamonds, Mitsu’s logo. The Tredia was supposedly named after the three-diamonds logo. And the Starion? Urban legend has it that it was an “Engrished” version of the intended name “Stallion”. We’ll take on that whole story when I find a Starion. But let me start off the debate by asking: does Starion sound any less intentionally weird than Cordia or Tredia?

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Anyway, Mitsubishi started out with a small dealer network, which was in California and…California. Well, actually, a few east coast markets were technically also part of the slow roll-out, but damn if I ever saw one of these Cordias out east. And if any were sold, they’ve obviously long since succumbed to the oxide god.

I can’t find out a lot of detail anymore about exactly which engines Mitsubishi installed in US-bound Cordias. Probably a 1.8 liter four. Were any turbos sent this way? Are there any early Mitsubishi fans out there? Does anyone care? But before this obscure box completely leaves our collective memories, it deserves its fifteen seconds of fame. Consider it done.

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52 Comments on “Curbside Classic CA Vacation Edition: The Last Mitsubishi Cordia In The World?...”

  • avatar

    I remember a goof-ball letter-writer to “Car and Driver” magazine who signed his letters, “The Cordia Kid.”  I wonder whatever became of him.
    You know, you need to get yourself a copy of the
    Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 by Mike Covello for reference questions like what kind of engines came standard on now obscure cars like the Mitsubishi Cordia.  (My copy is currently in storage.)  The book has officially gone out-of-print.  Pity.  But there are a few new copies still available.  Try Amazon or Barnes and Noble online.

  • avatar

    I test drove one of these right after I got stationed in San Diego at the 32nd Street Naval Station.  Man it was sweet.  IIRC it was a turbo model.  But it was out of my price range and I was barely 21, which made the insurance impossible.

  • avatar

    I have never heard the ‘backstory’ of the names of these cars. I seem to remember reading about the Starion’s naming, but it had nothing to do with ‘Engrish’. It seems it was along the same lines as the Cordia, but a contraction of the English words star and orion.
    Regardless, I remember seeing Cordias and Tredias as far west as Cleveland when I lived there and maybe in Atlanta, too. But very few and far in between.
    I’m starting to think I need to go to Eugene and wander around, too.

  • avatar

    I still remember the first Mitsi badged car that I ever saw (I was six) was a brand new 1983 Starion that the guy installed my parents central air in their home drove. We were in Eastern Ohio, and I remember the guy telling my Dad that he bought it in St Louis. It was years until I saw another Mitsubishi again, especially a Starion (including the Chrysler knock-off, the Conquest)

  • avatar
    And IMHO this would have a better explanation of the name for Mitsu to use:

  • avatar

    Cordia, Tredia…
    Where’s the Beadia or Beltia?

  • avatar

    Why have all car companies forgotten how to do “clean” styling? Almost all modern cars look overdone and rediculous (not to mention HUGE) compared to this car.
    Very cool.

  • avatar

    I got a chance to drive a turbo in Australia in the mid 80s. It was insanely fast for its time but it was a handful to keep on the road. The turbo lag was like a fuse that blew lit up a world of torque steer. Like the MX-6 turbo, it was one of those cars that would have killed me had I been able to afford one.

  • avatar

    Boy, this was a pretty sad car in my opinion. It was the big version of the Colt, as one can see from the styling. It came after the Plymouth Arrow, another Mitsubishi “world beater”. The Arrow was the only rental car of my entire life which failed on me. Would not start when I was late for my flight, Avis couldn’t care less, etc., etc.

    The Arrow had primitive suspension, was unsafe in a crosswind of more than a mild breeze and showed why in those days, a VW Golf, junk though it was in terms of quality (I had a Jetta which I dumped after only 15 months ownership) drove about 20 times better.

    I’m struggling to understand what is classic about this car.

  • avatar

    In Australia, I think all Cordias and Starions were turbos. I seem to remember a magazine declaring the Starion positively dangerous. It had bad turbo lag, a lot of power that came on unexpectedly, weak brakes and was very narrow.

    • 0 avatar

      @ Spike_in_Irvine
      There were non-turbos too. My flat-mate (at the time ~’84) in Australia had a non-turbo manual with the previously seen power-economy lever. The 1.8L engine had terrible ring problems and were also in the deplorable Colt.
      Speaking of the handling of turbo cars of this era, he moved up to a Starion Turbo (sought after in Australia) and promptly nearly killed himself while totalling the car. Demons lurked within these machines.
      One feature I remember was the secure/water-proof pop-out air-vents/scoops in the B-pillar. I often wonder why more manufacturers don’t do that anymore.

  • avatar

    In Latin tongues I guess the Cordia rings a bell with Cardia which would be Latin (real old Latin) for heart.

    Now maybe that’s where they got the “inspiration”.

    Maybe Latin and Germanic tongues Cordia is some weird offering of Cordial? (seems right w/ Civic)

  • avatar

    Sweet find.
    I remember seeing a pretty fair number of Mitsubushi cars growing up in the New York City area in the 1980s, Cordias included.  A good friend of mine in high school had a Tredia.

  • avatar

    My brother drove one of these in the 70’s. Cool car. His had a digital dash in fluorescent orange that, at the time, was cooler than anything. I believe after a severe case of rust and countless mechanical gremlins, it was traded in for a Dodge Ram Van with orange shag carpeting, bubble windows in the back, slot mags and orange flames over a blue metallic paint job with a killer 8-track. God, I miss the 70’s.

  • avatar

    Yesterday i just happened to stumble upon two of these for sale here when looking for cheap cars to pass the time, one is a turbo, both cost 500€.

  • avatar

    I hope you find an old mid-80s Mirage as well; I always wanted one, and forgot all about ’em until this article.

  • avatar

    My sister’s first car was a 1986 Cordia. Her’s was white, too. Well, white and rust. She never drove it-not even once-because it was a 5-speed and she was never able to learn how to drive with a manual transmission, so it sat in the driveway for about 2 years. I drove it a little bit (very little). I recall that it was pleasant enough to drive, at least as far as small cars go. I also recall that setting the parking brake after it had sat for so long was a big mistake!

    By the way, I’m in Wisconsin and an early Mitsubishi vehicle, Cordia or otherwise, was nearly unheard of here.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    With the exception of the 3000GT/Stealth, 1st gen Eclipse, and the original pickup truck, Mitsubishi has always has a tough time even nearing the decent styling target.  Look at what they make now, and the majority of their designs are completely forgettable.

  • avatar

    You’d also see a lot of these at US military bases overseas. They were inexpensive US-spec cars sold st a discount to military and civilians through AAFES. While not many will have survived this long, you’ll see them turn up elsewhere in the US. I’d look in towns with military bases.

  • avatar

    Official history here:

  • avatar

    Mitsu fans? Ha ha, that’s funny! I’m with DaveM on Mitsus.

    Oops! 2Goldens (several spaces above) actually thought they were cool. And I see Itarian Starion is impressed with this find. Well excuse me. (Note to moderators: none of this is meant disrespectfully. I realize that people have completely different tastes in cars, and I’m just having fun with that.)
    As for the names, my theory on some of the Korean names (elantra, sephia, etc.) is that they had some lame computer algorithm. Could have been similar for these Mitsu names, except there wasn’t nearly as much computer power back then. (Elantra always sounded to me like a very clangy shifting of gears.)
    I’m going to be very disappointed if the Starion wasn’t engrished.

  • avatar

    Educatordan is right:
    And IMHO this would have a better explanation of the name for Mitsu to use:
    In case you missed it, the Cordia is a plant. The berries are alternately called: Snotty gobbles. Glue Berries. Clammy Cherries! and the leaves are hairy!

    Paul: please find a ’58 or ’64 Chevy wagon before you leave San Mateo. Or a ’64 or ’65 Chevelle. Any ’64 Buick will do. In fact, any ’64 GM anything will do.

  • avatar

    Ahh, the memories. I had an 84 Starion in 87. It was a manual with that fantastic turbo lag and torque steer…  The best thing was the techno dash where the gauges were all made out of rectangular LED’s for the speedo and tach. For a 23 yo at the time and no real sense about what a car should be, it was a blast. I always thought that mitsu got it right on the gen2 Starions in the mid 80’s. They copied the beefed up rear end body look of a Porsche 944 and it fixed some of the issues with the first gen. Also, they put in normal gauges.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    There was a very successful Mitsubishi dealership in Tampa, Florida, in the 1980s. When I was there, I used to see a lot of Cordias, Starions and even the peculiar little minivan with the windowcuts in the door, just like on the big Mitsu trucks.

  • avatar

    There was nothing really wrong with these cars. They were attractive and priced right. Mitsubishi was competing well with their competition. They failed because they couldn’t create enough sales to justify the costs of competing in the US market. Mitsubishi didn’t lose customers, they didn’t find customers to begin with. It is a mistake to dismiss these cars because of any perceived shortcomings we have towards them today.

    Not every brand dies because of poor products. Mitsubishi is one of those examples. There are plenty of other good car companies that are no longer around that died off because of the economics of auto manufacturing, not because of poor products that lost customers.

  • avatar

    Fantastic find. Thanks for sharing.

  • avatar

    As mentioned previously, this is a pretty cleanly styled car.  It appears to be in pretty darn good shape, too.  And it’s an auto — I did not expect that.  I would like to see a close-up of the stereo, I bet it has a graphic equalizer built in.  Ah, the 80’s.  Thanks for posting.

    • 0 avatar

      I think the least desirable models end up surviving the years. If this were a stick or a turbo model it would have been beaten to death by now.  And so the lowly slushbox Cordia soldiers on.

  • avatar

    According to The Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 the 1982-83 Cordia had a 1.8 L four with 82 hp, trade in 1984 for a 2.0 L with 88 hp. The Turbo, introduced in ’84, used the 1.8 L, with lower compression and 116 hp. (Looking at the specs, it appears that the 2.0L and 1.8L engines were essentially the same block, with the former having a 4mm-wider bore.)

    With newer (post-1980) cars, you can usually figure out the model year by reading the VIN. The 10th digit is an alphanumeric code indicating the year. (Pre-1979 VINs can tell you the year, as well, but there was a lot less uniformity.) I’ve started doing that for ease of reference. The only problem is when people have dashboard covers, which often block the VIN plate.

    • 0 avatar

      You can often tell the model years by looking at lenses of the lights, at least you used to.  Cast into the plastic is usually the model year represented by two digits.  You can get fooled, however, if the lights don’t change style.  A good example would be ’70s era ‘Vettes.  The rear tail lights were the same for a number of years, but the number stayed the same (’77 if I recall correctly).
      A coworker had a Starion turbo with the 2.6 four.  Fun car that ate its Yokohamas in short order.  And oddly enough, in cold weather the rims would lose their seal with the tires and they would go soft.  Cordias/Tredias were a fairly common sight here in the Northeast, but they really did sound tinny and cheap.  The doors sounded like an empty can if you let the door handle snap back into place.  Still, for the era, they were pretty good commuter cars.    Looking at those interior photos really brings back memories of the ’80s…man I wish I had a time machine…

  • avatar

    cnyguy: Mitsu fans? Well, I like mine. As far as the rest of your post goes:  if you didn’t mean it, why did you say it?
    Basically, I’m making fun of mitsus and the people who like them while admitting that my tastes in cars are no more valid than theirs. I happen to think these are ugly cars with funny names, but I’ve never driven one, and at least some of those who have liked them. But this isn’t serious arguing. If we were all sitting around a table drinking, we’d be laughing and having a good time.

  • avatar

    Growing up in Westchester County, NY, there were plenty of these. They looked great at the time, at least through my teenage eyes. Still doesn’t look bad really.

  • avatar

    I see your Cordia and raise you a Tredia. There is a silver one that can be seen seen daily in of all places Harwinton, Connecticut. Right out on Route 4 in front of a liquor store. If I remember to I”ll snap a picture. It actually doesn’t look too bad for its age, but then again I’m driving by at about 45 mph.

  • avatar

    Crush 157/Power6: Re: Torque Steer with RWD- Ever drive a Big Block Mustang or Camaro? YES, you can get torque steering with RWD…even unintentionally!!

  • avatar


    A neighbor of mine going back 20yrs had one of these.. but I think it was called something like a Tredia I remember it being a 3dr and maybe grey. This is back when the Galant was no bigger than a 3rd gen Accord, 85-86ish

  • avatar

    My parents bought a new Cordia LS in 1983. The dealership was in Rockaway, NJ. The car had an outrageous digital dash in orange and green and even had little glowing arrows telling the driver that status of the air vents. It also had vents on the B-pillar that could be opened to bring fresh air to the back seat passengers. Seriously, the best little car my parents ever had. I even have pics of it on my facebook page. Loved that car!

  • avatar

    Oregon comes through again! I just posted up my first Cordia on oldparkedcars, ( and a gorgeous Tredia last year (albeit in Washington

  • avatar

    Cordia turbos were used as highway patrol cars in NZ but any cordia is rare now they all got thrashed to death

  • avatar

    Last Cordia.. doubt it. I happen to know of 2 others. Me and my ex rebuilt one here in Tucson, AZ. Quite the beauty. 1.8 turbo, huge hit in the illegals.

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