By on February 7, 2012

Turbocharging was big when the 80s began, and nobody liked turbocharging better by mid-decade than Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Chrysler/Mitsubishi. Turbo Cordias, Turbo Omnis, Turbo K-cars, Turbo Starions and, of course, the various Chryslerized flavors of the Turbo Mitsubishi Mirage. I’d forgotten about the Plymouth-badged Turbo Colts, but then I found this low-mile example awaiting its date with The Crusher in a California self-service wrecking yard.
Yes, just 43,286 miles on the clock, which is low even by the lax standards to which we hold 80s Mitsubishi products. Broken speedometer cable, perhaps? Project car that sat for 20 years before an angry landlord or wife banished it?
Yeah, it’s got a Twin Stick!
This 1.6 liter engine made 102 horsepower when new. 102 horses might be laughable by 2012 standards (hell, even the ’12 Kia Rio has 138 horses), but this car weighed only 1,865 pounds and it was quick. It was also a torque-steering nightmare that did everything possible to shoot holes in the belief that all Japanese cars were reliable, but who cares? The ’84 VW Rabbit GTI weighed 1,950 pounds and had just 90 horsepower. Which would you have bought?

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38 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1984 Plymouth Colt GTS Turbo...”

  • avatar

    I rode in one back in the day. A really fast little car that could handle but you just couldn’t ignore the piss-poor quality of the interior. Lots of road noise, even from the tires, and it had doors which were so flimsy you could flex them on the car when open. These tin cans were far from survivable in accidents.

  • avatar

    In 1984, this was one of the few pocket rockets that seemed to pose a real threat to my CRX 1.5. I never got to drive a Colt Turbo but I drove a couple of regular Colts. They seemed to be a few cuts below the Hondas and Toyotas in refinement and quality – after all, the design had been around since 1978. The Twin-Stick was a cute idea for a kludge intended to save Mitsubishi the cost of developing a real 5-speed.

  • avatar

    By 1984, Americans knew enough about Mitsubishis to not give them the sales halo they bestowed upon Honda, Toyota and Nissan. While the design of this car was excellent, the quality was not. These were disposable cars at a time of disposable cars from Detroit.

    Few expected small cars like this to make it far beyond the last payment. They were bought due to price and economy. By 1984, Toyota and Honda had shown that their cars could last longer than what buyers expected from a small car, but other brands didn’t. But in 1984, this lack of quality was expected from many car buyers.

    So, the idea of buying a four year old Mitsubishi design with a turbo seemed more like a complete waste of money. You saw other Mitsubishis getting major repairs and niggling secondary repairs so if you were considering a small car in this niche, you knew not to spend a lot. A turbo in this car would be like turboing a Radio Flyer, interesting, but quite impractical.

    There was a lot to like about his car, but not for long.

  • avatar

    I’ve always liked this body style, true, it hailed back to 1978, but still looked reasonably fresh by 1984. I also liked the iteration that came after it as well.

    The daughter of a former priest we had from roughly 1979 through the early 90’s had one, new, a base 85, or was it an 86 red colt, she barely had it what, a year or two when someone totaled it out.

    Ah, the 80’s, how I miss aspects of that decade.

  • avatar

    To Murilee’s question: Which one I would have bought back in the day? Being that I’m cheap, I would have gone for the Colt Turbo. The GTI had a big markup attached to it, IIRC.

    My brother had one of these (non-turbo version) back in the early 80’s, but it didn’t really reinforce the idea that Japanese cars were better built. It was a lesson learned for him.

    The car DID get good fuel mileage for the times, though. I like the overall size and utility of a car with a hatchback, like this one.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks to the voluntary import quotas of the Regan Administration got from Japan the Colt also had a healthy markup in areas like California where imported cars had a strong following. My parents bought one to replace my mothers 2nd Gen Civic that was a total POS lemon. It lasted from 1986 until the the engine died in 1992 and it was replaced by a Saturn Sedan.

  • avatar

    This JY-find story reminds me of the fact that C/D absolutely swooned over this, and the sister cars when they were new, for a few years.
    Full disclosure: During this period I was an avid reader of C/D.
    This causes me to reflect on the oft repeated opinions that most of the car rags were/are on various manufacturers jocks. Not saying that it may not have been the case. But it makes me wonder…Was their stated affinity for this car a result of scraped knees? Or, was it truly THE lust-worthy hot hatch when viewed from an early 80’s perspective?

    Personally, I drove a non-turbo version of one of the sister variants as a loaner for a weekend circa ’87. It
    seemed quite hoon-worthy compared to other cars I had access to at the time.

  • avatar

    These are pretty rare cars. They were not produced in massive numbers. This car is begging to be saved and get a 4G63 Swap.

  • avatar

    I wonder what the economy or power stick actually did to improve economy or power.

    • 0 avatar

      From what I understand there was a extra gear (well two) before the input for the gearbox, making it a 2×4 speed, with a higher (economy) and lower (power) gear set but really most people just used it in power most of the time and slipped it into economy for top-gear cruising, effectively making “Economy” a fifth gear. A mate had one back in the day, and I recall he didn’t have to dip the clutch to shift between the two, so I’m not sure how it worked.

  • avatar

    My sister had one of these; it was an auction item from my father’s repossession agency, so it cost next to nothing. I drove it a few times and can testify to the steering issues; that having been said, it weighed less than my CR-X and went like stink. Quality was standard Mitsu of the time–it was not unlike wearing an overcoat made of cardboard boxes and tin cans.

  • avatar

    I heard that these were quite the pocket rockets in their day.

    Reminds me of a college buddy who had a Ford Pinto with a stick. The first time I rode in it I couldn’t believe how quick it was. It was like no Pinto I had seen before. The reason was that it was a first year model with the larger I4. The 1971 Pinto had an available 2.0 motor known as the EAO SOHC designed by Ford of Europe. It had 100 hp. The Pinto was a little over 2000 lbs. Low weight + stick + no turbo lag = great fun! The fun didn’t last – the ’72’s were detuned to 75 hp, 54 hp for the smaller 1.6 motor.

    • 0 avatar

      My friend had one of these 4-speed Pintos that I helped him work on. He was still driving it in the mid-1990s, and it had close to 300K on the original powertrain when he finally sold it. It wasn’t a bad car by any means.

  • avatar

    I recall that doing service on Mitsubishi & Subaru & Mazda that they were full of sharp edges, from the factory. Just something I shed blood over quite a few times.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Murilee, those red velvet seats would look good in your Dodge van…

  • avatar

    “The Super Shift gearbox was developed from a standard four-speed manual transmission for use in the first generation Mitsubishi Mirage, the company’s first front wheel drive model. As the transmission was mounted beneath the engine, the gearbox needed to take power down from the clutch. It was not possible to do this directly as this would have meant that the gearbox rotated in the opposite direction to that required, and therefore the use of an extra ‘idle’ shaft was required. It was subsequently realised that this shaft could be modified as a separate 2-speed gearbox, which would be controlled by a secondary shift lever mounted alongside the main gear shift lever inside the cabin. This resulted in a transmission with a typical 4 speed ‘H’ pattern shift mechanism, plus an additional 2 speed ‘high-low’ selector which effectively split each of the 4 speed gears in two. This meant 8 forward gears in total. It was also possible to use the 2 speed selector in reverse, meaning that two reverse gears also existed. In the majority of cars, the 2 speed selector was labelled as ‘Power’ for the lower range, and ‘Economy’ for the higher range. A dashboard light system was used to indicate which mode was selected. In practice, it was very difficult to use all 8 forward speeds in sequence as every second change required movement of both gear levers at the same time – something which was almost impossible without using both hands. Many owners settled on using the transmission in low ‘Power’ mode the majority of the time, and only using the secondary selector to select high ‘Economy’ mode when in 4th gear, effectively creating a 5th gear from 4th ‘high’. Production of the Super Shift transmission ended in 1990 with the discontinuation of the Tredia and Cordia series of vehicles.”

    wow. what a magnificent piece of work. if someone were to bring a Tredia WITH a fully functioning Twin Stick to a LeMons race, I think they’d almost have to be given the Index of Effluency on principle.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was an undergrad, I had this exact car–right down to the colour combination–and can assure you it was very possible to row through all eight forward speeds with one hand. It was my second Colt, replacing an ’83 RS, which was also a twin-stick.

      I loved them both, but can’t really attest to their longterm durability. My dad was a Chrysler dealer and both were demos that were sold between 6 and 10k miles. I don’t recall the service department being overwhelmed with any of the Mitsubishi products though (one exception being the well-known piston ring issue with the Mitsu 2.6s, but that mostly affected K-platform vehicles with North American nameplates). Like all Japanese cars of that era, here in Canada rust usually did them in before mechanical problems.

      Having always been a fan of small–actually tiny–cars, it wasn’t until the ’84 debut of the Laser and Daytona with their whopping 142HP turbos, that I was persuaded to give up my hot hatches and drive a bigger car.

  • avatar

    While I never had an ’84 Colt Turbo I did have a 1979 Colt RS hatchback which I replaced in 1986 with a Mitubishi Mirage Turbo hatch. So I’ve had both the early hatch and the turbo 1.6, just not together. BTW the ’85-86 Mirage turbo 5-speed was really just the old twin-stick with an electrically operated low/high switch that was triggered by shifting from 4th to “5th”. So the trans went 1L, 2L, 3L, 4L and then 4H. One odd aspect of this is that 5th gear went away if the speedo cable broke (happened to a friend with a Colt Vista who was amazed when I diagnosed her problem over the phone). However it also ment that you could do what I did and install the 4WD Colt’s shift knob with the built-in button and wire it to the high/low solenoid. Once I did this I had a twin-stick in my ’86 for just a few bucks, cool huh?

    Sigh I miss both of those cars, say what you will about the Evo but I think the ’80s where the pinnacle of Mitsubishi’s engineering as they were willing to try anything and it’s been all downhill since.

    P.S. Someone save this car please! Denver is too hard to get to in the winter or I’d do it myself!

  • avatar

    Mix the turbo from this and 4WD from a Mitsu wagon and you pretty much got Lemons Lancer.

    With that low mileage either the odometer did snap or this things a lemon itself. I wonder how these compared with GLH’s.

  • avatar

    It’s probably been sitting since the turbo did the engine in over 20 years ago.

  • avatar

    There was one of these on Trademe here just last week, it had crazy low mileage, 53,000km or something, always garaged, one owner, just a gem, and it went for only NZ$3500 or so. I would’ve snapped it up had I had the garage space or spare cash!

  • avatar

    I had a 1980 Colt RS with the 80HP 1.6 and the twin stick, the thing was so light that it was fast as hell and it could dust cars like Camaros and Mustangs, it was fun shifting through the gears in power mode then watching the tach drop about 1000 rpms when dropping it into economy mode too. Fun little car to drive.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the 80’s when Popular Science reviewed these they refered to it as a “Rocket Powered Phone Booth”

    It’s too bad Mitubushi never capitalized on it’s technical innovations such as twin stick, turbos awd instead we got pedestrian Eclipses and Gallants though the 3000GT and it’s twin the Dodge Stealth in turbo awd form was ahead of it’s time.

  • avatar

    I vaguely remember driving a “twin stick” owned by my grandmother 20 years ago – but right now, I can’t remember what was the point. Can someone enlighten me?

  • avatar

    Memory alone tells me the “8” speed sold but not regularly.

    What really sold, with a waiting line hoping for a phone call to “come on down” were the plastic seats from a Subaru BRAT bed.

    Grandpas were often the top-dollar buyers.

    The seats (with seat belts tossed in) were bolted into a pick-up bed for the grandkid(s) to ride in.

    I wonder how many grandkids died of carbon monoxide poisoning…. the ones in the closed camper shell and an input of the toxic gas.

    Or who suffered stunted mental growth or whatever.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Just noticed a Sapporo on the back left, on photo number 10. Now, that’s a rare puppy. Gonna do a writeup on it, Murilee?

  • avatar

    I remember the bravado-laced advertising slogan, sometimes on a (factory-installed) decal on the back window: “Don’t step on the gas…unless you really mean it!”

  • avatar

    Very nice find, I happen to have a brand new turbo charger for this car if anyone is interested. It is going on eBay today starting at $55 03/10/2012.

  • avatar

    Is there any way to find out where this car is? The author mentions California, but where? Oh man, I would love to have some parts off this Colt. Believe it or not, I own 7 of these little cars. Call me crazy.

  • avatar

    does anyone know where in california or what junkyard this car is located in?

  • avatar

    Had one of these new in 84 and there wasnt anything coming out of detroit that could touch it. It ate Z-28’s, trans am’s and even vettes. The only thing that gave a run for my money was an old cutlas with a 455 4barrel and i still beat it although if we had another quarter mile he would have got me. It pissed a lot of people off! It weighed practically nothing and i would always say they put a turbo motor in a car made of tin foil. If you look at the speedo pic you see it goes up to 120 and i had my needle down past the first digit on the trip odometer right at the begining of the second before it hit the bottom and couldnt go any further it had to at least be 150 or better!

  • avatar

    friends this car is a wonder I have one 1.6 turbo engine 4g32b 1987.
    but not found in chile parts of this car.
    anyone know a website where you can buy spare parts.
    thank you very much

  • avatar

    I owned one of these bought on Jan 1, 1985, and it was a hoot! 102HP and light weight made this car a match for just about any contemporary vehicle. top speed achieved in this car was approx 127mph (based on tach, as the speedo was buried), and acceleration was good enough to humiliate the 1985 Camaro 350 HO and Firebird of the time. Torque steer, yeah plenty of that, but the car handled well on twisty roads. Regarding the twin-stick tranny, I guess you could shift all 8 speeds, but it was absurd to attempt it in any race-type situation…just stay in low, run through the H-pattern then drop in into high. MY purchase price for this car was $7500, and I received $1500 for a traded in 1973 Fiat 850 spyder, so payments came to $220/m for 36 months. Kept the car for 5 years, then sold it and bought a 1989 Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo, a car with many of the same attributes, but a lot less (literally) rough edges.

  • avatar

    I had one of these and it still holds some of my best memories as a car that was just a little bit too much fun.

    Mine was the grey with blacked out EVERYTHING. The stripes, the handles, wipers, trim, you name it. The only chrome was on the wheel trim rings. All that black made if very “European”, which at the time was very cool.

    There were several things about the car that made it stick out for me.

    It was the first new car I ever bought.

    It was small and nimble.

    It was fast.*

    It got good gas mileage.

    I actually fit in it, and I’m 6’2″.

    It had the best rear window sticker ever, “Don’t step on the gas…

    …unless you really mean it!”

    Okay, so a couple of stories, both of which involve Porsche 944’s. The most fun I had in it(while the motor was running) were two separate races against non-turbo Porsche 944’s. At the time and for several years after, I still looked at them as very beautiful cars that I would have traded for in a minute.

    One involved a guy who at the time seemed older to me, probably around 50’s to 60’s (I’m now 49 at the time of this writing, so not old at all!), and at the time I was in my 20’s. I was simply going across town to get to work or something that I was intent on getting to and not looking for a race, but wouldn’t turn one down. This guy must have read the sticker on the back window and decide to give me a lesson in what a $25k car could do to an $8k car. Whatever the reason, this guy would not let me off without a stoplight to stoplight race for the course of a couple of miles through Wichita(where I grew up and owned this car). I have to give myself just a bit of credit here, I was a competitive swimmer for many years before owning this car, and I had excellent reflexes. When the light turned green, I was off and I expect by about a half second faster than the other guy could react. As anyone who ever raced knows, that is practically an eternity and I just blew him away from the start. We must have raced through every light for about 6 or 7 lights, until we could get to a place where I could let the Colt run and be done with it. I actually felt a little bad for the guy, since he had a beautiful car, and just got smoked by some punk kid in a little grocery getter, that he did not realize was the definition of “pocket rocket”.

    The next one involved my girlfriend at the time Linda. Linda was a sweet girl who basically tolerated that I had a “cute” car that was pretty quick, but really did not like me racing. On one of our date nights, we were on a double date with her friend and the friend’s boyfriend. I had a full tank of gas, the car was clean, and we were off to go see a movie. Wichita is like most of Kansas and divided up in nice straight “sections”. There are a lot of mile, half mile, and quarter mile distances between streets, or in other words, lots of possibilities because the lights are spaced just for people who like to race(isn’t that nice?). We were almost to the theater at Towne East Mall where we were headed on Rock Rd., when a guy in another beautiful new, still had the sticker, but had the “I just bought this, temp tags”, black 944 pulled up. I looked over and was admiring the car and he kind of gave me a smug look, followed by the customary engine rev. This was my signal to put the car in “power” and 2nd gear* for the race to begin. Linda looked at me with a death stare and told me, “don’t you *___ing think about it”. Given that I was actually hoping for some after movie action, I gave in and they guy in the Porsche was given the pass at that light. Somewhere in the next half mile, something changed. Linda’s friends were giving me crap for even thinking about trying to race a Porsche, and me trying to convince them the the car they were in actually was pretty quick, and something that the guy must have done. I don’t know whether or not he gave Linda some sort of look, or what, but at the next light, she looked at me just as steady as you please, and told me to “blow this *__er away”. Back to “power” and 2nd gear. I don’t think even Linda was sure, and her friends were most definitely not sure, but they were all quiet for this. When the light turned green I was ready, the car absolutely seemed to leap half way across the intersection of Rock and Kellogg (US hwy54), and we were off. We got quite a way down in front of the mall before I backed off. The guy in the Porsche must have been humiliated, and we had totally stomped him for the entire race. I actually felt bad for this guy too, only because I knew what he paid for the car and just got beat, badly, by a much less expensive car, and with four people in it. He could not have known that it had a full tank of gas, but he was now “stuck” with that car. You know, a sorry little hatch back with some stripes on the side, and a smart-ass sticker on the back window. I can tell you that I think even Linda was pretty proud of her “man” and the friend and her boyfriend were astounded at the speed and the fact that my little car just beat a Porsche. I was definitely king for a night.

    About the starting in 2nd gear. I had read in one of the magazines of the time, and forgiveness please it was a long time ago, but either Car and Driver or Road and Track, about starting in 2nd gear power vs 1st gear, either power or economy. The reason being, that either 1st gear was pretty much a waste of time because the car simply would spin the tires and just lift off the ground getting no traction before finally hooking up and moving. The 2nd gear would still spin the tires, but would hook up much sooner and the trip to 3rd was enough to to make for a pretty fast time to 60 or any race. After that 3rd power and then 3rd econ seemed to be the best if you were going to be fast enough shifting through the twin stick. I actually figured out that with my larger hands, I could shift through all the gears with one hand and gripping the handles with my thumb wrapped around the left one and my pinky around the other, and not the gear knobs. Not very comfortable, but it worked. And just for the purposes of showing off, and getting it perfectly right, I could actually burn rubber in five gears, 1st Power, 1st Econ, 2nd power, 2nd Econ, and 3rd power. After that the car was moving too fast and running out of power.

    The girlfriend mentioned before lived out away from town in a small town nearby, but far enough that on the rural roads out to her house, I could routinely get the car well over 120mph near 130. There was a stretch of road that had no side roads where someone with a radar could get me, and I took full advantage of the very straight and flat roads. This came to my advantage since I liked to go too fast and often ran late on what time I said I would be there(some things never seem to change). According to the speedometer, the fastest I did was 135. I don’t know how much the speedometer was lying, but I can tell you, that it did not matter what it was, it was pretty fast.

    This little car was a lot of fun and I drove it way too hard. I routinely beat the current Trans Am, and Camaros. I could get most Mustangs, and even gave a good shot at a Corvette. I got a guy in a Corvette to give me a shot just to see how close I could keep up. I told the guy beforehand I would not beat him my thought and he got me pretty good, but respected that I wanted to see where I fell and he did. I did okay.

    Now for the bad stuff. NO AC! Very basic car, crank windows, and an AM/FM radio. Not even a cassette, just radio. After racing like I was Tom McEwen in his Mongoose or Don “The Snake” Prudohme for the first few months I owned the car, I went through a clutch and a couple of sets of tires, front tires only because of the aforementioned spin. The biggest problem with the clutch was that the part was an import from Japan and since the car was new and in short supply, the new one took SIX WEEKS to get in. After that I was much nicer to the clutch and even learned to shift by synchronizing the revs and not even bothering with the clutch. That still means that the clutch was engaged, but a lot less wear.

    I love that car and just could not afford to keep it since I worked in jobs that didn’t pay enough and had a pretty bad driving record, a car like this makes speeding tickets pretty easy to come by. I still remember that my payments were $224 for the car, and $189 for the insurance. That was in 1983 and 1984. Those are not real low even by standards today.

    The car may have been a tin can, but with a Turbo, gas struts, and ventilated disc brakes, it was a lot of fun to drive.

    Tom McEwen (drag racer)

    Don Prudhomme

  • avatar

    I bought a black one of these at a car auction in 1996 for less than $200, if I recall– or maybe it was $225 after the buyer’s fee. My first priority was to replace the steel wheels with some factory Dodge alloys. I drove it for a few months then sold it to a friend in need for $500. After a short time it broke down and he abandoned it on the street, moving out of state. Never completely paid me for it either. It was quick when it ran!

  • avatar

    My folks had a non turbo with the twin stick at one point. It was brown and we didn’t have it for to long. I was young enough that I didn’t understand why. I believe it was an 80 and it was 1985 when we had it.

    Mitsubishi build quality wasn’t much better when I bought my 04 Lancer Sportback new in 05. Ran well and was problem free, much better car mechanically than I ever expected. But it was fairly noisy, the seats sucked and most of the interior was very cheap. The paint was thin and swirled easily (black car didn’t help). I supposed I got what I paid for more or less. It had a 19k sticker on it, I paid 13 after it sat for a year on the lot.

    I ran it as a courier as my own car. 77k in two years. One trip to the dealer for a faulty battery. It was totaled in a rear end collision that bent the car from the C pillar back. I was sick of it by then anyway.

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