By on February 21, 2012

This ’84 Plymouth Colt Turbo caught my junkyard weather eye instantly, because early-to-mid-80s turbo econoboxes are always interesting. Then I realized that you hardly ever see regular fifth-gen Colts, on the street or in the junkyard these days, though they were once among the most commonplace subcompacts on American roads. After that, I kept my eyes open for Crusher-bound naturally-aspirated 1984-88 Colts, finally spotting this one.
One glance inside tells you: this is a 1980s Mitsubishi! Perhaps not as wild as the Cordia, but only Subaru went crazier with the Mars Base-style controls.
The cheapest Colt in ’88 listed at $5,899, which was just around a C-note more costly than the (smaller and more miserable) Chevy Sprint and (possibly even more miserable) Subaru Justy. The base Civic— which was a spartan zero-amenities model— listed at $6,095.
The previous owner listened to “Corridos Cabrones,” apparently the Mexican-cowboy counterpart to N.W.A., in the Colt.
Nobody is going to mourn the demise of another forgotten badge-engineered econobox, but it’s interesting to reflect on the once-ubiquitious cars that are no more.

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39 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Dodge Colt...”

  • avatar

    I learned to drive stick in one of these…it was the driving school car. I only took driving lessons to learn stick since my family only owned automatics. I had had my learner’s permit for 6 months and had done a ton of driving (thanks, dad) so I was reasonably competent behind the wheel. The instructor, who was a total slacker and burnout, just had me drive around visiting his friends. No brake-and-avoid drills. No running commentary. No parallel parking. Unfortunately, by the time my driving test rolled around, he had replaced the Colt with a Dodge Charger (one of the ones derived from the Omni 024) which was a total crapwagon compared to the Colt, especially the hopelessly vague shifter. Despite finding 5th instead of 3rd on my driving test (the Colt was only a 4-speed) and going cross-country on my parallel park (finding reverse in the Charger was a pain, as a collar had to be lifted), I still passed. :)

    • 0 avatar

      I own and still drive a 1988 Dodge Colt. When I bought it, it only had 28,000 miles on it. Now it has 33,000. It has one little rust spot behind the front wheel other than that it is in mint condition.
      A lot of people make coments when they see it.

  • avatar

    My dad bought one of these new. I still think it’s a good looking car – rather Giugiaro-ish.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    Ahh yes the ubiquitous 80s econobox shift light. I had forgotten about those, they wanted you to shift before you really got into the engine’s power band.

    • 0 avatar

      Had one of those lights in my ’93 Festiva (no small pun on that name. Certainly was no party to drive). I remember thinking how stupid it was to have a light that came on at 3000 rpgs on a tiny car with a 57 HP 3 cylinder pushing out all that power on 12″ wheels. Was very grateful the day the light finally gave up.

  • avatar

    I liked these bodies. Former priest my hometown church had back in the 1980’s, their oldest daughter Kristen had a red ’86 base 3 door hatchback and what I loved about it most was the front side marker lights, they were designed to be part of the car’s overall design embellishment by being stretched between the front wheel lip to the leading edge of the fender, just above the bumper.

    later iterations of this body had what you see here, the side marker light simply became regulatory fodder and nothing more.

    Yes, even here in Seattle, I hardly see these things anymore.

    This one looked like it got hooptied out before finally succumbing to end of life crises and thus the crusher.

  • avatar

    I thought about wanting one of these once, for all of three minutes. Piece of junk. It belongs in the junkyard. Good riddance.

  • avatar

    This car will always remind me of one of my older nieces, back when she was around 5 yrs old, who promptly announced upon sitting in it on a cold Michigan morning, “This car is plassssstic” – obviously referring to the cold hard vinyl seats.

  • avatar

    Which cars weren’t steaming piles of dung during this era? You write as if though everything and anything ever made by anybody was complete and utter trash during the “malaise era”

    I love reading these posts on already forgotten cars, but I don’t know how to put what you’re writing about in perspective in terms of quality.

    • 0 avatar

      What cars were good back then? Lots of European cars. This was when fuel injection, oxygen sensors, and proper catalytic converters meant that cars could be low emissions AND good to drive, but only if you were willing to spend the money. Volvo, Saab, BMW, Mercedes, even the German-built VWs were excellent cars in the late 70s and 80s. And you simply cannot beat a w123 diesel Benz for sheer quality and durability.

  • avatar

    My father bought an 87 Colt non-turbo 2-dr automatic brand new for the family to use as a second car. I would wind up pretty much “taking it over.”

    I drove it on a two-day white knuckle drive solo from Groton, CT to San Diego, CA to see a high school sweetheart with the return trip taking two days longer.

    Really, I remember it as being a great little car. Never broke down. White on red cloth.

    Excellent with the rear seats down, too. No rear defogger I discovered.

  • avatar

    This was built at a time when small cars this size were considered disposable. Those of you claiming that this car was not a good car is comparing it to, what? This car was the rolling eqivalent of a plastic Wal-Mart bag. It did what it was designed to do – and then some.

    This little car was not much different from other cars in it’s class. It was designed by multiple staffs that ensured it met the objectives set for this particular set of buyers. It isn’t a mistake car. It was engineered this way. As an exercise in disposable inexpensive transportation – it is successful, because it obviously lasted longer than the four years in which to pay it off.

    Today’s small cars are much more expensive and offer much more. But they are not disposable, like this one. Small cars today last much longer, partly due to the expectations set by the Market over the past thirty years. Today’s small cars are engineered to last a decade, while this one was engineered to last five years of longer.

    Since it is 2012, and this one was built in 1987-1988, it did it’s intended job for under $6,000.

    • 0 avatar

      And who knows how it ended up in the junkyard. For all we know, the owner got tired of it. I’d be willing to bet a splash of gas and fresh battery would fire that sucker right up. With some love, it probably would last another 10 years because it is outside the rust belt.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        VD & AP: A plain jane base Civic was only a couple hundred dollars more.

        A girl who was the residential adviser of my dorm had one of these things. It was a wretched machine. Loud. Cheap. Riding in that thing was worse than riding a bus.

        Other than the Justy, Yugo, and Excel, this was pretty much the worst car sold in America.

      • 0 avatar


        What was wrong with the Justy? 3 cylinder engine with available 4WD and eventually fuel injection(!) in the later years would net you close to 50 mpg. I guess what I’m getting at is there doesn’t seem to be a baseline of quality to compare any of these cheap cars to.

        Basically they’re all crap, but for no apparent reason.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        Nonsense! Sure there is!

        From the Japanese side you had Tercels, Civics, Sentras and the 323.

        From the domestic side you had Cavaliers (and their ilk), Escorts/Tracers, the Omni and the Sundance.

        The Justy and Colt were inferior vehicles to all but the Omni. Check the sales numbers. Check the reviews for that time. Heck, try to consider a EVCT transmission coupled with a low output 1.2L engine filled with tired hamsters that had propelled a (Kia) Festiva.

        Now take those thoughts and throw in 4WD on a car with such slim body panels that you could dent it if you hit them just so.

        That’s why Justys didn’t sell. Colts weren’t that good either. Definitely nowhere near the head of the class.

        But as Murilee mentioned… the right price can sell any car. That’s why some people bought Yugos. After they passed by the Justy and the Colt.

      • 0 avatar

        –VD & AP: A plain jane base Civic was only a couple hundred dollars more.–

        Not everyone is fond of Honda Kool-Aid, especially the plain jane base flavorless kind that costs a lot more than the other drinks. Not everyone wants to be a lemming when it looks like the hamsters are having all the fun with their Festiva LX-5 speed costing a thousand less than the boring ass Civic.

        As you can see with this very example, the car must have been built well enough to last long enough.

  • avatar

    I love the rear fenders on these cars. And the knob switches on the dash are simply awesome. Similar to my 88 RX7. Very cool design element for the car. Honestly, the car looks really attractive to me even today.

    • 0 avatar

      I liked exactly ONE feature on these cars: The flush rear side glass. Too bad the door glass didn’t or couldn’t match it.

      One aside: I was at my local Dodge dealer one day walking the dog when a guy was talking to a salesman about his car – one of these – and one wiper arm was broken. When he found out how much it cost to have it replaced, he promptly traded it in on something new! No joke…wish I stuck around to see what he bought. I’m certain it was significantly more exensive than a new wiper arm!

  • avatar

    I had the turbo version of this car. It was fun – and on occasion, was able give more serious hardware a run for their money. I remember really pissing off a guy in 5.0L Mustang. The key to the turbo’s good-for-1980’s-performance was the car’s lightness. I remember telling people not lean on the car – the sheetmetal was that thin!

  • avatar

    I love the way these (and other similar captive imports) fool the junkyard guys. Sometimes they’re in with the MoPar section and other times they are shoved in the single Mitsubishi row. Same with Metro/Swift and other pairs.

  • avatar

    A girl I knew in high school had one of these, which I had forgotten until I saw this. She’s now a pediatrician. What that means, I don’t know, but another girl I knew in high school had a Justy, and she’s now an architect. I guess the lesson to be learned is that girls who drive crappy econoboxes (or drove them in the ’80s) wind up being accomplished professionals who know nothing about cars. (So parents, buy your daughters Kia Rios.)

  • avatar

    I can envision at one time, when the vehicle was new or newer, the possibility the owner or close kin thereof (under-driving-age anticipatory possible future driver of said vehicle) lovingly, caressing the exposed naked flanks, the projecting protrusions commonly referred to as bumpers, the bonnet, roof and other components comprising the whole.

    Caressing with lotion to protect the car’s “skin” and make it shine.

    Akin to make-up on an assuredly much more costly to keep female critter… a noisier female so quickly complaining if driven hard and expected to perform a useful task.

    Just an Old Coot contemplating.

    The squirrels really appreciate the whole grain wheat bread tossed upon the hibernating weeds outside the shanty.

    Or maybe it’s the neighborhood kids since I do not remain to determine who the recipient is.

    It seems that the locals are fed eventually… even in this poverty-ridden low-class-in-many-ways area.

    Perhaps this IS where the Coot belongs.


    Remember kids; hard work = make wealth for others; work smart = make wealth for yourself.

    And I coulda’ owned a Superbird for $1,800 in 1975.

    I coulda’ been a contender.

    Or owner of a large amount of Microsoft or Apple stocks.

    But then I would have likely never dwelt in a Zen-like existence.

    That MAY ultimately, depending, pay HUGE dividends when departing this plane.

    Coot exits accompanied by deafening applause.

    Unsure if applause is gratitude for being there or for departing.

  • avatar

    Wow, the memories! Dad bought one just like this brand spanking new to replace the 82 Subie that got rear ended.
    The spaceship interior! The shifter that felt like it was attached to a rubber garden hose which in turn was attached to the transmission! The blue cloth upholstery that turned to dust in the presence of sunlight!
    The drive train was quite reliable, but the body rusted enthusiasticly despite additional waxy undercoating. What finally did it in was wiring corrosion, the headlights, taillights etc began winking out rapidly and the car was declared done. That was in 1995 so the car was junk in 7 years. Not a great performance.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Hey, this car looks better in all aspects than that goofy LS you bought.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    Hey, this car looks better in all aspects than that goofy LS you bought. I mean as it sits now.

  • avatar

    Someone needs to go snag that in-dash EQ and maybe take a gander at the rest of the audio system…or what’s left of it. That old Hifonics EQ was not cheap and there are nutcases out there that’ll pay a bit of coin for something like that (if it works).

  • avatar

    These Mitsubishi Colts were hugely popular in Europe to. I don’t believe we ever got the turbo version, though.

    In very rare instances do you see one of these on European roads. But for the most part Japanese cars from the ’70s, ’80s and even early ’90s are a rare sight in Europe, at least where I live.

  • avatar

    FUNNY!! I first drove one of these in high-school in 1987… a friend of mine had a red one, 1986 (with the side marker integrated between the front corner and front tires, bone stock, manual steering, 4-speed manual… it was the first manual transmission car I had driven! It was actually a really easy car to drive. Her dad bought it for the kids to drive because he was a gear head and didn’t want the kids driving his good cars (Pontiac 6000 STE, 1969 BMW 2002tii, and eventually a 1989 SHO)

  • avatar

    I bought one of these for $300 off the “smog lot” (apparently the place where trade-ins that couldn’t pass the smog check were left to die) at a Chevy dealer in Denver back in 1991 when my VW Dasher diesel wagon expired in the mountains somewhere between Denver and Colorado Springs. I was out there on vacation with some friends and needed a cheap way to get us and our stuff back home to Detroit. The $300 Colt seemed to fit that bill. Sifting through the detritus in the trunk, I found a Seven-Eleven vest, several spent shotgun shells, and a DJ Magic Mike tape. I knew then that I had made a wise purchase.

    The car tried to kill us on the way home. A leaky exhaust, coupled with missing grommets in the firewall meant that the fatigue we were feeling wasn’t just down to long stints spent at the wheel. But the car made it home and spent the next six months or so as my pizza-delivery vehicle until the clutch pedal began to fail. Not the clutch, mind you, but the pedal. One day, it went to the floor and wouldn’t come back up. I figured the cable had broken, but when I grasped the pedal and pulled it back up, there was a bit of resistance as the pedal arm *bent* upward. And then the clutch worked again, until several days later the pedal bent down again. I repeated the rebending ritual for several more weeks until it became apparent that the clutch-pedal metal was getting quite fatigued and the clutch was beginning to slip because it would no longer engage or disengage completely.

    I put the car up for sale and promptly sold it to a one-eyed man. Got $500 for it and I threw in the Seven-Eleven vest and shotgun shells. Kept the DJ Magic Mike tape, though.

  • avatar

    On this one Murilee got the banner right but the text wrong. This is a base ’88 Colt, not an ’84 turbo Colt, which had a different body style. Anyone who criticizes these Mitsu built cars from this time period were probably never tuned into the small cars of that time period. With regular maintenance, they were the equal of any Civic or Corolla but were usually priced less than the competition. I thought the styling was usually equal or better as well. The Turbo in the ’85-’88 models was only available in the 4DR models, strangely enough. The ’84 Turbo was a 2 Dr hatch only.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the late 80’s I had a co-worker with a loaded 4dr version. It was not bad for the era. I remember the front seats being quite comfy but the overall quality was typical Mitubushi a bit below a similar Civic or Corolla. As far as 3dr hatchs go it would be nice if they offered 3dr versions of the Fit, Civic, Mazda 2 abd 3.

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