By on April 24, 2013

Unless there’s a super-rare find that requires immediate action or it’s half-price day, I usually avoid hitting Denver junkyards when it’s snowing and/or below freezing out. Thanks to the magic of high altitude, it feels more like December than late April here… but checking the online inventory at my local self-service yard revealed a potential engine-donor for my ’41 Plymouth project. Disregard the snow, pack up the tools!
The ’41 Plymouth is a bare frame with Lexus SC400 subframes mocked up on it at the moment, and I’ve decided to go with the Vortec 4200 six as its powerplant. I’ll be buying a complete donor vehicle, preferably a 2006 or newer Trailblazer/Envoy/Rainier/97-X/Ascender, but having an engine that I can strip down to a bare block for chassis-fit purposes would be a big plus. Sadly, the ’02 Trailblazer I found in the online inventory turned out to be picked completely clean of anything I might want.
With so much snow on the cars, I didn’t see many photographic opportunities. However, a Mitsubishi Chariot aka Dodge Colt Vista 4WD looks best when covered with the white stuff.
Chrysler used the Colt name for quite a few members of the Mitsubishi family over the decades, and it will always be a disappointment that they didn’t call this car the name they used for the Chariot in Europe: Space Wagon. Space Wagon!
213,000 miles isn’t too bad for a Mitsubishi of this era.
Supposedly there’s a 98-horse 4G63 engine in there.

It appears that Japanese-market Chariots of this generation had some sort of weird marketing arrangement with Disney. C-H-A-R-I-O-T!

For added incomprehensibility, here’s the European Space Wagon Trance Remix.

Calling it the Colt Vista led to boring North American ads.

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Dodge Colt Vista 4WD...”

  • avatar

    Great interior layout, but crappy engine and transmission computers with leaky capacitors.

    • 0 avatar

      They had the leaky caps problem with the computers? I can not tell you how many leaky caps I changed in Mitsubishi televisions over the years. They were still having those problems up until I shut my business down at the end of 2011. I made a lot of money off those caps.

  • avatar

    I have a soft spot for freakish AWD vans and wagons from the ’80s and ’90s. This is a fine example of the weirdness that was once sold in the US.

    And to think that the only thing similar to this kind of vehicle these days would be something as mundane as a Honda CR-V. *sigh*

    • 0 avatar

      Sans 4WD it reeks off xB/Cube/Soul style and space. I remember these on the roads and they were exceptionally roomy but tiny exterior dimensions. Good for what they were and did decently well but then the Rav-4 and CRV showed up.

      • 0 avatar

        “it reeks off xB/Cube/Soul style and space”

        Yeah, sure does..*heart*

        • 0 avatar

          Fun fact: Toyota sells/sold a 4WD version of the Toyota bB, which was the first gen Scion xB.

          There was also a little trucklet looking Toyota bB, which was sort of like a Subaru Baja, but smaller, and freakier.

          I wish Scion had sold one here and I also wish I could post pictures in comments.

    • 0 avatar

      The Honda CR-V is mundane because Honda sells hundreds of thousands of them. If they sold in the exotic car numbers that the Vista 4WD did, they’d be just as interesting as the 4WD wagons of the ’80s were. I like manual transmissions as much as anyone, but their virtual disappearance can’t be blamed on CUVs. These wagons were ‘freakish’ and interesting because the small wagons that sold in today’s CUV numbers then were Cavaliers, Escorts, Corollas, and their clones. I’ll take a CUV over the wagons of the ’80s.

  • avatar

    My family had one of these. Driven by both of my older sisters. Sadly it was killed prior to me getting my license. Very cool car. 5 speed stick with push button 4WD, seated 8!, had a trick sliding second row seat if you wanted to increase leg room. Slow as balls but it always got us to the mountain for Snowboarding adventures regardless of how shitty the roads might be.

    Pretty sure rust was the killer for ours.

  • avatar

    Friend of mine’s Dad bought one of these to replace the Toyota Tercel 4wd wagon that my friend managed to kill with a high-speed off into the woods. Drove the thing for years. I think it was even slower than the Toyota, which is quite an accomplishment.

    Also, didn’t Click or Clack of NPR fame have one of these for eons?

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    I think Mitsubishi did sell these in the US market as Space Wagons, at the same time that Dodge sold them as Colt Vistas.

  • avatar

    Danielle was a lover of vintage goods.

    “It’s up here.”, said the Craigslist seller. Danielle passed several rooms full of Ikea of poor taste on the way up to the vintage dresser of her dreams. The item was even better looking in person. She could hardly contain her excitement as she discovered the beautifully distressed piece was not just merely “pretty old” as described by the clueless seller, but REALLY old. “You said you wanted 70 bucks?” she asked the seller, working her lowballing magic as she bit the inside of her cheek. After negotiating a few flights of stairs with the piece, and $50 later, they were loading it into the Colt. “Well, that’s a neat little car.”
    “Yes, yes it is.” Danielle said with a smile as she closed the hatch.

    As soon as she turned the corner, Danielle released her pent up glee. She did a little dance in the seat, clapped, and squealed with delight. She looked in the mirror many times as she zipped home. The sweet smell of old wood filled the cabin. She flicked the shifter, and expertly worked the pedals as she rocked out to her Smiths tape. She blipped the gas and downshifted to negotiate the bend. Although heavily-laden, the MMC product responded smartly.

    Her levity was short-lived. The idiot light for the oil pressure flickered briefly. “Hmmm, that’s weird.” She continued on, easing her foot off the gas. The flickering stopped. She got back on the pedal, and the flickering returned. “What the hell?” The light soon lit up solid and she pulled into a Burger King where the rusty oil pan relieved itself of the rest of it’s contents.

    At first, Danielle was quite puzzled by the lack of oil on the stick. The car didn’t smoke like her old Jeep. She checked under the car. There was either rust or oil covering every component. “Well THAT sucks!” Danielle was not totally clueless about automobiles. She had always owned something tired that needed the occasional repair. Breakdowns were frequent, and were to be expected. She also knew that a tow to a shop would be expensive. A plan was quickly formulated. She returned from the Walgreens across the street with 8 quarts of oil. The oil was hastily poured into the engine. She fired up the Vista and sped off, leaving a dotted rainbow in her wake on the wet asphalt. Halfway to Eddie’s Foreign Repair, the light illuminated, and she repeated the procedure.

    Eddie showed her the car while up on the lift. “This thing is totally shot.” “Oh my GOD” she exclaimed at the sight of the heavily oxidized oil pan. “Also, if you look over here, you’re going to need new rear brake lines real soon.” Eddie informed her that a new oil pan was going to be tough to source. It’s replacement, along with new brake lines would also command a hefty sum. “Can’t you just glue it shut or something?” she asked while working her goods. Eddie chuckled at his animated frequent customer, and said “Let me see what I can do. Come back in the morning.”

    Danielle arrived back at the shop in the morning to find the Colt in the parking lot, free of petroleum product underneath. The car now wore an improvised beer can and JB Weld bandage. She was bubbly as she paid the bill for an oil change. She handed Eddie a crisp Grant note. “Just remember. It’s TEMP OR ARY.” he said as he handed her the keys.

    Temporary would turn out to be 8 weeks. Danielle found a highly distressed xB with a snapped off hatch handle for a decent price. As her friend drove back her new purchase, Dani started noticing some strangeness in the brake pedal of the Colt. “There it goes! Just in time.” The machine was nursed back to the apartments with the parking brake.

    Danielle was a bit sad as she watched the Vista get loaded on the Craigslist scrap hound’s tow dolly. She sighed, and said “Well, that’s the circle of life.”

  • avatar

    (Claps in approval at choice of the LL8 engine)

  • avatar

    Odd that a relative flop 25 years go equates to one of the best selling segments of today (compact CUVs).

    Also, someone needs to swing an EVO drivetrain under one of these, STAT.

  • avatar

    My mother drove one of these when we were growing up. It’s a super useful car in that it has 3 rows of seats despite its compact dimensions. Not fast but it got us where we needed to go- and we went everywhere in that car. The head gasket was a problem area though, as it was on many of the jet valve equipped Misubishi 4 bangers.

    There is nothing even remotely as versatile as the Colt Vista on the market today.

  • avatar

    “Thanks to the magic of high altitude…”
    You mean elevation. The altitude of any given location varies with pressure changes. I know what you mean. Denver has a higher than mean pressure altitude. But it changes. Denver’s elevation doesn’t.

  • avatar

    Curious why the Trailblazer got an orange respray… Looks like a Yellow/Roadway trucking color?

  • avatar
    Dave W

    Funny they were marketed as space wagon. I always thought they looked like the galileo shuttlecraft from Star Trek.

    A former boss of mine had 3 of them at once because she ran a child care center at one time. Rules mandated one adult for every six kids at all times. As a 7 passenger van that fit 6 child seats the Adults would help load each other up then drive as many of the beasts as needed for that days excursions. They were cheaper to run and insure then full size vans and nice to be able to chose how many to take on a given field trip. I guess the small footprint got to her, when I met her she had a 4X4 extended cab GMC with an 8 foot bed that took up as much space as 2 Vistas.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Tom and Ray aka click and clack of Car Talk fame, one of them owns one of these and for years has praised it to the hilt, far more than most vehicles.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if you’re still taking engine suggestions but have you thought of the VQ at all? Probably the best V6 ever conceived and I’ve seen enough Pathfinders, Muranos and Altimas on Colorado roads to think that there has to be one not yet picked over at the yard right now.

  • avatar

    Alright… so I have a soft spot in my heart for this car… actually for all small 4WD wagons in the 80’s and 90’s. From the Corolla ATM (seriously.. high and LOW range?) to the Vista to the Subie Loyal wagons (also with high and low!) …basically anything that requires the driver to take some initiative to engage the 4wd.

    Love these cars.

  • avatar
    Del Camino

    I loved Mitsu’s Weird but Reliable niche in the 80’s. My Colt ‘twin stick’ had 8 ratios forward (for the neglected 3-armed-driver market) and a good slate of upscale features (rear wiper! lighted vanity mirror!) The dealer experience was tired, sad-suited salesmen smoking by door, looking out at a lot choked with pitiful, narrow-tired Previas and Cordias. You could get off a city bus in front of a Mitsu dealer while eating a can of cat food and bargain from a position of power.

  • avatar

    “Imports with a purpose” was a horrific slogan, even for that time…

    Ironically, no new Mitsu actually serves any purpose circa 2013…

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    The similar model I thought was cool was the smaller , van type version- may have been a Mitsu Expo IIRC .Unclear what the differences are between that model and the Colt. I saw one recently , hadn’t seen one in years.It looked to be in pretty nice shape , but back in the day when they first came out I thought it looked quite purposeful , and adequate for a single guy like myself hauling a bike or two , but not a family. tho I always mistrusted Mitsus .

  • avatar

    I need the drivers side front door from this Colt for my ’91 4WD Vista Wagon. Is there any information on the particular name of the Denver junkyard featured in this article? My Colt has only 125k miles on it. Still runs great! Please post responses here. Thanks.

  • avatar
    Rally Alaska

    I just bought the short version of that. Im going to rally it.

  • avatar

    I have one and love it. I need spare parts out of this!! What junk yard in Denver is this in??

  • avatar

    My ’88 Colt Vista is still going strong with about 85,000 miles, auto trans, air conditioning died late last summer. It’s got rust in the usual spots. This is the 5th Vista I have owned. Most didn’t last more than 115,000 miles or so. One needed major trans work. A couple were burning oil. Never got high mileage or mpg others claim. Usually about 21-24. On trips we were so weighted down and with a carrier on top that mileage was beat down. Color is antique rose with maroon interior. It’s my snow car with good snow tires on the front it goes almost anywhere. I guess I might sell it for the right price.

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