By on October 16, 2014

19 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe tales of the many flavors of rebadged Chrysler Europe and Mitsubishi products sold as Plymouths and Dodges remain perennially fascinating for me, what with all the Chryslerized Simcas and Hillmans and so forth, and one example of this breed that appears to have disappeared from the face of the earth is the Plymouth Champ. The Champ was a fourth-generation Mitsubishi Mirage, a gas-sipping front-driver that received Colt nameplates for the Dodge side of the showroom floor, and I found one a few days ago at a Denver-area self-service yard.
20 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Champ name existed for just the 1979 through 1982 model years, after which Chrysler must have decided that marketing confusion could be reduced and money saved on emblem production by selling both Plymouth- and Dodge-badged Colts.
12 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis one is a particularly ghastly shade of Malaise Green, which is set off nicely by the tape stripes.
05 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis car features the super-cool Twin-Stick aka Super Shift transmission, which had a high-low range selector that multiplied the four forward gears into eight gears. Essentially, it was an overdrive box built into the transaxle. In practice, just about nobody drove the Twin-Stick by going through all eight gear ranges in sequence— mostly, you just left it in one range or the other and drove it like a regular four-speed.
06 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinBut still, the Twin-Stick was cool.
13 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThis is the “big-block” 1.6 liter 4G32 Saturn engine, which made a mighty 80 horsepower.
07 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI was very tempted to buy this POWER/ECONOMY indicator light for my collection of weird Japanese instrument-panel parts, but did not do so.
24 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt looks to be an original Colorado car.
01 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinCars don’t tend to rust much here in the dry High Plains climate, but Japanese cars of the 1970s could find a way to rust in a vacuum.
04 - 1979 Plymouth Champ Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s worn out, but essentially complete. How many Champs are left in the wild?

Chuck Woolery says the ’79 Champ is the Southern California mileage champ.

Another little mileage car from Japan, right?

Just don’t crash your Champ!

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68 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1979 Plymouth Champ, with Twin-Stick!...”

  • avatar

    This colour matches the fridge in my Dad’s cottage.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven numerous tractors and trucks with all sorts of multiple-lever drive systems, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to figure out a Twin-Stick, or a Hurst shifter, or any of the other no-performance-whatsoever-so-we-gotta-cover-it-up-with-an-overly-complicated-layout transmissions.

    Not that I wouldn’t be willing to try, mind you.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought the same thing, but then I looked up that Wikipedia article. Basically, the “correct” way to drive it was to leave it in POWER mode, then shift to ECONOMY in 4th gear, effectively giving you a 5th/Overdrive gear.

      I would TOTALLY try to use all eight speeds, though.

      • 0 avatar

        Sounds like playing Pole Position in the arcade, with LOW and HI two speed shifting.

      • 0 avatar

        When this car was licensed to Hyundai to be come the Excel that is exactly what Hyundai did with this transmission, turn it into a 5sp. They added a complex system of relays and switches to control a vacuum operated shifter that replaced the second stick. They then did a little rework on the main shifter so that when you selected “5th” it put the transmission back in 4th and on the way into gear tripped a switch that triggered the vacuum shifter.

        • 0 avatar

          I wondered why nothing happened when I shifted into 5th and it stayed in 4th. Mine was a Colt Vista wagon. I let co-worker use it and his preggo wife made him offer me his sweet SVO for it.

          He wasn’t happy about it and wanted $2,000 on top if it. I give him an ’85 Dodge Charger (turbo/automatic) to sweeten the deal. Poor $ucker!

      • 0 avatar

        I had the ’80 version of this car in black. What worked better was to split 1st gear for acceleration – 1st low / 1st high, then meh, whatever because there was no more acceleration left.

    • 0 avatar

      And you had 2 reverse speeds!

      I’ll bet you could even shift between ranges while moving in reverse, as the hi/lo unit is on the idler shaft before the main transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      All these comments remind me of the day I discovered the joys of a two-speed rear axle–by reading the instructions on the back of the sun visor. Dear sweet buttery Jesus, I didn’t know an unloaded L700 could go that fast on a gravel road.

    • 0 avatar

      Our main tractor is a White 2-105. It has the Oliver Over/Under Hydaul shift unit. Basically, it’s a 6 speed non-synchronized transmission, with three ranges, making 18 forward speeds.

      It works well on a tractor. On a Plymouth, though? Wouldn’t it have just been easier to make a 5 speed transmission?

  • avatar

    Piece of cake. Trust me.
    Even better when each lever is attached to it’s own transmission.
    Youtube search for D3KI0mvw47g

    • 0 avatar

      Jason was infallible.

      The lime 1979 Plymouth Champ pulled into the gravel and debris surrounding the embryonic Taco Bell. Workers were swarming over the project, already two weeks behind schedule. Jason stepped out and retrieved his hard hat and safety glasses from the shredded, formerly driver’s, seat. For a microsecond, he admired his handiwork. God he was too good, for he deftly used his mechanical skills to swap the seats left and right, providing himself with not-too-ripped vinyl under his bottom. He slammed the tinny door of the Champ, which made a sound akin to a maraca from the internal rust flakes.

      Jason scanned the work site while sipping coffee from his thermos. Everyone had the approved OSHA equipment, except for the Hispanic sign installer outside. “Probably a fu$%in SCAB.”, he thought. His ulcer was assaulted with acid at the thought, the sheer audacity of this man to just snatch the food right off of his plate! The installer was totally unaware of the broiling man below as he fitted the last Chinese-made ballast.

      Chad was already back by the gleaming fry hood. He pointed out some electrical conduit put in the day before. “Awww, that’s just great.”, Jason exclaimed. The conduit only needed to be adjusted out of the way to fit his ducting, and Jason had done electrical in the past, but this was NOT his job. The guy would have to be called in for a re-work. “Let’s test fit it anyway.”, he told Chad. The two retrieved the fabricated duct assembly from the truck, and brought it inside. “What the he…”, Jason gasped, looking straight up. Jason checked the sheet, expecting to find an error. The “12” “, appeared as a scribble that said “10” “. The coupling was totally off. He COULD just dovetail and band it to make it work, but that was something a rat bastard would try.

      The men carried the glistening new duct out to the overflowing waste bin, making a concerted effort to hurl it in. Jason was slow to act. The 10′ long duct bounced off the dumpster instead, and ended up in the mud, where the deep tan slurry spatter contrasted with the bright galvanized finish. “Whatever.” Jason climbed back into his rolling hypocrisy, slamming the rust maraca shut. He ironically shifted the schmutz covered lever from ECONOMY to POWER, slowly leaving the work site to return to the shop.

      Lunch time. Jason watched some football on the wide screens as he consumed spicy garlic wild wings. “Would be great to take the boat back to Boyd Lake this weekend.”, he thought for an hour and 45 minutes.

      The Champ was nearly done with it’s work day. Jason pulled up to the light, and pressed the middle pedal. It went to the floor. He began to pump frantically, stopping just before coming to blows with the side of a Sleepy’s mattress truck. Jason was just two blocks from the shop. The defeated Champ limped the rest of the way in first POWER gear with it’s hazards activated.

      Jason helped load the new duct on top of the shop truck’s work rack. He would have to borrow the Silverado…forever. If anybody said anything about it, he would have to give them an earful. The tow truck guy was there with the Plymouth already strapped down.

      Jason took the check, and thanked the driver.
      “Damn thing almost ended me.”

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Ah, the days when auto dealers would punch holes in a new car in order to affix their unsolicited advertising badges. Couple that with the hot rolled steel commonly used in Japanese manufacturing at the time and it’s a miracle that rear hatch didn’t completely rot from the dealer badge upwards.

    • 0 avatar

      Now they use stickers with individual letters, which you can have fun with. My wife’s car had one that said:

      Ford Lincoln

      When I got done with it, it said


      • 0 avatar

        There is an auto dealer around here called Tincher Plymouth Dodge Chrysler Jeep. They used stickers instead of dealer plates, too.

        Bros would modify the stickers to read:

        IN HER

        Nearly always on the tailgate of a pickup, incidentally.

        • 0 avatar

          My solution is that whenever I buy a new car, I write onto the contract a $1,000/day fee for advertising the dealership.

          Somehow, the dealership sticker is always missing when I do that.

    • 0 avatar

      Dealer emblems were/are illegal in California, so I didn’t see many of them until I moved out of state.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s an interesting fact I learned today. Does that include decals as well as badges?

        Years ago, back in the bad old days of riveted-on badges, a dealer out here used to overcome the pushback against these warts by saying it was required by NY State.

    • 0 avatar

      One of these days my father is gonna take a heat gun to his wife’s CR-V they got from CONDON Auto in Sioux City–too many jokes about the prophylactic-mobile.

    • 0 avatar

      I actually like the older dealer badges. They’re kind of a cool “instant history” on the vehicle. My box van has a dealer tag for Great Lake Truck Sales. Out here, find another copy of that sticker.

      Now, on a newer car, no way! I removed the dealer license plate cover from my Audi.

      Now, an AMC dealer badge gets to stay. It’s kind of cool!

      • 0 avatar

        That’s not just “kind of cool,” it’s history! Don’t be taking it off!

        I also remember driving a flatbed for the County Hwy Dept. with the badge from Ben-Hur Ford in Sioux Falls, named not after the epic, but after the owners, Bob Bennis and Hyman Hurwitz. It was TIME’s “Dealer of the Year” in 1976.

  • avatar

    There is a band called The F***ing Champs, no idea what they sound like but always liked the name esp since it was created supposedly after someone pointed out that the name The Champs was already taken (by another band, not this car). Anyway, I imagine that near the end of its life this car was may have been referred to similarly.

  • avatar

    We had at least one of these in the driveway back then as my Dad’s demo. I remember a blue Colt.

  • avatar

    A 1.6-litre four-banger with 80hp, eh? I seem to recall my ’78 WV Scirocco had a 1.6 with about 5 fewer horses. It was a bit of a screamer once I reduced weight (from an already pleasant weight of about 1700 lbs) by pulling out all the back seat bits, and gave it a little better exhaust flow.

    This little Champ might have had the potential to be a sleeper. The lines aren’t too bad, either.

  • avatar

    My brother’s LR had a four speed with a four speed overdrive, around the farm just leaving the OD in 1 was fine and rowing the other four, to reach interstate speed (45 mph) required all 16 in a rough sequence, fun the first couple of times (we only tried this once, on way from georgia up to NY, called uhaul in SC, LR never saw the interstate again)

  • avatar

    We had one of these, 79 or an 80, but it was around 1986. I don’t remember much about it, but it was brown and it had the Twin Stick. I thought it was pretty cool, though I didn’t know much about it. We didn’t have it long and I don’t know why.

  • avatar

    From the days when Mitsubishi built cars that were worth owning.

    Aka, a long, long time ago.

  • avatar

    Long live the Twin-Stick!
    My 1981 Dodge Colt was my first NEW car. And when I bought it, I didn’t know how to drive a stick. But I learned. The consequence of this learning is that I burned up the first clutch in 30,000 miles. This was back in the days when cars only came with one-year/12,000 mile warranties.
    My Colt was the Stripper model. No A/C, no P/S, AM radio etc. I think the only “luxury” item was power brakes but it had the Twin-Stick. Using the Twin-Stick was much like Murilee said, I would leave it in “Power” through all four gears and then shift in into Economy for a kind of over-drive effect.
    It only had the 1.4 L engine with a “peppy” 67 hp. However, the whole thing weighed about 1,400 lbs, so it scooted around just fine.

  • avatar

    How do you feel now, huh? “Champ.” LOL!

  • avatar

    Ouch. Instance Rinoplasty (not in a good way) with that crash result. :(

    Same thing happened to me when I went crunch in my 1989 Dodge Shadow.

    (And yes, I was wearing my seat belt)

    • 0 avatar

      What exactly is the shoulder belt doing in that situation? Holding your shirt still?

      • 0 avatar

        The shoulder belt did little at all. I can’t recall whether the belt material stretched or the pretensioner was late doing its job. Either way the car was about a year old.

        If only it was a 1990 model with a driver’s airbag. :/

        • 0 avatar

          One more thing. Within two weeks of returning to work after the wreck one of my creepy coworkers decided he wanted to “wrestle” me. In the ensuing attempt to get away I fell and re shattered the broken pieces of cartilage that was my nose. :(

  • avatar

    Chuck Woolery!

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “…but Japanese cars of the 1970s could find a way to rust in a vacuum.”

    Best sentence of the day.

  • avatar

    My father owned a 1975 Chrysler Newport in hideous “malaise green” with an equally hideous malaise green vinyl interior. Yes the infamous electronic ignition Chrysler Newport. When it rained, snowed, sleeted, was foggy, or there was excessive humidity, the car wouldn’t start. He only had it for two years and traded it in for a GM B-Body Caprice Classic wagon – malaise brown with malaise brown interior and faux woodie panels.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to confess, I LIKE Malaise Green. It’s just so wonderfully…malaisey. Closest modern color I can think of is the green on the Element in my driveway. Which my wife picked. I guess we belong together.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Malaise era Chryslers had their share of issues for some reason be it design, the tyranny of the bean counter or indifference at the factory. Fuselage era Mopars had much better build quality. Family members of mine owned them (Fury III, Monaco etc.) with few issues. The post-Fuselage 74-79 bail out era cars had lean burn carbs that were troublesome and the electronic ignition had weather related issues that you described.

  • avatar

    Jeeze ;

    My Mother bought one of these new .

    I remember driving it , it was slower than my old VW Beetle .


  • avatar

    Are “Little Trees” or Primewell tires more ubiquitous in a junkyard?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There was a turbo version, though only offered as the Colt. Popular Science referred to it as a rocket powered phone booth.

  • avatar

    I had an ’81 Champ, bought used in ’85. Was a ‘lux’ model with dealer installed A/C and the ‘bigger’ 1.6 motor vs. the std. 1.4 l.

    The A/C died twice, and didn’t fix it the 2nd time, since was about $400 in 1986 cash to fix. The compressor pulley broke. Being ‘imported’ meant $$$ to fix and usually was told ‘you gotta go to Mopar dealer’ by shops.

  • avatar

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these things in action. That twin-stick is pretty cool, though.

    Dealer badges! My God, I’m from South Dakota, and now that I don’t live there, seeing a Ben-Hur, Vern-Eide, or Robinson Eheret dealer badge/sticker makes me homesick. I left mine on the Explorer I recently inherited from dad, and on my Toronado and Deville (sold). It just gives a bit of history in certain cases.

  • avatar

    Regarding_ “Chryslerized Hillmans”

    Long before Chrysler bought the Rootes Group, my mother took delivery in late 1956 of a new Sunbeam ‘Rapier’/Sunbeam Rapier ‘Coupe De Sport Car’, an upscale sporty version of the Hillman ‘Minx’. A sassy looking little postless 2-dr hardtop, with sporty intentions, a 4-speed on the column, and an OHV 4-pot with dual side draft carbs producing about 65+Hp with a 0-60 time of about 21 seconds and a top speed of around 85-90mph.

    With its 3-part two tone exterior and two tone interior of Kangaroo leather on split front seats, and styling’s influenced by Raymond Lowry’s Studebaker designs, and a full complement of instruments, it was a classy little imported saloon that my dad with deft ease could easily leave American sedans in the proverbial dust on the twisty roads of the county. Lucky for passengers it had those dash and roof grab handles that secured the upper body in the high ‘G’ corner loads it was often asked to exhibit. .

    The Sunbeam replaced and earlier Austin that Mom had driven since about the time I could first recognize a Ford or Cadillac at around two years of age.

    Soon after the Rapier entered our life, dad acquired a new 57′ 300SL, and the difference in demeanor and performance between the two cars profoundly affected this boy of ten years. To this day, I love getting all I can out of a small bore bike or car, but the pure exhilaration of very high performance car, can’t be denied. Nearly sixty years later, the pleasure of sorted small bore, and the excitement of high performance vehicle, still thrills this old boy.

    Of note; The Sunbeam had the first seat belts I ever used, whether they were a factory option or dealer installed of dad installed them, I don’t recall, but dad insisted that all belt up and belt up tight. It is ironic that in the summer of 1957′ dad and his brother took delivery of a new TR-3 with intentions of turning it into a race car. Less then 24 hours after they took delivery, my uncle rolled the car with my dad in the passenger seat, my uncle was thrown clear of the car, my dad was trapped on the windshield as the car rolled three times and was killed. In the trunk of the Triumph were the new seat belts they planned to install.

    • 0 avatar

      Really sorry to hear about how you lost your father .

      I too prefer driving old , slow cars (and trucks !) faster than most .

      I find that what I lack in actual speed , I easily make up in consistency .

      The !! WHOOPEE !! factor is off the charts .


      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, Nate.

        It is hard to believe that it was nearly sixty years ago that dad passed, as the day is still quite vivid in my mind. He was only 33 and even though, I have now lived twice as long as he did, he is still that young man in my memory.

        Regarding ‘old and slow’. My daily driver is a 1.6L Miata and it is a joy to drive. I build very high performance cars, but nothing gives me the pure driving pleasure that the little Miata gives me or my old CR93S Benly or Honda CR bikes singing at 13,000+ rpms, though, the little 50’s(cc’s) are noticing my extra weight these days.

        Regards… Tre

        • 0 avatar

          Look at it this way : he’s still riding with you in your memory or heart….

          My Son had a 1St. Gen Miata , added a puffer to it and had a blast Autocrossing it and generally embarrassing other , ‘ faster ‘ cars in the twisty bits where we both love to spend time .

          I had 1960’s Vintage Honda Benly’s back in the 1970’s , never a CR though .

          I had a couple 50’s then too but I love my Honda 90’s and 125’s now .

          I’m old & fat but still going at it , just _much_ slower .

          It’s good that your Pops shared his love of Sports Cars with you ~ I shared my love of all things Motorized with my Son and he turned out to have a real gift of driving , needed faster vehicles than I like/need/can operate safely .

          His newest is a Ducati ~ it’s too slow for him so he’s tweaking and peaking it ~ I may never try it out .


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