By on May 22, 2018

Our Rare Ride today is an excellent condition example of an easily forgotten Malaise coupe from Chrysler Corp.

It is, of course, the second-generation Dodge Challenger, from 1980.

After a successful first run for model years 1970 through 1974, the big, muscle Challenger nameplate took a little hiatus. Flash forward to 1978, and Chrysler was ready to reintroduce an all-new (and very different) Challenger. This time it was leaner, greener, and Malaise-ready.

The general world climate at the time put a damper on the thirsty, large muscle cars of a few years prior. Though it was well before the DSM era, Chrysler and Mitsubishi had a strong existing relationship. The Pentastar people smelled opportunity in the air, and set their sights on the rear-drive Galant coupe.

A quick badge job later, and the captive import Dodge Challenger was ready for showrooms. Over at Plymouth, the Challenger’s brother was known as Sapporo — a name Mitsubishi used for the Galant in some markets.

In addition to the shrunken body, the Challenger lost its V8 for this generation. On offer were a couple of inline-four engines, in either 1.6- or 2.6-liter displacements. That limited power reached the road through a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic.

Though down on power and general American-ness, the Challenger was still able to stand out amongst its Malaise competitors. Its 2.6 engine made decent power (in historical context), and was praised for its smoothness. Mitsubishi engineers had pioneered and implemented new balance shafts to reduce NVH levels. And it worked.

Challenger and Sapporo would carry on with minor facelifts through the 1983 model year. At that time the Sapporo name vanished, and Challenger returned to its slumber until 2008.

Today’s Challenger is a 36,000-mile example living out its days in West Virginia. An original owner wanted his coupe to lean more towards brougham luxury than sport, so there’s a snazzy plaid interior and an automatic transmission.

This one’s probably as original as they get these days, with warning wrapper still intact on the sun visor. The seller indicates 100 percent originality, but keen observers will note paint match issues on the passenger door.

In any event, the seller is entertaining offers for his prized ride. So $18,990 or whatever ought to do it.

[Images: seller]

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66 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1980 Dodge Challenger, a Galant by Any Other Name...”


  • avatar
    Kalvin Knox

    Why the hell did they think it was a good idea to put the legendary Challenger name on that little twerpmobile? It’s pathetic!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Same thing Chevrolet was thinking when it put a 190-hp engine in a Corvette and sold it with a straight face.

      It’s called the “malaise era” for a reason.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        One of the bright spots of the Malaise Era was the ‘78 Dodge “Lil Red Express” pickup. It featured a small block 360ci motor with a 4 barrel carb and smokestacks! 225 net hp doesn’t sound like much but it was more than enough to blow away most cars on the road back then. There was one up the street from me, the guy was always frying his tires, lol. They sold like 2,500 of those gas guzzlers. I think they made them again in ‘79. Take that, Ayatollah!

        • 0 avatar
          Dilrod

          We had one of those in the small town where I grew up. I remember it pulling a parade float one year. It was around for many years and quite a beater by the time it disappeared.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      A different name would allow the car be remembered more fondly, I believe.

      I’m sure glad they didn’t release the 1988 Mazda Mustang as such. Adding FWD, however competent (debatable), is a no-no even worse than an import-designed “economical sporty coupe” as are the Probe and this. I’m glad this is still RWD at least.

      The Honda Prelude, being released as such but allowed to mature into a highly-respected sports coupe, is the obvious exception. Same with other well-done post-Malaise sports cars that are FWD-based like Civic Si/Type aRR, Golf GTi/aRR and Focus ST/aaRS, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

      Keep in mind the contemporary (1981) Charger was a FWD L-body runt whose top-line engine was an 84-hp four-cylinder… and that today’s Charger is a sedan, of all things.

      So much for “legendary.”

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        Well yeah, but I find absolutely nothing offensive about the current Charger being a sedan. Its a bad-ass sounding name for a bad-ass (or can be) car.

        The FWD L body I also recall, and I tend to bring it up when people start bitching about the Charger being a sedan today. Really? This snarling V-8 RWD HELLCAT is worse than that? Just because it has too many doors? Does Dodge need another coupe?

        • 0 avatar
          Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

          I know it’s silly, John, but hand-to-God I still can’t look at a modern Charger without grimacing a bit at the extra doors. At least the current body integrates them better than the 2006-2010 did.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        My 345ci (5.7L) Charger four door has more power than my 440ci two door 1970 Plymouth GTX did. Go figure.

        • 0 avatar
          JEFFSHADOW

          As Metallica would pronounce, “Sad But True”:…we actually took a 1980 “Challenger” in trade for a REAL 2014 Challenger at my Dodge dealership.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Ha! I think we should have a friendly Best & Brightest over/under wager on how many people at your dealer knew what your 1980 Challenger was *before* you brought it in for trade.

            I’ll take 30%. I think that only 30% of the sales staff and service department would have known what the car was if someone asked them, asked them on the day *before* you brought your old car, what years that Chrysler built Challengers. I bet 70% of the people would have said muscle car late 1960s and present day starting around 2010, but only 30% would have also known about late 1970s/early 80s.

            30%

            What say you, fellow B&B?

        • 0 avatar

          Don’t start looking at 1/4 mile times and 0-60 times…my nothing burger CTS would have taken most of the non big block cars of the 60’s….OK, some of that is tires too, but still….

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      Probably the same dumb sh$& GM is thinking putting the Blazer name on a FWD 4 cylinder crossover, which is profit through any means necessary. Unfortunately those means are through burning bridges but clearly GM is desperate if they’re resorting to this.

    • 0 avatar
      la834

      As ridiculous and insulting as it seems today, it probably did make sense to call this a Challenger in 1978 when it was first sold. I was there then and this car did seem more in step with the times than a big gas-guzzling V8 pony car would have. After all, what was a Mustang then? Yep, the pathetic Mustang II that was in most ways trounced by this car (hey, there was a Hemi in there!) Over at Chevrolet, though the Camaro was still around, many thought it a throwback and the Monza seemed to have more of a future. And similarly-sized imports were hot, like the new-for-’78 Toyota Celica and VW Scirocco. The small sporty 4-cylinder coupe market was where the action was then.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The ’78 era cars were where I got my start (mid ’80 timeframe) and the Mustang II was far from “pathetic”. 140 screamin’ V8 HP Buddy! OK that was decent for those Dark Days, but the real story was “torque”.

        Automakers figured they could build V8s to reach “peak power” real early in the rev band, shift early, so the less revs meant better fuel economy.

        And it worked for the most part. The V8 Mustang II would hit peak torque (240 lbs/ft) at 1,600 RPM so that downplayed its “HP” rating, same with Corvettes, V8 Camaros, etc, of the era, since Dynos just give a “torque” reading, while “HP” is calculated based on RPM and torque.

        The reason V8s were so slow were their radically sandbagged final-drive ratios (ring-n-pinion) during the era, again to sip fuel where ever possible.

        But a quick gear swap/change solved that problem, and unleashed wild animals, relatively speaking.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Um, I think they Big Four’s V8s hit peak torque at relatively low rpm back then because they all forgot how to build decent breathing exhaust systems once all of them started having to use catalytic converters. Usually those engines that hit peak torque at 1600rpm had made about 5-10% more torque, peaking at 2500rpm, while being able to make more torque at 1600 than their emissions-strangled version could…

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      You are deserving of a legendary 1981 Dodge Shelby Charger. May it’s 107 HP allow you to exceed the 85 MPH of the speedometer.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        The 94~96hp 2.2 in the K Cars allowed you to exceed that 85mph speed. The needle kept going, and in theory it was rev limited to something like 130-140mph. If the needle circled around to the 0 then you’d be doing about 120mph. You’d need an awfully big hill to make that happen, a hill like one of those big hills around Scranton PA that Harry Chapin sang about.

        In reality, the 2.2 K Cars could make about 90 flat out, plus or minus speedometer error.

        (If that song is now stuck in your head then you’re welcome!)

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          @Jim2C: thanks for that excellent reference. Remember singing along with his brother Tom at the legendary Riverboat in Toronto. Now will have to dig up Harry’s double live CD from wherever I stashed it.

        • 0 avatar

          My GLH Turbo (non shelby, no intercooler, and it needed one) had no peg on the 85 mph. Someone made a sticker to continue the numbers, but I just used the tach as the workaround…..X rpm in 5th = ah, maths….

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

        Shelby didn’t come along until 1983, and it took two more years after that before the turbo 2.2L really gave the L-body Charger some beans.

        BTW, my first car was a 1984 Turismo 2.2… with an auto, ugh.

      • 0 avatar

        I had my 84 (non turbo) up to 110 – the speedo “wrapped” around. Don’t remember the rpms, but it was far from redline. Had I not been doing this in very stupid conditions – relatively close to a river valley and the accompanying deer that were attracted to the area – I could have went faster without problem and the fear that a possible deer/car collision produced.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Kowalski never would have tried to get from Colorado to San Francisco in 15 hours driving an ‘80 Chally.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I think this one has a hemi (but seriously).

    36,000 original miles- it probably has the original timing chain and balance shaft chains. Malaise era Mopar fans know…

    • 0 avatar

      I couldn’t tell which engine it had in there, but that 2.6 Mitsu engine was indeed called a Hemi.

      • 0 avatar
        OzCop

        Yes, and that engine in a Plymouth Arrow Fire Arrow moved that car along quite well…

        • 0 avatar
          threeer

          Very true! My best friend drove a 1979 Fire Arrow. I had to make due with a 1978 Arrow GT. The 2.6 was, for the time, one of the larger four cylinder cars out there. Put my 2.0 to shame every time we took them out together. Still, I loved my Arrow in all of its burnt orange and Arrow graphics glory, The houndstooth interior still resonate with me to this day.

          Another good friend of mine dated a girl for a while that had a Sapporo…almost luxurious compared to the Arrow!

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    However, if you were a consumer back then, you would remember these as being regarded as rather ‘respectable’ vehicles at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Yep- they had decent “get up and go” for the time with 0-60 just a little slower than 10 seconds. In the mid-1990s that kind of acceleration would be called “peppy,” using the auto journo parlance of the times, but in the early 80s that was considered pretty fast. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        Yes, I remember getting under the 10-second 0-60 time was quite a feat back then, now it is considered horribly slow. Even cars from pre-1973 a sub 10-second time was unusual. Hi-performance muscle cars not withstanding.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        In the late 60’s and 70’s I came up with this generalized formula. v-8s got to 60 in about 10 seconds and got about 10 miles to the gallon, six cylinders got to 60 in 15 seconds and got 15 miles to the gallon, and four cylinders got to 60 in about 20 seconds and got 20 miles to the gallon. Of course there were exceptions but that was a pretty good rule of thumb.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      These were among the best cars that could be bought at a Dodge or Chrysler-Plymouth dealer (Sapporo) in the 1978-83 time frame. For that matter, all of the Mitsu made cars and trucks sold by Chrysler were solid, dependable and economical performers.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        My parents got a 1980 Plymouth Colt, a Mitsubishi “captive import”. It made it well past 150,000 miles. Too bad it was an automatic because the manual shift was a two speed box with a four speed shifter for eight forward speeds. It also had a three valve per cylinder motor called an MCA jet, which was something of a faint echo of Honda’s CVCC concept. Top it all off with well proportioned Guigiaro styling, it was one of my favorite cars of that era. Mitsubishi was doing good things back then.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Contemporary family sedans were all over the place, a few as fast as these cars, a few as slow as 20 seconds 0-60 (just comparing “0-60” times), so compared to everything else on the new car lot that you could test drive, these things were relatively fun.

      I don’t remember them selling very well and by 1990 it was really, really rare to spot one of them- there’s a lot more to selling a car than just peppy performance, but I always thought these were an interesting automotive footnote.

      @StudeDue- Sapporo, thanks. I couldn’t remember the name of the Plymouth clone.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        IIRC, these all rusted to nothing decades ago around here (NW Ohio).

        • 0 avatar
          OzCop

          Such was the fate of my Fire Arrow, particularly after making several winter trips through heavy snow between Lexington, KY and Cleveland. I sold it to my sister who drove it until it reached 160 K miles…and the floors rusted out…

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Pretty uncanny resemblance to the Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 from 1986, color and all.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I agree. The brochure picture looks completely like a Pontiac or Oldsmobile of that era. I don’t understand why the seller felt that the brochure picture was the only one necessary of the front end of the vehicle. I want to see the front of the actual vehicle in question.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I don’t know if Corey mistakenly did it here because I haven’t seen the actual ad, but I HATE IT when the seller seemingly avoids some part of the car when taking pics. It’s inexcusable with such a high asking price here.

        This is also especially annoying when there is damage there and you’re 120 miles away so you can’t just pop over a check it out. They try to hide the damage with the pics, and either ignore you or so an even worse job with more pictures if you ask them. This is when they admit to the damage, but sometimes they just avoid the front, for example and you get there and its another color or some crap. WTF?

        If you say it “had a light wreck in the front” then obviously I KNOW it has damage in that case. I want to get a rough idea of how bad, and at a minimum, what parts I’ll need to fix it or what will be unusable if I part it out.

  • avatar
    W210Driver

    If memory serves me right these are known as Colt Sapporo (or just Sapporo) in Japan. A friend of mine in Osaka owns one of these in a lush olive green with silver or grey vinyl roof and those distinctive Japanese fender mirrors.

    I have had the privilege of experiencing a ride in the car. Aside from some squeaks and rattles I think it is actually a beautiful-looking car in the context of its time. I am unsure of what engine powered it, but even with the automatic the car came across as spirited and sufficient for everyday driving.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I must confess this car was an object of my 17-year-old (car) lust in 1980. And compared to something like a Sunfire coupe, or a Camaro with a punk six, it was wholly legit.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Oh.
      BDB suggestion:

      Iron Duke Camaro
      vs
      2.3L (non-turbo) Fox body Mustang
      vs
      this.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Hindsight says buy the poseur Mustang.

        Comparing ownership experience,

        The Camaro would probably get repossessed when the owner got behind on payments about a year in. The interior would have a heavy smell of cigarette smoke and you think that would really bring the value down, but it actually wouldn’t since most prospective customers would neither notice nor care.

        The Mitsu would rust badly. The engine would make louder and louder mechanical noises starting just before 50,000 miles and it would create increasingly larger clouds of oil smoke upon startup (telltale sign of valve seals going bad).

        The Ford would be reliable (for the time) transportation but the temptation to hoon it would be too much. The owner would probably smack it into a curb during one of said hoonage sessions, resulting in it needing serious suspension work and a couple new wheels, but it would never drive the same after that.

        #amirite?

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          I think you got it fingered out, but all things being equal (they were all in the condition of this example), I think although the Dodgubishi may drive better, I’m like you in that I would trust the Ford 2.3L Lima over the long term. I’d also be surprised if the Iron Duke didn’t outlast the car… or least long enough to be swapped for a V-8 by the 4th owner and cast off behind his dad’s shop where it is exposed to weather and turns into scrap metal. That’d also be the case for the Mustang’s 2.3L, I’d bet.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Well, the Spawn-Of-Satanmobile – i.e., the Iron Duke Camaro – wouldn’t be out until ’82, but I’m with Jim. My money’s on the Mustang.

        Still liked these Challengers and Sapporos, though.

        (And I bet the Iron Duke would outlast the Camaro, but who the f**k wants to stick with that turd long enough to find out?)

      • 0 avatar

        Added this to the list. I have 39 upcoming BDB ideas waiting in the wings.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’m ready to buy. Seller, I’ll meet you on the corner of S’aint-hapin’en Drive and Hellnaw Ave. $18k? No. That’s Space Cadet money.

    I appreciate it for what it is, and it looks like time-warp condition, but I could see maybe paying $8k for it if I had phuck-you money and absolutely loved it.

    You know, its kinda like that era’s BRZ/86.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      My thoughts exactly. Lose the first “1” in the price and I’d think about it. Coprolites are both rare and old but they ain’t diamonds.

    • 0 avatar
      paxman356

      Heck, I’ll take the 10k 1983 Saporro Technica from Bring a Trailer for $12k over this:

      https://barnfinds.com/bf-exclusive-1983-plymouth-sapporo-technica/

  • avatar
    spookiness

    A coworker buddy of mine had one of these in college. It was the early 90s and the car was beat to hell, but I rode in it a couple times and my recollection was that the engine was indeed very smooth. And I had a 83 Civic which at that time had been the smoothest little 4 I’d ever experienced. I could also tell by the way he was driving it that it had decent low end torque. Plaid seats are always a plus, and these had talking alerts like other Mopar of the period. Nice little uncommon time capsule!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    This is the sort of thing I think of when I see a modern GTI with a plaid interior.

    That 2.6 had balance shafts, but it was awful in other respects. A stumbling, asthmatic, hard-starting turd of an engine. This really needed Chrysler’s 2.2 turbo.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I remember going with a friend to look at Challengers (in ’79, IIRC) at a Dodge dealer in Dallas (the old Big D Dodge, near Love Field). He also looked at some A100 conversion vans (including one in the very unusual for the time black metallic). We also went to a Chrysler-Plymouth dealer (can’t remember its name now) to see and drive a Sapporo. He later ended up buying a ’78 Cutlass Supreme two-door, with the Olds 260 under the hood, instead of the Challenger or Sapporo.

    My impression of them at the time was that they were well made, and the 2.6 had decent acceleration (neither of us knew how to drive a manual at the time, so we would have driven the automatic versions). Either would have been light-years ahead of my ’78 Audi Fox, as reliability goes.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I had a 1983 Plymouth Sapporo Technica in 1988. I loved that thing to death. Rust was the only thing wrong with it. When I saw a pristine 9400 mile car on bring a trailer, it made me want to go out and play the lottery so I could win, and buy it:

    https://barnfinds.com/bf-exclusive-1983-plymouth-sapporo-technica/

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Drove this as my company car with a 5-spd manual in 1980. It was the highlight of a rather miserable year having started a very sucky job in a new town. Same exterior color. I still like the design and in my experience the engine and transmission was better than any of the domestics mentioned above. Mine didn’t have the hideous plaid interior trim.
    Before this I drove a Colt hatchback with the dual range four-speed manual that kind of made an eight speed… kinda. It was pretty fun to drive too, if you took a, driving a slow car fast, approach.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    I had an ’81 Challenger in Blue/Black 2-tone (the best color for this car). It had the 2.6 and a MT. RWD of course. For the Malaise era it was a pretty nice car. Between me and the guy I sold it to (who I knew), the car went over 100,000 miles basically trouble-free.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    This says to me: It’s the Eighties. Do a lot of coke and vote for Ronald Reagan! /mst3k

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Back in the late 80’s my sister looked a one for sale. It was clean and decent running but the door bottoms were rotting to the point of separation from the shell, apparently a common issue particularly in the salt belt.
    The Saporro had more of a luxury coupe flair like a Mustang or Capri Ghia or luxury trimmed 200SX or Celica while the Challanger was sporty with its stripes and louvered quarter windows.
    IIRC both had a neat aircraft style roof console with lights. If you had it you could not do the sunroof option.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Am I the only one that looks at this and immediately wonders what monster mitsu turbo engine would fit?

  • avatar
    bkod313

    My first car was the same in the link paxman356 posted except mine was the Challenger Technica. Besides from the badging, everything looked the same. It had a digital dash, lots of gadgets and the car would speak to you. A pretty good sound system if I recall correctly. Mine was a manual. I bought it for $425 used. It rusted really bad. Mostly at the doors and quarter panels. It got so bad, that I wadded up a an old rag to stick in the passenger door where the door sensor was because so much had rusted out. The sensor wouldn’t get pressed in and the lady would constantly tell me that the “passenger door is ajar”. It also leaked plenty of oil which drove my Dad crazy. I had to always park it in the street and he made me slide a piece of plywood underneath to gather the drips. Also, the stick shift broke right off in my hand coming home one day in my subdivision. Luckily I was close to home so I just made it there in first. I ended up using a fender control arm from like a 78 Firebird and attaching (not welding) it to the stick shift nub. It was 4 times the height of the original shifter but it did the trick. Eventually it loosened though and it would just come right off in my hands. I would be driving and desperately trying to fit it back on in order to shift. Good times. That car taught me a lot. Mostly it taught me to make more money and buy a better car(!!), but I will always look back fondling on my Mitsubishi Dodge Challenger Technica.

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    Given the Mustang/Mustang II downsize in ’74 and the GM downsize in ’77, I think people were oriented to at least some nameplates getting smaller.

    The slope of the rear window into the trunk is kind of funny looking to me, otherwise it’s not too bad looking and generally pointy in the same way that a ’79 Mustang was.


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