By on February 14, 2022

After Mitsubishi vehicles made their way to Dodge and Plymouth dealerships as the Colt in 1971, Chrysler expanded the fledgling model’s lineup quickly. Nine years after its introduction, the third generation Colt offerings (two different Mitsubishi models) were being discontinued. Accompanying the old Colts on the lot were all-new ones, though old and new alike were sold as ’79 model year cars. It’s Twin Stick time.

First, some model housekeeping: Though Colt’s smaller Lancer-based coupe and sedan were phased out in the 1979 model year, the larger Colt wagon (based on the Galant Sigma) remained on sale. Chrysler required a different car to underpin the smaller Colt in 1979, as times were changing and the Lancer no longer fit the bill.

Mitsubishi’s second-generation Lancer entered production in 1979 and ran through 1987, but was rear-drive and available only in a four-door sedan body style. That was not the new hotness for economy cars in the late Seventies, front-drive was! Luckily, Mitsubishi had a car similar in size to the Lancer that was front-drive: The all-new Mirage!

The Mirage was designed specifically for economy purposes, in response to the 1973 oil crisis. It was Mitsubishi’s first attempt at a front-drive compact, and the smallest model the brand offered next to the kei car Minica (the diminutive Minica was limited primarily to the Japanese domestic market.) The new Mirage-based Colt was smaller than its Lancer-based predecessor: The Colt’s wheelbase shrunk from 92.1 inches to 90.6-inches in the changeover. Exterior dimension changes were even more notable, as the 1979 sedan’s length of 161.6 inches was replaced by a three-door hatch that was 149.2 inches long. The three-door hatch was the only model available at the fourth-gen Colt’s introduction; more on that in a moment.

In the late Seventies, hatchbacks and economy cars became synonymous with one another. Customers quickly saw the appeal of an affordable car that was efficient and could carry a substantial amount of cargo, albeit at the cost of prestige. Dodge and Plymouth split once more on the Colt’s branding, as Plymouth sold the Colt as the Champ.

A more advanced car than its predecessor, the front-drive Colt included engineering successes like a fully independent suspension, disc brakes at the front, and rack and pinion steering. All Colt and Champ models were built at Mitsubishi’s Nagoya plant, though additional production for other markets took place in Australia and New Zealand.

All early fourth-generation Colts and Champs used the same 1.4-liter inline-four engine, the 4G12 from Mitsubishi’s Orion engine family. Smaller than the standard 1.6 of the prior generation, it produced 70 horsepower but rewarded with excellent fuel economy: The EPA granted the Colt with its highest-ever fuel economy rating to date, of 32 mpg city and 44 on the highway.

The impressive fuel economy was down to a transmission developed by Mitsubishi called Super Shift, which Chrysler marketed in North America as Twin Stick. Like some of the best inventions, Super Shift’s creation was one of necessity. Mitsubishi was not prepared to spend money on a new engine made for front-drive applications. As such, the Orion engine chosen was meant for longitudinal rear-drive cars. The Mirage was much smaller than the company’s rear-drive models, so engineers had to turn the engine transversely.

The forced transverse layout caused two problems: First, it meant the carburetor was at the front of the engine and would ice up in inclement weather. The other issue was more technical: Because the transmission had to be mounted under the engine and off to one side, a traditional clutch layout would not work. A typical clutch would’ve required the transmission to rotate in the opposite direction than needed.

Engineering around the problem, Mitsubishi implemented an additional idle transfer shaft. When the shaft was added, engineers realized it could be altered and used as an additional two-speed transmission. With the addition of a secondary shift lever for the driver (the Twin Stick), the setup made for a high and low range on each of the four gears. With “Economy” and “Power” (high and low) ranges, the Mirage’s standard four-speed manual had eight forward gears, effectively.

At introduction, there were three manual transmissions on offer, and one automatic. The aforementioned Twin Stick four-speed was joined by a standard Mitsubishi four-speed, as well as a five-speed manual. Chrysler implemented its three-speed TorqueFlite automatic too, in a nod to American consumer preference. Shortly after introduction, a larger engine joined the Colt hatchback’s lineup: The familiar 1.6-liter 4G32 engine (88 HP), from the prior generation Colt. It was also adapted for front-drive duty by the hard-working engineers at Mitsubishi.

Initially, the Colt and Champ were available as base Deluxe or slightly upmarket Custom trims, but that expanded into an additional unnamed base model in 1981. At the same time, the RS package joined as top of the line. Serving as an additional trim, RS implemented a revised suspension, full gauge package, and a larger fuel tank for that free-wheelin’ cruising lifestyle. 1981 was also the final year of the third-gen Colt wagon. The considerably larger wagon was rear-drive and better equipped than the hatchback Colt but was canceled without a direct replacement.

Dealers inevitably directed former Colt wagon buyers to the all-new five-door Colt in 1982. Unlike economy cars of today, the five-door hatchback used a longer wheelbase than the three-door. At 93.74 inches, its wheelbase was about three inches longer than its sibling. Other markets received a four-door sedan on this longer wheelbase too, but that one was never imported as a Colt.

With its second body style, Chrysler renamed Colt and Champ trims to E and DL to accompany the RS package. The new names arrived with some additional emissions strangulation in the engine bay. Power dropped in the 1.4 and 1.6 engines from 70 and 88 horses to 64 and 72, respectively.

1982 was an important year for Mitsubishi as well. Recall in 1971 the company’s CEO wanted big market share expansion, which he accomplished through strategic alliances to sell Mitsubishi cars in markets where the company had no official presence. Expansion completed and cash received, Mitsubishi set up their own dealers in the United States in 1982. The company did not sell versions of the Colt at the get-go but instead marketed the Cordia and Starion. The brand launched in the US with 70 dealers across 22 states, and a first-year importation allotment of 30,000 cars.

The fourth-generation Colt was feeling its Seventies roots by 1983 and had two model years remaining. The only notable change that year was the removal of the Plymouth Champ name. In anticipation of upcoming consolidation, the Plymouth wore Colt branding from 1983 onward. 1984 brought with it the most performance-oriented Colt there had ever been: The GTS. A new package that replaced RS, GTS brought with it a new turbocharged engine. Mitsubishi attached a turbo to the 1.6 4G32 to create the 4G32T. The engine was present in the Cordia at Mitsubishi lots, so it was a natural addition to create a higher performance Colt.

The turbocharged 1.6 was unique to the North American market, as high-power Mirages in other countries used a turbocharged 1.4. The mill offered a generous 102 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and benefitted from fuel injection. GTS also used the Twin Stick manual. To slow down the speedy hatch, front disc brakes were ventilated on the GTS. It was available as a three-door only and used a larger fuel tank like the discontinued RS. GTS continued the RS tradition of a sportier suspension but added black exterior trim.

In 1985 things got a lot more complicated for the Colt. The model expanded into different body styles, more drive types, and was called an Eagle in the Canadian market. Around that time, Mitsubishi was through holding back models from its dealers and started to sell an identical Mirage at its own lots. More in Part IV.

[Images: Chrysler]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

30 Comments on “Abandoned History: Chrysler and the Colt, Captive Economical Import Time (Part III)...”


  • avatar
    numike

    my nearly new champ It was a damn fun car https://imgur.com/a/F5KNyNu

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Neat-looking little cars.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    A friend of mine bought a new 1979 Colt, and it was quite impressive for the time. We were 18 and he was the first friend in my peer group who bought a new car and paid for it himself with his job as an EMT. It had the twin-stick transmission, and that was very cool. It was very roomy inside compared to the Chevette, which was the default entry-level car at the time. It seemed peppy, but that might have been more based on sound than movement. It also looked like a car for the 80s and not the 70s. My parents had a Plymouth Sapporo, also a Mitsubishi – and that seemed like a sport luxury car, with its voice reminding you the door was ajar, digital dash that could be switched to km/hr, so you could go 100 without getting a ticket, and its torquey 2.6 liter engine.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    Stupid Lying Transnational OEM says:
    ‘Import’ cars are Evil, but if you purchase an ‘import’ car from a ‘domestic’ brand you are a Patriotic American.

    –> Americans are gullible idiots (and bad with money).

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Until a few months ago by some quirk for decades in Toronto we got the Peachtree/Superstation out of Atlanta.

      The past few years there it was inundated by some Chrysler dealer who ended all of his commercials shouting “Be American, Buy American”. Just how many of those Stellantis vehicles he is shilling for qualify as American?

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Well that dealer is probably a Fascist… :-)

        “It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.” – George Orwell, 1944
        https://www.orwell.ru/library/articles/As_I_Please/english/efasc

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          The word “socialism” is pretty much universally misapplied in everday language too, but it is a nice derrogatory epiphet anyway.
          I’d say that damn near everybody needs a course in basic political science.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    When both the Dodge and the Plymouth wore “Colt” badges, it was the beginning of the end for the latter brand. The Dodge nameplate still carried (slightly) higher prestige than Plymouth, and when the cars became the same thing with (about) the same price tag, it was just a matter of which dealer gave you the best price.

    When I bought my ’89 Omni (first new car ever) the negotiated price was lower than the Plymouth dealer could do on a Horizon.

    When a buyer could get a Dodge for Plymouth money, the latter brand became irrelevant.

  • avatar
    Eaststand

    That Colt Wagon is a surprisingly handsome car

  • avatar
    spookiness

    At the time I thought these a bit odd, but it’s a very good cohesive design, and above and beyond for an econobox. I did not know the story of the rationale for the twin stick! I worked with a woman after high school and I drove hers once. I tried the twin stick, but either it was old and worn, or perhaps that aspect wasn’t synchronized and maybe you weren’t supposed to shift between “power” and “economy” while in motion. I think it put it in P then worked through 1-4 and then in E to see if it faked a 5-speed. I just remember some grinding and protest.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      I’m trying to wrap my head around how it would work. Unless one would go E1-P1-E2-P2-E3-P3-E4-P4 were one so inclined. I’d imagine semi drivers would know what to do.

      I’ll include myself in the camp that says that wagon is downright refreshing in comparison to recent offerings from most manufacturers.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        One way to go was to just do Power 1st-4th, and then Economy 4th for an effective 5 speed.

        My parents bought one with the three speed auto. Mom would have it no other way. It was a charming and happy little car, it just needed a fourth gear in the worst way.

    • 0 avatar
      Dale Houston

      The Twin Stick sounds like bicycle shifters – one for the double (or triple) up front and another for the 10 or whatever in the back.

    • 0 avatar
      Dale Houston

      The Twin Stick sounds like bicycle shifters – one for the double (or triple) up front and another for the 10 or whatever in the back.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    My sister-in-law had a 78 Colt station wagon years ago which was a good car. I had an 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pick for over 14 years (same as Dodge D-50) which was my first compact pickup and served me well. Still have good memories of that truck with an 8 foot bed, single cab, 4 speed manual, and air. It was just the right size and I wish something similar to it was made today. The best compromise is the Maverick hybrid but I sure miss the 8 foot bed.

  • avatar
    B Buckner

    In addition to the trick transmission, the engine had 2 intake valves. Light as a feather and quick, but suspension and tires not up to hard driving.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    A buddy in HS had an ace of base white Colt 4 spd. We used it to bump start me and my older brothers 79 Accord which which wouldn’t start in an ice storm. This consisted of him bump drafting us at about 15mph , in front of the school pick up line. We ran the 4 way stop as we needed more runway.
    It finally started and the tan Honda was diagnosed with a spun bearing from infrequent oil changes from the little old lady we bought it from. It had only 120k miles on it.

  • avatar
    cardave5150

    Maybe it’s just me, but I see a LOT of the early ’80’s Colt in the new Hyudai Ioniq 5.

  • avatar
    OA5599

    “If it’s a good car, it’s a Mirage.”
    Seriously though, my first car was a 1989 Plymouth Colt 3 door hatchback. [AKA Mitsu Mirage] Still a great looking car.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Mitsu had some good stuff in the 80s and early 90s.
    They lost their groove (mostly I think because of business conditions related to their various partners) and never really got out of the “also ran” rut.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Yes Mitsubishi did make some good stuff but getting parts for them was much harder and more expensive which was the only thing I did not like about my Mighty Max. Even though it had been made for years as a D 50 parts for it usually had to be ordered and were more expensive even more than Honda and Toyota. I had to get a catalytic converter for it when it was 6 years old which no auto parts store could get and even Mitas couldn’t. Even in the early 90s the catalytic converter was about $600 ordered from the dealer. Fuel pumps were inside the tank as all the vehicles are now but that was not typical during the 80s and the pump was about as expensive as the cat. Getting typical replacement parts were expensive and harder to get and hopefully Mitsubishi has resolved some of that otherwise I really liked the truck and put about 200k on it. Should have probably not kept is as long and gone to a Chevy S-10, Ford Ranger, Toyota, Nissan, or Mazda but I really liked the truck. I finally replaced it with an S-10 which was much easier to get parts and less expensive. Would like to see Mitsubishi survive but not sure about the Renault Nissan ownership.

    • 0 avatar
      StudeDude

      I owned an ’86 D50 which was virtually identical to the Mighty Max and the fuel pump was bolted to the engine, not in the fuel tank. I replaced it so I remember well. Also, the 1985 Mitsu made trucks came in only 1 bed size—6.5 feet. The 2nd gen trucks from 1987 had a 6 ft bed and a 7 ft bed as an option.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Mine was an early 85 and had an 8 foot bed (96″ Length x 20″ Width x 24″ Height). I had to have the fuel pump replaced which was in the fuel tank. It also had an additional cat off the exhaust manifold. Owning this truck for 14 years I am very familiar with it. I also had a dealer installed Mitsubishi air conditioner which when the air went out I replaced with the Dodge D-50 air conditioner because I could not find the compressor. The freon line had to be rerouted but it did work. Bed was long but narrow. It had a 2.0 I 4. It was an odd ball and I had problems getting parts for it but it overall was a good truck.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    How were these viewed by the buyers of the period?

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      The car mags liked them, as cheap-but-fun option with a stick. But I think most people just thought of them as cheap. I don’t know why anyone chose a Chevette or Pinto over these, but there was still a pretty strong “buy American” sentiment back then.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @russcyle is correct. I knew many parents who would either attempt to dissuade their children from purchasing a ‘foreign’ vehicle or refuse to help them purchase one. At that time there were still a great many ‘brand loyal’ consumers. Mitsubishi in the late 1970’s early 1980s in Canada was regarded as competitive with Toyota and Datsun. Honda was still building its reputation. The 2nd generation Civic being its breakthrough vehicle. Until then it was viewed as too small and too rustprone and lacked dealers (at least in Canada). Mazda and Subaru were ‘quirky’ rather than mainstream.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Thanks both of you. I think I would like the truck, and the Challenger seems intriguing.

  • avatar
    Edsel Maserati

    My first new car was a 1983 Dodge Colt. Kind of a creamy beige. But, coming after years of old smokers, I loved that zippy thing. It was marked down to $4,995 and I swooped over to the dealer to grab it. My girlfriend liked it so much she bought one in blue.

    The gas mileage was great and when later equipped with better tires it was fun to drive in the twisties.

    The Colt that really gave me a buzz was the Turbo model. The dealer let me take it out and I could see immediately that I’d lose my license fast in one of those. It was raucous and quick and snarly. I don’t remember the power it produced, but it was so damned light that it didn’t take much to give it a big boost.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • la834: The first generation minivans had that feature (it was even lockable), but no glovebox in the usual location....
  • dal20402: I have an easier time seeing a DS in the front than the rear. If I try not to see a J30 when I look at the...
  • dusterdude: Overalll I don’t mind the exterior design – very bold for sure
  • tonycd: Anybody who sees a J30 in this simply isn’t old enough to remember its true progenitor, the Citroen...
  • DenverMike: No they’re just getting better at having them die as they cross the warranty “finish line”. Most will...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber