By on March 1, 2022

Rare Rides Icons has featured much Japanese sedan content lately, including the mid-Eighties sedan mainstays and most recently a series on the luxurious and conservative Toyota Cressida. However, there’s a mainstream Japanese brand (or two) yet to be included in our sedan considerations. One of them is Mitsubishi, and today we’ll discuss the only true upmarket product the company ever offered in North America. It’s Diamante time.

Mitsubishi had humble North American beginnings in 1971 when it provided rebadged economy cars as Colts to Dodge and Plymouth dealers. By the early Eighties, it established its own US dealership network to sell a couple of its smaller models. From there, the slow flow of Cordias and Tredias grew into a full lineup of vehicles by the middle of the decade. And what’s a full lineup without a luxurious sedan? As per usual, we start our discussion with some detail about what came before Diamante: The Sigma.

Introduced in the US for the 1988 model year, the compact Sigma was the upmarket sedan placed above the Galant, also a compact at the time. It fit into the lineup far above the subcompact Mirage and Precis and joined just as the sporty compact Cordia was put out to pasture. Underneath the Sigma was the Galant that Mitsubishi introduced to North America for 1985. The Galant name was a long-running one at Mitsubishi, in use since 1969 (as Colt Galant). But the Sigma name didn’t appear until the model’s third iteration in 1976. It was called Galant Σ (for Sigma) in Japan but was often marketed as Galant in other markets, or even Colt in its wagon format in North America.

1980 brought a fourth-generation Galant Σ, which was also branded as Eterna Σ. It was a time when Mitsubishi consolidated the number of things that wore Galant badges. Export markets received the car as the Galant, except for Australia and New Zealand where it was just called Sigma. All Galant versions were still rear-drive, and the two-door hardtop (Galant λ)  was cynically offered as the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo in North America (much to the chagrin of real Challenger fans). The fourth-generation Sigma remained in production through 1987 for certain markets but was eclipsed (hah) and supplemented by a front-drive fifth-generation Galant in 1983.

It was this fifth-gen car that arrived as the Galant sedan in 1985 and set the stage for the arrival of the Sigma. While the Galant was available only as a pedestrian four-door (on this continent), when the Sigma arrived in 1988 (as Galant Σ) it wore a more exclusive hardtop body style. There were frameless windows, a more formal chrome grille, and nicer alloys than were available on the Galant. The Galant Σ offered a standard 3.0-liter V6 that was not available on the regular Galant and was only motivated by a four-speed automatic. Mitsubishi did make a full-size luxury car at the time, the Debonair, but it was exported only to select right-hand drive markets. One might replicate Debonair’s driving experience via a Dodge Dynasty, though.

Other differences on Galant Σ were limited to the upscale and ruched interior, even though Mitsubishi marketed the very exclusive Galant with an Σ badge as separate to the Galant. The initial Sigma strategy was only a temporary measure, as 1989 brought an interesting development: An all-new Galant. The Galant entered its second North American generation in 1989 (the sixth Galant overall). Though it was on the same front-drive platform as before, the new Galant looked much more modern and aerodynamic. The much more expensive Sigma was still the old Galant Σ. But now it wore a revised name and forewent Greek lettering. The rear deck said “Sigma” in block letters, though little else changed that year aside from a new alloy design.

The new Galant took off in sales and was named Motor Trend Import Car of the Year in 1989, while the very old-looking Sigma languished and sold very few examples. In 1989 it was available in one fully-loaded trim, at an ask of $17,294 ($40,150 adj.). For reference, a Camry LE V6 asked $16,428 ($38,139 adj.) that year, while a Nissan Maxima was $18,824 ($43,702 adj.) in its top SE trim. Both those cars were larger than the Sigma, newer, and had a more established reputation. Sigma returned again in 1990, as a last-of-moment for the era when the Sigma and its lesser Galant sibling were tied together. It looked the same as before in export markets, but Mitsubishi saw fit to update it elsewhere with a mild facelift and some new naming, Eterna Σ.

Mitsubishi knew it needed to try a little harder to make any headway with an upmarket sedan in export markets where it was still a relatively new player. It needed a larger car, a true midsize. The new car also needed to be more modern, and more competitive with other upscale Japanese sedans. Though 1990 was the final year for the Sigma in the US, its replacement wasn’t quite ready for a prime-time global release.

Said replacement debuted at the Tokyo Motor show of 1989, and went on sale exclusively in the Japanese market in May of 1990. It had an all-new name: Diamante. That name was for the majority of markets, though some still received it as Sigma. There were three body styles globally, but none would arrive in the North American market until 1992. Meantime, Mitsubishi dealers in the US (no Mitsubishi in Canada until 2002) sat tight as the largest car Mitsubishi offered was the Galant.

[Images: Mitsubishi, YouTube]

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21 Comments on “Rare Rides Icons: The Mitsubishi Diamante Story (Part I)...”

  • avatar

    I always liked the looks of the first gen Diamante and it came in a wagon which nobody bought. Me and my wife owned a second gen Diamante which was her daily driver and she loved it. It rode smooth and had decent pickup with the V6 but the interior was surprisingly cramped in the backseat when we decided to have kids and fit those huge baby seats in there. I remember when we bought it and the salesman stated the benefit that it was “longer than a BMW 7 series!” which may or may not be true but who cares, the interior was tight with me being 6’6″. Anywho we traded it in for an Acura RL and the rest is history…

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff S

      I always liked the Diamante but then I never drove or sat in one. I did own an 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max pickup for 14 years and my sister had a Mitsubishi Starion both in European Silver.

    • 0 avatar

      I also liked the 1st gen Diamante. Cool fact: the Wagon was imported from Australia, while the Sedans came from Japan.

      For the second gen, all Diamantes came from Australia

    • 0 avatar

      When the other Japanese makes gave up on luxury compact station wagons for the US, Mitsubishi sent the Diamante wagon over.

      A few years later, when (most) Japanese makes gave up on compact station wagons, Mitsubishi sent over the Lancer wagon.

      Gee, do ya think the other manufacturers gave up sending wagons over for a reason??

  • avatar

    Mitsubishi-branded cars weren’t sold in Canada until 2002 (2003 model year.)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’ve always been a Diamante fan, a buddy of mine in college inherited his dad’s. It was nice, and styled like an e39. It was mostly reliable.
    By in large I’m kind of a Mitsu fan. In fact, I wish Mitsu would have traded fates with Subaru. They had cooler sporting offerings, and a dedication to cool body on frame small utes and trucks that with continual investment could be owning the segment that’s just now being re-created by Ford and H/K.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    A missed opportunity but a good one would be if Mitsubishi would sell a true compact pickup to compete with the Maverick and Santa Cruz but make it less expensive and more basic. Price it at 19k with shipping and destination charges included. I doubt that it would be a single or extended cab but even if it was similar to the Maverick that would be OK. I am sure it would come basic with auto, air, and power windows and locks but that would be OK. Don’t over style it like the Santa Cruz.

  • avatar

    Cadillac porn, March edition:

    • 0 avatar

      $22k for that Allanté and he’s stuck on the original purchase price and can’t take any good pics.

      The Fleetwood B is kinda gross with that hood ornament, even though it looks all original.

      Props on the ETC owner for the big shout out to Rare Rides!

      • 0 avatar

        Oddly when the Northstar Allantés came up years ago people always wanted so much more than the 87-92s, its as if their prices have not even changed in twenty years. Personally I don’t need that amount of torque steer in my life, since the Allanté wasn’t updated off of the earlier E-body as Seville/Eldo were in MY92.

        The hood ornament IIRC is a 1930s throwback (since people in the 70s remembered the 30s). Very classy IMO.

        Evidently you have two yinzer readers instead of only one. Wow.

        • 0 avatar

          Inroads into PA! An important market for crapwagon article consumers.

          I don’t think I’d be too eager for the N* either, though IIRC there was some ABS system change in 93 that made them easier to deal with?

          • 0 avatar

            The Allanté shipped with Teves ABS which I believe was advanced for the time but the units need rebuilt after X decades (I recall reading about an operation in FL which specializes in this). Knowing GM they may have changed the ABS system to something else for MY93 possibly because of the Northstar’s higher output.

    • 0 avatar

      Loving the “Duke of New York” vibe from that Fleetwood.

      And that Touring Coupe is niiiice. I’ve got $400 in unused Southwest flight credits…hmmm.

      • 0 avatar

        Just needs the chandeliers on the front fender. I can’t give a good valuation because I don’t know the market but that is the good version of that car as far as I can tell.

        Same dude has this one, more my style but late 80s yellow ehhhhhhh:

        Then there is the whole pay for it thing, then house it.

        Actually I might be in trouble:

        • 0 avatar

          That Florida owner just using the corners as handy rub strips!

        • 0 avatar

          Is that Eldo owner throwing in the hood panel gap on the right side for gratis?

          F**king spectacular. And we wonder what happened to Cadillac…

          • 0 avatar

            If you look at the bumpers, the original owner seemed to have issues seeing and/or judging distances so its possible it was self inflicted (or perhaps haphazardly replaced years into ownership because she damaged the fender somehow).

            “And we wonder what happened to Cadillac…”

            We know, after accidently stumbling into a working drivetrain by 1992 it was 86’d for Northstar in a brilliant maneuver to alienate future customers.

  • avatar

    I have a friend who has a 1996 Diamante wagon, who still uses it as a daily driver. These were built in Australia by Mitsubishi and exported here.

  • avatar

    Second gen Diamante was, in the context of its time, a very nice car with some real luxury-boat chops.

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