In a captive import enterprise that began in 1979, Dodge sold Mitsubishi’s compact pickup (aka Mighty Max in North America) to compete with the likes of the Ford (Mazda) Courier and the Chevrolet (Isuzu) LUV. Badged as the Ram 50, the truck was sold through two generations, 1979-1986 and 1987-1994. By the Nineties, the second-gen was showing its age, and Dodge decided it would rather focus on its own midsize truck, the Dakota.
But there was another captive import that arrived at the very same time as the second edition of the Ram 50. Say hello to the Raider.
Dodge’s import truck story began in 1979, when the Mitsubishi Forte (or L200) arrived on North American shores, rebadged as the Dodge D-50 and Plymouth Arrow. A captive import like the Colt, the durable Dodge D-50 (later Ram 50) proved itself a solid entrant into the compact pickup truck market. What proved unpopular was the Plymouth Arrow, which did not make it past its initial 1979-1982 outing. The Ram 50 was refreshed in 1982 but was certainly due for replacement in 1987 when the second generation arrived.
Recently on Abandoned History, we learned about the Colt, a captive import Dodge/Plymouth/Eagle/AMC/Renault sold courtesy of a badge swap on some compact cars from Mitsubishi. During that series’ tenure, one of our readers had a great idea: A separate Abandoned History discussion of the captive import trucks and SUVs in the Dodge portfolio. The time has come!
We arrive at the end of our Dodge Colt journey today. Colt started in 1971 as a cooperative program to provide Mitsubishi with a sales outlet in North America, and Chrysler with a compact and fuel-efficient car it didn’t have to design or build. Over the years the Colt evolved with the needs of the consumer and branched out into several different body styles.
Eventually, the tides shifted. Mitsubishi established their own dealerships in the United States (but not Canada) and started selling identical cars as were on Dodge/Plymouth dealer lots. Then, as Eagle came into being it also needed product to sell. Chrysler turned Eagle into its de facto outlet for imports and Mitsubishi cooperative products: Colts of regular and wagon persuasion became Eagles called Vista and Summit, in addition to their Dodge and Plymouth twins.
Last time we left our tale it was the dawn of 1993, and Colts were badged at Eagle dealers as a new generation of Summit. The Vista Wagon name was dead, now called Summit Wagon. Dodge, Plymouth, and Eagle dealers had an exciting new Colt as well! But it didn’t last long.
We rejoin the world of the Colt today, specifically the lineup on sale at various Dodge, Plymouth, and now Eagle dealers in the United States and Canada in the early Nineties. The addition of Eagle to Chrysler’s brand portfolio for the 1988 model year had a direct effect on the future of Colt: Almost immediately the Colt sedan was drafted onto the Eagle team, where it became the more expensive Summit.
Remaining as Colts in the US in 1990 were the hatchback and the dated Colt Vista and wagon. Canadians were offered the contemporary Colt sedan and hatchback, while the Colt Vista was sold over the border as the Eagle Vista Wagon. The Vista Wagon was accompanied in Canada by the old Colt sedan from the mid-Eighties, branded as Eagle Vista sedan and offered only as a very basic vehicle. We pick up at the beginning of the 1991 model year.
Last time on our Diamante coverage, we learned about the near-luxury sedan’s somewhat delayed introduction to America. In the two-year translation from a Japanese market car to an American one, Diamante lost the majority of its interesting and advanced tech features and adopted a cheaper suspension design. Today we’ll find out what happened when Mitsubishi pitched the new and de-contented Diamante against the Lexus ES 300.
Today is the third installment in our coverage of the Mitsubishi Diamante, the Diamond Star brand’s only luxury offering ever sold in the North American market. Part I introduced us to the Diamante via the Sigma. That fancy hardtop Galant gave way to the Diamante in 1992, based on an extended length Galant platform. The second-generation hardtop sedan and its wagon counterpart were finished for 1995 on dealer lots, though fleet buyers (which fleets though?) had a Diamante available to them in 1996. In 1997, Mitsubishi was back with an all-new Diamante and aimed even higher than it had before.
In Part I of our Rare Rides Diamante coverage, we talked almost exclusively about our subject’s predecessor, the Sigma. Alternatively called Galant Σ, it was a hardtop luxury version of the standard Galant offered in the US market. It was dated when it arrived, too small, and not differentiated enough from the Galant to warrant its high price. U.S. customers mostly ignored it, and Canadians never knew it existed since they didn’t receive any Mitsubishis until 2002. Headed into the Nineties, Mitsubishi had no upscale sedan offering at all in North America, as the Galant was the firm’s largest car. That changed in 1992 with the arrival of the all-new Diamante.
When we last left off in the tale of Dodge, Plymouth, and Eagle’s various Colt branding adventures, it was the late Eighties. After a wave of modernization in 1984-1985 where the first Colt sedan appeared and the range extended into the larger and very forward-thinking Colt Vista, Mitsubishi got in on the Colt action and sold a hatchback with its OEM diamond star up front and Mirage lettering on the back. As the Nineties approached, it was time for a new generation of Colts, and more options from a hot new brand: Eagle.
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.
By the early Eighties Chrysler was deep into its product partnership with Mitsubishi, which in North America was most visible via the mutually beneficial Colt. A lineup of rebadged Mitsubishis, the Colt expanded from its rear-drive beginnings in 1971, morphing into a rear- and front-drive mix by the end of the Seventies. In the earliest part of the Eighties, the line was consolidated into a single front-drive hatchback model. Around the middle of the decade, it was time for a fifth-generation Colt and some more lineup expansion. But this time, Dodge and Plymouth dealers wouldn’t be the only ones selling a Colt.
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.
Chrysler had its first involvement with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 1971. With a considerable stock purchase by Chrysler, the two companies’ long-lived captive import cooperation began. Introduced immediately to Americans in 1971 as the Dodge Colt, the nameplate was on its second generation by 1977. We pick up in the middle of that year, as third-gen Colts started to arrive from Japan. In the unusual arrangement, brand new (and differently sized) Colts were sold alongside second-gen Colts during the same model year.
For over 20 years Chrysler offered various Mitsubishi offerings as rebadged captive import vehicles in the North American market. For a handful of years, a Colt at your Chrysler-Dodge-Plymouth-Jeep-Eagle-DeSoto-AMC dealer was the exact same one you’d buy at the Mitsubishi dealer across the street. Let’s take some time and sort out the badge swapping history of Colt.