There was always something very cool about these Mitsubishi Scorpions, also known as the Galant Lambda in Japan, Sapporo in Europe and Dodge Challenger/Plymouth Sapporo in North America. Sadly, they have mostly disappeared from our roads and this lone photo is the only documentary evidence I have of one’s existence in Brisbane.
I recall being a passenger in one of these many years ago in an identical shade of brown. It belonged to someone in my extended family and even though it was about 20 years old at that point, as a kid I found it eminently cool. The Scorpion had an interior that still looks attractive today and it was nice and airy with its pillarless roofline. Exterior styling was also smart although this was a rare example of a car that looked better after a facelift: just compare, say, an ’81 Plymouth Sapporo to a ’79. This is an early model based on the full-width light/reflector panel. But it seems these were targeting an odd niche, being a well-appointed, smooth-riding but not especially powerful, large or sporty coupe. While that type of car may have been better received in the US, in Australia it means they were only mildly successful and today don’t have much of an enthusiast following.
Now, this isn’t a Curbside Classic quite yet but the current-generation Mazda3 is a sharp-looking compact. Generally the second or third best-selling compact in Australia (the others on the podium are the Hyundai i30 and Toyota Corolla), the 3 wears Mazda’s new design language very well and frankly look more prestige than, say, a Lexus CT200h. What made me notice this particular Mazda3 were its aftermarket wheels that appear to be evoking whitewalls. With the white paint, they make this 3 look very appealing – and this is coming from someone who loathes white cars!
This is one of two first-generation Honda Accord sedans I’ve spotted in rush hour traffic and both are in magnificent condition for their age. It may surprise North American Curbsiders to learn this but Honda has never reached the heights of Toyota, Nissan, Mazda or Mitsubishi in Australia. Unlike those Japanese brands, it never started manufacturing locally and it has, until the past decade or so, often priced its cars above Japanese and domestic rivals. With the advent of the free trade agreement with Thailand, however, the price premium has disappeared as Honda sources much of its Australian market lineup from its Thai factories. But although Hondas of the 1970s, 80s and 90s may have sold in lower volumes, their relative ubiquity on Aussie roads betrays their excellent quality and reliability. It may also betray their popularity with older consumers, a reputation Honda had for some time.
Waiting to cross the street one day, I saw this top-of-the-line Galant liftback. There’s one that lives near my house – albeit a base model – so it wasn’t the uniqueness of the sighting that made me take a photo. Rather, it’s that little hood ornament. I have never seen a car like a Galant with a hood ornament, although certain high-spec Magnas of the time wore a similar little ornament. It’s an odd touch on a relatively sporty hatchback.
At the time this was launched in 1989, North Americans were fast losing interest in hatchbacks of this size. Mitsubishi made the decision to launch only the sedan in North America and leave the hatchbacks to more appreciative markets elsewhere. The mid-size hatchback is one body style that really should return to North America, not only because of its superior practicality but because hatchback versions of the Buick Regal/Opel Insignia and Ford Fusion/Mondeo look almost exactly the same as their sedan counterparts thanks to the general styling trend of rakish rooflines and short rear decks. Seriously, I have to stop and look to tell the difference.
This Galant was one of the slower-selling mid-size hatchbacks of its time due to its positioning as Mitsubishi’s premium mid-size offering. The Magna, a widened and Australianized version of the previous Galant, was larger and priced around $4-5000 less; even the next generation of Magna, based on the larger Diamante, had a lower base price. However, the Magna didn’t offer anything as exciting as the 4WD VR4 Galant introduced here in 1990. Both this generation and the subsequent one offered lesser, 2.0 four-cylinder models but by 1995 these were dropped; for 1995-96, the Galant came in just one well-equipped hatchback version with a 2.0 V6.
Those were some of the Japanese cars I’ve spied during rush hour traffic. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at some cars from another country.
CC Capsule: 1994 Mitsubishi Galant
Curbside Classic: 1976 Honda Accord
I’ve always liked the Sapporo/Challenger, though I think I prefer your market’s Scorpion nameplate! Totally agree on the facelift–sharpening up the edges took it from “slightly droopy” to “chiseled”, especially from rear 3/4 view. Though it also did look a bit too much like a Fox Mustang around the nose. (Despite my characterization of the tail as “slightly droopy”, I would not kick a ’78-’80 out of my garage.) Someone who lived on the street leading out of my parents’ neighborhood had a black facelift Challenger that I always used to admire as I passed, since it was always street parked. However it disappeared sometime in the mid or late 90’s. Haven’t seen one of either generation in years now so spotting one in traffic is a nice find.
I see first-generation Accord hatchbacks every now and then, but the sedan version is another one that I’ve not spotted in ages.
I haven’t seen one of those Sapporo/Challengers in forever. I owned an ’82 Challenger in high school in ’85, until I loaned it to a buddy to drive his girlfriend home from a party and it ended up on its roof in a swamp (was I pissed? You think?). I loved that car, but even at 3 years old it was starting to rust in the Northeast, which I’m sure is exactly why we don’t see them at all anymore. I’m not sure, but I suspect that it might have been the last true hardtop sold here. In any event, they really were nice looking cars, nicely equipped, and very pleasant to drive. My fondness for that car to this day has had me considering the purchase of a Kia Forte Koup (sp?) simply because it’s the only thing on the market now that is a remote facsimile.
That Accord is in unbelievable condition, for sure.
Not the last true hardtop–Mercedes has had a bunch since then. Every E-class and S-class generation that features a coupe in the lineup, it has been a hardtop (W123, W124, C207, W126, C140, C217). All three generations of CL-class coupe were hardtops, as was one generation of the CLK coupe (C209).
The last true hardtop sold here *among non-luxury brands* might be a true statement.
Standing corrected. I had forgotten Mercedes. I recalled that even back in the mid ’80’s there was not much on the road that would qualify as a hardtop, except 10+ year old american cars.
Almost but not quite-for “normal” cars, Subaru offered a true hardtop GL through 1984.
I’d be a fan if mid-sized hatchbacks come back to the US…there really hasn’t been anything since the Chevy Malibu Maxx went away just about 10 years ago (though some call it a wagon)…There’s the Cruze hatch which is supposed to be here in the next model year, but I think it is smaller than a mid-sized car.
I got a kick out of your statement that the hatchbacks are styled to look like sedans anyhow (guess you can’t open the back, otherwise the onlookers will figure out which one you own). We used to have the Plymouth Sundance / Dodge Shadow that were hatches that looked like they were sedans, but nothing recently. It seems like the manufacturer is telling hatchback buyers to instead go for an SUV (like they told wagon owners to go buy minivans)..despite sometimes not very close similarities between those classes of vehicles….I know they sell 2wd SUVs or crossovers, but they are still different enough from the hatchback models offered elsewhere.
I just saw the brown Sapporo that I first shot almost 10 years ago the other day in traffic. Same guy driving it; it’s been his DD since he bought it shortly before I shot it. It’s a bit worse for wear, but it appears to be going strong.
Beyond that nice Accord is City Farmers, which seems to be a chain store with no direct N. American counterpart, specializing in pet & backyard supplies.
Their website has an outline of an upside-down bird, which must be a galah, a variety of pink cockatoo. Its name reminds me of the Galant.
Probably a cockatoo and most likely a sulfur-crested (most common), the Galah does not have such long feathers on top of its head. A galah is also a slang word to describe a person who is a bit of a drongo. Hmm that probably doesn’t help? Ok, how about goose/whacker/fool/idiot, in ascending levels of harshness.
The office guy at the Salmon net factory I worked in traded his Corolla for a Scorpion for his daily commute from Hobart more comfortable he reckoned and it was a mint and quite rare car even then 13 years ago it held up to 145kms a day fairly well too he never missed any days because of it,
Those early Honda sedans were $50 cars when I returned to NZ unloved and unwanted they’ve been crushed in their thousands, rust made most of them unroadworthy anyhow and smoking engines made the repairs to the body work a waste of money
Mazda 3 a future CC yeah nar
Early Lancers are still plentiful here all iterations seem to be still in use by someone or other the twin turbo 4WD models are popular with the cap on backwards crowd.
Over the years, I owned 8 Challengers & Sapporos, all of the ’81-’83 vintage. They were all decent and reliable cars. I never had any issues with the fabled Mikuni carbs (lucky). My favorite was an ’81 Challenger with an electric sunroof, the only year in the US with that option.
It is worth noting that we didn’t get the super-complicated carb setup on the Mitsubishi 2.6 here in Australia, just a standard Mikuni 2-bbl. Family friends had the local Mitsubishi dealership and drove a couple of Scorpions; they were never very common though, the Australian market does not buy many coupes.
I don’t think any Mazdas were built in Australia, only their Ford clones. That 3 has quite a few custom touches, eg the roof. Good to see someone taking an interest in their car even if it is not to my taste.