Curbside Classic: 1978 Plymouth Sapporo – Stayin’ Alive

(originally posted 4/5/2011. This was one of the first cars I ever shot. The title is appropriate, as this car is still a regular driver around town, and I see it from time to time, looking just the same. Definitely Stayin’ Alive)

From Led Zeppelin to the Bee Gees; that was the arc of cultural transition the 1970 Dodge Challenger and this 1978 Plymouth Sapporo quite perfectly represent. No wonder coke was suddenly the drug of choice.

I shot this car almost exactly three years ago, when it made a guest appearance on Jalopnik. And I’ve been hanging on to it ever since, because this car needed to follow either an E-Body Barracuda or Challenger. Having finally fulfilled that requirement, this most superb example of a Plymouth Sapparo left in the world can now finally join its stablemates at CC.

Yes, the Challenger was the big blowout, and the first energy crisis of 1973-1974 was the killer hangover. And when we finally emerged from sleeping it off, the automotive world was much changed. The Pinto-based Mustang II was the new paradigm for “sport coupes”, with its padded vinyl half-top, fluffy upholstery and anemic engines.

GM went with a two-prong approach, keeping their thankfully un-bloated Camaro and Firebird going, while covering the Mustang II market with their Vega-based H body coupes (still looking for one!). Once again, Chrysler was left out of the party, mild-mannered as it may have been. But help was just an ocean away, at Mitsubishi.

Chrysler was the first of the Big Three to invest in a Japanese maker, buying 15% of Mitsubishi in 1971. It turned out to be a might smart move, and soon a veritable stable of Colts soon pranced at Dodge dealers. And when things got really tough, the herd spread out to Plymouth too. We covered that fairly well in the Colt/Champ CC.

After the ‘Cuda and Challenger finally expired in 1974, Chrysler was left without a small sporty coupe. Help arrived in 1978 in two distinctly different forms, the Horizon based TC3, and the RWD Mitsubishi Galant based Sapporo and Dodge Challenger. The TC3/Omni 024 were pretty bare boned, and the Mitsu coupes nicely covered the more upscale segment. They were mini-Cordobas, as is all too obvious, although with a decidedly Japanese touch.

The first generation of these cars, from 1978 through 1980, were not exactly a big hit, and the second go-around emphasized a more genuine sporty look. Here’s a gen2 Challenger I shot in the Bay Area.  It was still more about looks than actual go, since the 2.6 L Silent-Shaft four was never exactly a go-getter, hemi-head and all. Quite the come down from the real Challenger.

Folks find their escape and outlets one way or another. In the late seventies, that was disco, and what better way to get there than in this Sapporo: it was practically a rolling disco ball.