(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.
It looks a lot like a Plymouth bodied Fox Mustang. I can’t help but look at it and think “What sort of engine/trans could I swap in there?” (Other than a SBC.) IMHO it’s not that ugly or overdone.
A Mitsu 3.0 V6 with a 5-speed might fit just fine in there. However, based on personal experience with a Mitsubishi, I would leave that bad boy alone and go find me a Fox Mustang.
Once when I went to the dragstrip with my dad as a kid, a friend and his brother came along. Every time a Mustang went down the track, they’d both swear that their grandma owned one of those. I didn’t believe it. Turns out, their grandma owned one of these things.
Again it’s probably just me but, that looks like it could have been an AMC Eagle/Concord prototype. The second gen looks like they grafted a 79-82 Mustang nose on.. That faux Luxe interior is all ChryCo though..
Chrysler manufactured the Galant in Australia and called it the “Sigma.” It sold pretty well. They also sold the Sapporo as the “Scorpion” (it may have been imported). Here’s a sales brochure from 1978.
Wow that is some interior, not even pleated, more like crumpled. And the rake on the dashboard is pretty impressive as well, the gauges look like shallow cupholders – you could collect a lot of dust in those but could you read them?
So this is what the “buxom party girl” ’70 Challenger looks like after the beer goggles come off? 🙂
Yup, the next morning you quietly scoop up your clothes and run!
I dunno, I kinda like it!
The picture in the background could be a CC outtake — just look at the size difference between the Toyota SUV and the Scion.
The Sapporo’s interior looks great, for it’s condition and it’s design……
You didn’t happen to take a photo of your xB by the flower shop Astro did you? That would make a great outtake!
I’ve been waiting until I find an Astro with the later style grille but the short body. That’s the one that really looks like most like an Xb. Problem is, very few were made that way, and I haven’t seen one in years. I better settle for the long body version before they go too.
I’m afraid that you are going to be waiting a long time, as the last year the short body version was made was 1994, and the new nose didn’t appear till 1995.
Always glad to help 🙂
Thanks for this, Paul. I asked for a second-gen Challenger, but the Sapporo goes one better.
Elements of this car look pretty good. The C-pillar has a nice rake to it, and the rear glass area is well done. The grille is pretty decent for a car of this era, and the interior looks pretty nice. As a whole, though, I don’t think the exterior is particularly cohesive. In profile it reminds me a little of a two-door AMC Concord.
I see Birddog made the same association with the Concord above. That’s what I get for trying to comment while watching baseball.
I think that was because I have AMC on the brain right now…
The late 70s were funny design wise, it was like all the designers from all the manufacturers went to a “key party” and went home with someone different..
Seeing the thumbnail on facebook, I immediately thought it was that Concord coupe from some weeks ago. And I thought, wait, haven’t we already covered those?
I would say today´s design is way more…uhm…”funny” 😉
I just can’t get over the damn opera lights.
The force was strong with this Great Brougham Epoch.
“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.”
Hey! That’s my line! 🙂
And before Led Zeppelin it was….the Bee Gees!
And the earlier music from the Bee Gees had kind of a Moody Blues vibe. I think it sounded much better than the SNF disco era, but I guess you can’t argue with success.
After, the “disco period” was over, the Bee Gees made 7 more albums together from 1981 to 2001. If you’re not aware of them, you might want to take a listen. They have a lot of good songs, the American media just wouldn’t play most of them. Many were world-wide hits outside of the USA and Canada. This doesn’t count some solo albums by Barry Gibb and Robin Gibb. The death of Maurice Gibb in 2003 spelled the end of the Bee Gees. Then Robin Gibb passed away in 2012. Only Barry Gibb continues on now and he had a very successful album of duets with country artists doing Bee Gees songs called Greenfields earlier this year.
Released: October 1981
Released: September 1987
Released: July 1989
Released May 1991
Size Isn’t Everything
Released: November 1993
Released: May 1997
This Is Where I Came In
Yeah… this was the car hell. Another great write-up! It is when this car is placed in the context of Mopar in the late 60s-early 70s that its disgrace becomes properly exposed. Well done.
This is like a Powell Motors car for real(Homer Simpson’s half brother), “The secret is giving them Japanese sounding names, you guys ever drive a Tempura hatchback?” Sapporo is a beer named for a place right?
I am only guessing but Sapporo is a Japanese ski resort and Winter Olympics venue so it could well have been a attempt to emulate Ford of Europe’s massive success with naming the Cortina for an Italian ski resort.
It’s also the Capital of the island of Hokkaido.
The factory where these were made is in Sapporo, right?
That car is a real time capsule. A friend of mine had one of those when we were in high school. He bought it from a salvage yard (he worked in a body shop) very inexpensively. With the moonroof, I could barely fit in the thing (I was 6’1″ in HS) so I didn’t spend much time in it. The major thing I remember about it was one of the balance shafts broke and they had to order the part from Japan. It took something like six weeks to get here. It never seemed to run right after that. Eventually, the motor started smoking and he traded it for another salvage car, an AMC Concord station wagon of all things. By then he had two in diapers, and needed all the space he could get. But the subject car looks almost exactly like his…
This thing just needs whitewalls to capture the 70s look perfectly.
My sister bought a silver Challenger new in 1978. She kept it for several years and was quite happy with it, as I recall. It was a much better car then the Ford Tempo she had later on. And a friend’s dad owned an ’81 Plymouth Reliant K with the optional Mitsubishi 2.6 liter engine. Not bad on gas, but he missed his old Valiant with the 318.
Loved finding this online….I live in the same are where these pics where taken & I have seen this car around. My very first car as a 16yr old driver was a Plymouth Sapporo. That car was a beast. I paid $300 for it & it was pretty beat up, but that car went anywhere. I used to take it in the snow, mudding, and even racing. The only downside where the parts. The area I lived in was small & I had to go to a foreign auto parts store. Anyways, if I had the extra money & could get a hold of one of these I would so do it!!!
I owned a 1978 Sapporo with the 2.6L engine, 5speed manual, and the Basic and Premium packages. I was 16 yrs old at the time and thought I was uber-cool driving a car that no one else had. On the plus side, the front seats were comfy and the car was quiet and smooth around town. But the air-conditioner was woeful in the Texas heat, the paint faded and chipped away, the electrical system was crap, and the stick-shift actually broke off in my hand, leaving the car stuck in second gear ! I moved up to a 1983 Camaro V8 that had issues of its own but seemed like a gem compared to the Sapporo.
This looks exactly like my first car, all the way down to the color & trim. My dad bought it from a coworker in 1987 for $500. As soon as I got my hands on it, I ditched the hubcaps and spray painted the steel wheels with silver spray paint and bought some center hubs and chrome rings from the local junkyard for $10. Unfortunately, it only lasted me 3 months before the bottom end of the motor gave out on I-95 in Philadelphia. When the tow truck went to pick it up the following morning, it had been completely stripped of the tires and then burned. Awesome.
Shish….they sure are hard on cars in Philly? In this police state now…..the SWAT team would be vectored in on the car burning terrorists using drone RFID imagery.
Ya can’t even burn up abandoned cars anymore after stealing tires?
Need parts PLEASE help
I have 2 complete cars. 1- 82 Dodge Challenger and 1- 82 Plymouth Sapporo… Looking to sell both cars as a set. I have all the parts for both cars including side moldings, fenders and grill. I also have a complete set of original mag wheels for the Sappror. As you know… very rare find. I can be reached ar 630-300-8588
We have the same car, a coupe sapporo Pymouth 1978, is in good condition and use it every day. But we need spare parts for maintenance, caliper rear seatbelts. If you could help us we would be grateful to know where to get them a lot. Thank you. We are in Costa Rica.
Paul, do you know if this car still exists?
Yes; I see it regularly. I talked to the owner, a guy in his mid-late thirties or so. He bought it from an old lady (no surprise).
That is a really neat car! I would buy that just because it’s so rare. Somehow in that pic with the Scion they both have the same funk going on with the styling. The opera lights on it are odd on something that’s supposed to be sporty. Has all the hallmarks of a 70’s car and what was in, tasteful or not. The interior looks pretty good for a small car I think, unusually plush and the color is actually pleasing.
Paul..now if you could find a complete and running little brother Fire Arrow! My friend had a 1979 FA and I had a more run of the mill 78 Arrow GT…we both loved our Arrows, though his with the 2.6L regularly would clean my clock in the more plebean 2.0L. Oh, but the houndstooth interior…the metal-capped shifter knob (great to brand your palm with in the middle of a hot Tennessee summer). Later in life, I came across a 1978 Arrow on ebay for $400…solid, but with the feeble 3 speed AT. I still bought the sucker, and drove it back and forth to work for a year, with grand designs to have it repainted and refurbished. I’d still give body parts for a clean Arrow, just don’t see them anymore on the road. Find one of those for a review, and you’re my newest hero!
As for the Sapporo, I rather liked the refresh. I kind of considered it the upscale, plush(er) big brother to my Arrow. A friend’s first GF had a (maroon…go figure) Sap and it felt very much like my Arrow, only a tad cushier.
I’m now remembering the tv ad for the Plymouth Arrow. ” Me and my Arrow taking the Highway”.
Over hear in the land down under (Australia) we have the same car released as a Chrysler Scorpion, then later as a Mitsubishi Scorpion. We also had this in a four door sedan and a four door wagon, known as a ‘Sigma’.
Most parts are still available here, so if you are looking for something and having trouble, go to ebay Australia, and you should find plenty of stuff under that listing.
I am actually about to buy and rebuild a Scorpion in the next few weeks, but just to be different I want to badge it as a Dodge Challenger of the same vintage. If anyone could help me with all the specific badges(trim), I would be grateful. And if anyone needs spares that are not on eBay, let me know and I’ll see what I can find for you.
It’s like the Galant was given the mini Volare Premier coupe treatment. Even the wheel covers match the Premier’s. It reminds me of how the Hornet was turned into the Concord with ‘luxury’ touches.
At the time, I thought the sportier versions of the Mitsubishi-based Challenger were better looking cars than the domestic Plymouth TC3/Dodge O24. Even after the TC3/024 became more refined, and turned into the Turismo/Charger. Though the hatchbacks gave the TC3/024 a significant advantage in versatility.
Talk about time capsule. That interior looks like it’s never left the showroom!
While I do like these cars, I can never accept them as true Plymouths and Dodges because, well, they weren’t. Same goes for the other captive imports built by Mitsubishi. Most of them were decent cars in their own right, but more like orphaned vehicles. Chrysler didn’t even feel the enthusiasm (or expense) to give most of these cars proper Dodge/Plymouth emblems and badging.
“practially a rolling disco ball”….on wheels. haha. good one.
Yep, this car has disco written all over it. It’s right down there with the lo-power Mustang II, Corvette, and 280Z. I can easily see these four cars comprising the majority of vehicles in any crowded disco parking lot on a given weekend night.
It also looks like it could have been an alternate design study for the second-generation Celica.
If you take a look at the dash board and center console and compare it to the dash layout in that of modern cars, the Sapporo´s seems rather ahead if its time.
Challenger and Sapporo in the same sentence? That’s jive talkin’. Hehehe
I was obsessed with this car in junior high. It looked like an import, but it had all of these American styling points – loose pillow buckets, quad headlamps, and that brushed aluminum roofband complete with opera lamps. It was this hybrid sort of car. I tried to talk my mom into buying one, and she laughed at me – she hated Chryslers and this was too small. She wanted a Monte Carlo or T-bird like her girlfriends at work.
That’s for digging up a repressed memory… ick.
Love to have a time machine and be able to go back and buy one new. I started buying japanese in 1981 and except for a little excursion buying Ford work vehicles, I’ve been buying them since. My 79 Datsun (bought very used in about 95) is the one I would like to go back for.
I used the Macpherson struts and disc brakes from one of these on my 66 Dart GT. I used a Pinto Rack. We had to make an adapter to convert it from rear steer to front steer. It handled great and stopping was not comparable. Those discs worked so much better.
The office guy at the Salmon net factory I worked at in Tassie had a one of these in Mitsubishi badging silver with 2.6 and 5 speed he liked it for his 150km daily commute, He always made it in to work so it was reliable enough.
Alternate title: The Lambda Lies Down on Broadway. (This car was called I think the Galant Lambda Eterna in Japan, although they had to make do with the even less powerful 1.6 and 2.0-liter fours.)
I owned a 1970 Dodge Challenger back in 1978 (bought at age 16 in 1975) and was horrified to see the Challenger name on that hideous piece of imported crap. I was glad to see GM keep the Camaro/Firebird, and the Mustang II I felt was much nicer than the Fox Fiasco. I actually liked the notchback Ghia coupe. For me 1979-1993 will always be the darkest days ever for the Mustang. The high point will probably always be the ’71-’73 Mach 1
Wow, I didn’t even know the Sapporo was a Plymouth product, a la Mitsubishi. I think the last time I’ve seen a car with “Sapporo” badging was probably over ten years ago when I was a kid, probably at a gas station or parked alongside of a street.
In the rare instance when I’d see these cars, I never noticed the “Plymouth” applique on the rear of the car. I only saw an old, small car that was definitely an import, through and through (by manufacture *and* by nameplate).
I always thought that Sapporo was a Toyota or a Datsun up until today, as Sapporo is a city in Japan. Guess I need to brush up on the particulars of the Chrysler-Mitsubishi relationship.
I always thought the Mitsubishi built Dodge Challenger’s/Plymouth Sapporo’s were very underrated vehicles and never understood why they didn’t sell very well, they were IMO far better looking than some of its competitors (early Datsun 200SX, early fox body Mustang) IMO, I knew someone who owned one of these cars back in the late 80’s and remember it being a really nice car, I thought they did a better job recreating the Challenger for this car than Ford did with the Mustang II.
The two joysticks ahead of the shifter look like side mirror adjusters, probably cable-actuated.
His has been such a nice memory trip. My entire life growing up my grandma had a 81 Sapporo with the technica package until it rotted out in the trunk where the shock mount is. It’s been parked in her yard since the mid 90s and I’m hoping to get it before it goes to the crushers. I would love to be able to resurrect that car as it is such a beautiful car and so luxurious. The many of trips made in that car from Edmonton where I live out to Vancouver island every summer, let alone the daily drives I had in it as we went every where. They were in their own league I think and still are. I look forward to being able to get one if not hers and rebuild it.
Own a 1977 Challenger new Mitsubishi 12,000 mi orange in garage. for sale
In Florida Rafael 787 409 7003
1977 dodge Challenger by Mitsubishi 12, 000 miles smells like new. Se bring Florida
for sale Rafael 787 409 7003
While I still think the 2nd-gen Challenger/Sapporo were more attractive, this one has a certain charm as well. Mini-Brougham, Japanese style, but with a slightly incongruous sportiness to the shape. The spiritual descendent of the more Brougham-y Chargers of the early 70’s, perhaps?
Glad to hear this car was still alive and well as of last update; hopefully that’s still the case here in mid-2016! Looks to be in time capsule condition.
Actually, I saw it traffic just the other day. It’s been just about ten years since I first shot it, and it is showing signs of daily use, as one would expect.
One one hand, I respect their choice to turn it into a daily driver after having bought it ten years ago in almost-new shape, but on the other hand, was there another left in the world in that condition? Maybe it should have been preserved for posterity.
A friend had one of these in the early ’80s. We all went to play softball, then had a brew after the game. I think he had a few more than one, and upon attempting to drive home, almost put it in the ditch.
I thought these were strange cars. I liked them and all, but I didn’t get what segment they were being aimed for. Subcompact? Luxury compact? Import beater?
I thought the Challenger name on its cousin was a poor choice as well. It wasn’t challenging anyone to anything.