CC Colt Chronicles Part 4: 1978-1981 Dodge Colt Station Wagon (Mitsubishi Galant) – Looking For A Dart Wagon? Or A Hemi Challenger? Let Me Show You These…

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(first posted 2/20/2014)          In Part 3 of our CC Colt Chronicles, we covered the fragmentation of the Colt name, as it was applied to both the Lancer and Galant-based Colts starting in 1977. By 1978, the little Corolla-fighter Colts were the mainstay of the Colt line, as Chrysler’s Omni and Horizon took up that battle in the heart of the small-car market. That meant the end of the Galant-Colt, except for one body style that the Omnirizon cars didn’t offer: a station wagon. And although not exactly called a Colt, there was also a Galant sporty coupe to be had.

Mitsubishi -Galant

This 3rd generation of Galant was an all-new car; the 1974-1977 model was just a re-styled version of the first Galant-Colt. It was larger in every dimension, and even got a new designation: the Galant Sigma. After the buyout of Chrysler’s Australian ops by Mitsubishi, it was also built there locally as the Chrysler Sigma, and with considerable local content.

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With Chrysler’s Omni and Horizon now in full production, it’s understandable why the Galant not invited over by Chrysler, except for the station wagon. It filled a hole in their line up for a compact wagon, although it was hardly bargain-priced.

Dodge colt wagon 1978image:

The inflation of the latter seventies hit everyone hard, but the jump in price for the Colt wagon was pretty marked. In 1978, this Colt wagon was priced at $4,680; a Dodge Aspen wagon started at $4,253.

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Of course, those prices don’t tell the whole story. The Colt, like almost all Japanese cars except the very cheapest ones, were very well equipped at the base price, usually with the only options available being an automatic and air conditioning. A stripper Aspen wagon was…just that, and by the time one optioned it to be comparably equipped, it was well more than the Colt. Still, the Colt wagon was undoubtedly not an easy sell.

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I don’t have sales numbers broken out by body style available, but this was a pretty rare car from the get-go. Extrapolating from some numbers from Ward’s for 1978 suggest maybe some 5,000 wagons were sold that year; probably the overwhelming percentage in California, where folks were willing to pay more for a smaller Japanese wagon. Finding one on the street a couple of years ago was one of my more satisfying finds so far. Unfortunately, I didn’t shoot the interior.

mitsubishi MCA Jet engine

Under the hood, Mitsubishi’s 2.6 L Astron four had both the “Silent-Shaft” (balance shaft) technology, as well as the MCA-Jet system, which incorporated a small additional intake valve to increase charge swirl for improved combustion and reduced emissions. The 2.6 L four was the first mass-production engine to use balance shafts, and it dramatically reduced the vibrations inherent in larger displacement fours.

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Up to this time, European and Japanese fours rarely exceeded 2000cc, because vibrations rapidly increased above that threshold to a generally unacceptable. American fours (Vega, Pinto four, Tempo four, Iron Duke, etc) often did exceed that displacement limit in search of more torque, but the results were universally painful, in terms of noise, vibration and harshness. Balance shafts opened up a whole new chapter in larger displacement fours, and resulted in the demise in small-displacement sixes, which were once quite common.

The Astron 2.6 L four would go on to have a long and full life, powering not only Mitsubishis imported from Japan, but a raft of American Chrysler products (as the upgrade engine in early K-cars and minivans) as well as a handful of Mazda trucks. Except for a known weakness with the chain tensioner, it was fundamentally a robust engine.

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Another variant of the Galant, the Lambda coupe, was also imported, but not under the Colt nameplate. In Dodge dealerships, the rather fussy-looking, disco-inspired coupe was bestowed the vaunted Challenger name. How quickly times change.

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The essentially identical car was also sold by Plymouth sporting the Sapporo name. This fine example was one of my fist CC finds, and is still running around town, in the hands of its loving owners (CC here).

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Their blobby, fussy styling didn’t go over very well, and they were refreshed for 1980 with a cleaner, chiseled look more suitable for the times and their roles. This is a Challenger version, now looking more like the Celica that it competed against (CC here). The role of these coupes in Dodge and Chrysler’s line up is a bit hazy, since there were also coupe variants of the Omnirizon too, the Plymouth TC-3 and Dodge 024 (CC here). Something on tap for the RWD fans. Or Japanese disco-era styling fans. Or desperate hemi fans.

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Not surprisingly, the big Colt wagon was a short-lived affair; after 1981, it was history. And a pretty obscure little piece of history at that. And with a year or two, the Challenger and Sapporo slipped away too. But by then, the Colt name had acquired two completely new and innovative cars to carry the name into a new decade.