Remember the heyday of Mitsubishi, back when the three-diamond marque’s automotive creations were conquering markets everywhere, even – nay, especially! – in the US? Perhaps because a lot of American folks back then still knew Mitsubishi as the makers of enemy fighter planes, cars like this one were sold as Dodges. What a difference half a century makes.
Mitsubishi haven’t made anything worthy of attention in many years. They used to be contenders for the third spot behind Toyota and Nissan, now they’re fighting not to become another Isuzu. Had they not teamed up with Renault-Nissan, they might not be around today – and because they boarded that sinking ship, there’s a non-zero chance Mitsubishi’s car branch might disappear sometime in the ‘20s.
Looking at this first-generation Galant, it seems incredible that Mitsubishi never managed to overtake Nissan in the ‘70s. The Datsuns of that period set new records of awkwardness, while Mitsubishi’s graceful Galants, lithe Lancers and dapper Debonairs were garnering an increasing domestic following. Overseas, Mitsubishi’s range was a bit more limited – kei cars, Jeeps and the Debonair were strictly for the home market – but the durability of the Galants and Lancers were recognized by all. They were just like Datsuns and Toyotas in that respect.
Our feature car is a late model first-generation Galant, back when the “Colt” name was still affixed to the new nameplate. The Colt Galant was launched in the last weeks of 1969 to take over from the Colt 1300 and 1500, keeping their predecessor model’s displacement class but with a new OHC engine and body. The Galant saloon (the “Colt” bit was soon dispensed with, except for the US-bound cars) soon sprouted several variants: a hardtop coupé, a two-door wagon and a four-door wagon were added to the range. In 1970, a sporty GTO coupé came about, followed by the short wheelbase FTO in 1971.
In late 1971, the Galant’s engines got 100 extra cubic centimeters each and became the “14L” and “16L” – the latter version, used on all Dodge-branded cars, displaced 1597cc and came in a variety of power settings. On our feature car, the sporty GS model, the 4-cyl. was twin-carbureted and provided 110hp (the de-smogged US version only churned out 85hp). A DOHC version good for 125hp also existed, but was exclusive to the GTO.
Originally, the JDM Galant had square headlamps. Perhaps due to the Dodge connection, Mitsubishi facelifted the Galant with round quads in 1972. This kind of made the Galant’s front end a bit more anonymous, but not dramatically so. In fact, far from being anonymous, this particular car is about as well identified as any I’ve come across (more on that in a bit).
From a design perspective though, is there any shape more associated with the late ‘60s / early ‘70s than the rounded-off square? It’s particularly ubiquitous on this car – the front, the back and, well, just look at this interior! It’s full of them. Also noteworthy: the fake wood on that console, impressively, goes all the way to the handbrake.
There were more surprises yet to come. As I browsed about the web to find out a few details about Galants, I happened upon a 2018 article posted on the Japanese Mitsubishi Motors website that featured this very car. The long and short of it: it’s still with the original owner and it was never restored, just kept under a tarp most days — luckily, not the day I found it.
Two years ago, it had just over 160,000km on the clock (just under 100,000 miles) and everything still worked except the factory-fitted A/C, which the owner said was out of commission due to a lack of spare parts. This Galant apparently traveled quite a bit, too. The owner claims he went around the entire island of Honshu with it, as well as a most of the other islands of the Japanese archipelago.
There is much to love about this Mitsubishi. It’s well traveled, well preserved, well optioned and well designed. It even has a very nice period colour. Still, it’s difficult for me to work up a huge amount of enthusiasm for it. It’s a bit too gimmicky, perhaps to compensate for its lack of character. It’s so much of an anti-Datsun that it swings too far the other way.
But this car’s intrinsic qualities are not really relevant. What matters is that it was bought 47 years ago and lovingly kept in perfect running order by its owner ever since. Mitsubishi may be the sick man of the automotive world now, but they sure knew how to build a decent car.
The CC Dodge Colt Chronicles, Part 1: 1971-1973 Dodge Colt (Mitsubishi Galant) – Chrysler Goes Shopping In Japan, by PN
These sold fairly well for Chrysler Australia. My aunt in country NSW had a low-spec model of the same vintage in an equally 70s pale yellow. Definitely an experience as a suburban kid being in the back seat as she tore around the paddocks moving sheep.
Who needs a truck, or even a Brumby (Brat), when a little sedan will do? Fair bit of bumping and bouncing though!
What a nice Mitsu. Too bad they didn’t sell well where I lived. I would have liked looking over them at the buy-here, pay here lots that were filled with Toyotas, Hondas and Datsuns in the early 80s.
What’s the concrete rubble for in the picture? I figure one chunk must be a tire stop, but the rest?
What a lovely little car. It really is an early 1970s time capsule.
It is hard to figure whether the long Chrysler connection helped or hurt the company.
One thing is for certain—-Mitsu helped Chrysler through the 70’s and 80’s field some very good small and sporty cars as well as compact trucks at a time when they were in trouble. Let’s see—-Colt, Arrow, Champ, Challenger, Sapporo, D50, Arrow Truck, Conquest, Stealth (90’s) and the Diamondstar cars. They all added to the Mopar bottom line.
I’m quite certain it hurt them in the long term, despite the initial benefit. See my comment further down.
Great find. I can remember when the Galant GTO versions were one of the fastest cars in JDM-land. Glad the owner has kept this example so pristine.
I agree that Mitsubishi should have been more pre eminent than they were. They made some decent cars on the 1970s and with more palatable styling than most of the Nissans of the same periods.
In general the Mitsubishis of this period were known for being slightly more sporting to drive than the other Japanese marques.
I never knew they made a 3 door wagon of the first generation Galant, but at least we record the hardtops where I live but not in high performance tune.
The FTO and the GTO were interesting and the GTO in particular would have been strong competition for the Celicas had it been exported more widely.
These were fairly popular in NZ along with the GTO I remember seeing these Mitsubishi Colts in Australia disguised as juniour size Valiants a mate of mine had one but when it broke down it was a regular grade Colt under the bonnet easy to fix it was merely the water heated choke medchanism that had failed like they all used to
There is a coupe and wagon near my house on Vancouver Island. Slightly newer 1976 I think, neither are in as good shape. A 76 wagon was supposed to be my first car. Dad wrapped up a drive shaft for my 16th birthday which was needed to get moms old car fixed. Fast forward a couple of months and he sold it to a buddy and I got mom’s Subaru wagon instead. Not sure he did me a favour on that one as a year or 2 later I blew the engine up on a trip to Vancouver at the peak of the lions gate bridge and had to take the bus back to Calgary.
Automobile alliances can be fickle a few decades later since Mitsubishi now belongs to the Nissan and Renault Group, Chrysler meanwhile a former stakeholder for Mitsubishi now is currently owned by Fiat which will also now form close alliances with the Peugeot-Citroen Group. It was only a decade and a half ago that Mitsubishi, Chrysler and even partially Hyundai were also a subsidiary of Mercedes Benz aka Daimler until MB disowned them just about a decade ago. In terms of Automobile alliances, Toyota at one point had joint venture with GM to produce rebadged Toyota Corolla cars for the North American and Australian Markets until the NUMMI venture ended especially during the financial crisis of the late 2000s and hence the discontinuation of the Pontiac Vibe. Toyota’s alliances however in the current time seems to be thriving with their acquisition of Daihatsu some small ownership interest with Subaru, Mazda and even Suzuki and right now partnering with BMW to produce the BMW based current Toyota Supra.
Tenho um A53 de 1973 que é exactamente igual a este, o modelo os símbolos, a grelha e até a cor original era esse verde, agora é branco está em restauro e pretendo colocar novamente a cor verde original, alguém me sabe dizer a referência da mesma? Também preciso dos espelhos alguém sabe onde conseguirei arranjar? Obrigado.
Very nice. And I prefer the four headlight version, which has more visual interest than the rather boring rectangular headlight version.
These came out in late 1969, during the Datsun 510’s run, so that would be a more appropriate point of comparison. But yes, Datsun styling soon went weird.
Mitsubishi having built fighter planes in WW2 had nothing to do with why they were sold as Dodges here. Chrysler was the first of the Big Three to invest in a Japanese automaker, in 1971, and Mitsubishi saw it as a way to instantly gain national distribution instead of having to slowly build out a dealer network, like Toyota and Nissan did. It was a good arrangement for both parties, until it started to peter out for various reasons.
In hindsight, it may have been a major mistake for Mitsubishi, as Toyota, Nissan and Honda’s US sales and profits came to be the most important ones for them. Look at Honda: it’s much more of an American car company than a Japanese or global one. And Toyota’s US ops play a very important role for them too. And as did Nissan.
By depending on Chrysler, which eventually developed its own small cars, Mitsubishi missed out on the best years in which to create a strong US operation. And they never fully caught up with the others as a consequence.
It’s no coincidence that Mitsubishi will now likely leave the US to focus on SE Asia,its one remaining strong regional operation.
There was only going to be room for 3-4 Japanese makers in major markets (US, Europe). Mitsubishi just didn’t have what it took to hang in with the others.
The big question is whether Mazda will survive long term. My guess is quite possibly not, although it may take a while. They have no real islands of strength in any geographic area.
I guess Chrysler, having had to scramble for scraps in Europe when GM and Ford were already seasoned players, tried to really play the Japanese card faster than the others. Not by much though – GM tied the knot with Isuzu in 1971 too. And GM didn’t make Isuzu into an integral part of their US line-up the way Mopar did with Mitsubishi.
The Mazda question you raise is a very important one. Like you, I cannot see where their strength lies, so they should fade away at some point. But they could also find a niche we’re not expecting. The jury is out….
I agree that Mitsu missed opportunities depending on sales through Chrysler. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Mazda and Ford split up among others. The philosophies of American and Japanese auto companies never seemed to totally come together. Mitsubishi just stopped innovatiing and developing new products ~ 20 years ago. Mazda has always tried to improve and innovate their product lineup. Since Mazda is now hooked up with Toyota, I’m confident they will survive and prosper if only as the developmental arm of Toyota.
Oh, it’s normally under a tarp, is it, but just not when YOU happened along, I see, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say n’ more, secret’s safe here I’m sure. Cough Bellet cough.
Rather absurdly, these were badged as Valiant Galants here, presumably to help the poor consumer associate a 1.8 ton, 115-inch-wheelbase, 265ci-engined fuselage roadblocking monster Valiant with this dainty that it in no way resembled. “Why, I didn’t know the Val came in an economy size, dear, look at this.”
The motoring press liked these a lot, and I’ve got some notion they also did well in rallying here too, being tough little customers.
But I reckon it’s a dull box, and worse here because we certainly got no squircled instruments or bewooded dashes. A miserabilist’s stripper strip speedo and a lighter was about your lot. Datuns at least looked foolish, and interesting for that.
This wee green bus is identical to Sr Verna’s car at my primary school, albeit with the nunly austere interior ofcourse, so it brings good thoughts. Unlike many, she was a sweet and kind lady (and rather useless as Principal because her lack of scariness meant the very large collection of scrawny lunatic ferals with whom I co-attended the asylum ran things rather than she).
I hope she has this version of her car in her heaven, with its bit of lux and, praise the Lord, airconditoning. She deserves it.
The two-door model program of these is seriously weird and gets weirder the more I learn. I’d never known about a two-door wagon which makes it stranger still that there was no 2-door sedan, only a price-leader version of the notchback hardtop with fixed quarter windows (which may have been USA/Canada only), to go with the multiple hardtop coupe variants on two wheelbases…
At least the four-door sedan and wagon remained aloof from the weirdness, although a four-door hardtop would’ve been nice.
Outstanding find — it’s really a treat to look at these pictures. These days, it’s unusual to find a 10-year-old Mitsubishi, let alone one that’s nearly 50.
Your comment that a lot of Americans knew Mitsubishi as the makers of enemy fighter planes made me laugh. An uncle of mine was exactly in that camp. He was a WWII navy vet and a retired union factory worker, so his views of Japanese imports was not exactly positive to begin with. And then in 1986, my parents bought a Mitsubishi… Uncle Marty went ballistic; I remember him asking my father if he forgot that Mitsubishi had made the Zeros. It seemed like every time Marty came over to our house after that, he’d remind me that Mitsubishi made fighter planes.
I have an A53 from 1973 that is exactly the same as this, the model the symbols, the grid and even the original color was this green, now it is white is being restored and I intend to put again the original green color.
Can anyone tell me the reference of it? I also need the mirrors does anyone know where I can get them? Thank you.
Known as the Dodge Colt GS in South Africa