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.