CC Brochure Boggle: 1986 Dodge Michigan—They Sold What, Where?!

Originally posted 4 December 2020; rewritten 4/2024 with more and better images, and text translations

This is a still from a Japanese animated movie called Shitī Hantā (“City Hunter”). The alarmed-looking character we see here is in the back seat of a…ruh…what is that? It’s got a Pentastar and a “Michigan” badge, and it looks quite a lot like…

…Sacred poo, it is a K-car! A 1986 Dodge Michigan:

Google thinks the brochure text here reads, more or less:

Feels good without being too decorative. The generosity of caring for people kindly. Yet, there is a richness that is felt on the skin. The Michigan is a very luxurious car that gives you that American taste. This is a special edition version of the Dodge K car for Japan, which retains the dignity and strength of American cars, but has been reshaped to be more dynamic and economical. The car is equipped with a highly reliable front-drive 2.2-litre 4-cylinder engine, and its fuel efficiency is on par with domestically produced cars. [Tough driving?] and spacious interior unique to front drive. The atmosphere it creates is similar to the Michigan state flower, the apple blossom.

…well, perhaps. Down at the bottom of the page it says the capacity is 5 people, and air conditioning, power locks and windows, and cassette stereo are standard equipment.

Those prices in the lower left corner bear some attention. When these were first –sold– offered in Japan, the price equated to about $11k in 1985 Dollars, about 40% more than in the States. That’s about $34k in 2024 Dollars. By the end of the offering, the Dollar/Yen exchange had nearly doubled the price to over $21k in 1987 dollars (about 2.6× the US price, and equal to about $58k in 2024). For that reason amongst others, I have great difficulty imagining more than about three of these were bought in Japan, perhaps one for each of the 1985, ’86, and ’87 model years.

The cars are left-drive, which is not surprising since left-hooker cars are an entirely legal status symbol in Japan.

Here we see Lakes Michigan, Huron, Superior, Erie, and Ontario in cameo appearances as evidence of oil leaks. Also: turn signal repeaters—wouldn’t surprise me if they were Mitsubishi items—in the typical Japanese location near the front of the fender, large pivot-mounted sideview mirrors instead of the American-spec small rigidly-mounted ones, and a rear-discharge tailpipe. Very busy taillights, too. They look as though grafted in off a similar-year Mitsubishi, though clearly they were actually built specifically for this car.

Inside, there’s a bit of a hosey aftermarket-kit style install of a DIN (JIS?) -sized Clarion radio set in place of the taller Chrysler-sized unit. Japanese FM radio stations are on even-decimal frequencies like 100.2 rather than the odd ones used in North America like 100.3. I don’t spot much else unusual here, do you? The steering wheel pad has the bugle pictogram required in Japan on the horn control, and I don’t recall if that was also present on the home-market models.

The Japanese text here reads (per Google):

The Michigan special edition Dodge K car for Japan was forged on the vast American soil. Friendly design, now landing.

I am not sure how putting FRIENDLY CHRYSLER on a pic of…um…an old lighthouse or something helps drive the point home.

I don’t trust that the idiom’s been got right, but it certainly manages to sound car-brochure-y after Google gives it a –valiant– Michigan try (with a little word-selection adjustment from Yours Truly):

The Michigan is a special edition version of the Dodge K car for the Japanese market that retains the dignity and strength of Chrysler’s proud American cars, but has been modified to be more dynamic and economical. Attractive body with American taste. Efficient mechanicals. Space for 5 people to relax comfortably. The pleasant colour coordination of the the interior and exterior further accentuates the beauty of the Michigan. Furthermore, the Michigan is equiped with a highly reliable front-wheel-drive 2.2-litre 4-cylinder engine that allows it to stand up to even bad weather and rough roads. Its fuel efficiency is on par with domestic cars, and everything about it is designed to be very friendly.

You can tell just how friendly the design is by looking at the interior. Power steering with tilt for easy handling. Simple, easy-to-read instruments. Switches are easy to reach. Plenty of foot space so you won’t get tired even after long hours of driving. Brake and accelerator pedals that are neither too light nor too heavy. A parking brake pedal that can be applied easily with your left foot. And a low dashboard that provides a wide field of vision ahead. The windshield uses tinted glass to soften the glare of the sun. All of these promise a sporty, comfortable, and safe drive.

There does appear to have been at least one actual, real Dodge Michigan—the one in this apparent magazine road test (unfortunately, this is the only page of it I could find):

That is, with my doubts in [square brackets]:

Although it appears large (4,550 mm [long], 1,740 mm wide, 1,400mm high), it is easy to get a feel for the vehicle while driving, and you can handle it as though it were smaller. Although it has front wheel drive, it has a good turning radius and can even make U-turns on wide two-lane roads. It’s not a lie when they say that it’s the first American car that can stay calm even when you get lost on a narrow road.

Now, let’s look inside the car. The test vehicle had a white body colour, with a coordinating interior in a beige called Dovan (you can also choose blue). The woodgrain used for the dashoard and console is a perfect fit.

Compared to the driver’s seat of a European sporty sedan, which has a sense of tension that makes you feel as though you’re flying into a dogfight in a fighter jet, the driver’s seat of the Michigan is so comfortable that it feels like you’re in a completely different type of vehicle. Even Clint Eastwood, who is famous for his role as the Phantom Pilot, would choose this Michigan-style seat over the cockpit if he wanted to relax.

The seat is comfortable enough to be used in a living room. Not much side support and not much [grip?] but those don’t really apply to this car. Even though it is soft, it has good back support, so even if you have a chronic back problem, you can drive for a long time without pain.

The springs and dampers are not unnecessarily stiff, so the overall impression of the car is very mild. Upshifting of the 3-speed automatic is also smooth except at WOT—so smooth that you hardly notice. From the start to around 120 km/h, if you drive like a normal citizen, not squealing the tires or slamming the accelerator, you won’t [notice much commotion?]. Both engine noise and road noise are extremely quiet.

Before the start, turn on the radio as background music. The stereo was set up so I could listen to it perfectly, and Sani from the editorial department was sitting in the passenger seat. I could feel the presence of the yawn I had suppressed [???].

Stop light grand prix in the city or on the expressway, merging from an interchange, the necessary dashing power is sufficiently available; even in such situations, you don’t have to floor the accelerator.

The photo caption says:

Another feature of this car is that it suits rural landscapes. It has a different atmosphere than a Mercedes or Volvo.

H’m. Pretty good review! Though I doubt if they actually checked with Clint Eastwood about vehicle seating preferences. Maybe I’m wrong and they sold more than three, so in lieu of the bat signal I shine a Pentastar and letter “K” in the sky, hoping Tatra87 will swing into action and find one of these to photograph (T87, see if you can find a Fifth Avenue, too, willya? All we can see in the brochure pic here is a sliver of the front end, and I’d like to see what sort of taillight adaptations those had in Japan).

At least one part of the Dodge Michigan was local; those plastichrome name badges Chrysler installed on everything they built from about ’84 to ’95 were made in Japan. It’s inexplicable, but for some strange reason that wasn’t on Iacocca’s laundry list of gripes about the Japanese, and I also don’t recall him complaining very much about the rust-resistant steel he bought in great volume from them. Pay no attention to the cigar-chomping man behind the curtain, I guess, and if you can find a better plastichrome name badge…buy it!

If you want to get your Japanese-animated Japanese K-car freak on, there are many more stills from Shitī Hantā at the movie’s Internet Movie Car Database page, each of which can be clicked for larger.