Curbside Classic: 1977 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste – Skin Deep Sportiness

It was the mid ’90s and our immediate Supervisor had just bought a 3000GT (Dodge Stealth, GTO in Japan), Mitsubishi’s excess-for-its-own-sake sports model. At the office my pals looked at the purchase with envy, while gals scoffed at it in terms too foul to share.

My car-nut Greek friend eventually had a ‘car talk’ with our Supervisor during lunchtime. At his return, I queried him: “So, what did he say about the car?” He looked at me evasively, finally replying: “You know? He hates to drive it! It’s just too much car for the city… He actually has to work to keep it under control!”

There, another teenage dream shattered by real life.

Too much power to keep under control? No such worries were to be had with the Celeste, conceived at a time when sporty was a far more modest idea. It certainly looked rakish, which was the main point of the exercise. The market would have to wait another decade or so for Japanese carmakers to bring serious earth scorchers to showrooms. When they finally did, manly ideals of performance generally proved impossible to live with on a daily basis. Who drives a Lola GT to a Safeway? Not even Phil Hill.

Mitsubishi’s A70 Lancer/Colt was repurposed for the Celeste, sharing chassis, engines and mechanicals with nary a change. The company did put effort in developing an attractive aerodynamic shape courtesy of wind tunnel testing. Being the 70’s, attention was paid to growing pollution concerns; with the model’s name alluding to ‘clean blue skies.’ That’s if we’re to trust Mitsu’s PR department (Celeste means light blue in Spanish). The model also benefited from Mitsubishi’s new balance shaft technology, bringing smoother inline-4 performance to the world.

Hindsight being 20/20, time would show Mitsubishi never established much of a brand identity. This in spite of a few outstanding vehicles here and there. That might explain why a multitude of monikers were used on the model: Plymouth Arrow, Dodge Celeste, Lancer Celeste, Colt Celeste, Valiant Lancer, etc. You get the idea. Schizophrenia, thy name is Mitsubishi. And that Chrysler alliance didn’t help matters either on that front.

Japanese cars already had quite a rep for good assembly by the mid 70’s, and Chrysler didn’t hide away the little import’s provenance in US dealers. A young twenty something in look for a reliable and sporty model could find in the Celeste an intriguing proposition, as a previous COAL shows. And from anecdotal evidence, the model acquitted itself well with its intended market. Its dynamics were nothing but average, but considering the 70’s automotive landscape, it more than sufficed.

In Central America the car stood out greatly in traffic, especially with its jaunty 70’s graphics. Surrounded by a sea of Sunnys, Corollas and utilitarian trucks and pickups, the sporty lines of the Celeste looked fast. To my kiddie eyes, the model looked like a shrunken Mustang Mach I. And now that I think about it, the cavernous back seat was probably just as uncomfortable.

Talking about packaging, the A70 Colt/Lancer had better passenger quarters, though the Celeste came with a practical lift gate and storage area. All in the effort of selling an ‘active’ lifestyle, a nouvel concept in Asia and nondeveloped countries.

Sales were average both in Japan and the US (around 77K and 130K respectively). Understandable considering Mitsubishi was still establishing its –confusing- sales network. Numbers have dwindled considerably since, and coming across a sample is now a rather rare occurrence.

I knew of this car’s existence as it had been on the FB Marketplace for some time. A really lenghty and somewhat funny ad, with the owner going at lenght on a tirade of grievances: “If you don’t know how hard it is to restore a car… don’t contact me and waste my time! This is no concours car, but fair is fair!” Etc. Etc.

Sounds like far too many “interested” parties offered nothing but pennies for the vehicle.

I’ll admit most shots on the sales ad proved the owner did go through a lot of trouble to put the car back together. I take issue with the Sentra carpeting on the trunk area; but heck, what are the chances of coming across an original Celeste one?

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when I came across the Marketplace Celeste. Me and my wife were calmly taking a stroll in our neighborhood park when the car appeared in the distance, backing into a space by the highway exit. Did I get lucky or is this just a small town? And would it look as good up close?

No profile photos this time, as quarters were just too tight. Too bad, as it is a nice profile. For once online photos didn’t lie, and the car looked just as nice in the real. Glad to see one in this condition, as the few samples I’ve come across are generally in rather junky condition.

Back to the beginning of this post. The Mitsu 3000GT didn’t last much, selling away after a few months. Meanwhile, my Greek friend purchased a new ’98 Audi TT. In the following days a couple of gals from work actually asked if he could take them out for a ride. Proof that brute force always inspires awe, but most humans prefer to keep it at arm’s distance.

More on the Celeste/Arrow:

Curbside Classic: 1977 Plymouth Arrow GS – Celeste Before The Fire

Road And Track Vintage Review: 1976 Plymouth Arrow GT – Balance Shafts To The Rescue

COAL: 1976 Plymouth Arrow – Hitting The Bullseye Dead Center