Mitsubishi Sapporo 1981

I think today you’ll be a bit pleased, as we won’t be telling you about another Toyota, although we won’t be straying far from the rails of Japanese industry. Today we’re going to talk about a Mitsubishi model that, during its 8 years on the assembly line, managed to masquerade as Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, and even the Colt sub-brand, while simultaneously giving birth to the Galant lineup. I think it’s one of the record holders in terms of the number of names.

Now I’ll list them: Mitsubishi Galant Lambda, Mitsubishi Sapporo for Europe and North America, Plymouth Sapporo for the USA, Chrysler Sigma Scorpion, Chrysler Scorpion and later Mitsubishi Scorpion for Australia, Colt Sapporo for the United Kingdom. Moreover, do you know who was the second generation Dodge Challenger? Right, it was this beauty. No, it didn’t have a V8, but that didn’t really hinder it.

Introduced in 1976, the Sapporo was positioned not as a coupe, but as a premium luxury car – hence its active sale in the North American markets, where comfort has always been highly valued. It was the American market, where in the mid-70s the Cadillac Seville enjoyed active demand, that predetermined the appearance of a mid-size coupe, with interior quality and design not inferior to the large and cumbersome business-class cars in a two-door body. American tastes were changing along with fuel prices, and the Japanese, as we’ve already mentioned, arrived timely in this promising market.

The chassis of the new car got its own design, in line with modernity: front-engine placement, rear-wheel drive, and small engines, among which a V8 wasn’t even considered as an option for a special small series. The maximum volume that was installed in the car was 2.6 liters, the maximum power – 170 horsepower in the case of the 2-liter 4G63T engine. Of course, the small displacement power units were a consequence of the 1973 world oil crisis, from which the automotive industry has not fully recovered. Small cars, although conquering the States with the hatchback body, were not suitable for the role of a status car, but the familiar coupes, albeit with impoverished engines, had every chance for it. 

The basic pre-facelift model was equipped with a rear axle in the suspension, while the Galant Lambda GSR turbo already had an independent suspension. This “hot” version, by the way, became one of the first platforms where the future legend – the 4G63T engine – was applied. Considering the car’s weight, which varied from 1040 to 1200 kg, the specific power was not the lowest in its class, although it changed little for a premium coupe. Dynamics were also not enhanced by the 3-speed automatic transmission, although a 5-speed manual was also available, but in the main market, it could claim to be an anti-theft system – manual transmission was never popular in North America.

In its first version, the car tried to emulate its luxurious predecessors as much as possible. Frameless doors were already then associated in consumers’ minds with luxury elements, so they were installed without an alternative, even though this led to an increase in body weight. The two-tone paint in the style of “white top-black bottom” looked bright and, in combination with the white stripes on the tires (whitebands), definitely added status. The roof could also be covered in vinyl, as was popular in the earlier full-size coupes. The rear part of the roof received a so-called “targa band” – a style stripe applied under the influence of the Ford Thunderbird for style, but not for functionality.

The interior received the maximum luxury of the time – velour. A lot of velour, as in the much-loved Crown, Majesta, and others. The trim was usually in white-brown tones – a popular solution at the time, plus the dashboard was also brown. The seats in form resembled more bedside puffs, which might not appeal to speed fans, but perfectly fit the overall status of the car and the “2+2” seating formula. The instruments and various switches were traditional, if you will, for the 70s and 80s, and at the same time unlike anything else. We’ve already described various flights of engineering thought, so this time we invite you to fantasize about the tools used in the drawings besides the ruler. And the steering wheel turned out to be really memorable, in the spirit of light futurism – 2 spokes in the lower part of the rim. Again, it did not contribute to proper steering, but who cares? But it was stylish, wooden, and you could comfortably put your hand on the armrest.

But the rich design did not help the car avoid the fate of cheapening, and in 1980 came the facelift. External quirks, inherent in the body, were simplified as much as possible, removing the “style-targa” stripe, vinyl roofs, and two-tone paint – externally, the car began to look much calmer. But the main changes occurred inside the body – it became a bit larger, a bit squarer, got some additional double layers of metal – in particular in the front panel to reduce noise level. The wheelbase was increased, the front arches were slightly reduced and moved forward – thus gaining space for the driver’s and passenger’s legs, increasing injury safety. The changes were global and deserved a change of chassis index from A120 to A160.

The facelift affected the interior to a lesser extent. Velour was still wonderful, lamps illuminating everything still did not leave the cabin, the comfort level did not drop at all. Independent rear suspension was now received by all modifications, not just GSR.

Now, sitting in a new car (let’s leave jokes about GT86-BRZ, Supra-BMW aside), I can precisely understand from the dashboard in which car I am. And not always do I need to see something that tells me the brand, sometimes I need to see the near light switch on the ceiling and immediately understand: Citroen. But in the warm and lamp-like past, there were no unifications, corporate style, and too large bonuses for management – then you could see different dashboards and dashboards depending on the engine. So it was with this Sapporo, which was renamed many times and received various radiator grilles, sets of optics, and so on. Returning to the experience with the new Supra: I’m sure when the Dodge Challenger with the hidden Mitsubishi badge appeared, true connoisseurs of American muscle and simple rednecks said “slipped, fake!”. And you know, history ultimately confirmed this.