Chrysler and the Colt, Captive Economical Import Time (Part II)


Chrysler had its first involvement with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation in 1971. With a considerable stock purchase by Chrysler, the two companies’ long-lived captive import cooperation began. Introduced immediately to Americans in 1971 as the Dodge Colt, the nameplate was on its second generation by 1977. We pick up in the middle of that year, as third-gen Colts started to arrive from Japan. In the unusual arrangement, brand new (and differently sized) Colts were sold alongside second-gen Colts during the same model year.

Among the numerous visual and engineering changes to the second generation Colt in 1977 (covered previously), the new “Mileage Maker” version appeared later in the year. Sold alongside the second-generation two-door hardtop and wagon, the third-gen Mileage Maker models were available as a pillared two-door coupe, and four-door sedan.

Colt customers would notice the new model was smaller than its sibling on the showroom floor. The reason was a simple one: The third generation Colt was a light rework of the smaller Mitsubishi Lancer, not the Galant. The new models were still rear-drive and rode on a three-inch shorter wheelbase than the second-generation Colts. Exterior length shrunk from 171.1 inches to 162.6 – a noticeable difference in an already small vehicle.

Plymouth had their own version, also called Colt. Given the Mileage Maker (or M/M) marketing moniker, these Lancer Colts were offered only with the smaller 1.6-liter 4G32 inline-four. At the time the engine managed 83 horsepower and was still sold in standard and upgraded Silent Shaft versions. Customers who wanted the Silent Shaft treatment also received a five-speed manual (instead of four) in the relaxingly named Freeway Cruise trim package. Like the Carousel Coupe, the Freeway Cruise added special color theming, this time in maroon and white.

Chrysler was keen to differentiate the new Colts as more efficient and different than their predecessors and applied the Mileage Maker terminology to make that clearer to customers. This specific mixed Colt lineup was available for a very short time during 1977, as things changed once more in 1978.

That year, the Colt lineup moved fully into its third generation and was split differently than the year before. The two- and four-door models that were new for 1977 continued, while the small hardtop and old wagon were discontinued. The hardtop comes with an asterisk, more on that below. The unloved two-door sedan was also discontinued, but almost nobody noticed. The new member of the group was the third generation Colt wagon, which was of course not based on the Lancer like the other two. The new wagon was a Galant Sigma underneath and was considerably larger than its Lancer-based siblings.

With a luxurious 99-inch wheelbase, base wagons offered the 1.6-liter 4G32, in addition to a large 2.6-liter (105 HP) 4G54 inline-four. The 4G54 was part of the Astron family of engines (the first to introduce Silent Shaft) and was in production from 1978 through 1997. The 2.6 became familiar to pretty much anyone who purchased a Chrysler passenger car between 1982 and 1985.

There was another addition to the Colt lineup for 1978, but Chrysler changed its mind rather quickly. On the same platform as the Colt wagon but more upscale, the Dodge Colt Challenger made a brief appearance in Colt marketing materials. The hardtop was based on the Galant Lambda coupe, which debuted as a personal luxury car in Japan in 1977. The coupe had the same 99-inch wheelbase as the Colt wagon, with an overall length of 177 inches. Colt Challenger had a wide variety of engines depending on the market, which ranged from the 1.6-liter 4G32 through the 2.6-liter 4G54.

There were 2.0-liter turbo and 2.3-liter turbodiesel options for the Japanese market, but North American examples were limited to the 1.6 or 2.6 engines. The Colt Challenger was intended as the sporty personal luxury coupe, while a new name appeared over at Plymouth: Sapporo. Sapporo intended to appeal to the softer and more luxury-oriented traditional PLC customer. In 1978 Colt Challenger was available in one color scheme, two-tone silver, and charcoal.

The Challenger continued through the 1983 model year but was only marketed as a Colt offering for part of 1978. After a thorough search, I located one rare marketing photo reflecting the Colt Challenger’s original name.  It would sadly become the last American-branded pillarless hardtop coupe ever. On the bright side for Colt, 1978 was the year it was integrated into the Dodge’s full lineup marketing, as the inefficient models of the early Seventies passed away.

Emissions strangulation was a part of life in 1978, and the 83-horse 1.6-liter dropped its figure to 77 that year. The power sap happened when Mitsubishi implemented its MCA-Jet emission control technology to the smaller Colt engine. MCA stood for Mitsubishi Clean Air, which the company tested out on its home market before shipping it internationally. MCA was in production since 1973 when it turned the 4G32 into the 4G32A.

Emissions controls were required earlier at home, as the Japanese government passed its own regulations in 1968. MCA used a PCV valve, and implemented secondary air injection to reduce tailpipe emissions. The process was assisted via a new catalytic converter and an EGR valve. The EGR didn’t appear until the second generation of MCA, called MCA-II. The -Jet portion of the name arrived when Mitsubishi added a smaller third valve to the engine cylinder, separate from the intake and exhaust valves.

Without getting too technical, the design caused air to swirl around in the cylinder, and burn the fuel more completely. The MCA-Jet system was simpler than the similar CVCC system developed at Honda. Engines equipped with MCA-Jet tended to get carbon buildup on the small jet valves, which would stick open and cause compression issues. The invention of four valves per cylinder made systems like MCA and CVCC obsolete.

There were limited changes to the Colt lineup in 1979, as the third generation was already on its last legs. The pace of development was quick at Mitsubishi as the company’s sales exploded through the Seventies. There was already a fourth-generation car on the way for 1980, and it was very different from the Colts that came before it. Different body styles, different looks, and different driven wheels. We’ll enter the Eighties in Part III.

[Images: Chrysler]

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