By on April 5, 2019

Rare Rides has featured a couple of Plymouths before, both of which were sporty and boasted two doors. Today’s Plymouth also has two doors, but is perhaps not quite as performance oriented as its brethren on these pages.

Hailing from 1980, it’s a super Malaisey Champ hatchback.

As most of you were already thinking, the Champ wasn’t really a Plymouth at all — it was a Mitsubishi. For their first three generations, the Mitsubishi Galant and Lancer models were sold as Dodge Colts and occasionally as the Plymouth Cricket. It all started back in 1971, when Chrysler brought the Galant to North America as a captive import. Small, fuel efficient cars were all the rage at the time, and became even more important as the oil crisis of 1973 set in. If you were alive, perhaps you remember it?

Offerings were always in coupe, sedan, or station wagon formats throughout the Seventies, until the death of the second-generation model after 1978. That particular year, the Colt’s product offerings branched in two very different directions. A new wagon joined the lineup for ’78, and, though badged as a Colt, it was a Mitsubishi Galant Sigma underneath. Coupe and sedan versions for ’78 were Lancers. This arrangement lasted exactly one model year, as in 1979, the fourth-generation Dodge Colt greeted Americans.  This time it was a rebadged Mirage rather than a Lancer, and was front-wheel drive. The rear-drive wagon sold alongside the front-drive Colt for 1980 and 1981, when it was replaced by the homegrown Dodge Aries K wagon.

For the first few years, the three-door hatchback was the only body style on offer, powered by a singular engine: a 1.4-liter inline-four producing 70 horsepower. Critically, manual transmission Colt models were awarded with the nation’s highest EPA ratings for their 1979 debut. Sales started strong — Dodge sold over 60,000 the first year, with sales increasing to over 80,000 for the next two years. The transmission lineup included two manuals and one automatic. Notable was the super-efficient Twin Stick manual. It had a two-speed transfer case, translating into a total of eight forward speeds, and two reverse ones. The automatic was a trusty three-speed TorqueFlite.

Revisions came in 1982, as a five-door version joined the lineup, power figures for the engines fell, and a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine was available only with the automatic transmission. The Champ name was a short-lived one, as the model was renamed Colt after the 1982 model year. Dodge would go on to have three more generations of Colts, running all the way through 1994. We featured the interesting five-door Colt Vista here previously.

Today’s Rare Ride was located in Oregon and was snapped up very quickly. Twin Stick Champs are thin on the ground, and this particular example had just over 50,000 miles.

[Images: seller]

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37 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Beige Plymouth Champ – American Malaise From 1980...”


  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    I knew a guy who had one that towed a van body trailer. He used the trailer to take his polka band’s instruments to party gigs. It was bigger than the car. He did it for over a decade. It defied physics.
    :-O

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Is it my imagination or is the driver’s seat on an angle that appears that a 300lb human shifted its alignment?

    As for the Plymouth Cricket, prior to using Mitsu imports, Chrysler actually imported Hillmans and sold them (or attempted to?) as Crickets. A friend had a MT Mitsu Cricket and for that time/period it was a rather robust and fun vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      That’s what it looks like to me – bent seatback frame.

      What’s that down the street, facing us in some of the photos? I’m wondering if it’s his other ride.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Was there a Mitsubishi Cricket? I only remember the rebadged Hillman Avengers. There was one in a garage in my neighborhood, but I never saw it other than on days when the garage door was open. It was covered in stuff and clearly not being used as a car. That was in 1983 or thereabouts.

      These Colts/Champs were well received by the automotive press back when they were willing to give negative reviews to anything Japanese that wasn’t markedly better than what Detroit was turning out. The 1984 Turbo GTS was only available with the Twin-Stick, not the automatic according to Motorweek’s road test of a Colt GTS Turbo Twin-Stick. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4GtYrhflTA

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Yep. Just like how in Canada Pontiac dealers got rebadged Chevs.

        Confirmed by the always correct (?) Wikipedia:
        “The Cricket nameplate continued when Chrysler Canada replaced the British-built Cricket with a rebadged Dodge Colt in mid-1973 model year. The Cricket’s version of the Colt GT was called the Cricket Formula S. For the 1975 model year, the Plymouth Cricket was rebadged as the Plymouth Colt. Thus began Chrysler Canada’s dual marketing system, selling the Colt as both a Dodge and a Plymouth. The later Plymouth Arrow was similarly sold as a Dodge Arrow.”

        Or from the ‘Old Cars’ website:
        “Sadly, Cricket suffered the same shameful indignities as its other British counterparts and was withdrawn from the Canadian market in mid 1973.
        The name lived on as Chrysler immediately rebadged the successful Dodge Colt—already sourced from Japanese automaker Mitsubishi—as the Plymouth Cricket. With that change came a two-door hardtop model. A total of 4,807 Crickets found favour with Canadians during the 1973 calendar year.
        Thanks to Kevin McCabe, Chrysler Canada historian, for the Plymouth Cricket price list.”

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I remember a Popular Science review of the Colt with the 1.6-liter turbo and the Twin-Stick. They referred to it as a rocket powered phone booth.
        The Twin-Stick is similar to AMC 1960’s Twin-Stick offered on Ramblers.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    70HP in just under 2000 pounds curb weight is not nearly as malaise-y as one might think.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    A late friend of mine (RIP Marc) and his wife had a blue one, the base model with four-speed, a/c and AM/FM. He asked to help him change the clutch cable on it, and it took like ten minutes.

    It was a decent car that got great mileage.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    The three door was a fine car, but I found the 5 door version fugly.

    I spent time with two different turbo models….which were great fun. After driving the Turbo…I wondered how I could ever get back into a big, heavy V8 gas hog muscle car…the “pocket rocket” made a lot more sense!

  • avatar
    Pianoboy57

    I thought i wanted one of those once. It was that or the Honda Civic hatch. I bought neither. My wife had the ’78 Colt 4 door sedan. It ate our honeymoon money shortly before we married due to a melted cylinder head. After it was repaired it leaked oil like nobody’s business. It didn’t make 100k before it quit.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I wonder if the pole holding up the rear hatch was a dealer-installed accessory.

    These were actually pretty legit cars for their time, and with the turbo, it was fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      LOL on the pole. I would assume that is difficult, if not impossible, to find parts like hatch struts for cars like this.

      • 0 avatar
        roverv8i

        Nope. $37.90 on Amazon. Struts are usually pretty generic. Just need one about the right length and with the right mounting. The only time it is usually hard to find is if they used a weird mounting. People are usually ether being cheap or clueless when they don’t fix them. I’ve changed them on some pretty rare things.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          I remember using some sort of plastic device which was mounted alongside the strut and just clipped in when the hatch on my ‘84 Sunbird was up. Damned if I recall exactly how it was attached or how it worked!

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      The pole isn’t that bad, it’s triple purpose, it holds the hood up as well or put it behind the tires to keep the car from rolling down hill

  • avatar
    Chi-One

    I had an’82 Colt. Red over black with the twin-stick. It was some kind of sport model. It was pretty quick with that 4×2.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My buddy used his 80 Colt to bump start our (my older brother and I ) 80 accord in high school on a cold January day. He was shoving that tan Honda up and down the the street that went past the main entrance of our H.S. I suppose I could’ve been embarassed but most thought we were goofing off.
    It turns out our old Accord had damn near no compression , apparently the previous owner neglected to change the oil. It only had 120k miles on it.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    In 1980, I bought a 3-door, 1.6 liter hatchback to drive in SCCA Showroom Stock C. It turned out not to be a good choice.

    Power wasn’t bad. The four-speed transmission in conjunction with a second lever to select one of two final drive ratios gave eight possible ratios. In practice, only six were of use. Still, in a day of four- and five-speed transmissions, six forward speeds was unusual. One started off in first-low and shifted to second-low. Then, pull the other lever back to get second-high. The levers were close enough together that you could grab both to shift to third-low. Third-high and fourth-low were almost identical and the latter was more convenient. Finally, pull the second lever back for fourth-high. (First-high wasn’t practical since shifting from it to second-low would have required moving the two levers in opposite directions.)

    The car’s weakness was handling. At moderate speed, it understeered. That increased with higher cornering forces until, at competitive racing speed, the steering wheel had virtually no effect. The car continued straight ahead unless you backed off the accelerator letting everyone else past.

    Neither did it hold up well. The transverse engine rocked enough to break exhaust headers until I (illegally) fixed the break with a flexible pipe. By 70k miles it burned enough oil to foul spark plugs. It reached its end when a teenager ran a red light and caught the rear corner changing its plan form from a rectangle to an irregular pentagon.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Did you have to put the clutch pedal in to shift between the ranges on the PowerStick?

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        I had the Dodge Colt. Same car. I remember pushing in the clutch to shift the PowerStick. It was actually very useful on hills, especially if you had passengers. It was not a great car and I would disdain it today, but I was mighty grateful to have it at the time. And yeah, it started to burn oil and then burned a lot of oil and then died.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Wow, yet another car I’d forgotten ever existed. This site is great for refreshing your memories.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    This thing is decked out. Big motor, twin-stick, cloth seats, actual carpet, center console with extra gauges, tach, alloys, two-tone paint. Champ Brougham d’Elegance Givenchy Edition!

    I had an ’82 base Colt that I bought in 1990 to commute to college and my lousy call-center job. (Back then, you could actually work your way through college making $6/hr and paying $3k/yr in tuition.) It had the detuned 1.4 (64hp) 4-sp (no twin-stick), vinyl seats (torn), carpet that was rough as sandpaper, no console, steel wheels, and a second-hand AutoMeter tach I screwed to the top of the dash.

    It was a fine little drivetrain surrounded by a total POS tin can of an automobile. Weighed 1870 lbs, according to the scales at the quarry where my buddy worked. It was probably fine in SE Asia, but not robust enough for North American winters. Any sizable pothole would knock it out of alignment. The door locks held water and froze anytime the temperature dropped below freezing. For some reason the hatch lock never froze, so in winter I’d climb in through the hatch. (The locks still opened from the inside.) And body rust was terrible.

    It did get 38-40 real-world mpg, even though I drove it at WOT most of the time.

    Every kid should have to drive a crap car and work a crap job at some point in life.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      I was thinking the same thing. I had a 81 Colt. It was my very first new car. I was looking at all the options this car had. My two options in my Colt were the twin-stick and an AM radio – that’s it. It did get really good gas mileage. It was my first manual transmission car. The first clutch lasted 30,000 mile – but I learned.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    I bought a ’79 Champ used in 1980, 1.4 with the twin stick. The mileage was great and it was a fun vehicle to drive with the twin stick. It was an under steering car normally but the trailing arm rear suspension could surprise you in certain situations, like the 360 I did on a wet curve one day. Like I said, it was fun…..

  • avatar
    deanst

    Looks pacer-esque when you’re used to today’s no-window vehicles.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    Power and economy, in one stylish package!

  • avatar
    VW4motion

    Had one of these in High School with an automatic. Would hit 105 all the way to the beach from Orlando. That is loaded with 4 surf boards on the roof and four occupants. Durable cat, also had strong bumpers when people pissed me off.

  • avatar
    B Buckner

    I had one of these. Clean crisp styling for the day. Still looks good. You needed to remove an inner wheel fender piece to get to the oil filter. A real pain. I finally just removed it for good. A few years later all the electronics in the engine bay rusted out and failed. Apparently not designed to be bathed in road salt. Oops.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    These were a great alternative for people who didn’t want the issues of a domestic subcompact (Escort, Chevette, Omni) but also didn’t feel like being gouged to death by the absurd dealer mark-ups for a Corolla or Civic. Just like in Goldilocks, this era Colt was ‘just right’ for the times.

    One of the weirdest things, though, of the Colt was how hard they started, even when new. They never started immediately, but had to be cranked for a few seconds before they fired up. I never quite figured out what that was all about.

  • avatar
    James Charles

    We only had one variant of this vehicle, it was the Mitsubishi Colt, looked quite similar.

    The only 1.6 litre Mitsubishi we had from that era was the 1.6 litre Cordia. This was a small RWD pocket rocket. I remember some highway patrol cars were Cordia turbos. They cops only had them for a year or so as the engine/drivetrains failed.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    All that glass, and a curb weight of only 1,799 pounds? The body must have been made of magnesium! /S

    For the clueless:
    a) I believe that new vehicles offered for sale in 2019 are too heavy
    b) I have been told that ‘glass is heavy’ is the reason
    c) I believe that new vehicles offered for sale in 2019 offer inadequate rear visibility
    d) I have been told that ‘glass is heavy’ is the reason

    I’m not buying it.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Very clean styling, great visibility. Nice looking car. The generation after looked even better.

    I love the idea of a twin-stick in something more the size of a Smart Car than an 18-wheeler. How are you supposed to use it? I assume “low ranges in the city, high ranges on the highway,” not 1L – 1H – 2L – 2H – 3L – 3H – 4L – 4H like an 18-wheeler. Has anyone driven one that can say?

  • avatar
    JimC2

    “The automatic was a trusty three-speed TorqueFlite.”

    If wiki is to be believed, this was a slightly downsized 904… that’s A LOT of transmission for these little cars! I can’t imagine that helped their gas mileage. (The 904 was originally made to be the “small” torqueflite for the Slant Sixes and the 273/318 V8s.)


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