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The Plymouth Sapporo and Mitsubishi Dodge Challenger / Arrow

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The Plymouth Sapporo and Mitsubishi Dodge Challenger / Arrow

With thanks to P. Hagendijk and J.P. Joans

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In 1976, Mitsubishi made a coupe version of the Galant Sigma, called the Galant Lambda. In 1978, it started to be sold as the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapporo in the US, and the Chrysler Scorpion in Australia. The 1978 Sapporo rode on an extended wheelbase (99 vs 92 inches), with the same height and another couple of inches of width (65.6 inches). In 1981, there was a minor facelift, and in 1987, a four door version resembling the Galant was introduced. The Sapporo and Challenger were based closely on the Arrow, but had a longer wheelbase and overall length, and two inches more width.

In 1981, the Challenger, like the Colt wagon and D-50 Sport, used Mitsubishi's 2.6 liter four-cylinder "silent shaft" engine, equipped with counter-rotating balance shafts. This engine had the MCA-JET system, essentially a third "jet" valve in the combustion chamber that opened with the intake valve to feed a very lean mixture of fuel and air into the combustion chamber when the engine was at low speed with the throttle nearly closed. This leaned the fuel-air mixture and caused more swirling in the combustion chamber for better burning and gas mileage. At higher engine speeds, air going through the jet valve moved slower (it went faster than the speed of sound at idle) and normal combustion took place.

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While somewhat prone to oil burning, the 2.6 was a long-lasting engine that produced a decent amount of power. Challenger had standard power front disc brakes, with four wheel disc brakes available as part of a Road Wheel package. The standard transmission was a five-speed stick, with an optional four-speed automatic; standard tires were a relatively large, generous 195/70R14.

Standard features included bucket seats, a tachometer, temperature and oil gauges, ammeter, trip odometer, adjustable steering column, remote hood and deck release, electric rear window defroster, overhead console with clock and lights, carpeting, chimes instead of buzzers, tinted glass, locking gas cap, power brakes, power steering, dual horns, and four-speaker FM stereo. In short, it was a well-outfitted car.

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The Challenger name had been used on a domestic muscle car for some years, making its appearance on a Mitsubishi somewhat insulting to the faithful. However, the Sapporo/Challenge quickly made a name for itself among some enthusiasts thanks to an advanced manual transmission and fast (for the time) engine.

In 1982, its final year, the Challenger/Sapporo gained concealed drip moldings around the windshield to reduce wind noise, noise-absorbing headliner, a double toe board with sound-absorbing fabric, along with a deeper trunk which required a different fuel tank design and relocated rear springs. Painted urethane bumpers were standard in this year, using steel backing plates.

More rubber isolators were used in the four-link suspension to improve the ride and noise, and the front suspension's king pin offset was reduced to increase passenger room (it allowed the front wheelhouse to be smaller). The pivot point of the lower control arm was moved forward and a new soft bushing used on the upper end of the control arm strut, cutting harshness without affecting steering response or stability; in the rear, harshness was cut with a redesigned control arm bushing and larger, stiffer axle.

The driver's seat gained an adjustable cushion, and both front seats got underseat storage trays. New heating ducts were added to help rear passengers.

Owner reviews

Ron Good

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Back in '78, my Dad and I popped into Lakeview Chrysler in New Westminster,
BC to shop for a car for my Mom. He was looking at new Chryslers at the
dealership when I convinced him to have a closer look at a new red 1978
Sapporo sitting in the showroom. Well he was pretty taken with the styling
in and out plus all the power windows, mirrors, chimes and other gadgets. He
bought it that day. My mom loved this car and babied it for 3 years putting
on 41,000km before trading it in. I was living up in northern Alberta at the
time and was somewhat disappointed that they did not mention selling the car as I really liked it from day one.

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As fate would have it I made my way down
to Vancouver a week later for a wedding in 1981 and spotted the car from the
highway at a Toyota dealership near town. My friend was driving us around
and so I got him to pull in. Indeed it was my Mom's Sapporo and I bought the
car on the spot.

Next day I pulled up to my parents and took them outside to see their jaws
drop at my purchase. My dad was as bit miffed that I bought the car for
$6500 when in fact he got a $9600 trade in value on a new Caddy the week
before. Had a bit of fun that day!

I drove this car for the next 8 years finishing the clock at 194,000km in
1989 before selling it to a friend. I have owned many cars but none as long
as this Sapporo. The car ran quietly and handled really well on the full
sized tires. Power and torque from the big 2.6 was more than adequate and
the Getrag 5-speed was so slick that many passengers asked if I was
actually shifting through the gears at all or just moving the stick around
for show!

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I remember that fuel mileage was always really good - the best I recorded
was 35 mpg US (41 mpg Imperial) on a trip from BC to southern California and
back. I rebuilt the big 4 cylinder engine at one point due to excessive oil
consumption. The oil control rings were weak on this engine and many had the
same problem. I slipped in a new clutch and rear wheel bearings at the same
time. This wonderful little car did stellar duty during an important time of
my life. Plenty of trips, camping, first kids, -40C ice driving, a commuter
for work, dirt bike trailer hauler, etc.

In spite of the years of daily grind in the harsh Alberta climate she still
looked great when sold - amazingly there was no (as in zero) rust or
corrosion anywhere on this car. The vinyl top was no longer in good shape
but the interior was perfect and each gadget still worked well with no
maintenance whatsoever. This Sapporo was a great little ride that many of us
will remember with fondness.

Todd Nelson

In 1982 I purchased a Dodge Challenger, white with brown interior and black stripes, alloy wheels, 2.6 liter engine, and manual transmission. This was my first brand-new car purchase, following in the heels of a Dodge Colt (also made by Mitsubishi).

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This car was a dream - I did everything a hobbyist mechanic could to this thing. First the simple stuff - I added a custom stereo, alarm system, hidden co-start switch with key-disable (if you turn the key-lock on, you had to press the hidden switch at the same time you try and start the car or it would not start - great theft deterrent), cruise control, driving lights and eventually a real nice sunroof - and to top off the toys: a 5-inch color TV mounted in a custom center console (connected to a Commodore 64, and TV tuner), gear indicators made by placing lever switches around the inner-boot (under the console boot) - to show what gear you were in on the center console (fun being a computer tech sometimes).

Then I got the mechanic bug and started with over-sized sway bars front and rear, performance tires, and a home-made front air dam made from thick rubber (kind used by street sweepers) with poly-carbonate where the driving lights shone through. I even moved the battery to the rear, mounted in the trunk centered directly over the rear axle with heavy cable running up for the starter, etc. Then the fun stuff - a hot cam, headers, performance muffler, Mikuni 44MM Sidedraft racing (for off-road use only) carburetors, thermostatically controlled oil-cooler with respective gauges for all. I went from a top 24 mpg (18 mpg average) to a nice cozy 12 mpg in a car that could take freeway exit circles at two to three times their rated speed - all with the sound and performance that surprised a lot of other cars out there. I got overzealous and bought a turbocharger, which was beyond my ability; I gave up and decided to retire my well-used and abused car - put the stock exhaust and intake/carburetor back on and sold it. This car provided over 140,000 miles of reliable performing fun with no major repairs needed other than replacing a transmission gear after I missed a syncro-shift and sheared a tooth from a gear causing a distracting whine.

I learned a lot from this car, including not running an oil-cooler in the winter if you ever want your car to warm up, how to control just the right amount of over-steer, how to tune four carburetors on one car... a lot of good memories in my Challenger!

John Wood

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I purchased a 1978 Dodge Challenger in late 1977 by putting down a deposit at the local dealership to reserve one before they actually arrived in the showroom. Of course that meant I was to pay list price, but in the end, I negotiated a slight discount since a few other customers reneged on their pre-purchase agreements. This was because they wanted to wait for an automatic transmission equipped model. I ended up with serial #99. This one was a basic model with the jet valve 1600 cc displacement silent-shaft Mitsubishi and 5 speed transmission.

The car drove and handled like a dream, for cars of that era. It was very peppy and the transmission shifted very smoothly. The car was well insulated and just about the quietest car I have ever owned. It was also well equipped for a basic model, with remote power mirrors, power brakes, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, electric rear window defrost, and lumbar support tilt bucket seats. We had the dealership add air conditioning. This was my first experience with a Japanese made vehicle and I was very impressed.

The vehicle was by no means trouble free. First, let me say that once I took delivery, I filled out the card in the owner's manual and ordered the factory service manual. During the first 3 months, part of the casting on the front engine case cracked. This was the outboard support for the alternator. It took Chrysler nearly 3 weeks to get a new engine front case. Needless to say, many calls were made to Detroit to complain. To make matters worst, after the repair was made, I drove off the lot and the engine vibrated like crazy. I grabbed the service manager and took him for a ride. After he consulted with tech service, they decided a factory man would have to be dispatched to this dealership from Detroit. That would be several days later. My wife and I had planned to take a mini-vacation in two days, so we were steaming mad.

In the mean time, I had received the factory service manual and was reading through it and came across the section about how to put the silent shaft in the correct phase. There it was, in big black letters, a warning about checking the depth of the shaft through an access hole. On this engine, you could have all the timing marks aligned but have the silent shaft 180 degrees out. The next day, I went to the service manager with my manual and told him that this is what they did wrong when they replaced the front case. After a few embarrassing moments, they tore down the front of the engine, put the shaft in the correct phase, and in a couple of hours, I was one my way again driving a beautiful smooth Challenger.

When the case broke again in the same place a couple of years later (an obvious design defect), I fabricated my own mount to hold the alternator.

The only other nuisance problem I had prior to 100,000 miles of service was a faulty power mirror and it did fail within the warranty period. After 100,000 miles, we had the typical wear items show up like a bad starter, worn pitman arm, broken timing belt, worn out clutch and throw out bearing, and a few oil leaks. I took care of all those items on my own and we eventually got rid of the car with about 150,000 on the odometer in 1991. Ironically, when the timing belt broke, it did no damage to the intake or exhaust valves (this is listed as an interference engine). It did break a couple of the rocker tabs that operate the jet valves, but with the age of the engine at that point, I did not even notice a difference in performance.

Other than the early problems mentioned, we were very pleased with the car and its performance. To this day, my wife and I say that we wish we could buy another new one just like it.

John Boyadjian

My dad had a Plymouth Sapporo. He always raved about its ability to handle the cold, slippery weather. It always felt in control, and it always started, even in harsh Wisconsin winters. He loved the power from the big 4 cylinder and the nice fuel economy. my dad says the Sapporo aged gracefully, and never gave any serious trouble. He would say it was way above average in reliability for cars of the time. I think he got rid of it around 1985 or 86 and traded it in for a Ford Aerostar (yuk). My dad said back in the day, it was "cool" to have a Plymouth, and his car was quite popular.

Wade Stoddart

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I had the sportiest of all the models offered, a 1981 Dodge Challenger. I had the 14" alloy wheels, 2 tone red and silver paint, the 2.6 liter engine with 3 speed automatic transmission, and 4 wheel disk brakes. It even had the rare factory power sunroof. I bought the car in 1991 after it had recently been repainted. The engine had just over 60,000 km on it but it was still strong and under the hood it was all clean.

She was fast and nimble as I found out driving through the mountain passes in Western Canada on many a weekend getaway. After having owned the car for 7 years the engine had been rebuilt once and the transmission was redone at 175,000 km. I wore out 3 sets of tires from basic all seasons up to low profile Goodyear Eagles. I never saw another Challenger like mine, only on the brochure of which I still have.

About a year before I sold my Challenger, I came across a 1984 Technica Challenger. In the early 1980s Chrysler was really big on putting computers with pre-recorded voices in your car. But the Technica was the only car I ever saw that had a female voice for its computer. The car was completely redone but it was painted in a 1995 Pontiac Bonneville Burgundy. About a month after that I saw another one in the scrap yard with an intact digital dashboard. This was a big find for me. I removed the digital dash and I still have it today! (12/29/04)

Andrew J. MacDonald

The Plymouth Sapporo's body lines were fairly angular, in keeping with the times, and it was oddly similar to the "new" Mustangs, which at that point had been out a few years.

I got mine used from a Toyota car dealer, and that was my first mistake. Never ask the mechanics of one proprietary dealer to work on another marque unless you're prepared to have the work re-done properly at a real garage.

The car ran well and strongly, with no problems relating to engine or drive train. It got very good fuel economy. I don't remember the figures, but I was amazed at how far I could drive at 60-65 between fill-ups. It never even hinted at not starting - it was even more reliable than my wife's Datsun pickup. It was a good car, and I'd love to have it still.

The power mirror switches wore out - I think they'd been played with too
much. Certainly I played with them a lot. The heater/air flow
selector also quit on me - I think the linkage became un-linked. Still,
the car made many trips through ice and snow with never a skid or
slide. It felt solid, and always in control of the road surface under it.

The under-hatch area was surprisingly large, and held many, many
groceries. The back seat was another nice surprise - there was plenty of
room for my 6'2" 250lbs, from head to rear. My daughter's car seat fit in

The seats were comfortable and cloth, a revelation after the vinyl seats
of my '71 Satellite. The driver's seat had a two-position lumbar support,
which added greatly to long-journey comfort. It was quick to set, too - a
small lever on the side of the seat that flipped back and forth easily.

We only had it for about 5 months before its life was cut short by a drunk in a red Mazda rust-bucket. (The cops forbade me to hit him back, even after I put down the tire iron.) I tell you, if I could find another Sapporo, I'd pursue it. Lovely cars.

Lawrence Wescott III

In 1983 I had opportunity to drive a (Mitsubishi-sourced) Challenger from Boston, MA to Cherry Point, NC. I remember that I was completely blown away with this car: the handling, the speed, and even the economy. There were three of us, all US Marines and rather big, in this car, and through team-driving we averaged just under 65 mph for the trip. The car was great fun to drive, and it was difficult to keep it below 80 mph. The front end was durable, as well: I hit a seagull on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (no small bird) and there wasn't a scratch on the front of the car (the bird didn't fare so well). Today, I daresay that birdstrike would remove a large part of my Town & Country's front air dam. Fine car for the times, and a great competitor to the Toyotas and Hondas of the early 1980s.

Tom Carpenter

I owned a Mitsubishi-made 1979 Dodge Challenger when I was in college in 1982. I bought it used from the lot of a Dodge dealer in Horseheads, NY. I think I paid around $3,900. It was red over silver, with a gray interior with red plaid cloth seat inserts. It had around 42K miles on it when I got it and it was beautiful. It had a 4 cylinder engine and a 5 speed manual transmission. This was my first Japanese car, and I was quite impressed at how much better the quality was over the American cars I was used to.

Even though this was something of a 'poser' car using the Challenger name, I still loved it. It was by no means a muscle car, but was a blast to drive and got great gas mileage. I drove it for three years, putting around 40k miles on it. I never had a bit of trouble with it. Toward the end of its time with me it was getting a bit rusty, particularly at the bottom of the doors. I haven't seen one of these cars in years, but I credit it with starting my affection for Japanese cars

Christopher Gosnell

My 'first' car was a brand new 1982 Plymouth Sapporo. I first wanted a Sapporo when I saw a used 1978 or 1980 model, but I was too tall (six feet) to fit in this version.

The 1982 Sapporo I bought was blue with black interior, black outside rub stripes, aluminum alloy wheels, 4 wheel disc brakes, 2.6L engine, and stick shift. I think the only options available were sunroof, auto trans, and air-conditioning. I remember sitting in this car in the showroom, wondering if I really wanted to part with about $7000 of my newly earned money from my first 'real job' when the salesman very deftly reached in through the window and turned on the marker lights, also lighting up the beautiful glowing amber on black instruments. I was sold! I purchased the factory manual for the car and particularly remember the very good color fold out electrical schematics, and the color hydraulic sequencing diagrams for the automatic trans. All in all a very well written manual.

I had some minor problems with the car: first an idle control that sensed coolant temp failed under warranty. Second, the very salty roads in Chicago caused corrosion around the inner hub of the wheels so bad that once I had to park the car very close to a high curb, loosen the lug nuts and turn the steering wheel to pop the wheels loose. I also remember a recall for the fixing of a plug in the cylinder head for the overhead camshaft that could fall out. The dealer supposedly fixed it, and yes it did fall out later, removing all of my oil in the process. I simply replaced the plastic plug with a engine block rubber freeze plug and all was well.

The engine bay of that car was the cleanest I had ever seen, with everything being plumbed in tubing, and only small hoses used to connect to the frame and firewall. After I sold the car to my brother, he had the shift lever break off, but he had it welded back together with no problems. I was always worried about stripping out the spark plugs from the aluminum heads, but never did.

That manual transmission was so smooth, I often shifted through the gears from 2nd to 5th without using the clutch, up and down. (maybe that's what broke the shift lever!)

I had replaced the factory radio with an aftermarket Sony model with cassette player and external equalizer and amp. Also I had installed black aluminum external louvers over the back window. This really helped keep the car cool.

In 1984 or 1985 I remember seeing the Sapporo 'Technica'. The one I saw was silver with a blacked out hood and half of the roof, trimmed in bright red-orange pinstriping. The upholstery was also done in silver, black and orange with similar gauging as my car but with an overhead console (as I remember).

The Sapporo was a true 'hardtop' with no B-pillar at the rear of the door. You could roll down the windows with no pillar in the way and no wind hitting you in the back of the head. The Dodge Challenger was 'cooler' looking with a blacked out grille, and different wheels. My car never rusted at all, and was very fun to drive in the snow or on the highway.

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