Welcome back! It’s time for another week of junky, janky bad automotive ideas. I can’t believe we’ve been at this for a month now; I’m still having fun, and I hope you all are, too. We’ve got a couple of imports-in-domestic-clothing to look at today, but first let’s see who won our big project car shootout last week.
And there you have it. Respect the tailfins. That big blue Imperial really would be the most satisfying project of the four, I think, whether you go electric or just pop another big V8 into that engine bay. And I learned something: I had no idea the goth community was such a big fan of ’50s Chryslers. But hey, if that’s the Cure for what ails ya…
Anyway, moving on: Back when I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, our family’s “foreign” cars marked us as oddballs, though not quite outcasts. I grew up in a Union town, and you just didn’t buy Japanese cars. My family’s German and Italian and British cars flew in under the radar (they were acceptable because we usually had a Dodge, too), but if you pulled into the grocery store lot in a new Datsun or Toyota, you could expect to get the cold shoulder. But buying American wasn’t quite as cut-and-dry as it seemed.
All of the big three U.S. automakers in the ’70s adopted an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude towards the Japanese automakers. GM partnered with Isuzu (and of course Toyota later), Ford got in bed with Mazda, and Chrysler teamed up with Mitsubishi. Cars like the Chevy LUV pickup, the Dodge Colt and Plymouth Champ, and Ford’s Courier pickup were American in badge only.
These days, it hardly matters where a car is made. Components come from all over, automakers are international corporations, and they all swap partnerships like couples at a… squaredance. (What did you think I was going to say?). But today, I’ve got a not-really-a-Dodge and a not-really-a-Ford from the captive-import days of yore for us to look at.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter DOHC inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD
Location: Santa Ana, CA
Odometer reading: 124,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs great, according to the seller
The Dodge Colt was one of the first Japanese cars to be marketed under an American nameplate, way back in 1971. Originally rear-wheel-drive and based on Mitsubishi’s Galant and Lancer, it became front-wheel-drive in 1980 when the Colt name was moved to the Mitusbishi Mirage, where it remained throughout the rest of its run.
This particular Colt is from the third front-wheel drive iteration. Not many of the cool features of earlier Colts made it this far: the twin-stick “Super Shift” transmission was long gone, and only a very few Colts of this generation were turbocharged. This GT version wasn’t the most fun one, with a naturally-aspirated version of the turbo’s 1.6 liter engine; plus it has even more of the fun sucked out of it by an automatic transmission.
But it’s still a handsome little car, and has remarkably low miles on the odometer. The seller says the air conditioning isn’t working, but thankfully refrains from claiming it “just needs a charge.” One seam has popped on the driver’s seat, but apart from that, there’s not much to complain about. It’s just a useful little hatchback, the likes of which get harder and harder to find new every year.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, RWD
Location: outside Hood River, OR
Odometer reading: 80,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs fine but won’t go into reverse
Before the Ranger, there was the Courier. Ford’s answer to small trucks from Datsun and Toyota was designed and built by its partner Mazda. Ford wasn’t alone in this; Chevy had its Isuzu-built LUV, and the Dodge Ram 50 and Plymouth Arrow pickups were both different badges on a Mitsubishi Mighty Max.
Ford offered the Courier with either a Mazda-built engine or its own 2.3 liter “Lima” four; this one has the Mazda powerplant, which looks almost too shiny for the rest of the truck. I suspect this engine has had more work done recently than the cursory tune-up mentioned in the ad. The seller notes a problem with the five-speed manual – it’s hard to get into reverse. This might be minor, or it might be a big deal. Either way, you can always just park where you can pull through. Why go backwards, right?
The scruffy interior and the rattle-can flat-black paint job don’t do it any favors in the looks department, but it’s a truck, and trucks can look scruffy if they want. At least it isn’t rusty. No word on whether all the crap in the bed is included, but maybe it’s a negotiating point. New tires are a nice touch, and the black steel wagon wheels look pretty sharp on there. And remember when trucks used to have rope cleats on the outside of the bed? Why don’t they do that any more?
And there they are, two survivors from the days of captive imports. Will it be the zippy little hatchback, or the rough and tough little truck?