Haven’t Seen One In Ages: 1988 Dodge Colt Wagon vs 1987 Nissan Stanza

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Welcome back! Today we’ve got a pair of cars that I’m betting some of you forgot even existed. But first, let’s finish up with yesterday’s pair that you only wish you could forget:

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Clear win for the Suburban. I agree. It’s cheaper to buy, cheaper to fix, and more useful when it’s done. And yes, I messed up, and it does have a third row of seats. It happens.

Today, we’re going to look at a couple of cars that weren’t massively popular to begin with, and most of those that were sold have long since been recycled into toasters or washing machines or soup cans. And yet here they are, not only surviving but thriving, it seems. And both for sale, and reasonably priced! What more could you ask for? Okay, well, they are both automatics. Sorry; I do what I can.

1988 Dodge Colt wagon – $1,700

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.5 liter SOHC inline 4, 3 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Lemon Grove, CA

Odometer reading: 65,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep!

Chrysler Corporation made no secret about the Colt’s origins: one of the advertising slogans was “All the Japanese you need to know,” some of the advertisements actually included kanji characters, and a small badge on the back said “Imported For Dodge” (or Plymouth, as the case may be). Colts were good sellers, but the wagon version never was as common, especially after the introduction of the taller Colt Vista wagon.

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I like the looks of it, with the little kick-up in the roofline and the nice clean lines. The wagon also got fuel injection in place of the nasty little feedback carburetor that the sedan and hatchback were stuck with. I doubt it added any power, but I bet it helped drivability a whole bunch.

And I had to include this photo, for Torch, but I think anyone can appreciate these taillights. I had forgotten about these until I saw this photo. Forty-five degree angles! They’re just so good. [Editor’s Note: Hell yeah, these have been a longtime favorite of mine. – JT]

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This Colt is the very definition of a survivor, with only 65,000 miles on the clock. It has only a few little imperfections, and the hubcaps have gone AWOL. The inside looks remarkably clean as well, and wonderfully ’80s.

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The seller says it runs well, has newer tires, and is current on registration. Yeah, with only 75 horsepower and a non-overdrive automatic, it’s not going to be a thrill ride, but what are you in such a hurry for anyway?

1987 Nissan Stanza hatchback – $1,600

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter SOHC inline 4, 4 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Portland, OR

Odometer reading: 229,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does!

A little bigger than the Colt, and also overshadowed by a tall wagon variant, the Nissan Stanza is a rare sight these days, especially in five-door hatchback form like this. It’s sort of a gawky-looking car, really, with those giant bumpers and whatever that vent grille behind the rear wheels is. It wasn’t until Nissan replaced the Stanza with the Altima that they really cracked the code on mid-sized sedans, but I have heard good words about the Stanza, what few words I’ve heard of it at all.

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The Stanza is powered by a two liter engine with two spark plugs per cylinder, similar to Nissan’s trucks at the time. In the Stanza, it’s fuel-injected, and in this case, backed by a four-speed automatic. The seller says it runs and drives well, and also has a newer battery and tires.

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Condition-wise, this Stanza looks pretty good, especially for nearly 230,000 miles. The paint still looks good, the interior looks fantastic (and very very blue), and it just seems like a really well-kept old car.

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If you remember the Stanza nameplate at all, it’s probably for the tall vannish wagon version, which had sliding rear doors on both sides and no B-pillars. The sedan and hatchback were sort of forgettable cars, but with the addition of time, the unremarkable becomes remarkable just by virtue of having survived.

Yes, I know; neither of these cars will “keep up” with modern traffic [Editor’s Note: Yes, they will. – JT] , and they’re both “deathtraps” with nary an airbag or electronic driver aid in sight. And yeah, you have to remember the boxy ’80s styling fondly to appreciate the shapes of them. And yes, they both should have manuals. But they’re what you’ve got to work with today. Which one will it be?


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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54 Responses

  1. I genuinely want both cars very badly because they’re both so unique and amazing in today’s greymobile world, but my heart wants that Colt because it looks really good on steelies. Plus those taillights are the coolest damn thing.

    But I’d be ok with going Stanzaaaaaaaaaaaaa if the Colt sold.

  2. I stan for Stanza (reluctantly). I was never a fan of the Colt during this time period. However, I’m having nightmare flashbacks to replacing all 8 spark plugs in that CA20E Nissan engine that my 87 200SX shared. I see a lot of comments regarding it’s reliability, but my example was anything but. It left me stranded more time that any other car I’ve owned. Usually in my high school parking lot. I dumped tons of money into replacing everything, but the actual part that was faulty. Turns out it was the crank angle sensor behind the distributor. The car ran amazing after that and I immediately sold it because I had recently bought a Honda Accord to erase all the bad memories of being stranded.

    1. I had similar experiences to yours with my 83, and oil changes were tough because there was no way to get the filter out of its little cubby without hot oil spilling down your arm (not just my wrenching skills – the issue was called out by one of the car mags at the time).

  3. I had an 83 Stanza in college, and it was not built that well. The clutch cable kinked, and the previous owner (my father) had just kept stomping on the left pedal harder. End result was a torn firewall (!) that I had to get welded and the metal(ish) bracket for the pedals broke. Took me all weekend to fix that weirdness after waiting weeks for the part to come from Japan. The heater core sprung a leak (onto my foot – ouch!) and took me two weekends to fix. The clutch failed soon after (related to the previous problem?) but the upside was the car was easy to match revs and shift without one. Finally numerous bits and pieces failed and I sold it not running and not registered with about 100k of admittedly hard miles. But I think I’d take the chance on the Colt this time.

  4. Another trip down memory lane for both of these. The first being the Colt – my girlfriend at the time had a friend with one. I remember it being a complete and utter piece of shit that was falling apart and rusting all over the place despite the fact that it was only a few years old. She ended up in a multi-car accident and my girlfriend was with her. They were fine, but the car had been turned around by another and left a trail of parts all over the road. My girlfriend said she had laughed as her friend was trying to start the car after coming to rest, but the battery was laying out in the road in front of them.

    As to the Stanza, I picked up an ’87 sedan when I was in college for only $100 that had reversed into a pole at a high rate of speed. It was actually my first “foreign” car. Put it on the frame machine where my summer job was, pulled the back end out, and it looked like a minor dent in the bumper – didn’t even have to paint anything. It was actually my first “foreign” car. I was amazed at how nice it drove, even with the automatic. It ran great and got excellent mileage. It did leave me stranded once when one of the coils went out. Drove it for a year, delivered quite a few pizzas with it, and sold it to someone from my high school with a freshly minted license (who rolled it on a gravel road about 3 months later) for $1500. Those proceeds paid off my next college semester’s balance.

    Yep, the Stanza for sure.

  5. I’d rather bring the Colt to Radwood or any ’80s-friendly car show, since it’s a prettier design and yeah, those taillights… but it’s close. The Stanza would likely be a better car for more than meetups and grocery runs. Since the Mitsuplodgy has a healthy lead (as of ~18:30 EST), the Nissan got my vote.

    That said, as is often the case, I’m not voting against the alternative, and either would serve as a practical oddball second car/around-town car that’d have people asking just what the hell it is.

    (From the front, the Nissan reminds me of a second-generation Accord… some of it’s the original wheel covers, and I’d have to source a matching one for the right rear immediately.)

    1. Sorry, that’s EDT. GMT-4. (It appears the site’s completely unfamiliar with daylight time, or else the time shown thinks I’m in Atlantic Canada.)

  6. Stanza. Neither one is going to be exciting, but 2.0L + 4 speed is simply more than 1.5L + 3 speed, and I bet it gives you a bit more elbow room without a significant weight penalty.

  7. I went for the Stanza despite having owned an ’87 Colt that served me well, because the Nissan has an extra 500cc and extra gear in the transmission.

    There is no fun to be had in an ’80s subcompact with a 3-speed automatic. I grew up around them, they were the most effective advertisements ever devised for learning to drive a manual. At that my Colt had the 5-speed stick and wasn’t at all fast. If one of these was a manual it would win by default. If both of them were it would be a lot harder call (although the Stanza hatchback of this generation was 1-year-only in America and the Colt was on the market 4 years so probably isn’t actually as rare).

  8. Colt all the way! I had a 2 door manual version of the colt in jr collage. I bought it as a dirt cheap beater to move some stuff between cities & kept it for the next three years. It felt cheap in every way but was somehow a really good little car. Great mileage, light & toss-able, and no amount of abuse would hurt it.

  9. This ended up being a harder choice than I expected, but I voted Colt. The blue on the Stanza is wicked (plus the interior blue) and it has more speeds and CCS, but wagon, especially with a roof kink, carries it

  10. The Colt is the easy choice here. I’ve owned three of them, and although none were the awesome wagon version, they were all absurdly reliable. They endured 13 years of serious abuse delivering pizza in the rust belt. An elder sibling owned two, my younger sibling owned one, and a girlfriend who also delivered pizza had one, too.

    Mitsubishi’s V6 engines weren’t the greatest and still aren’t, but Mitsubishi has always made great small displacement four cylinder engines. Without hesitation I’d put them in the same class as Toyota and Honda.

    The Stanza is pretty good and very interesting by its own right, but the Colt is much better. Especially considering the odometer difference.

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