Home » Surprisingly Clean Old Wagons: 1985 Dodge Colt Vista vs 1986 VW Quantum

Surprisingly Clean Old Wagons: 1985 Dodge Colt Vista vs 1986 VW Quantum

Sbsd 7 5 2023
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Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown! I hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th. Today, I’ve got a couple of mid-80s station wagons that are in better shape than they have any right to be. But first, we should close the books on our V8s from Monday:

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The truck wins, as I expected. I know it was a strange comparison; I just found those two cars and couldn’t find a worthy mate to either of them. Myself, given these two choices, I’d take the Corvette, but only because I already have a truck that I like better than this one.

For today, we’re back to cheap, old, and weird, with a pair of station wagons that somehow survived nearly four decades with only minor wear and tear to show for it. Hardly any miles, either. Why would someone preserve such ordinary workaday cars in such excellent condition? I have no idea. But I’m glad they did, because I love seeing stuff like this for sale. Let’s check them out.

1985 Dodge Colt Vista – $1,450

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Romulus, MI

Odometer reading: 32,000 miles

Runs/drives? Turns over but won’t start

Now, we need to get one thing straight about this car before we start: I know there is a large “Never Mopar” contingent out there, but if you’re one of them, I really think you need to give this car a fair shake, because the only thing Dodge about it is the badges. What this actually is is a first-generation Mitsubishi Chariot. Chrysler never made any bones about the Colt’s provenance; the cars actually had a badge on the back that said “Imported For Dodge.” So leave your Chrysler prejudices at the door, because this ain’t one.

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Now, with that said, this car doesn’t exactly run, as such. It turns over, but won’t fire. I get the feeling it has been parked for a long time, and we all know how much they hate sitting around not running. My guess is that someone with some mechanical aptitude and sympathy could get it going again without much difficulty. It’s a carbureted engine with a standard distributor; nothing fancy. If it’s got air, fuel, spark, and compression, it’ll run. Find out which one of those is lacking (my guess is fuel), and replenish its supply.

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The rest of it is in good shape, as you’d expect for so few miles. It never had a chance to wear out. The seller does note some rust; it’s a mid-80s Japanese car in a Great Lakes state. There’s no way it wouldn’t have some rust somewhere, even with only 32,000 miles. But if you can nip it in the bud and keep it from getting any worse, and don’t drive it in the winter, it should be all right.

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The biggest fault I can find with this particular Colt Vista is that not enough of its wheels are driven. Push-button four wheel drive was available on these, and from what I’ve heard, like the contemporary 4WD Toyota Tercel wagons, they were unstoppable in inclement weather, and pretty good on muddy fields as well. I mean, it’s a cool boxy little ’80s wagon/van thingy, but wouldn’t it be even better with 4WD?

1986 Volkswagen Quantum wagon – $3,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 5, three-speed automatic, FWD

Location: Caldwell, ID

Odometer reading: 93,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Runs well and driven regularly

Speaking of cars that are better with 4WD, in 1986 Volkswagen introduced a version of their Quantum wagon (B2 Passat in the rest of the world) with Syncro all-wheel-drive. This system was exactly the same as the first-generation Audi Quattro system, with remote locking on the center and rear diffs to gain traction in slippery conditions, and was only available with a five-speed manual. Sounds cool, right? Well, then I hate to be the one to disappoint you, but this car isn’t one of those.

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It has the legendary Audi five-cylinder engine, but only driving the front wheels, and through a three-speed automatic. Having spent quite a bit of time behind the wheel of a couple of Audi sedans equipped with this combination, I can tell you it’s exactly as lethargic and soul-sucking as you would imagine. It’s a nice smooth engine, and the transmission does its thing without complaint, but it just feels like the transmission is holding it back. The same car with a five-speed stick, Quattro or no, still isn’t fast, but it it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to accelerate through a swimming pool full of syrup.

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Despite that sluggishness, this car will hum along at eighty miles an hour all day long if you ask it to. It’s still a German car, and sustained high-speed highway driving is kind of what they’re known for. The seller says this one runs like a top, drives just fine, and makes weekly freeway trips of an hour or so to keep it in shape. It has had a bunch of recent work done, though the seller doesn’t elaborate on exactly what.

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There’s so much nostalgia in this photo for someone who grew up in and around VW/Audi products of this era: the squared-off Eurostile font on the gauges, the LCD clock with the bank of indicator lights above it, the rocker switches for the hazard lights and rear defroster, even that silver owner’s manual cover. It all feels very much like home to me, and while I wouldn’t relish the lack of response from the automatic, I think I’d like driving this car very much.

Cars like this exist in a sort of bubble: they’re too old and simplistic to be something you’d want to commute in, almost too nice to cut up and modify into something else, but not valuable as they are. But what they could be are fantastic weekend runabouts, and great conversation-starters at automotive gatherings. You’d have to be in a financial position to have a second car around, and probably be of a certain age to remember them at all. Assuming any of those criteria apply to you, which one are you taking?

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(Image credits: Colt – Facebook seller; Quantum – Craigslist seller)

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John Santoro
John Santoro
10 months ago

Hey everyone! I was the lucky one who picked up the ‘85 Vista. The timing belt shred its teeth at the crank gear, so I replaced the timing and balance shaft belts and have no spark. I traced the problem back to the distributer, so once that arrives next week it will hopefully start, fingers crossed!

GertVAG
GertVAG
11 months ago

Hard choice, love them both for their 80s boxyness, but as a VW man and Passat lover, I have to pull the trigger on the Quantum. While I prefer manual, this would be a fine cruiser and a especially big roomed one.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
11 months ago

Mark you cruel cruel bastard. I have a qsw project in my garage (which Thomas needs to buy already) and even I had to go with the colt because it is a way better deal.

Space Trucker
Space Trucker
11 months ago

Teenage me would have sneered at both, 42 year old me wants that Colt.

Unclesam
Unclesam
11 months ago

I love them both. Voted for the one that runs but would be happy with either

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
11 months ago

These are both good for 1 thing. A winter daily beater. As far as too dull for daily black ice snow, and idiotic drivers will pack on the excotement.

Ricki
Ricki
11 months ago

Heck yeah, weird brown not-a-van. It’s like the Cardboard Box from Metal Gear Solid. “I don’t think that’s supposed to be here, but it’s normal and boring enough that it just might be” while inside there’s a chainsmoking Green Beret trying to find something more futuristic and capable.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
11 months ago

Once the Vista is fixed, it will stay fixed for a lot longer than that Audi-based Quantum will… especially with that slushbox.

So my vote goes to the Vista.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
11 months ago

The Colt wins by default. Sorry, VW

Man With A Reliable Jeep
Man With A Reliable Jeep
11 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

Which, annoyingly, is as far as the VW is going to make it.

Larry B
Larry B
11 months ago

Got a ride to the Indy 500 one year with a buddy and his family in a Colt Vista. I think it was around Pittsburgh where I was convinced we wouldn’t make it up a hill. For flatlanders though it would have been a very practical “car”.

JDE
JDE
11 months ago

Mitsubishi is more questionable than Chrysler alone in many cases, but Audi and VW also have plenty of issues. fewer back in the nineties versus to today. but I would still want the SHaggin wagon from Bavaria here. if nothing else LS swap it when the over engineered Audi motor fails.

Studdley
Studdley
11 months ago
Reply to  JDE

I can assure you that Audi motor is a borderline tractor engine

Old Fart Parts Guy
Old Fart Parts Guy
11 months ago

Soon as i noticed the brown color and the manual trans i had to vote for the Vista! I liked last Fridays run off vote. This week will be a three way. Ooo sexy!

Cyko9
Cyko9
11 months ago

Based on looks alone, the VW is more enticing than the Dodge. But the low mileage, relatively simple mechanicals, not-a-minivan gets my vote today.

JDE
JDE
11 months ago
Reply to  Cyko9

most likely at that vintage the odometer does not read past 100K.

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