$4,000 Captive Import: 1978 Plymouth Sapporo

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Here’s a car you don’t see too often anymore, if ever: a 1978 Plymouth Sapporo! It’s in Baldwin Park, California, just a handful of miles east of Los Angeles. It’s posted on Craigslist with an asking price of $4,000.

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This thing looks drop-dead perfect! Most of these cars have disappeared from US soil, most likely due to rust issues more than mechanical issues. This was a Mitsubishi Galant Λ (Lambda) under the skin. Actually, the skin was pretty much the same as the Mitsubishi, but it was more of a badge engineering exercise for Chrysler a few years after they purchased 15% of Mitsubishi Motors in 1972. This was, believe it or not, aimed towards the personal luxury car buyer. No, really!

Named after the fourth largest city in Japan, the Sapporo had a sister car in the US, the Dodge Challenger, which was aimed more at the sporty market than the Sapporo was. Ahhhhh.. those were the days, eh? A rebadged Mitsubishi with a 4-cylinder engine being a Dodge Challenger. I’m so glad that I lived through those wacky years; things today seem so boring, car-company-wise. I would prefer the original wheels instead of the dope skates that are on this car now, I wonder if the seller still has them?

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This is the first year for the Sapporo in the US and they went away in 1983. My wife’s sister’s first car was a black Dodge Challenger of this same era. Her car had a 5-speed transmission and, of course, she bought it without knowing how to drive a manual transmission so that must have been interesting. This car is in such nice condition that it could almost just be driven like it is now onto any car show field and win its class. If it could drive, that is…

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Yes, sadly, even with the almost museum-quality body and interior on this car, the engine is “NOT RUNNING”, according to the seller. The engine looks perfect, albeit with a non-factory braided upper radiator hose for some added bling. I’d change that right after changing the wheels back to stock. I have no clue what’s wrong with this engine and the seller doesn’t mention what’s wrong with it, they just say to call or text with questions. The seller certainly has taken care of this car in the cleaning and detailing department. This is a 2.6L inline-four with about 105 hp, not bad for a 2,500-pound car. Hopefully the engine trouble isn’t anything serious, these are super rare cars, especially in this condition.

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The interior looks nice, reeeeeeal nice; but seat covers always make me think that they’re hiding something, because they usually are. Maybe they were just used to protect the seats. The dash looks perfect so maybe they also had a cover on the dash, or maybe they were the other person in the entire United States, after myself, (that could be slightly exaggerating) to put one of those reflective sun shields in the windshield whenever they parked. The trunk looks great, but don’t plan on taking three of your friends on a cross-country trip without pulling a trailer for your luggage. And, you already noticed that this car has an automatic transmission; bummer. It’s not a deal-breaker, but a manual is almost always more desirable, especially in a small car like this one.

The engine is really the only wild card on this one, it could be something simple and cheap, or it could be a nightmare. The automatic is also a bummer, at least it is for me but, I really like this car. It’s so unusual and you simply will not see another one and it’ll stand out from everyone else. You can park it next to that ’57 Chevy / ’68 Camaro / ’69 Mustang at the car show, and then watch it get more attention than the others do. Have you ever driven or better yet, owned, a Plymouth Sapporo or a Dodge Challenger of this era? What do you think could be wrong with the four-banger under the perfect hood?

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Comments

  1. David C

    I was a mechanic for Chrysler-Plymouth in 1978 and worked on a lot of these. They were very decent cars in the day. The engine has a timing chain no belt and a balancing shaft and chain so if the engine is free the problem may not be too serious. I never saw a broken timing chain or over rev issue. The fuel system could be finicky. This was pre-fuel injection.

    Like 1
    • Scotty Staff

      That’s great info, David, thanks for sharing that insider info! People with tons of experience like you make this site a great place to hang out in, I learn a lot here every day.

  2. boxdin

    These things were fast. I had a few of the D-50 Sport pickups w the same drivetrain. They were rocket of their day w an odd 3 barrell carb.

  3. Allan

    I took (and passed) my DMV driving test in the Dodge Challenger version. Fun little car.

    Like 1
  4. L.J.

    I grew up in the car business, so I had a 78 Sapparo as a demo in my last year of college. After school, I was in sales and generally drove one as my demo. I found them easy to sell and fewer headaches than the TC3 Tourismo. I also taught a lot of girls how to drive stick shifts at school as well as at delivery. The clutch was so light and a breeze to master. They were a well balanced car. Even being rear wheel drive, I usually did not need snow tires here on the south side of Lake Erie in the snow belt. Overall they comfortable and an easy car to drive with decent performance and handling.

  5. Marco

    I had one of these cars for a while- a hand me down from my dad. Not bad but the opera lights and other bits of borrowed “styling” were pretty hokie. As I recall it had a three valve “air injection” engine to swirl the mixture prior to ignition or some such thing, supposedly to increase fuel efficiency. The worst part, at least for me, was the interior. Something about that grey material and the stitching reminded me of a casket! So those seat cover may be on there for another reason- so you don’t feel like you’re sitting in a coffin.

  6. pappy2d

    Bought a new one in 81, for my wife. The first warning came when the ignition module shot craps at @30K. It was a proprietary piece, available only at the dealer. 240 American dollars, when a Chevy piece was 30 bucks. At 50K, the head gasket, and clutch went south. The car was very lightly used, but found ways to break anyway.

  7. BeeMoe

    I had an ’82 5 speed and it was an awesome car. Would love to have another. I prefer the later body style to the original. Comfortable, good mileage and fast. Bought a parts car for spares that had a thrown rod. Hopefully this one doesn’t have that issue.

    • CarNut from Winnipeg Member

      Had an 82 too. Gold with brown almost corduroy interior. 5 speed. Went through anything on east Ontario winter could throw at it.

  8. Mike Reese

    Wanted one, but my dad talked me out of it. Mixed emotions over that … but I doubt that a manual would make much difference in this car!

  9. Ian

    I had a used 1978 Dodge Colt 5 door station wagon version of this car in Canada. It came with a vinyl wood grain finish on the sides. When I got it, it had a 2.6 litre engine, which may have replaced an original 2 litre engine. It was a great wagon and it had a manual transmission.
    I sold it later to a co-worker who was amazed how much more powerful it was than his bay window VW van when climbing hills in North Vancouver.
    The factory mag wheels were very dull after 10 years and would have needed a lot of labour to restore.
    At that time I met a new friend, Frank, who ran a small scrapyard and repair shop specializing in this line of vehicles. He had all kinds, even a Sapporo with a liquified natural gas tank in the trunk.

    • CanAm

      Hi Ian
      I’d be interested to touch base with your ‘new friend’ if you’re still in contact with him?

      • Jorge

        Me too.interested in your friend too..I have an 83 sapporo.runs good.5 speed.not too much rust.im going to fix it up this summer..

  10. Brad

    I was working at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in 1981, and we had several of these on the lot. They were very well-built cars. When you closed the door, it sounded like a refrigerator door: a nice slurp. In 1981, these cars still had the 2.6 liter engine, but it was HEMI ! Good power, and economical to drive. It was cool when you left the key in the ignition. Instead of having an annoying BUZZZ, it actually had mechanical bells under the dash that make a pleasant ding-dong, ding dong.

    Like 1
  11. Bryan

    I had a 78 Challenger; liked the car alot but didn’t have any luck with the 2.6 MCA jet (12 valve) “silent shaft” engine. The timing chains and tensioners were loud and expensive to replace. Eventually my 2.6 seized – up while I was driving on the interstate.

  12. Thomas

    I have owned one of these very cars For several years. Mine needed quite a bit of work when I acquired it. Finding parts can be a challenge. I have never seen another one of these cars in person and always receive a lot of comments from people in town. The car itself is well built, fuel efficient, and reliable. I have used it as a daily driver several months at a time for 60-mile round trip commutes. It has yet to leave me stranded. I have driven it on 95 degree days as well as 19 degree days with no trouble. I primarily use the car to run errands these days. My Sapporo is “Canyon Metallic Red” with a red cloth interior. It is also outfitted with the 2.6L engine and 3-speed automatic transmission.
    A picture of my car is attached.

    Like 3
  13. LuDeanne

    MY FIRST CAR! Mine was brown! I LOVED THAT CAR! Got it for my 16th Birthday in 1984!

    Like 1
  14. J. Brown

    I had one bought it new in 78 drive the hell out that car. Fast and good on gas. Had a killer sound system in it. Double wire basket rims on it and a glass pack. Biggest mistake I made was getting rid off it. Wish I could find another one a restore it

  15. Randy

    Bought a new 1979 Sapporo just out of the navy 5 speed love it

  16. Charles

    I had a 78 challenger liked it very much silver paint faded out so I had it painted black ,had the plaid interior redone in black velvet ,nice rear driver that had a stick shift.

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