Split Personality: 1980 Plymouth Sapporo

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Let it be known: I can’t get enough of the weirdness that emerged in the 1980s. What an era to be an enthusiast, with major domestic manufacturers re-badging Japanese cars when they couldn’t make a worthy competitor. And speaking of the imports, so much of the history of Asian econoboxes took root in the early 80’s. That’s why cars like this 1980 Plymouth Sapporo here on eBay are beginning to look appealing as a fun hobby car with an interesting history, and one that ups the eccentricity factor big time. 

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Chrysler Corp. got some serious mileage out of what began as a Mitsubishi Galant Lambda (a car that’s rarely seen today but we featured an example two years ago). In addition to the Lambda and Sapporo, there was even the Dodge Challenger! Talk about a lineup. What was consistent between them was an attractive cockpit that differed ever-so-slightly between models, depending on what market the Lambda twins were pursuing. The Plymouth was geared towards a higher-end driving experience, but a manual transmission was still available.

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Equipped with a 2.6L four cylinder engine derived from Mitsubishi, the Sapporo and its various siblings became synonymous with the “Silent Shaft” terminology that Chrysler Corp. used in marketing materials and sales pitches. Designed to provide decent fuel economy with respectable performance (what a novel concept, eh?), these engines earned a reputation for being long-lived. Truth be told, the Sapporo and Challenger came loaded with nice features and could be optioned with four-wheel disc brakes via the Road Wheel package. This car’s option list includes cruise  control and A/C, along with some very nice and period-correct Enkei wheels.

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While the wheels do dress this car up visually, it’s an attractive coupe without the flashy rollers. Someone’s added a period rear fog light, and the still-present dealer plate frames are a good indication as to this car’s provenance. Frankly, you’ll get plenty of looks at local gatherings that welcome both vintage domestics and Japanese cars. Locally, we have a Japanese Car Day at the Larz Anderson auto museum and I’d bet this Sapporo would be a hit. Bidding is just over $1,500 with the reserve unmet – who remembers seeing these on the road?  Thanks to Barn Finds reader Jim S. for the find!

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Comments

  1. David

    Had to get rid of mine this past summer. A 1980 Dodge Challenger. Silver with black trim, plaid seats. My second car but my first new one. Finally came to the realization that I would never have the time and money to restore it.

  2. grant

    Just my humble opinion, but this car is just an old driver, and I can’t see why anyone would pay more than 1500 for it. But there’s probably someone. Good on him.

    • The Walrus

      Wow… Do you consider yourself a car enthusiast? JMHO, but doesn’t seem like it…

  3. Alan (Michigan)

    I may be off-base, but I think this car should have a wider appeal than the Civic? To me, the RWD, and overall nice appearance points towards this Chrysler import more than to the Honda.
    But it is likely that the Honda has a better availability for parts?
    The only thing I am not sure of here is the color of the Sapporo. In some of the photos it appears to be an attractive, low-key gold color. In others, it looks kind of a light fawn-beige, and that would not do for me at all.
    Must be a Mitsubishi thing… My ’89 Colts and Mirage have shifter boots which suffer from the same material degradation as this car. Perhaps unobtanium as OEM, might have to have one sewn up. That really ages an otherwise nice interior.

    • MeepMeep

      At the time, Honda had much better marketing campaigns as well as a more recognizable brand with multiple products (motorcycles,etc). Today, Honda highlights their other product lines in their “Fill Your Garage” advertising campaign. Maybe, that might explain Honda’s popularity over other (maybe better) brands. I personally, would have chosen a Subaru over a Honda if forced to choose an Asian import at the time.

  4. 67coopers

    I had one of these in the late 80’s. It was a VERY nice car for the few hundred bucks I got it for. It had tons of cool options compared to the other Dodge and Hondas out there. The engine was smooth and had ample power. It had a rotating shaft that actuated the throttle. One day in a drive through the shaft linkage just fell apart.

    Drove it, loved it, sold it, didn’t care. Got to say I owned a Dodge Challenger though!

  5. John D

    Remember seeing them on the road? Heck, I was responsible for putting a bunch there. The cable operated clutch was nice and light. I taught a lot of girls to drive manuals in Sapparos. They were also my favorite to sell to my friends since the build quality was superior to the TC3. I enjoyed driving them with all the nice little features, the good running engine, and the excellent balance. They were good in the snow even as a rear wheel drive. I would buy this if it were on my side of the country, I have more people who desire learning to drive manuals and the clutch in my Shelby CSX-T is rather heavy to push.

  6. grenade

    I probably sound like a broken record, but this little RWD car is worth more than 1500. Not because of what it IS, but because of what it can become.

    Forget restoring it, make sure it has 4 wheel disc brakes and stuff a Toyota V8 in it. Better still, the supercharged V6 that Lotus uses. It’s a 2GR V6 from a Camry that puts out big numbers.

    With a healthy engine swap and a few minor suspension upgrades, this could be a kickass little screamer that nobody would expect!

  7. David Frank David Member

    Very interesting used car. Perhaps it’s time to rebadge the site to “very interesting used cars”.

    Like 1
  8. Howard A Member

    Always thought these were great little cars ( except the seats. They sure weren’t for us Americans with our fat butts) Many of these engines found their way into early minivans. I think the reason these weren’t more popular, was the name. A Honda was, well, a Honda, but this just sounded too Asian, and believe it or not, there still was a huge anti-Asian car attitude amongst many Mid-Westerners in the early 80’s. Nice car, but those seats would have to go, and I don’t have a fat butt.

  9. MeepMeep

    Mitsubishi’s influence on Chrysler’s products are prevalent to this day, given their long time “hate/love” relationship.

  10. Jay

    Went to high school with a kid that drove one, and drove it hard!
    That poor little car just wouldn’t break.
    I vividly remember seeing it jump over snow/ice jumps in the parking lot.

  11. pappy2d

    Bought the Plymouth version new in 1980. It was my wife’s car, and had an easy life.
    The ignition module in the distibutor was a proprietary piece, only available at the dealer. 250 American dollars. In less than 50K easy miles, the clutch and head gasket shot craps. One of these was plenty.

  12. Brad Clark

    I sold a few of these while being a salesman at a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Lexington, KY. They were very well built, with superb fit and finish. The 2.6 liter engine was also a “Hemi”. We had a blue & silver one, fully loaded, out the door, for under $9K, which was a lot of money in those days. I recall that the sound the doors made when closing reminded me of a refrigerator; very solid. And when the key was left in the ignition, it was not an annoying electronic buzz, but REAL bells that went “ding-dong”. The switch gear was positive and reassuring. Rear wheel drive. A super nice car, for sure.

  13. Mark-A

    My neighbours used to have a UK ‘B’ Registration (84/85ish) Black 2.0 Turbo which was a flying machine at the time, always loved the Frameless door windows as this wasn’t common in the UK (Opel Manta & Subaru were about the only makers which used them). Wasn’t the 2.0ltr Turbo the same engine that became the Evo one in later life?

  14. JoeNYWF64

    Has honda ever had a sporty 2 door ANYTHING with FRAMELESS side glass, much less a true hardtop where the side rear windows roll all the way down, like on this Sapporo??!!
    Toyota did with its mid ’70’s Celica. No excuse, Honda!
    I think the proportions of this car are just perfect!
    My only issue was its dodge cousin’s NAME.

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