Mighty No More: 1978 Dodge Challenger

Here is a second generation Dodge Challenger that is located in Lyle, Washington. The car is advertised here on Facebook Marketplace for $3,500. Painted in red with a tan interior, the Challenger looks to be in good condition for its age. I don’t think I have seen one of these on the street in 50 years. If I have, I probably mistook it for a run of the mill import.

With the first generation Challenger ending production in 1974, Dodge sourced this car from Mitsubishi who sold the car in Japan as the Mitsubishi Sapporo or Mitsubishi Scorpion. Plymouth sold the same car as the Plymouth Sapporo. At least, they had the decency not to call it a Barracuda!

Of course, this car was not targeted at the muscle car segment but it was meant to compete with the Honda Prelude, Toyota Celica and Nissan 200SX. This car is equipped with the larger of the engine options, a 2.6 liter SOHC inline 4 cylinder engine. It produced 105 horsepower while the base 1.6 liter engine only produced 77 horsepower.

The seller states that this car is in original condition and has just over 98,000 miles. It is equipped with a 5 speed manual transmission and as full gauges and several other options. So in 8 years Dodge went from offering a Hemi Challenger with 425 horsepower to this economical commuter car. Times change so I am glad we are back to 800 horsepower Challengers!

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  1. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    That’s a great find, Bruce! It’s a crying shame that there are only four photos (sigh) and basically only one side of the car is shown, and no engine photo or driver’s side interior, or underside, or, or, or… But it is 2020 when ads are getting worse not better. I would love to have this car if it wasn’t for $1,500 in shipping costs.

    Like 10
  2. Bob S

    We have some of the greatest minds in the USA when it comes to marketing, but for some reason when it comes to the auto industry, they drop the ball. I’ve said it before, but you can’t rebadged an import with an iconic American name! The most recent I recall would be the Holden Manaro rebadged as a GTO. Had they called that anything else, you’d see a lot more of them on the road than what you do, and they were very decent for what they were. I’ve ridden and driven these Challengers before, and the segment that they played in, they were competitive. Too far away, or I’d be interested.

    Like 4
  3. Miguel

    The name aside, I would love to have this car to play with.

    I have an affinity for the Mitsubishi Chrysler products.

    Like 5
  4. PaulG

    Nice find, funny how these basically have disappeared. Bruce, the reason you have not seen one in 50 years is because 50 years ago was1970…

    Like 14
  5. Rustytech

    They all disappeared because the unibody frame rails rusted Right under the rear seats. In states that used salt it only took 3 to 4 years. They were fun to drive especially with the manual transmission. This looks like a nice driver, but check the frame carefully.

    Like 5
  6. Mike

    Would this have been faster or slower than a first-generation Challenger with a slant six? I’m guessing the Mitsubishi Challenger would have handled better.

    Like 4
  7. Ken Jennings

    Don’t pick on this car, it was a car for its time. Remember (if you are old enough), that the price of gas had just doubled, and no one knew if it was or wasn’t going to happen again. The old big block Challengers were give away items, no one wanted them at all. Dealers many times refused to take them in trade, and if they did, gave almost nothing for them, and then had them sitting for months in the back lot. People often paid over sticker for cars like this, dealers got away with that crap. Also, have you ever driven one of these? Smooth and peppy for its day, plus I have always loved the dashes on them. Unfortunately, the rusting problem was horrible, so they were soon gone.

    Like 9
    • Mike

      Really good was the experience that I had with the car. The 2.6 liter 4 was indeed pretty darn potent. This engine/transmission went on to power the Conquest/Starion, both of which were terrific performers. Another similar car was the Plymouth Arrow – which looked just as nice. Rear wheel drive also. If you’ll notice, nowadays rear wheel drive is reserved for a performance cars a difference that is also usually a costly option. The engine design (MCA-Jet) was very smooth since it had a counterbalance shaft design – rumored to have had its design bought by Porsche (who knows why). Apparently many folks forget that there were in fact cars that did get 35+ MPG, these were some of those, even with a carbureted 2.6 that had am excellent service record. I suppose any manufacturer can make a good engine if it chooses to; Mitsubishi went on to furnish a terrible 4 cylinder in a Hyundai Excel (awful track record). Anyway very good cars with difficult o find parts (pre internet), but didn’t need them (just fuel pumps)…

  8. Mitchell Member

    That interior tho

    Like 1
  9. alphasud Member

    I maybe wrong but the Mitsubishi 2.6 had a hemispherical combustion chamber which would make it a true Hemi challenger!

    Like 7
    • David Skinner

      You are absolutely correct.The 2.6 Anstron motor makes it a Hemi Challenger.

      Like 6
  10. Geoff

    Love the disco Stu interior. Chrysler was chewing off it arms and legs to try and survive at that time. Desperate times make for desperate measures.

    Like 3
  11. Howard A Member

    The US auto industry sunk to a new low, like the Mustang ll, we were horrified, THIS is the new Challenger? Barry Newman never would have made it through the desert, and that movie just wouldn’t have been the same with this. Ken is right though, this was next thing, whether we liked it or not, and by Asian car standards, they really were good cars, just a poor choice for a name. Of course, like all these cars, rust made for short work , and many didn’t last 5 years in the salt. A great find, and I bet some kid, who just got they’re new Challenger, and never heard of this, wouldn’t believe it. Can you imagine their surprise when this garners more attention than their new 800hp beast.

    Like 7
    • Bob_in_TN Member

      Interesting point Howard. I like new Challengers, but at a car show yesterday I walked right past several of them to see older, more unique vehicles…. two examples being a rusty Studebaker Lark and a Model A fire truck (driven regularly).

      If this was at a show I would certainly look it over. Love the plaid upholstery and that l-o-n-g shifter.

      Like 7
      • SDJames

        Bob Barker’s microphone! LOL

        Like 3
  12. Superdessucke

    Great relic from the Chrysler captive import era. Originally it was called the Colt Challenger. In retrospect, they should have just called it the Colt Coupe or something. But to be fair, the Challenger name did not have the legendary status in 1977 as it does now. When this was introduced, you could have purchased a 1970 Challenger R/T for less than a grand.

    But it wasn’t a bad little car. This and the Sapporo were rebadged Mitsubishi Galant Lambdas. It’s amazing to see one in this condition now because, like most mid-to-late 1970s Japanese cars, they rusted very quickly. I don’t think I’ve seen one of these on the road in 30 years.

    • Miguel

      Super, more than a few people have mentioned the rust problem.

      Well these didn’t rust in California, but they are still non existent there.

      If I remember correctly one of the biggest problem these Mitsubishis had was the carburetor. These cars had to be smogged in California and it was hard to keep that carb working in any sort of way.

      Like 2
    • bone

      If it wasn’t the rust out here in the Northeast, it was the 2.6 engines grenading . I think they could run forever if you just drove it, but if you beat on it they didn’t last long.

      Like 1
  13. CCFisher

    When Dodge decided to put the Challenger name on this car in 1976 or 1977, the original Challenger was just a used car from a performance era that nobody expected to return. They probably felt no need to preserve its legacy, or perhaps they thought they were preserving its legacy by attaching the name to a sporty car more in tune with what buyers wanted at the time.

    Footnote: I believe the rear windows in these cars retract. I remember checking one out when my college commuter X11 was on its last legs, and it had four window switches on the driver’s door.

    Like 1
    • SDJames

      Or perhaps they were reusing the name to get the guys who were 20 in 1970 (who were now 28, had jobs and families) to buy one. Much like this car, they knew their “performance” days were over.

      Like 1
  14. Car Nut Tacoma

    Sweet looking car. It’s been ages since I saw these Mitsubishi based Dodge Challengers. I remember seeing one of these, and an earlier (1970-74) Dodge Challenger, parked across the lot from one another. I was way too young at the time to drive a car, but I knew something was different between the two cars. I remember pointing to the later (Mitsubishi based) Dodge Challenger and saying “*That’s not* a Challenger!” and then pointing to the earlier Challenger and saying “*That’s* a Challenger!”. :)

  15. pacekid

    Awesome car! I owned the sister to this as a Plymouth Sapporo it was fun to drive and much more solid then the other gas stingy four bangers out there. Mine was deep metallic blue with a blue cloth and vinyl interior. I put 150,000 miles on mine and the first set of brakes lasted for 126,000 miles. I liked downshifting a lot. It was a very good car for the times. I would put it one step down from a 260Z which out everythinged one of these. The Challenges interior choices were just plain cruel compared to the Sapporo. It was the best American economy car, (Mitsubishi) out there at the time.

    Like 1
  16. Rich Whitting

    Too bad it doesn’t have the twin stick option. Owned a 1979 Plymouth Champ and a 1981 Dodge Colt, both with the twin stick. Loads of fun and very peppy. Both performed very well in autocross.

  17. MicahHuskie

    As a 30yo with a penchant for both Muscle Cars and Classic Japanese, a gen 2 Challenger/Sapporo is certainly on my list of love-to-haves! (I’m sure very few other people share that sentiment :) Ah… so cheap, but so far away. This would look perfect with a set of the non-Fed Sapporo bumpers and a set of Work Ewing or Equip wheels, …and even better parked next to my Opel Manta project~

    Like 1
  18. Rob Hoover

    My wife and bought one of these just before we got married in 1980. Of course it was pre-owned but very low mileage and looked like new. I loved it! The wife never learned to drive a stick shift!! But what a fun car. Ours was silver and black and I think the plaid interior might have been silver, black and red. (Hey, it was 40 years ago!) But I do remember how much we liked the car. It was zippy, handled well and was comfortable. When I finally decided to sell it, my brother jumped at it. He loved it for many more years after we did! Great little car!

  19. Craig Marquis

    I bought a white with brown 1981 Challenger new for $8300 with cruise control and air conditioning added as dealer installs. (Dealer installed meant sending back to the Port of Houston to have them added).
    It was uncommon enough to garner attention.

    Most late 70’s early 80’s cars rusted. I had it rustproofed when it was new, knowing I was moving to the Gulf Coast. It was always garaged, kept clean and waxed. I did not have any rust issues.

    It was a good and reliable vehicle. Issues I had in five years of ownership were – shifter had a hard plastic ball that deteriorated. Removed and replaced shifter. Easy and inexpensive fix.
    Fuel pump diaphragm failed and was pumping oil out the vent hole. Removed the pump, made a cover to block the hole and replaced with an electric fuel pump near the tank.
    Fun car to drive and had more acceleration than other small four cylinder cars of the time.

    I later bought a 1986 Dodge D50. Also trouble free during ownership.

    Would I had preferred a 70’s Challenger, or Duster? Yes.
    Could I have afforded the gas? No.
    I sold a 68 Fairlane to buy the Challenger. The Failrlane had more power, handled worse and braked worse, but I liked it.

    As has been said, it was a car of the times.

  20. Christopher Gentry

    Would you look at all the comments. Wow. Obviously a lot of folks like me like the forgotten cars. I agree , a product of its time , but I’m the guy who actually likes Mustang II s. What I can’t abide is the new Mach E. If they called it anything else. Maybe a maverick :) I might like it. But Mach E seems like a giant insult to their own car. Maybe history will prove me wrong. But sure hope not

  21. Bob White

    I bought a brown 79 Challenger in the mid 80’s when I was 17. I remember the “new” to me car smell and the funny sounding chimes. The insurance was pretty high as apparently I had the big block 2.6 (lol). Other than rust and not having air conditioning, it seemed like a pretty good car. I kept it for about a year before I sold it when I went into the military.

  22. CVPanther Member

    Horrible things, this is as much of an insult to the Challenger name as the Mustang II’s were to theirs.

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