Twin-Stick 8-Speed: 1981 Dodge Colt

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In the 1970s, Ford and Chevrolet countered the small car “invasion” led by Volkswagen by developing new products of their own. That led to the Pinto and Vega which combined for five million cars that decade. Chrysler went the other direction, using badge-engineered versions of Japanese subcompacts. One of those was the Dodge Colt, which first arrived in 1971. This example from 1981 had one prior owner and is in good condition for its age. And it comes with an unusual transmission with eight forward gears. Located in Boulder Creek, California, this little gem is available here on craigslist and can be yours for just $2,850. An interesting “Mopar” tip from Tony Primo!

During its run from 1971 to 1994, the Dodge Colt was a product of Mitsubishi Motors. Plymouth would get in on the act with the Champ and their own Colt. At first, the cars were based on the rear-wheel-drive Galant and Lancer Japanese models but later shifted to front-wheel-drive with the Mirage platform in 1979. By that time, Chevy had moved on to the Chevette and Ford was about to launch the Escort.

The fourth generation of the Colt (including this ’81) was powered by a 1.4-liter inline-4 which later grew to 1.6 liters. Something of a novelty was the Colt’s optional “Twin-Stick” 4-speed manual transmission. It employed a 2-speed transfer case that gave the driver eight forward gears and two reverse gears. This sounds rather quirky, and I’ve not seen one of these. Have any of our readers owned one of these Dodges and – if so – how did they drive? The 1981 model year saw the Colt’s greatest sales at more than 84,000 3-door hatchbacks.

We’re told the seller was gifted this car from its original owner, so that would make it a two-owner survivor. In recent years, it’s only been used for weekend outings and the seller has decided to sell due to having too many vehicles. The seller says it runs well at 96,000 miles and there is no mention of any major mechanical work having been done. The body and paint are good except for one gouge by the passenger side headlight area.

We don’t get to see much of the interior, but it looks rather spartan as you would expect for an economy car of the era. If you’re looking for cheap transportation and something the guy next door doesn’t have, would this 43-year-old Japanese-built Dodge fit the bill?

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  1. Driveinstile DriveinstileMember

    As a kid growing up we had a family friend that had one identical to this one, same color even. It was neat with the twin stick. The low and high range ( power and econmy) were synchronized so you could shift on the fly. I dont remember a huge difference in gear ratios but then again I was about 8 years old and just thought the twin stick setup was cool for that time period.

    Like 17
    • Ron from MnMember

      A friend of mine had one

      Like 0
    • CalXR

      Same story! Although it was my aunt and it was blue. I was fascinated by manual transmissions, trying to figure “the rules” of my family’s Honda and BMW, but the Twin Stick in my aunt’s car really threw me for a loop! If it wasn’t for the front end damage, I would be buying plane tickets right now for this piece of nostalgia (and starting to find a non-turbo 4G63 :p)

      Like 6
    • Dale V

      We had one . Take off on 1st then shift low to high the second and back the low and continue that pattern .just like today’s 8 speeds lol it was a fun car

      Like 0
      • nlpnt

        You could split-shift it. Most people kept it in “Power” running through all 4 gears and then shifted into “Economy”, treating it like an overdrive.

        Like 2
    • Scott Abercrombie

      I bought a new 1980 Plymouth Champ with the twin stick. It was a two tone gold with alloy wheels. I think it was $6500 out the door. I consistently got 50 MPG on the highway in economy mode. As far as the twin stick goes, after the novelty wore off, I didn’t use it that much

      Like 0
  2. Nevada1/2rack Nevada1/2rackMember

    An analog 2 speed transfer case manual 8 speed forward gearbox with 2 speeds in reverse, replete with CB radio.

    This epitomized the ‘80’s car industry.

    It’d be a unique commuter beyond a doubt.

    Like 23
    • CalXR

      The thing I like about ’80s cars is nobody knew what they were doing. Everyone had a crazy idea to try and even though many didn’t work great they’re fun to experience. Unless get into legitimate exotics, everything made in the last 20 or 25 years is just the same formula. Yeah, Bluetooth and Qi and FSD are neat or whatever, but I’m talking about Hurst Lightning Rods, single spoke steering wheels, and turbo rotaries.

      Like 8
  3. G Lo

    I drove one of these for 3 years back in the late ’80s. It was perfect-good performer for low-speed about town, and great performer on the highway for fuel mileage and stealth characteristics (despite my heavy foot, I was never pulled over while driving it). If this was close to me I would already own it despite the color. Unlikely that this one has A/C.

    Like 11
    • Bob

      I had the Plymouth champ,great car,great on gas,the power economy stock was useful in Pennsylvania

      Like 0
      • Biff Grouter

        I had one, same color, had a sun roof, pulled my 16′ ski boat with it. Zippy little car.

        Like 1
  4. JMB#7

    My brother bought one new around 1982. I drove it several times. Performance was much better than I would have expected. Same color and had the twin stick. My opinion is that the twin stick made a big difference since you just aren’t dealing with that much power to begin with. Supposedly his was an optional sport package. It cornered respectably for a front driver of that time. But in long sweepers (entrance ramps) it would progressively lean to standards that we were not yet familiar with due to our rear wheel drive experience. Fun car, glad to see a few are still around.

    Like 23
  5. MMAK

    I have not owned one but have repaired, maintained a handful of them in the late eighties. The car felt spritely after getting up moderate road speeds but the engine (as I recall) lacked torque; in other words, the performance was substandard to a Golf or Rabbit as they were known, for example. The transfer case function was rarely used by the owners I interacted with, yet the car was light and miserly with fuel. We are due for another “invasion” to stem the tide of behemouthization of trucks and SUVs.

    Like 20
    • Nelson C

      Torque. I don’t know if my ’92 was the same but it’s 1.5 litre made about 92 hp from the same CID. Step on it from a stop got nothing but rolling into the throttle made that little car fly. Saw an indicated 105 and still had pedal. Trouble was the car was getting lift, too.

      Like 8
    • SubGothius

      > The transfer case function was rarely used by the owners I interacted with.

      Because it really only made sense to use it for cruising at highway speeds. In actual practice, most drivers would keep the transfer-case stick in Power mode for regular street driving, then shift it into Economy mode for highway cruising. It was basically a stop-gap solution for Mitsubishi to offer an overdrive ratio during the gas-crisis era until they could develop a proper 5-speed

      Like 4
      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNWMember

        That reminds me of the operation of the 6 speed stick in my ’99 Camaro Z/28.

        The first 5 gears were for acceleration and 6th was for highway cruising only. That is probably how the LS-1 got such impressive cruising mileage.

        Like 2
  6. Car Nut Tacoma

    Lovely looking car. I had a neighbour when I was a boy who drove a 1980-81 Dodge Colt. I never saw the interior of the car, so I don’t recall whether his had a twin stick gearbox, or a single 4-spd. gearbox.

    Like 4
  7. Ivar Widgren

    Bought one new in ’79. Black with gold stripe, same interior. Fun to drive! Start out 1st under to 2nd under then 2 overdrive then push both shifters forward at the same time. That put you in 3rd under then to 3rd over. Typically you already surprised whoever was beside you. So you just eased it into 4th over. Very peppy little car. Consistently ran mid 30 mpg in town and mid 40’s on the open road (remember 55 mph speed limit in those days)

    Like 0
  8. MK

    I owned one. This is less about the car and more about Lee Iacocca. Lee had an advertising campaign ” Try one of our cars for 30 days: if you don’t like it, we’ll take it back and refund your money.” An earnest plea from a failing company. I bought the Plymouth version of the twin stick Mitsubishi. About three weeks later, I did take it back to the dealer and asked for my money back. They refused it, saying it was now a used car and they wouldn’t take it back. I left the car right there. The regional manager said he couldn’t tell the dealer what to do. So, I wrote Iacocca. Within a week that same regional manager called and said that my check was waiting at the dealer ship. Iacocca’s word was good.

    Like 54
    • Joseph J. Salas

      Cool story, some models from
      The Chrysler/Mitsubishi lineup
      about this time did
      least some cool sporty models
      (Daytona/Starion for example)
      but, we’re manufacturing those
      Godawful sedans/wagons too,
      Think they were called KCars!?
      I’ll admit, the ’80s was my high
      school times..driving and all!?!.
      Miss those time though, cool!!!.

      Like 7
  9. Glenn Hilpert

    Have seen this car For Sale from same owner several times within the past 18 months or so. Based on the location and or how long the vehicle has been there, I’m guessing rust issues or Calif smog problems. The car appears clean and in decent shape especially with an affordable price.

    Like 9
  10. Shelbydude

    Had an exact duplicate that I drove for several years beginning in 1980. The twin stick was not really practical to use as an 8 speed transmission. The second to third shift combined with the high-low gears made speed shifting almost impossible, and little if any gain with respect to maintaining the power band. I generally used the 4 speed in low range for city driving and then shifted to high range once up to freeway speed. Otherwise, I could drop from high range (Econ) to low range (Power), if I felt I needed just a bit more oomph to pass, or perhaps on an uphill slope. Bottom line: essentially a 5 speed.

    Like 17
    • Danny E

      So say you’re on 4th gear on the P (low) range doing 40 mph and wanted to upshift into the Economy higher range, do you shift into first gear on the main stick again, which would technically become 5th? Like on a semi?

      Like 0
      • Shelbydude

        No… you would stay in 4th gear and shift from Power to Economy. Based on some research, I have determined the effective overall gear ratio in each of the four forward gears in Power and Economy mode:

        FD ratio Power – 5.295 Econ – 4.1
        Gear raio Overall ratio Overall ratio
        1st 2.769 14.66 11.35
        2nd 1.55 8.21 6.36
        3rd 0.961 5.09 3.94
        4th 0.724 3.83 2.99

        And FWIW, here is the overall ratio for reverse.
        Rev 2.692 14.25 11.04

        Like 2
  11. Marques Dean

    My mother had one! She bought a 1984 Dodge Colt DL(Deluxe) 3 door hatchback with the 4-speed “TwinStick” transmission. Her Colt had a Beige exterior with a brown interior. The Beige exterior had a black pinstripe with a red pinstripe above it. Riding in that car was lot of fun as a kid! The one time I saw push that car to the limit was when she was rushing me to the hospital when I broke my arm-up until that point I had never seen her drive that car above 65 mph in Illinois-she got it up to 80 mph going to the hospital!!!My father borrowed her car to get to work one day,at the time he was driving a 1984 Nissan Pulsar NX coupe that was laid up for repairs at the dealership-he was jealous because her car had more power than his-and he had a 5-speed manual transmission to boot!!LOL
    That car lasted until 1989 when Mom traded it in on a brand new 1990 Nissan Stanza!
    Back then Mitsubishi was becoming a household name in the USA.

    Like 12
    • Jon Calderon

      Wouldn’t be something to see a Stanza, or Toyota Cressida on BF?

      Like 4
  12. Patrice Murphy

    So I had an 83 Colt GTS with the twin stick, suspension technique springs, Bilstein shocks and struts, fulda y2000 tires, add on gauges, lowered and now?
    I really miss that car!! Sold it because of a growing family.
    Not fast, but it went through corners at much higher speeds from the suspension mods.
    The twin stick was useful for short on ramps and was just plain cool.

    Like 9
  13. Ron

    I had one and drove from CT to WA. Quite a trip with myself and three kids. Across the plains high range all the time. Once I got in the mountains the hi/lo range was a game changer. Could keep the speed up all the time with that. Tremendous gas mileage, but back then you didn’t pay much attention to mpg. It was a good car and made it over 100k and sold it for $500 after owning it for 7 years.

    Like 13
  14. Marques Dean

    1984 was the last year for the “Twin Stick” transmission,as the Colt/Champ would transition to a new body style (again based on the Mitsubishi Mirage) and would have a choice between an automatic transmission and a 5-speed manual transmission. There was even a Colt Turbo version that was good for 105 horsepower-but not many of those were sold!
    In recent years the closest thing you could get to a economical hatchback from Stellantis was the 2012-2019 Fiat 500.

    Like 4
  15. Thomas

    My Dad bought a new 1980 Plymouth Champ with a 1.6 and Twin-stick as a commuter car. I bought it 3 years later with over 100K and proceeded to drive the daylights out of it!!

    The best version, in my opinion, came in 1984 with the Twin-stick 1.6 liter Dodge Colt Turbo, which was a great little “Pocket Rocket” as they were advertised!

    Like 0
  16. doddgepolara500

    Just contacted the seller. Sold for $2,700

    Like 18
    • G Gordon Shamway

      Thanks for Sharing Mr. Polara.

      Like 0
    • Woody

      Bummer! Was thinking of driving there, less than an hour away man! Let me add, Cowabanga to the new owner!👍

      Like 3
  17. rbig18

    My very first car at 16 was an exact duplicate of this right down to the color. I never used the twin sticks as I could hardly feel a difference. That engine never gave a minute of trouble. I too would have most likely purchased this for the memories if it had been closer.

    Like 5
  18. Ed

    The twin stick was amazing! My dad sold CP, I’m one of my very fondest memories was riding in a 1984 Colt turbo with twin stick. The low gears were very low, and the thing took off like a rocket ship. Under 2000 pounds, and a beastly boosted engine with crazy low gears. Weee!!

    Like 0
  19. Barto

    I owned an 84 Mitsubishi Tredia with a high/low shifter like this one. The half gear came in handy in the mountains of northern Arizona.

    Like 6
  20. CCFisher

    My sister had a Champ. I was used to Mom’s ’78 Grand Prix, with its numb steering, overboosted brakes, and hippopotamus handling. Driving the Champ, with its tight, unassisted steering, firm manual brakes, and slot-car handling, was a revelation. I finally understood what the “steering feel” was that all the magazines talked about. It went exactly where I pointed it, and I could actually feel the road surface through the wheel. This was also the car that helped me understand why Japanese manufacturers were making huge inroads in the US market at the time. It was flawlessly assembled, with many clever design details like an instrument cover designed to be invisible.

    Like 9
  21. Joe

    I had an 84 Turbo with the twin stick. What a blast to drive. Insane power for such a light car.

    Like 11
    • Jeff Shore

      I had a white one and still rue the day it was totaled, if I could find another one I would buy it. Was such a fun little car.

      Like 2
    • John

      Hope you had that decal in the rear window that said “Don’t step on the gas unless you really mean it!”

      Like 4
      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNWMember

        I remember that, now that you mentioned it. I thought that was pretty cool.

        Like 2
  22. AndyinMA

    My wife had 2 of these back in the 80s, very basic cars. I’ve seen how she treats and maintains cars, I can only conclude these little colts were TOUGH

    Like 7
    • Keith Riggs

      My first car was an ’83 Colt 4 door with the twin stick. And yes, you could feel the difference between performance mode and eco mode. It was a fun little car to drive on the twisty, winding hills of southern West Virginia. That is, until the transmission said no Mas! Liked it so much, that my second car was a ’87 Plymouth Sundance.

      Like 1
  23. John Whitehouse Sr.

    I had the ’81 Plymouth Champ, it was a great little car, got great gas mileage, I ran that car into the ground, the clutch and brakes went out in it and I junked it, it still ran great though, just wouldn’t move or stop, lol. I really couldn’t complain though, I got the car for free.

    Like 5
  24. Davey Boy

    A lot of stories about this car. About 35 years ago my baby mama had the rear wheel drive version of the Colt. Her mom gave it to her. Had quite a bit of pep for what it was. I drove it about 600 miles a week to work and back.(300 each way) and it performed great. No lag on hills or anything. Pretty cool body style also. Last year there was one here in S.L.C. that had a Chevy small block. It was tubbed and everything. It was done right but needed a couple things to finish it like a driveline which unfortunately is why I didn’t buy it. I had the money for the car but not enough to finish it. Very cool looking and built for the street as well as the strip. Something tells me it would’ve been a blast. Looks like this would be a good car at a good deal.

    Like 1
  25. Dave

    I had an 84 Turbo with the twin-stick. Seriously fast car for the times. Basically shifted it like a 5-speed. Start in “power” 1st gear, rev to 3,000 rpms and smoke the tires. Quick shift to 2nd, where you might still get a little tire chirp. After you got to “power” 4th, put in the clutch and move the other gear selector to Economy for “5th” gear.

    Like 1
  26. Aussie Dave Aussie DaveMember

    Ahh, the Mitsubishi Colt. The Mitsubishi Nimbus had the same gear boxes, but when you selected 5th, it stayed in 4th and changed to the other “diff”
    Loved the Nimbus, actually owned 2 at the same time, and the 2nd one’s rego was LIMO 11, swapped it to my Fairlane.

    Like 3
    • Figgy308

      So did the Cordia, but only non-turbo I think. Then keeping the turbo on the boil would have been fun. My mum had the 8 speed, something to keep you left arm busyt.

      Like 0
  27. Lovin' Old Cars!

    This appears to be one hell of a bargain!

    Like 0
  28. AzzuraMember

    Bought a new 79 Champ for the wife to daily drive. Had the 8 speed. Same story as others, low range for around town, hi range for open road. Where the car did excel was at the local autocross. Increase the tire pressure, keep it in low range 1st and 2nd and haul a**! Won two years in a row. Of course there weren’t very many entries in the FWD class. After one year, the engine gave up. Bought a new 81 Colt, gave it to the wife. It lasted several years with her driving it. By that time I was autocrossing an Opel GT with very little success. Still a hoot though. I’d like to have an 8 speed Champ again, if for no other reason than nostalgia.

    Like 2
  29. Marshall

    My wife and I bought a 1981 Plymouth Champ, our first new car. It was red with silver pinstripes, red interior and the twin stick transmission. It was an absolute blast to drive. Would run through the gears in power then shift into economy. Fun little car to drive, my older brother said it felt a lot like his old MBG because it was so much fun and handled really well for an economy car. Drove it to Ohio, from Connecticut to visit my other brother, and averaged 44mpg with it! Only reason we traded it in was because we had a baby coming and that little car definitely didn’t have the room needed for a little one. If I lived closer to it, I would love to check it out. Guarantee you won’t see another one at your local cruise night!

    Like 4
  30. Russell C

    My dad bought his ’82 Plymouth Champ new, I got it in ’88, drove it ’til I totaled it in ’94 (nobody hurt except the car, thank goodness). Anemic, yes, I had it pegged at 85mph once going downhill with a tailwind. Gear #8 made the engine less buzzy at normal highway speeds. Had my fun in front of a small audience another time, at a long dead end street where I needed to back up out of there — did it at a rather high rate of speed and shifted gears to go faster. Reverse gears are noisy, a couple of the guys there must have been wondering how I could do a gear change.

    Like 2
  31. HoA HoAMember

    You can just tell by the comments, Americans were hungry for an econobox then. Seems Chrysler was always behind the game, and while the others actually tried, Chrysler merely imported cars from their foreign holdings. The Omni was way overdue. I think one Asian car was pretty much like any other, except this had the Chrysler name, and true Chrysler fans had little choice. I had a neighbor that had the Champ, I don’t think he ever got gas for it, his was an automatic, I think, I don’t remember it having 2 sticks, and besides, all you trucker wannabes, it’s no RoadRanger, and “8th” I believe was merely an O/D. I can’t help but think however, some guy got the semi driving job because he had a “twin-shtick” Dodge..

    Like 0
    • PRA4SNW PRA4SNWMember

      Chrysler DID have an econobox – the Omnirizon. But, they always had an imported alternative – I remember the Plymouth Cricket frim the early 70’s – so they could offer an alternative if you absolutely did not want American made.

      It was a smart move – different strokes for different folks.

      Like 0
  32. Henry

    The only car I ever bought new was a blue 82 Colt for 5200. We drove it for over 100,000 miles before selling it for a fraction of what we paid for it. That included a couple trips Coast to Coast and two to Mexico. I remember it had four lug 13 inch wheels because I had a flat one Sunday morning on the way to church and changed the tire in just over 4 minutes. Simple and great cars!

    Like 2
  33. DLO

    My uncle had one just like this. He took out the passenger seat and rear seat and then installed a bed. He drove from Minnesota to Arizona and stopped to sleep whenever he got tired. It fit him perfectly. He was a real self taught engineer and loved that car. He always said the answer to mpg was the transmission.

    Like 1
  34. Brian Allen Snow

    I had a 1981 it was red and black 2 tone it was the sport model I used to tell people I had a 10 speede 8 forward two reverse I used to auto cross it against Volkswagen’s and Honda’s I had a great time using both second gears. And won a few events.

    Like 2
  35. Car Nut Tacoma

    Is this car front-wheel drive, or rear-wheel drive? I was way too young to drive a car during the time this car was on the market, so I have no way of knowing one way or another.

    Like 0
  36. CalXR

    Front. The 4th gen Colt/Champ was based on the FWD Mitsubishi Mirage whereas the 3rd gen Colt was based on the RWD Lancer & Galant.

    Like 2
  37. MGB Guy

    I also had one of these and echo all of the comments. Very reliable and great gas mileage….I also had the dual stick and used it as described. Drove it while in the Navy in Norfolk and later in DC when I entered CIA. I was driving downtown DC as a surveillant for a training exercise and had a slight fender bender in almost the exact same spot as this car. I believe I removed the hood and straightened it out a bit….I later bought a used Mirage which was the next body style – a standard 5 speed

    Like 2
  38. Jim

    Bought one new. Great little car.
    Twin stick gave “power” or “economy” mode. 1600 CC engine hade a “hemi” style combustion chamber and had a lot of pep in power mode. Drove and handled well for what it was. Better car than a Vega, Chevette, Pinto, or Escort.

    Like 1
  39. John

    My family had five of these, all new. 1979, 80, 81, 83 and an ’87 that we finally retired last year with well over 200k miles. Good vehicles all, fun and thrifty. It became difficult to find certain parts of course, and I could have bought any of them but kept I my V8 mopar fetish too long.

    Like 4
  40. AzzuraMember

    In conclusion, seems like a lot of people here have had experience with the twin shift Colt/Champs. And all seem favorable. Which begs the question, why aren’t cars of this ilk manufactured anymore? It was thrifty, low initial buy in, dependable and fun. Our current situation would benefit from such an offering. As I have come to realize, automobiles are not made to satisfy populist wants and demands, but to maximize corporate profits. Hence the advent of oversized, fuel guzzling, option loaded, disposable land yachts. I think the same reasoning applies to little pickups such as the ones that were initially made in the 70’s and 80’s. Large corporations are shoving what they want us to own down our throats. It’s all about the profits!

    Like 3
    • Shelbydude

      I tend to disagree. In 1980, I paid $6,000 for my Colt (with twin stick – no A/C). According to BLS, that same $6,000 would be worth about $24,000 today. So what can you get for $24,000? Here is a list of 2024 models with MSRP under $24,000: Nissan Versa: $16,390; Mitsubishi Mirage: $16,695; Hyundai Venue: $19,900; Kia Forte: $19,990; Kia Soul: $20,190; Chevrolet Trax: $20,400; Nissan Sentra: $20,890; Nissan Kicks: $21,050; Volkswagen Jetta: $21,435; Hyundai Elantra: $21,625; Toyota Corolla: $22,050; Buick Envista: $22,400; Subaru Impreza: $22,995; Chevrolet Trailblazer: $23,100; Ford Maverick: $23,815; Honda Civic: $23,950; Volkswagen Taos: $23,995. So, adjusted for inflation, there appears to be a long list of comparable cars for about the same money.

      And if you are willing to go another $1,000: Mazda3: $24,170; Hyundai Kona: $24,250; Kia Seltos: $24,490; Honda HR-V: $24,600; Subaru Legacy: $24,895; Mazda CX-30: $24,995.

      Note: the Mitsubishi Mirage at under $17K. the 2024 Mitsubishi Mirage has seating for five, 39 mpg combined, and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. If you’d prefer the G4 sedan, the MSRP jumps to a still very reasonable $17,795. I don’t recall my 1980 Colt having such a warranty, or anywhere near the current warranty.

      Like 2
      • CalXR

        5000 1980 dollars is like 18000 2024 dollars. $24000 today is closer to $6500 in 1980, so would be quite a bit more than a Colt was.

        Still, these cars do exist, Americans just don’t buy them so manufacturers stop selling them here. The Fit and Fiesta were legitimately good cars, but they didn’t sell well and got dropped. Americans want bigger cars with more luxury and they’re (incredibly) willing to finance cars at 7% over seven or eight years to get it. People are on average paying over $700/mo for a car these days.

        Seems bananas to me, but my DD turns 40 in a couple months, so what do I know?

        Like 3

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