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Twin-Stick Gas Sipper! 1981 Plymouth Champ

Capable of a claimed 40 MPG, this 1981 Plymouth Champ in Rogue River, Oregon might pay for itself in short order compared to that Yukon XL you’re driving today. The Mitsubishi-built economy hatchback might be one paint job or polish away from being called a standout survivor. With barely any rust and a nicely-kept interior, the little front-driver may have served time as a motorhome tow-behind, judging from the under-bumper mounts at the front. I’d consider it for that purpose myself, considering a tow dolly would elevate the drive wheels, and its one-ton weight comes in about as light as any all-weather vehicle you can tow. Check out more pictures and details here on Craigslist. The $2500 asking price appears to buy a tidy gas-saver with 54,000 miles on the clock and plenty of life left to give. Thanks to reader Pat L. for spotting this imported Plymouth.

I owned one of these, a 1984 Dodge Colt GTS Turbo, and the manual steering and brakes delivered a tactile driving experience unlike any new vehicle. With no computers or power boosters in the way, you feel the road and the threshold of brake lockup communicating data to your brain, making it easy to sense what’s happening on the road. I must have taught at least a half-dozen people how to drive a standard transmission in my Colt. It was the perfect teaching tool, with a light clutch and dainty dimensions.

Mitsubishi’s Twin Stick gearbox features two ranges. I couldn’t find ratios, but I’m assuming “Power” makes fourth gear 1:1 and Economy renders fourth gear (only) an Overdrive for better highway mileage. I used “Power” in metropolitan Pittsburgh and “Economy” on the open road.

Based on my Colt rear bumper’s propensity to rust annually, I predict few hidden rust concerns on this Champ. Dull paint suggests mostly outdoor storage, making the lack of a sunroof a giant plus. While hatchbacks have fallen out of favor in America, their flexible folding rear seats and large cargo opening lends a utility that comes to the rescue when called upon to swallow large objects you’ll never fit in a small car with a trunk.

The carbureted 1.4L inline four makes, well, 64 HP, but the car only weighs about 2000 lb. For context the 1981 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 made a mere 175 HP from its 5.7L (350 cid) V8. Roughly speaking, the Camaro hit 60 MPH in 2/3 the time required for the Champ (9 seconds vs 13) while consuming twice as much fuel. Thanks to Automobile-catalog for some details. I keep a list of possible RV-tow-along vehicles and I’m adding this one today. How long would it take this lightweight Champ to pay for itself compared to your daily driver?


  1. alphasud Member

    At $2500 and with fuel prices on the left coast being $6 and more I’m surprised this is still up on CL. The mechanicals from the colt were used on the Hyundai Excel. The excel engine got the burden of more emissions and a displacement change to 1.5L. The twin stick design carried on using a vacuum servo for “5th” gear. Wouldn’t take much to modify the twin stick to make it a true high-low range transmission. Truck drivers take note.

    Like 9
  2. Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    That’s a winner for sure, I spend $2,500 a year on mustache wax for cryin’ out loud, this is an absolute steal in 2022. Nice find, Pat, and great write-up, Todd! That’s a great question about how long would it take to make up $2,500 in today’s gas prices. It would take a month-and-a-half for me if I drove my 14 mpg winter beast, figuring 40,000 miles a year, or five months with my regular road trip car at 35 mpg.

    Like 14
    • Pat L Member

      That must be quite the handlebar moustache Scotty!

      Like 6
      • Scotty Gilbertson Staff

        Ha, it’s bigger than my shoulders are, but that wouldn’t take much.

        Like 3
  3. Raoul-F Raoul-F Member

    I owned one…the lever for power and economy affects all gears!! So you have an 8 speed gearbox! Same for reverse!

    Like 15
  4. Raoul-F Raoul-F Member

    The Super Shift transmission, also marketed as Twin-Stick, was a manual transaxle transmission developed by Mitsubishi Motors in the late 1970s and used in a limited number of the company’s road cars, most of which were manufactured in the 1980s. It was unusual in that it had 8 forward speeds in a 4×2 arrangement. It essentially installed a “married” overdrive unit to its manual transmission, something rare in a production vehicle of this type.

    Like 7
  5. Cooter914 Cooter914 Member

    If it wasn’t on the other side of the country from here I’d already be on my way.

    Like 9
  6. Don H

    Rambler had a twin stick also.

    Like 5
  7. Fred W

    I sure enjoyed mine back in the day, it was a blast to drive

    Like 5
  8. Raoul-F Raoul-F Member

    37mpg… :-)

    Like 1
    • Motorcityman Member

      R u sure its only 37 mpg??

      I get 41 mpg with my 2009 Chevy Cobalt manual “XFE” model (Xtra Fuel Efficient)
      And it’s heavier and 2.0 liter with about 135 hp.

      • Raoul-F Raoul-F Member

        We in Austria, Europe often drove to Germany…no speed limit on the German Autobahn. Was driving hours on full speed. Approx. 100 mph. Average consumption 37 mpg ..of course, on normal roads this can easily increase..was a fine car, but having rust issues

        Like 1
  9. Big Bear 🇺🇸

    Had a 79 Dodge Colt 1600 twin stick. That was a fun ride. Install headers and Weber carb that really moved. I like the twin stick. Left it in power mode then once on the highway .. used the stick for Eco. Almost like a 5 speed. I am also surprised the Champ is not sold yet. 🇺🇸🐻

    Like 3
  10. Steve Weiman

    This one even has the upgraded cloth insert interior with a console. Probably has tach and gauges too. The aluminum valve cover calls this one out as the larger 1.6 L engine. These cars define driving a slow car fast, lots of fun even though they are quite gutless. I never touched anywhere near 40 mpg with the many examples I owned back in the day. However, they will get solid low 30s all the time.

    Like 4
  11. Brian Fulop

    This is a car you secretly want to own but dont want anyone to see you driving it. :)

    Like 7
    • Rick

      You just might be moped rider material. ;)

      Like 3
  12. ricky Whiting

    Bought a new 79 Champ. Autocrossed it. Won second in GS class that year. The people that dismissed these obviously never drove one.

    Like 5
  13. Rick

    Owned a new 79 Champ and a new 81 Colt. Both 1.6L and 8 speed twin shifter models. Both with allow wheels. Ran autocross with the 79 until the engine failed at 30K miles. Wife drove the 81 for many many miles without any problems. Great little cars, a lot roomier inside than you would think. The A/C was a little anemic but mirror window tint all around solved that problem. Liked the rear side windows that popped out. All in all, I thought they were great little cars for the time. Quick, inexpensive, well built.

    Like 4
  14. Jon67

    I had a Plymouth Champ twin to this car while I was in college. I loved that little car. It did everything I asked, and kept money in my pocket. I even managed to squeeze 7 people in it once. Did I mention that I’m 6’8″ and everywhere I went, people would crack up when I unfolded out of it? Good times…

    Like 1
  15. Russell C

    Had an ’82 until I stupidly totaled it. Lightweight car, but solid enough in the cowl area that I could drive it away (with angled front wheel) from a 30mph+ T-boning by a ’70s Caprice (his scrungy car looked no different after it whacked mine). Was fun to mess with peoples minds to be backing up somewhere and shift gears while doing so. The great gas mileage is from the weight and anemic engine. Fastest I ever had mine was pegged at 85 downhill on the freeway with a tailwind.

    Like 2
  16. Conrad A

    I knew a guy who had one of these back in the 90’s. I think it was an 81. It was light metallic blue. He was an installer for Verizon at the time, and the car was sitting without plates in the driveway of a house he had a job at. I think it only had 40,000 miles on it. He asked the woman who lived there if she would be selling it, and from another room, her husband yelled “I’m tired of that car taking up space in the driveway! Tell him he can have it for $400, just get it out of here!” Apparently it had belonged to the woman’s father who had passed away and these people didn’t need it. So he bought it. Drove it for years afterwards, and loved it. He did get quite a bit of ribbing about driving such a tiny car – another guy who knew him jokingly referred to it as “Fred Flintstone’s car” – but he didn’t care. He loved the great gas mileage…

    Like 3
  17. Tonywa28

    First new car was an 81 Champ twin stick. It was the highest trim level, bit still not much in the way of creature comforts. Lots of fun shifting through eight gears to amaze my friends (totally impractical, just for effect)… Had some significant torque steer, but it was perfect for me in my early twenties.

    Like 2
  18. chrlsful

    that auto-cat is great, no?!?
    Glad U got the Mitsu connection in. My fav was the next gen or so the lill wagon type thing OR may B 1 better the bigger box (in 1 guise the Eagle Summit) sorta like a better nissian stanza. All these I call the pre-mini mini vans (honda RT, wag-o-van; that ‘vista’, and more).

    Like 1
    • karl

      Here we go again….

  19. Marshall

    My wife and I bought an 81 Champ with the twin stick in it. It was a blast to drive! It weighed all of 1950 pounds and when we drove it to Ohio, from Connecticut, we averaged 44mpg! Loved that little car, but needed something a bit bigger for our daughter that was on her way! Would love to get another one, and you definitely do not see these things very often!

    Like 2
  20. Andrew

    This looks so much like a Honda City, I wonder if Plymouth had a deal with Honda.

  21. George Birth

    I won one for my Sister-in Law, she never drove before(didn’t even have a D/L) . She learned to drive on it, and loved that car.

  22. Psychofish2

    Compare this “Champ” to the Pacer and see what a sane designer could do.

    All the same basic elements in the front, in the profile, even the tail lights.

    Just a trimmer more sound and cohesive design all around.

    And it still looks good.

    Sort of like how the Aztek should have been what the Vibe was: rational.

    Like 1
  23. Danny V. Johnson

    I 1979 and’8, I ran SCCA Pro Rally in a Plymouth Champ/Dodge Colt/ Mitsubishi/Colt. I changed the badges, depending on where we were running. In ’79, found a few flaws but, after telling Chrysler Direct Connection about the issue, they were corrected, on my car and the ’80 and later models. The first Pro Rally that I ran was the Big Bend Bash, out of Alpine, Texas. the night before the rally, I received a telegram, for Mitsubishi, via Hendik Blok, Chrysler’s factory driver. The said, “The car was meant for rally. It will not finish.” Just what you want to hear the night before you first rally, in the car that you just built. Of course, they didn’t know what I di to beef up the suspension and protect part under the car. We finished fifteenth, over all and second, in the production class, behind a Plymouth Arrow.

    I finished second in the Pro Rally, Production class in 1980. We only had a budget to run half of the Pro Rally series. I built a duplicate car for Henrik Blok to run the Criterium World Cup Rally, In Canada. Hendrik was fearless and a great rally driver. He finished second overall an first in Group Two.

    We ran two years on the same engine. Part of that was thanks to my sponsor, 100 Blue Printed Synthetic Oil. They are tough little cars.

    Like 2
    • Danny V. Johnson

      I found that the twin stick really only had six gears that were usable on a rally. I got real good using both sticks together. A report, from Auto week, asked my navigator/wife, “Well I see you two got second in class on your first rally. How did Danny do with two stick sifts to deal with?” She said, “He was shifting and hand and left foot braking. His right hand hardly ever was on the steering wheel. I haven’t seen his hands move that fast since we were dating.” I heard her say that. My face was red, I’m sure. They printed her interview just like that. As they say ‘Print is print.’ We had two sponsors before we got home.

      Like 1
      • Tonywa28

        She’s a keeper!

      • Tonywa28

        She’s a keeper!

  24. Gary Woods

    Saw this barn find article last night wile looking for tranny specs on the 81 champ I was going to be buying today. Then I realized this is the 81 champ I was buying. Seller told me traffic picked up on craigslist yesterday. I would like to say I am the happy new owner of this great little car. And it is a 1.6L however no tachometer. But the fuel gauge is now magically working.

    Like 2
  25. man ' war

    Sweet! Reminds me of the 76 Chevette, 1.6L, 4spd that I bought in 2011 for $2,200, and drove for 6 years then ended up trading it for an 85 Jeep Wagoneer, 2.8L, 5spd. I also used to do that exact thing “keep track of the miles” with my 86 Mazda B2000, SE5, 2.0L, 5spd. When the miles hit 100 miles, I would filer up and reset the meter.

  26. CCFisher

    My sister had a 1980 Champ, and I can confirm the author’s assertion of a “tactile driving experience.” That manual steering was so tight and communicative that if you ran over a pebble, you felt it through the steering wheel.

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