The second-generation Dodge Challenger may not be so well-remembered today, but it was a well-built, fun-driving car. Here we take a quick look back at the Challengers that Mitsubishi built.
Discontinued in 1974 at the end of a successful five-year run, the Challenger returned to the Dodge lineup for 1978 in a completely new form—as a compact import coupe manufactured by Mitsubishi in Japan. This second-generation Challenger was an exercise in global badge engineering. With minor variations in trim, colors, and features, the same vehicle was marketed by Chrysler’s Plymouth division as the Sapporo, by Chrysler Australia as the popular Sigma, and in Japan as the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda.
With no V8 available, the second-generation Challenger, built on a petite 99-inch wheelbase, was marketed not as a muscle car but as a compact personal luxury coupe. Two four-cylinder engines were available, a standard 1.6 liter unit and an optional 2.6-liter four, both equipped with Mitsubishi’s Silent Shaft vibration balancer system. Buyers had their choice of a standard five-speed manual or an optional three-speed automatic transmission, and eventually the larger 2.6-liter four was made standard.
The emphasis on this latest Challenger was not on high performance but on the long list of luxury and convenience features, including a premium stereo, trip computer, memory seats, and an optional overhead console with digital clock. Other eye-catching features included two-tone paint and bold interior fabrics. Base price for the upmarket compact coupe was $5,665 for 1978, rising with inflation to $8,323 by 1983. Annual sales for the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Sapparo combined averaged 25,000 to 30,000 units.
Dodge was far from shy about promoting the Challenger’s Japanese origin. Advertising taglines included “Dodge by Mitsubishi” and “from Japan to Dodge.” In these years, the Motor City had earned a reputation for poor build quality, Chrysler in particular, while Japan’s star was rising in the automotive world. With the Challenger and its other import models, including the Colt and the compact D-50 Ram pickup, Dodge was trading on its product strengths.
In 1983, Dodge found itself with multiple sport compacts in the pipe, including the Charger, Daytona, and Conquest, so despite steady sales, the Challenger was discontinued. (A handful of holdovers were sold in model year 1984.) The name would not appear again until 2006 with the unveiling of a new Dodge Challenger concept at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.