After coming across an older used, but faultless and unbadged gunmetal coupe at the nearest Mitsubishi dealership in West Malling, I decided to enquire more about this interesting car after admiring its sharp lines and beefy aftermarket wheels, and wondered just what model it was? Was it even a Mitsubishi? Or perhaps some strange cousin of the Toyota Celica?
After discovering the car was in fact something called a Mitsubishi Sapporo, (known around the world in a surprising amount of monikers including Dodge Challenger II, Plymouth Sapporo, Chrysler Galant Lambda and Sigma Scorpion in Australia) a smart 2 litre, pillarless coupe with luxury fittings, and in this particular case was beyond my budget in 1992. However my appetite was whetted, and soon I was looking elsewhere for one for sale.
As these prestige coupes were light on the ground around my way, it was not until the following year that I saw a Sapporo for sale in my local newspaper for a reasonable price, the ad ended with 'no timewasters or dreamers', which got me thinking this must be something quite special. Upon arrival I made out the scripted letters of 'Limited Edition' on the boot and indeed this was quite a dressed up GSR, with vinyl roof, tinted sunroof, two-tone dark blue metallic paint over silver, rally white wheels and even headlamp wipers, and with the absence of any Mitsubishi logos anywhere, it looked more like a visitor from California than a local Chathamite. Compared to my previous cars (a MkII Escort and my mum's trusty Nissan Micra), this thing seemed like a sail barge, but in fact it had very eclectic dimensions being more narrow than a Ford Fiesta of its day, yet longer in overall length than a Granada estate!
Inside seemed all very plush compared to what I was used to, with solid switch gear, and quite airy for a fairly narrow cabin with mild grey carpet. The pale blue/grey checker corded seats were very comfortable, with their soft material both cosy in winter and airy enough to keep cool in summer. The rears were equally comfortable with headroom aided by the Sapporo's convex rear screen. All the necessary instruments in Mitsubishi's unmistakable orange glow were on hand; speedo, tacho, temp and amp gauges as well as oil pressure.
The Auto came with a chrome and leather finished T-bar, and a good quality separate radio and cassette player from factory. Above sat a funky roof mounted courtesy lamp cluster with individual map reading lights, that looked like they had been lifted from a Learjet rather than a Japanese automobile. Windows came electrically powered and I couldn't wait for an opportune moment to wind all four down to soak in that pillarless view, something I hadn't seen that often on cars outside of a Mercedes coupe, while the sunroof was of the simple lift up and tilt variety.
Pulling away I could appreciate both the engine and transmission's smoothness, quietness and refinement, no doubt credit to those clever balancing shafts. The same could be said for the recirculating ball steering, which was almost effortless with power assistance, yet not as vague as some have criticised. Brakes seemed firm, understandably so for an Auto, but it was not until later I realised they were discs all round, and ventilated at the front at that, something almost taken for granted these days, but no doubt a luxurious option back in the early eighties.
Despite its low stance and general good looks, performance was nothing to have a party about. Like a lot of Japanese coupes of its time, this was undoubtedly a cruiser rather than a sporty ball-tearer. Off of the lights was respectable with kickdown initiating some vigour, but not instantly, while on motorways it was happy to glide along around and beyond the speed limit, still maintaining it's quietness. Perhaps it's largest shortcoming was mid range, where often I had to gauge carefully when considering whether to overtake slower moving cars on the motorway. Whether this was the auto or the price that was paid for all those luxurious bits adding weight I'll never know, but it had me wondering how much more fun this thing could be with a manual.
Despite this, I enjoyed chucking it around curvy stretches and roundabouts with abandonment, only once did the back kick out as clear as day, but gladly it was responsive enough to get back in line.
This car made most journeys a pleasant, comfortable experience, even a joy, and how much I actually traveled proved this, from short trips picking people up, to even fairly tiresome drives from Kent to Gloucester, which didn't seem such a drag.
Body wise the Sapparo was starting to show its age, bubbling was rearing its ugly head on the tops of the wings while lower down by the footwells of the car, signs of corrosion were showing in later years. Underneath however appeared spotless from any visible rot.
As far as reliability was concerned, it started every time, day in day out, in sun and in snow. It did drink its fair share of oil in later months, but did not smoke overly on start up. Another niggling error was the windscreen wipers, which seemed to be very lazy in the morning, but improved as the journey progressed.
Even though I still have quite some respect for this car, it did seem to almost want to kill me one day. The throttle linkage decided to jam while I was approaching heavy traffic on the A2. By the time I realised the throttle wasn't going to let me go any slower than 80 mph, I had to take drastic action, swerving out on to the hard shoulder, braking like mad, before snatching it into neutral and turning the ignition off before the mill blew itself up.
After this incident, I decided on purchasing a carburettor recon kit, ordered direct from Japan via the dealership. But despite fitting this to the (generally considered) over complicated carbie, I never felt entirely confident again in this car on the motorway, especially as the accelerator lazily lingered on 80mph, even after my foot was off the pedal. With that and its increasing thirst for oil, I decided a change was due and advertised the car for sale. Strangely enough the previous owner I bought it off, got in contact, made me an offer, and it was soon back in his ownership, saving me from the 'timewasters and dreamers.'