Nerding Out: Plymouth Colt Vista
One of the most interesting aspects of the late 20th century automotive landscape were the various captive imports sold by domestic brands in the United States home market. Driven largely by the gas crisis of the 1970s, traditional domestic automakers found themselves wanting to fill new niches that were established by Japanese brands like Honda and Toyota. Employing the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, the big three partnered with smaller brands like Mitsubishi, Mazda, and Suzuki to fill out their domestic line-ups with smaller, more compact, and often quirky Japanese models.
The relationship between Chrysler and Mitsubishi began in 1970, with Chrysler purchasing a 15-percent stake in the Japanese company. While the relationship led to some classic performance cars of the era such as the Starion/Conquest, 3000GT/Stealth, and DSM triplets, a few quirky JDM models also made the jump across the Pacific.
The Mitsubishi RVR, a small MPV, was sold under the Plymouth and Dodge brands as the Colt Vista, and later as an Eagle Summit Wagon. It’s place in the line-up was as a little brother to the Voyager minivan. Offered with a 4G93 1.8L and automatic transmission, the 138hp engine didn’t set any land speed records, but functioned fine as an efficient people mover. The 3-door body style, featuring a sliding rear door on one side, made moving folks in and out a perfectly acceptable exercise.
Outside of it’s dopey shape and identity crisis badging, the Colt Vista is hardly a footnote in the American automotive landscape. Interestingly, this type of high-roof, high-riding FWD compact is eerily close to the ubiquitous compact crossover filling our highways. Beating the CRV and RAV4 to market by half a decade, the little RVR foreshadowed American tastes in a big way. Popular modern vehicles like the HRV, CHR, Rogue, and Kicks follow this same recipe 25 years later and are EVERYWHERE.
The most interesting variant of the RVR line was a JDM only Hyper Sports Gear R trim package in Japan that used the drivetrain of the first Mitsubishi Galant VR-4; the 4G63T 2.0L 16V DOHC turbo straight-4 mated to either a four-speed auto or a five speed manual. With 250hp on tap, it was certainly a touch more dramatic than the homely US-spec Colt Vista.
It’s almost ironic that modern day Mitsubishi in the US has become a brand entirely made up of small, inoffensive, FWD-based crossovers. In 1993, Mitsubishi had the Eclipse, the 3000GT, the Montero; all enthusiast vehicles in their own right. There was no indication that 25 years later the brand would more closely resemble their insignificant rebadged Plymouth. That being said, the Colt Vista deserves a nod for the sole fact of being an honest, little people mover that existed in the golden era of Japanese imports. Our compact crossovers today are bland and styled by committee, but the little Mitsubishi is cute, and pudgy, and a little bit ugly in the best way. For better or worse, I’m not sure that we’ll get anything like that again.
Photoset by Andy Carter Photography with a Nikon F3 camera on Ektar 100 film.