When we brought you our feature on captive imports last month, many of you wondered why we didn't delve into the relationship between these two companies.
That's because the relationship between Chrysler and Mitsubishi is so lengthy, convoluted and even bizarre at times that it deserves its own story. These two companies went at it hard and heavy like two college kids in a dorm room getting to third base for the first time ever — except all the time. Their partnership was so closely intertwined but rocky that it would make Porsche and Volkswagen blush.
Starting around the late 1970s, after years of hit-or-miss attempts at making their own compact cars, the big three American car companies started finding themselves dance partners from the Far East. The goal was for the Americans to learn how improve their quality, and for the Japanese to increase their footprint in the U.S.
As you probably well know, GM and Toyota teamed up to make Corollas and Prizms in California, and Ford and Mazda had a great run of shared platforms and engines that resulted in everything from the Ford Ranger pickup to the Mazda3.
But none of them could hold a candle to Chrysler and Mitsubishi, which had a decades-long and insanely prolific history together that included captive imports, badge engineering, and tons of jointly-produced cars, engines and platforms.
Our love story begins in the early 1970s when Chrysler apparently got sick of captive-importing garbage like the Hillman Avenger in the U.S. After Chrysler acquired a stake in Mitsubishi in 1971 with the goal of eventually buying them outright, they began to sell the first Mitsubishi Galant in the U.S. under the name of Dodge Colt, according to Allpar.
This would be Mitsubishi's first car ever sold stateside thanks to then-Mitsubishi Motors Corporation boss Tomio Kubo, who wanted to export more cars through established foreign companies. Over the next decade, Chrysler would continue to sell all sorts of Mitsubishi captive imports, including ones badged as Dodges and Plymouths.
As Allpar tells it, Chrysler needed decent small cars and wanted to be a global car company while Mitsubishi wanted to return a profit to its parent company, which is a massive Japanese corporation with many different interests.
But the affair was a rocky one even from the get-go. Mitsubishi felt the Americans exerted too much control in their decisions and they wanted to expand their own sales, but Chrysler didn't want them as competition in some markets. Then in 1980, Mitsubishi acquired all of Chrysler's Australian operations, which Chrysler had to sell to stave off bankruptcy.
Mitsubishi wouldn't sell cars in the U.S. under their own name until 1982. But by then they ran into a bit of a problem: voluntary quotas on import cars. So the two car companies then decided to become more than friends by forming Diamond Star Motors, a joint venture by which they would produce new cars together at a fancy new auto plant in Normal, Illinois.
Loads of Mitsubishis, Chryslers, Dodges, Plymouths and yes, even Eagles would roll off the assembly lines there over the next few years while the captive importing continued as well. As the 1990s progressed Mitsubishi bought out Chrysler's stake in Diamond Star Motors but kept making cars for them on a contract basis.
This continued even after the venture was renamed Mitsubishi Motors North America in 1995. Then in 2000, Daimler-Chrysler paid $2.1 billion to take a controlling stake in Mitsubishi. But that agreement was marred early on by police raids related to recall cover-ups on Mitsubishi's end and financial disagreements. The Germans sold their stake in Mitsubishi in 2005.
But even as Chrysler changed ownership to Fiat, the close ties between the former DSM partners continue to this very day with a comingling of Mitsubishi parts, platforms and engines. The Chrysler 200, formerly known as the Sebring, still rides on a Mitsu/Chrysler platform for mid-size cars. A version of that same platform underpins cars like the Lancer.
It seems that after 40 years, Mitsubishi and Chrysler just can't quit each other. But that may be changing. Take a look at the new Dodge Dart, for example. It rides on a Fiat/Alfa Romeo platform and uses the same engine as the Fiat 500 Abarth. One of the available engines comes from a joint Chrysler/Mitsubishi/Hyundai effort, but overall, this car is more spaghetti than sashimi.
And with Fiat possibly moving to buy all of Chrysler, does that mean we're seeing the end of the long-lived DSM partnership?
Who knows. True love lasts forever, so I'm fairly confident these two will find their way back to each other again.
Take a look through the gallery below for some of our favorite joint Mitsubishi-Chrysler efforts, from captive imports to DSMs to ones that shared parts. What are your favorites?
Photo credit Shutterstock
Plymouth Sapporo/Dodge Challenger
Starting in 1978, Chrysler began captive-importing the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda coupe to the U.S., where they sold it as the oddly-named Plymouth Sapporo and the blasphemously-named Dodge Challenger. While it was a decent-enough car for its day, its Dodge name surely didn't sit too well with muscle car enthusiasts.
Photo credit Aldenjewell
Known in Japan as the Mitsubishi Colt Galant, the Colt would be their first car to be sold in America when it was re-badged as a Dodge. Like its competition, the Toyota Corolla and the Datsun 510, it was rear-wheel-drive, had a small inline-four engine, and mini-American muscle car looks. The Colt name would be used on various Mitsubishi compacts Chrysler sold in the U.S. until the 90s.
Photo credit Aldenjewell
Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth Conquest/Mitsubishi Starion
Ah, the Starion. Besides giving birth to the single greatest TV commercial in the history of automotive advertising, the rear-wheel-drive, turbocharged coupe is one of the most hugely unrecognized cars of the 80s. That's a real shame, too — in addition to great widebody looks and decent performance, the car had a lot of potential. Some would say it had super potential, even. The car was sold as the Conquest under all three Chrysler brands.
Photo credit Aldenjewell
Mitsubishi Eclipse/Plymouth Laser/Eagle Talon
I would argue that besides the Honda Civic, the Mitsubishi Eclipse was the greatest Japanese tuner car of all time. The affordable, good-looking coupe — made at the DSM plant in Illinois — was hugely popular in the 90s and 2000s car scene. The top of line GSX model had all-wheel-drive and Mitsubishi's legendary 4G63 turbo engine. Later generations of Eclipse lost the plot, but the first two generations of the car were a smash success.
Photo credit fdernando1
Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth
Speaking of underrated cars, people always forget about the 3000GT when discussing the Japanese performance cars of the 1990s. Sold as the GTO in Japan, where it was made, the car was also sold as the Dodge Stealth as a captive import in North America. It was an unbelievably high-tech car for its time, with a twin-turbo V6 engine, all-wheel-drive, four-wheel-steering, automatically adjusting front and rear spoilers, an electronically controlled suspension, and in later models, the first hardtop convertible the U.S. had seen since the 1950s. So what if half that stuff didn't work right? The car was awesome.
Photo credit Aldenjewell