When Chrysler was down in the late-Malaise dumps, before Lee Iaccoca’s K-Cars could steal the scene, the name of the game was the captive import. Cars like the Dodge Challenger and the more aptly named Plymouth Sapporo hit the scene in ads like these as a value-play focused on Americans looking for something else after years of wheezy domestic boats.
Interestingly, American manufacturers, despite building entire lines of smaller, more advanced cars for the European market under their subsidiaries abroad, were not about to rationalize their product lines to chase those customers. Large sedans of dubious build quality and performance were simply too deeply ingrained in American automobilia at the time. But there was something else they could do. They could buy imports as well. And then sell them.
Really, the whole captive import market was just about shifting who did the importing. Rather than the dealers importing cars, manufacturers like Chrysler (but also Ford and GM as well) decided to do it themselves, offering customers almost exactly what they were looking for down the street Toyota, Nissan, and Honda and making a dent in those brands’ sales figures too. Patrick (remember Patrick?) did a great run-down on the concept back in 2012. It’s worth a read and you can find it here:
In this particular case, the cars underneath those familiar domestic badges were Mitsubishis. The famous three-pointed Diamond Stars on the front of these Galant Sigmas were dropped in favor of a similar logo with two more points. Aside from that? There wasn’t much to differentiate these cars from what Mitsubishi was selling at the time. And that’s where the ads came in.
This particular campaign from 1983, which is already two years after Chrysler’s K-Car hail-mary was launched, is all about value. The killer feature of these cars isn’t some kind of drivetrain divination or suspension wizardry (though they were hardly objectively bad cars) was the “anti-shock sticker,” suggesting that the price-point was going to be more than acceptable to buyers despite the standard features list.
In my view, the financing terms that the ad touts at the end don’t seem particularly generous, but the economy was in a very different spot in the early ‘80s so that probably explains it. But they didn’t scare too many buyers away. According to CarSalesBase, the Sapporo had its second-best year ever in 1982, second only to the year before. Sales fell off shortly after, but by then Chrysler was more than managing with the rest of their lineup.
So, captive imports like the Sapporo and Challenger played an important role in the early ‘80s while Detroit retooled for a new era in car-making and they’ve made comebacks from time to time as brands find holes in their lineups to fill. Right now there aren’t many on the market in America, but perhaps as tastes change quicker than tooling we’ll see some more soon.