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Our Cars – 1990 Mitsubishi Sapporo

Antti Kautonen June 25, 2012 Cars You Should Know, Finnish Line 26 Comments

The third-generation Mitsubishi Sapporo is an interesting bit of Japanese executive flair. Based on the FWD 1984 Galant, it’s a hardtop four-door sedan with slightly different dimensions to the ordinary Galant – along with them a more handsome roofline. Basically, it’s the same car as the USA Sigma, but the European Sapporos got four-cylinder engines and were only sold from 1987 to 1990. The noticeably more fluid-looking Diamante/Sigma rolled to dealer lots in 1990, and by then the E16A body pictured here must’ve looked very, very blocky in comparison.

With the Mazda pretty much delegated to daily-driving duties under the tender, loving care of my GF, all of my own driving is done in the Sapporo. I’ve owned the car for a bit over a year and a half now, and it’s not a bad idea to finally do a semi-proper photoshoot of it since it’s actually clean inside out. As midsummer graciously passed by here, I spent some underhood time polishing everything that was grimy; today I hoovered and detailed the interior. Bear with me and take a look at it.

My Sapporo was first registered in 1990, but it does seem it was built as early as 1988 and shipped here, after which it sat in the importer’s for a while before being sold. Sapporos cost a pretty penny when new, something to the tune of 60k EUR in today’s money. You could have gotten a W124 230E for the money, and many did. Add the inevitable running-to-the-ground of Nordic Japanese cars, and the numbers of Sapporos have dwindled to under 30 registered cars a year ago. I imagine today’s numbers are lower.

My car is the relatively base-specification 5-speed model. This means no fancy ECS suspension and no sunroof; those were for the auto version only. I imagine this has saved me a lot of trouble. That is not to mean there hasn’t been any, but ECS shocks usually leak by now and sunroofs have rusted on the seams. Still, there’s A/C, cruise and a bunch of electronic things.

The Sapporo is powered by the somewhat everyday 2.4-litre 4G64 four, with 124 horses. The US Sigmas got the inevitable 3.0-litre V6:s instead, but I don’t think any of those were manual.

When I got the car, the SILENT SHAFT balancer shafts of the engine weren’t timed too well, which caused a nasty resonation at 3000 rpm. As numerous engine seals were leaking oil due to dry rot (accompanying documents indicate the car had spent a considerate amount of time not being driven during the last 20 years), I decided to spend money where it was well spent and had all belts and seals replaced. This put an end to coin-sized oil drops every time I parked the car, ones that kept me constantly looking at the dipstick on our last-summer journey to Copenhagen and back.

Another thing in the engine bay was that all of the walls were covered in tight-sitting cack that would not come off whatever product and whatever force I used. This annoyed me to no end, up until Saturday when I picked up the remains of a turpentine bottle and went to town with it. It transformed the look of the engine bay; there were VIN etchings there I could actually see!

At one point, I had also gotten a new heat shield to brighten up the engine bay, and without that the cleaning work would’ve been worthless. There’s still work to do, but at least I don’t need to wince every time I open the hood.

Inside, there’s blue plastic and blue velour every-freaking-where. The cloth is in exceptional condition with no rips, and with the 140 000 kms of ass having sagged the driver’s seat cloth just the slightest.

Most of the car’s controls have been gathered on the steering column control panel. Headlights and wipers are operated with twist knobs, the indicator stalk is a little widget and the cruise control and intermittent/auto wiper functions have small, beeping buttons. The dashboard center only houses the HVAC’s direction buttons, ones that sigh when you prod them.

Rust is not an issue here. The wheelarches have never really rusted, but a year ago I had the rockers’ trim holes redone and the body shop guy was kind enough to sandblast the whole rockers and put a little bit of metal where they needed more. The car’s underbody has remained rust free thanks to a comprehensive underseal coating doing its job.

See that shiny exhaust tip? That’s due to a new muffler, the last new Walker-made one left in the country. It had some serious shelf dust on it when I got it.

The wheels are off a 1997 Galant. They almost suit the Sapporo better than stock alloys, but I’m considering AZEV five-spokes an inch larger.

What’s there left to do? Well, I still haven’t replaced the windshield that’s been cracked along the bottom since the day I got the car. That was a good sign; after that there has barely been a month without anything having to be done.

But with every step the car’s getting better; right now it runs and rides damned good and smooth. With the engine up to cruising speed and the cruise control beeped to action, it’s a highway machine that earns its keep. I’m constantly toying with the idea of getting rid of it, but there still hasn’t been a comparable or better car to rid the Sapporo from me. And with 140 000 km only just coming up, it’s definitely not on its last legs. I like to think it’s the best one in the country.

[Images: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Antti Kautonen]

  • dukeisduke

    I remember those. Over here in the US, they were called Galant Sigmas.

  • dukeisduke

    What's that contraption on the firewall, next to the data plate?

    • Cruise box.

      • dukeisduke

        Makes sense now. I see the actuator cable coming out of it.

  • Devin

    Why doesn't anyone do one-spoke steering wheels anymore?

    • JeffieWasHere


      • Devin

        I don't see why an airbag wouldn't fit in a one spoke, especially considering how compact they are now.

        • OA5599

          It's probably too hard to engineer a one spoke wheel that's sturdy enough to withstand a 250-lb driver against a deployed airbag.

        • I don't know if a one-spoke wheel is solid enough for an airbag to controllably deploy. At least those '80s helms probably would've not been. That said, the Sapporo wheel feels sturdy on all occasions, and it's really not as turquoise as it appears on the photos.

          Edit: ^ Yeah, what he said.

    • wunno sev

      I think, in addition to what's already been said, that part of it may be comfort. A one-spoke wheel leaves nowhere to hook your thumbs.

    • That's true, I've been looking at Premier photos recently. I think *one* made it here second hand.

      • Same platform as Europe's Renault 25.

  • Number_Six

    Don't change the wheels! I still really dig those 80's fantastico rectilinear dashboards, and it's amazing how much the whole interior resembles my 1986 Colt Turbo.

    • B72

      Amen. Those wheels are perfect!

  • Jay

    That's a seriously sharp example, very nicely maintained for an early 90s Japanese sedan. I had no idea these were so expensive new, W124 money was no joke back then. The design reminds me a but of the Alfa 164.

    • P. Frere

      Well, we've been informed in a previous thread that Mitsubishis are the Alfas of the Japanese automotive universe. I guess that means that this car is essentially a 164. Good call Jay.

      • I do think an Alfa would've been pretty much on par in terms of bringing-up-to-scratch costs…

  • quattrovalvole

    Glad to see the Sapporo is still mint.

    I think you to add period-correct Nakamichi head unit to your list of future mods 😉

  • Van_Sarockin

    Exquisite condition! Amazing that you found one in such good shape to begin with, and really gratifying to see your efforts working so well. You're setting quite an example for the rest of us here.

  • Mr.Crankypants

    Oh my! I've just got to have one of these! I love the lines. Very 80s. The paint job and stance remind me of my 1989 Subaru GL-10 Turbo, which was also loaded to the hilt with some goodies. Slushbox but I love and miss that car.

    Keep up the good work! I would not hesitate to drive one of these.

  • Gromit

    I had a silver Mitsubishi Magna Elante from new, looked very similar to that. Mitsubshi Australia took the Sapporo, split it down the middle, widened it a few centimetres and sorted the suspension.

    My car was a good one. An awesome touring car. I sold it after ten years' ownership. I saw it on the road a couple of years ago, which was a bit of a thrill. Nice to know it's still going.

    • Do you have any photos of it? Did you have the awesome digital dashboard? If I had digital instruments, I would never let the Sapporo go.

      • Gromit

        I'll have to dig them out and scan them. I owned the car from 1988 to 1998. It was silver like yours, with a fine red stripe in the middle of the black rubbing strip and 17 inch alloys.

        The Elante had sports suspension and a rather unnecessary body kit. It needed more power from the 2.6 litre Astron motor, and sharper steering. But it was a damn good car, and did pretty much everything really well.

        I'll see whether I can find some pics for you, but Google "Magna Elante" and you'll get the general idea.

      • Gromit

        Analog instruments, btw.

  • Najam

    hi guys
    if any one have this model car then plz Email or Msg me Thanku