Theme: Japan – 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste

These days nobody remembers the Renault 17 and nobody at all remembers the car it inspired, the 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste.

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The Mitsubishi enjoyed a long enough career under a variety of names and even earned lots of lovely lush laurels in rallying. The Celeste, as I shall refer to it, had a hatchback and rear-wheel drive. The Renault’s power went to the front, in contrast. Let’s not mix these cars up. As to dimensions, small and light sums it up:  4.1 m long, 1.6 m wide and graced by a wheelbase of 2.3 metres. The following names could be seen on the car’s bootlid in the course of its career. If you can remember this you will impress us: the Mitsubishi Celeste, Chrysler Lancer Hatchback (my favourite), Dodge Lancer Celeste, Plymouth Arrow and Dodge Arrow.  Perhaps the nicest of the cars was the GT System 80 which looked like this:

1978 Mitsubishi Celeste System 80 GT: source
1978 Mitsubishi Celeste System 80 GT: source

You have to wonder about a firm whose cars have been rebadged so widely, and also about the brands who felt they could slip one of these charmers into their fleet without anyone noticing the cuckoo in the nest. Mitsubishi has had some moments of greatness, yes (we come to that later this month). Alas they have also ploughed a peculiar and zig-zagged furrow which has thrown up a few too many turnips and not enough Golden Wonders.

Image sources: Renault and Mitsubishi.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

15 thoughts on “Theme: Japan – 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Celeste”

  1. Must’ve been a great sales pitch by Mitsubishi, Richard.
    Anyone feel there’s a passing resemblance to the Toyota Corolla SR5 Sport Coupe?

  2. I remember the Colt Celeste as it was called in the UK back in the 70’s. The daughter of the famous Chelsea goalkeeper (who was in my year) used to be delivered to school in a light yellow version. I thought it, and the Renault 17 were good looking cars; certainly much nicer than the Capri.

    1. I´d never have expected the Celeste to trump the Capri. Hasn´t the Capri become a legend? The Capri has RWD and a selection of engines from 1300 to 3.0 V6 and a dizzying variety of trim options. One reason this site is interesting to run is that you get insights that are not ony the received wisdom of the consensus (which in this case was that apart from the Capri and Manta there was nothing else).

    2. Compare the windscreens of the Capri (Mk 1, 2 or 3, they’re the same) to the Celeste or 17. The Capri’s is upright and small, the others’ steeply raked, large and modern looking. Then there’s the ridiculous Capri power bulge – yuk. Certainly in the 70’s Fords were considered the bees knees in the UK because “they’re cheap and easy to fix”.

  3. For Paolo Tumminelli the Celeste (what a female name for a men car!) is the prime example for the influence of american design in the history of car industry in Japan:

    In my opinion the Celeste was just the affordable car to make young men in Japan dream of driving almost a Shelby Mustang Fastback and being the head of a Yakuza-syndicat with some nice Geishas around them…. (if this was the dream of young men in the 70ies there…)

    Mitsubishi did create a lot of worse cars than this one. My neighbour had a Mitsubishi Tredia – it looks even new as an old Lancer that has eaten to much of cheap fat food…

    1. If we had a prize for obscure and forgotten cars, you´d win it today and probably for the whole week. The Tredia has very little evidence of classical industrial design. It´s not out and out wrong, I agree. However it seems so little of it gets further than the engineeing minimum that it stands out for its plain, plastic drinking cup quality. And yet: some designers must have worked over every centimetre of the car. Remarkable.

  4. G’day Richard. I’m nobody at all, Mitsubishi Celeste rememberer. Whats a Renault 17 and why should I care?

    1. The difference between nobody and nearly nobody is vanishingly small.
      Really, the R17 is remembered for its non-existant recognition value. I can’t think of any inherent strengths. Same goes for the Celeste.
      Was it big in New Zealand back in the day? The R17 wasn’t even big where I lived (Ireland). Maybe Sam has seen one in its native habitat.

    2. R17s could actually be seen here – sporadically. They caught my attention because they looked sort of weird. I have the impression that its successor, the Fuego, got much more attention (deservedly?). But this may be deceiving, maybe I was just too small for any awareness when the R17 was new.

  5. Lucky you, Simon. It could be that I saw an R17 in
    Montelimar in 1989. I had no idea what it was. That was the only time I saw one and the memory is hazy.
    I’m intrigued this little article has been so busy.

    1. Aren’t we all quite busy here at the moment? There’s a lot going on, and if I have to take a day off DTW (I have a job, after all), I already find it hard to keep track. Not that I mind.

  6. The Plymouth Arrow. Proof that the Japanese could indeed manufacture a Hillman Avenger. The only rental car I ever had that stranded me (in the middle of nowhere) and whose ability to handle crosswinds was less than that of a mosquito. Those dreadful couple of days remain imprinted on my mind. On the other hand, the 1990 Eagle Talon TSi AWD turbo I actually purchased a decade later It was the precursor to the EVOs and both looked good and went like the wind for its day. Don’t believe they ever sold the Talon in Europe.

    1. The Talon also went by the name of the Mitsubishi Eclipse. There´s another forgotten car. I had a quick look at and discovered 94 of them for sale in Germany or the rest of Europe. The motoring press had little interest in cars like the Eclipse. I don´t think they got more than cursory coverage upon launch and nearly never figured in group tests or long term tests. Mitsubishi gave up on that car in 1999. I remember now that the c-pillar and side glass had a curve which I didn´t like all that much. And that´s all I know about this vehicle.

  7. i owned a renault 17tl decouverable (or however its spelt) back in the 1970s. it had an electric folding roof which opened right up. i wanted a capri like my mates had,but i couldnt afford one at the time. i took the 17 for a test drive and adored it.never looked back. fabulous cars that deserved more recognition, and it had zero rust anywhere unlike my mates 4 year old capri scab box.

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