A forgotten ’80s gem gains a reappraisal.
Following coolly on the heels of the first article in this occasional-to-the-point-of-random series, we look back at another rare but strangely appealing car which was imported in relatively low volumes into the UK, thanks to the quaint-sounding ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Japan.
It interests me, how certain things or events prove to be memorable, and not others. When these things or events were in the present, did I realise then that they would still figure strongly in my memory now? What is it that buries some things forever in the abyss of the mind, and yet somehow others, possibly more trivial stay for longer? Answer: dunno.
Take the Mk5 Mitsubishi Galant (model code E11-19). It was actually launched in homeland Japan in 1983, but had to await until late ’84 to be introduced to the UK. As one might expect, it succeeded the Mk4, but what one might not have expected is that the fourth-generation Galant lasted not three years before this replacement came along and was deemed to have been a sales disappointment to Mitsubishi – in its native Japan at least. I think it may have fared better in Australia and New Zealand where it was marketed as the Sigma.
In the UK, it was also imported for a period as a Lonsdale; a short-lived value-brand oddity. That car was very late-70s in its design, rear wheel drive and neat-but-forgettable (I had to remind myself what it looked like) in a style which I would describe it as mid-pacific-bland.
The Mk5 was a very different and interesting proposition, heralding the switch to front wheel drive and transverse engines. It had a degree of engineering sophistication: it was only the third Japanese car to adopt four-wheel electronic anti-lock brakes, courtesy of Bosch; its engines had counter-rotating shafts designed to smooth-out the combustion rhythms of the four cylinder engines; and it had the option of a four-speed automatic, which was still relatively unusual back then.
The chassis was nothing special, with struts up front mounted on a sub-frame to reduce road noise entering the cabin and a torsion beam rear set-up – although if it was deemed good enough for Audi at the time, one can’t blame Mitsubishi for following suit.
The styling is one of those factors which, I think, helped this car to remain to the fore of my memory. It’s very clean surfaced and svelte, with tight shut-lines, and a simple rubbing-strip extending the full length of the side, starting just under the front indicators and ending under those at the rear – a feature which greatly helped keep the side elevation taut and lean.
I think one could call it similar to our old friends the Tagora, Rover 800 and even the Audi 100 of the same era. The rear wheel arch has a flattened top-edge which is a little Citroënesque, but, actually, I think it would have made a very nice update for the Peugeot 505 – (cue brickbats).
The front overhang is a little long, but otherwise the proportions are really good. Of course, it enjoys slim front pillars that would no longer pass crash-test scrutiny. The Mk5 was a similar length to its predecessor, but, had a longer wheelbase courtesy of the more tightly packaged drive-train. The front fascia had neat, broad and slim headlamps edged by side-lights and repeaters, book-ending a slimline grille which was topped by an indent of the leading edge of the bonnet; all very much of its time.
The rear was similarly tidy, again with wide and slim lamps and a crisp rear-edge to the boot lid. I remember at the time (I was 16) thinking that the car looked long and elegant – and I would see one regularly because a distant neighbour bought a silver one and it would be parked in an elevated position parallel to the road.
Such was my interest in recalling more about this relative rarity, I searched e-bay for an old copy of Car which featured the Mk5 Galant in some way. After a little screen work, I found the December 1984 edition which covered it in the Newcomers section. By the way, a warning to those who decide to follow a similar route – it’s addictive and I only just managed to stop myself buying my sixth vintage issue, as each one is absolutely packed with interesting articles and memories. Also in the December ’84 Newcomers section is the Giugiaro-designed SEAT Ibiza, which, like the Galant is given a very thorough review which puts modern equivalents to shame.
Something else that the Ibiza and Galant shared was an interesting dashboard design in terms of how minor controls were grouped and organised around the steering wheel. Like the 626 which was the subject of the first of these ‘So Glad …’ reviews, Mitsubishi decided to give the Galant a different dashboard depending on the version of the car.
As this iteration of the Galant only came as a four-door saloon, Mitsubishi differentiated on engine (and thereby trim) level. At launch, the Galant came in 1.6L and 2.0L petrol and 1.8L (turbo)diesel forms. The first of these came with a very conventional, Japan-ordinaire dash layout, whereas, for the diesel and 2.0L petrol, “Mitsubishi have taken a leaf out from Citroën’s book with switch-gear that’s clustered around the wheel on wings.” These are the words of Paul Scott, the author of the Car review now in my possession. “The combined indicator/ flasher switch, shaped like a sailboard’s keel, works well. But you can’t play the switches blind, as you can the keys of an instrument. Or Citroën’s satellites. With half a leaf missing, it only half works”.
Scott praises much about this Galant: the seating is “first rate“, the handling is “secure” and “tracks straight at speed“, nor is there torque steer and “bumpy corners don’t upset the feeling of respectable poise and balance“. The 1.6L was apparently smoother than the 2.0L, albeit less potent, but the diesel attracted the most praise. The Galant is described as “up with the pack rather than leading the way“, but one area receives specific praise: “the new Galant proved at least as competent in most departments and something of a class yardstick in one. It’s quiet, very quiet. Wind noise is a whisper, even with the sunroof open, power roar distant. Noise suppression is at its impressive best, though, on the sort of pocked, course surfaces that abound in France” (France has clearly changed a lot since then!).
The other reason that this Galant sticks in my mind is that they introduced a Turbo version with about 150 BHP, making it a direct rival to the MG Montego Turbo which was introduced around the same time. One of the motoring magazines did a twin-test, comparing one against the other – I think it was Fast Lane but I can’t be certain (it could have been Performance Car) and I can’t find it on e-bay or anywhere else. I was a bit of an MG fanboy at the time and recall being dumbstruck that the ‘fastest-ever MG’ was trounced from left-field by the somewhat demure looking Galant Turbo.
Neither car was deemed at all perfect, both suffering from degrees of torque-steer, but the Galant was nevertheless triumphant. I don’t recall ever seeing a Galant Turbo on the road – so if you ever owned one, or, know the truth (or own a copy) of said magazine article, I’d be interested in hearing from you.
I didn’t really warm to the sixth or seventh generation cars, but the eighth had something about it that appealed, not least the blunt, shark-nosed front end. Sadly, Mitsubishi is now in full retreat from the UK and Europe, actions which speak that neither market is worth its bother any more.