By 1979 the Nippon had, depending on your point of view, either met the European standard, or exceeded it. That's not to say that everything the Nippon made was good, nor that everything European was bad, but taking a car on its merits, and comparing it with its peers, it would be rare if anything Japanese could be found to be wanting.
Many believe today that it was the Japanese that pioneered mass production of the transverse engine, front wheel drive
format, but any review of contemporary cars of the era will reveal that the trend had long been set by European marques. And BEFORE you click the "contact us" button to set us straight, there is plenty of information on Unqiue Cars and Parts that correctly identifies the pioneer manufacturers, and cars, which were neither Japanese nor European. Of all the large scale manufacturers, Mitsubishi were one of the last converts.
Marketed in Japan as the Mirage, and the Plymouth Champ in the USA, the top of the range Colt was the 1400GLX. In many ways, it followed what was then becoming the accepted small-to-medium family hatchback line. It had a 90.6in. wheelbase and was 149.2in. overall length, which made it just 8.8 inches longer than Ford's Fiesta, which had a very similar wheelbase.
Both the Renault 5 GTL and VW Golf had longer wheel bases (94. 5in.) and both were shorter overall - the Renault
by nearly a foot. The real difference lay in the fact that the 1400GLX had no fewer than eight
forward gears - plus two in reverse. Many thought of it as a gimmick, but in an era devoid of 6 or, in the vast majority of cases, even 5 gears, it was a revelation.
A Solution To The Buzz-Box
What Mitsubishi had developed was a clever solution to a problem which had faced the makers of small cars for years. Obviously a small, cheap to manufacture 4L engine would never develop the kind of power to allow tall gearing, so the phrase "buzz-box" was an apt description of many of the smaller engined cars then available. Manufacturers needed to make sure that their car could actualy move off from the lights when there was more than the driver aboard, while being capable of reaching the speed limit without having to ring the neck out of it.
The Extra Shaft, And The UnderDrive
The Colts gearbox was mounted beneath the engine, which meant that power had to be taken down from the clutch. If this had been done directly, it would have meant that the car would have ended up with four reverse and one forward gear. In order to get things in the right order, an extra shaft was installed, which served two purposes. First, to take the power into the gearbox and second, to get the drive in the correct direction. The Mitsubishi engineers then realised that this otherwise "idle" shaft could serve another purpose - as a separate, two-speed gearbox, controlled with its own gear lever. The ratios on this range change box were, in effect "underdrives'.
The engine of the 1400G GLX, unlike the transmission
, was very much more conventional. It had a cast iron block and light alloy cylinder head, which carried the chain-driven
overhead camshaft. With a bore and stroke of 74.0 x 82.0mm, this gave a capacity of 1410 c.c., the engine being fed through a twin-choke carburettor. Maximum power, 70 bhp (DIN), was developed quite low down the rev scale, at just 5,000 rpm, while the 78.1 Ib.ft. torque peaked at 3,000 rpm. Like the majority of transverse engines of the era, it was a non-cross flow design, with the induction and exhaust on the bulkhead (rear facing) face of the head; this made installation easier, and allowed easier access to the spark plugs on the radiator
We know from our own experience that, on your first outing with the Colt, you would be inclined to use all eight gears in succession to try and achieve the best acceleration times. We were soon reminded, however, that we only had two arms and hands, one of which was needed to steer the car. Liam Patterson, Editor of Unique Cars and Parts remembers "I was very young at the time, and working for a Car Rental company. The thought of 8 forward gears had many of us thinking at last we could get our hands on a hot hatch. After a few miles of getting tied up in knots, you would soon learn the way to treat the Super Shift, as Mitsubishi called their range-change box. Around town, that meant leaving it in Power mode, and only on the freeway would you reach again for the short stick to select Economy".
Looking at the figures would show you why. Power mode was geared only a little higher than Economy third (17.1 mph 1,000 rpm against 16.6), so the driver effectively had the choice of two "low" top gears. Off the mark, it made no difference which ratio was used, the car taking 4.2sec to reach 30 mph. To 40 and 50, it was quicker to use Power, the times being 6.4 and 9.4 seconds against 6.7 and 9.6. However, the Colt was faster to 60 mph in the Economy range - 13.3 compared with 13.8.sec in Power. The reason for this was simple: from rest to 60 in Power involved two time-consuming gearchanges - first to second at 27 mph. and second to third at 48 mph.
If you left the Colt in Economy, only one change was needed to get to 60, from first to second at 35 mph. The real difference showed up in the times taken in each gear. For instance, the critical 30 to 50 mph time in top gear took just 10.0 seconds in "Power", but 14.9 seconds in "Economy", while the 50 to 70 mph time would take around 13.0 seconds against 24.4 seconds. Where the two-speed range change did come into its own was on the highway. The highest-geared of its competitors was the Renault 5GTL, an economy (in the fuel consumption sense) "special" which pulled 19.6mph/1,000 rpm. We have found figures for the Ford Fiesta 1.3S, which suggest it was around 15.8/1,000, while the Chrysler Horizon GLS was 16.5/1,000, the Fiat 128 3P was 15.1/1,000 and the VW Golf 1500GLS was 17.3/1,000.
What is interesting in researching these figures, is that they are all roughly equal or lower than the Colt's 17.1 mph/
1000 rpm in Power top. Yet in Economy top the Colt would be easing along at 22.0 mph/1,000 rpm - or just around the 3200 rpm mark at 70 mph. The main disadvantage was that full throttle had to be used to maintain this sort of speed on inclines or into a wind, while steep slopes would quickly knock the speed back. But it was easy to either change down on the Super Shift box to Power, or leave it in Economy and select third. The Colt reached its maximum speed in Power top, with a mean maximum of 92 mph and some road tests claiming a top of 96 mph.
When Economy is Better Served By Selecting Power
Unless you were a very gentle driver, it was a false economy to use the high ratio all the time. Road tests at constant speeds show that at 30mph, less fuel was used in the Power range than in Economy. At very low engine speeds - at 30mph in Economy this meant just 1,360 rpm - engines were often less efficient than slightly up the scale. However, from then on it did pay to use the Economy range, with an overall improvement in the seven to 15 per cent bracket. On the twisty stuff it was nearly always better to use the Power range, where speeds could be achieved more quickly before backing off to part throttle openings. In Economy, full throttle had to be held longer while the car built up speed.
Several road tests we have checked claim fuel consumption figures of around 34 mpg, with a beset of just on 38 mpg. But unlinke many of its peers, the worst you could expect was around 30 mph - which made the Colt a reasonably economical car to own and run, regardless of whether your choice was Power or Economy. The biggest drawback of the Colt was therefore the rather small fuel tank, which held just 8.8 gallons. That gave the car a range of only 260-odd miles.
For most export markets, the Colt was shod with 15 5SR 13in. Michelin XZX tyres, which were designed for European motoring conditions. The car itself had MacPherson strut front suspension
, while at the rear trailing arms and coil springs were used. Better still, Mitsubishi used rack and pinion steering
rather than worm and nut, which gave the accuracy and feel of the better Europeans. With 62.5 per cent of its weight over the front wheels, and with front-wheel drive, the Colt showed the usual understeer tendencies. What was unusual, however, was the manner in which it tended to feel very slightly unstable in gusty cross-winds. Yet this same understeer gave the car a feeling of great confidence on twisting roads, and provided the driver thought ahead, to decide which gear to be in, the 1400GLX could be driven very quickly indeed. The one "fault" was the possibility to use too high a gear (Economy rather than Power second, for example, could mean that the revs were too low and the Colt would tend to take too wide a line.)
If you did have to lift off in a corner, the car would tighten its line smoothly, without any dramas. Roadholding was impressive, and only in extreme conditions could you provoke the front tyre
into losing adhesion. With a short wheelbase, there was a tendency for the ride - especially when just one-up - to be slightly choppy, especially on single humps. Yet on normal roads, the car felt beautifully taut with good wheel movements and sensible damping. It dealt well with rough surfaces, and there was no pitching on long undulations.
The Colt 1400GLX used the almost universal small car disc front, drum rear brake arrangement, with a direct acting vacuum servo. The balance and progression achieved was near-perfect, meaning the Colt would behave without drama, even under "panic" conditions. 0.3g came with a paltry 20lb pedal pressure, and from there on, the pressures required for progressively harder stopping rose, until 1.Og was eventually reached with 1OOlb on the pedal. In an era long before ABS came standard on the cheap-and-cheerful, the braking pressures required made it more difficult to lock the wheels in a panic stop situation, which was obviously a good thing. On the down side, it was pretty easy to induce fade with a few rigorous brake applications. Given a bit of a thrashing, the pressures needed to achieve the 0.5g would increase steadily, and after only 5 or 6 tries 120lb. pressure would be required, this accompanied by the tell-tale smell of burning brake pads. The handbrake would hold the car easily on the 1-in-3 hill, and on the level gave 0.31 g. Take off from the test hill was easy in Power first gear, but was too much for the high Economy first.
Behind the wheel
To select the eight gears there were two gear levers. The longer controlled the normal four-speed set and this had a pleasant, light action. To the right and nearest the driver was the shorter lever for the Super Shift box. This had just a marginally heavier fore-and-aft action - forward for Power, backwards for Economy; because the range-change gear train was part of the main gearbox, the clutch had to be used when its ratios were being changed. To remind the driver which ratio was being used, there were repeater lights on the facia. The fuel and water temperature gauges were between the speedometer
and rev counter, along with the indicator lamps for Power and Economy gear ranges. The hatchback release lever was inconveniently located below that for the bonnet.
Hidden behind the left-hand steering
wheel spoke were switches for rear wash / wipe and heated rear window. Lamps and front screen wash / wipe switches were on the sides of the instrument cowling. The usual Nippondenso digital clock was to the left of the heater control panel between the fuel and water temperature gauges. To left and right of these dials were the speedometer
and the rev/counter, which red lined at 6000 rpm. Across the bottom of the instrument panel were a row of warning symbols, invisible until they were illuminated. The fuel level warning illuminate when there was around 1 gallon left in the 8.8-gallon tank. Switchgear for the driving lamps and front screen wash/wipe were set into the side of the instrument binnacle, where they could be reached with an outstretched finger - not ideal but not all that bad. The rear screen wash / wipe shared the same reservoir as that for the front screen, and these were in turn controlled by two rather fiddly switches tucked away on the side.
The front seats looked comfortable, but they were not. One of the problems was there was insufficient wrap-round on the backrests to provide support, so that the torso tended to get thrown about when the Colt was being driven quickly on twisting roads. The cushion part, however, was good, with ample width and depth for a large driver. Adjustment for both reach and backrest angle was by means of easily-reached levers on the outside edges.
Europeans used to the Fiesta commented that the 1400GLX was very similar in external dimensions, but internally it seemed very much smaller. With the front seats set back, there was only just room for an average-size man's legs. Headroom was also a bit restricted for taller people. Seats front and rear were trimmed with cloth centre panels and pvc sides.
The harchback could be opened either from inside the car, using the small lever under the facia, or from outside with the single key, which was used also for the ignition and fuel filler flap. Like most similar cars of the era, the sill was quite high. To give more room with the rear seat in place, the shelf could either be folded in half against itself or, after tipping the backrest forward, dropped completely out of the way. The 1400GLX, despite being the top model in the range, did not have split back rests. To make up the full load space, a couple of knobs needed to be pulled up, and the whole squab tipped forward, with the rear shelf laid in place by a strap, to prevent it bouncing up and down.
The spare wheel, sensible tool kit and wheel changing equipment were all stowed in a well beneath the boot carpeting. Access around the engine bay was generally good, with the battery located almost in the centre, its terminals and filler caps protected by a tough plastic shield. From the DIY service aspect, there appear to be no particular problems. The horizontal distributor was mounted high up on the camshaft cover, and once the air cleaner had been removed, the sparking plugs were easily reached. The Colt was also one of the few small cars of the time to be fitted with an automatic choke, which worked suprisingly well, giving a clean start and smooth return to normal mixture as the engine warmed up.
The Colt 1400 - What Made it Special?
The 1400GLX was the top model in
the Colt Mirage range, and in some markets was the only model to be marketed. The other models included a smaller, 1200 c.c. engined version, with a standard four-speed gearbox, and the 1200GL, with Super Shift. Local CKD assembly of the Mirage took place in New Zealand by the Todd Motor Corp., where there was a sports equivalent called the Mirage Panther in the early 1980s. The replacement Mirage Turbo
had the distinction of being that country's first locally assembled turbocharged
car from 1982. The facelifted model was also built by Mitsubishi of Australia, and had an unusually long model life, from 1981 to 1990. The Australians offered the Colt with the 1.4 L engine, and a larger 1.6 L. This model was imported for a short time to New Zealand in the late 1980s, where it was sharing showroom space with the locally assembled third generation models.
But it was Mitsubishi's solution to a problem which had bugged designers of small cars for decades that we best remember it. The Super Shift was a clever idea, and if one treats the range-change system as an overdrive
system rather than an eight-speed gearbox, it made a whole lot of sense. The cost was minimal - and a conventional overdrive
unit from the era could not be used on a transverse engine arrangement anyway. The British car industry must have realised the opportunity they let pass, namely the Laycock "sandwich" overdrive, which fitted between the clutch and gearbox, and was actuated by the clutch pedal. It too was installed on an unlikely front wheel drive
car, the Triumph 1300. But Mitsubishi put it into production. And thats why we remember it.