Your classics

Your Classics: Nathan and his rare pillarless Mitsubishi Sapporo coupé

by Antony Ingram
15 December 2022 3 min read
Your Classics: Nathan and his rare pillarless Mitsubishi Sapporo coupé
Photos: Antony Ingram

There are rare cars, and then there’s the Mitsubishi Sapporo. The two-door, pillarless coupé was built between 1976 and 1983 across only two generations, and with Japanese car manufacturers using Britain’s import quotas of the era to focus on volume sellers, it was cars like the Colt and Lancer that filled the maker’s dealerships, rather than the more exotic Sapporo.

We couldn’t resist grabbing a word with Sapporo owner Nathan at the Festival of the Unexceptional to discover more about his car – though predictably, given the rare and unusual cars on display at the Festival, Nathan’s car was parked immediately opposite another Sapporo, owned by his friend Paul. You wait ages for one to come along, etc…

“It’s a 1980 2-litre GSR” explains Nathan. “They only did two models, the GSR and the GSL. The GSL was an automatic with a single-carb engine, and the GSR was a two-litre twin-carb – and Paul’s car is also a GSR.”

Nathan’s car is a late first-generation model, with the second-gen arriving in the same year his car was sold. The two-pronged lineup continued until 1982, when Mitsubishi introduced the rapid 2000 Turbo, with its 168bhp 4G63 2-litre – the same unit that went on subsequently to power Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution models, in much higher states of tune.

The GSR isn’t quite as potent, making more like 123bhp, but it’s not without its appeal. “It’s a brilliant engine and running gear” says Nathan. “Just unburstable really, I’ve had to do very little to the engine. The only issue with it is the usual Japanese-car problem of rust…”

While the car has had no major repairs, it’s now getting to the stage where Nathan is considering a bit of a freshen-up. “It really needs painting now as it’s starting to look a bit tired in places. It’s lived a life – it’s had a few small bumps, I ran into the back of someone in a McDonald’s drive-thru once!”

This is no recent purchase though. “I bought it in 1992, and since then it’s been everywhere with me, including a couple of house moves. I sometimes drive my grandson around in the front seat – the same place my son sat twenty years ago.”

The car’s pseudo-American styling and neat details drew Nathan to the car originally, but far from being a novelty, the Sapporo’s rarity and quirks have stuck. He points out too how well-equipped it was for a car of the early 1980s, with power steering, a radio and cassette player, and a full suite of gauges. Peering inside, the Citroën-style single-spoke steering wheel also draws the eye.

“We mainly use it for shows now, though we do bring it out on a spur of the moment. It lives in the garage, and parts are the main problem for running them now – but there are six or seven of us with them over the UK, and we’ve got each other’s back. Paul and I recently bought a spares car, even though he lives in London and I’m in North Wales…”, which draws from DVLA data, suggests there are only five Sapporos still registered on UK roads, with the earliest data from 1995 still showing only around 500 on UK roads at the time. These cars have always been rare, but today they’re truly precious.

“It takes a certain kind of person to own one” says Nathan. “Most parts come from Japan now. And even if you had all the money in the world, you probably couldn’t get a new front wing, because parts like that just don’t exist.”

There may not be many Mitsubishi Sapporos left, but as long as owners like Nathan and Paul are looking after the cars that remain, we’ll be able to enjoy them vicariously for many years to come.

Read more

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  • George Morgan says:

    Hi,I’ve just seen your article on Nathen’s Mitsubishi Sapporo,I currently own a 1980 model which I’ve had for twenty odd years,as these are such a rarity and as far as I can tell no owners club,I wonder if it would be possible to get in touch with either Nathan or Paul as other owners are very thin on the ground.I,like Nathan also live in North Wales.I would be most gratefull for any help you could offer in getting in touch with these chaps.Many thanks.

  • Omer says:

    Just read this and I Would like to add I too have A Sapporo.
    Bought brand New in 81 when I was 19 . Stored for 40 years in 83 just started using it again after a recommissioned period of work on it. Runs Great only 19k on the clock still the same as it left the showroom no paint job.

  • Roger+Blaxall says:

    UTJ is a Lancashire registration – which was the supplying dealer?

  • Ernest Bird says:

    Good to see some GSR Sapporo vehicles still on the road. Mine, a metallic blue colour, was registered in Feb 1979 and has been on the road every year since 1979. I had to wait 2+ months before it could be registered thanks to the import quota restrictions at the time. Mileage per year is low. It has never let me down.
    The engine is the G52 timing chain version, so, no cam shaft belts needed. I later found out that the car was diverted from the Japanese market as the exhaust system was not shown in the catalogue that The Colt Car Co. held. I also have the Sapporo Workshop Manual which is useful when the odd spare is required.

  • Alan walford says:

    Nice to see other Sapporo,s.IHave the gsl automatic model Have had a Webber carburettor fitted with manual choke.

  • Sanderson Richard says:

    I have brown gsl auto thats back on the road. Need indicator lens anybody help?

  • Tony Brooks says:

    I’ve just bought a 1979 GSR, Wanted another one ever since the one i had in 1985 was written off! So pleased with it, it’s beautiful and drives as good as i remember.

  • Clive says:

    Hi All. It’s great to hear there are a few owners out there. I’m looking to get in to my first Sapparo, ever since I saw one last month on the motorway, but being so rare there isn’t much choice. I’m looking to understand the price guide on one if anyone can help? Also if someone is interetaed in parting with theirs. Many thanks in advance and I look forward to be part of the gang.

  • Charlie says:

    I have a Sapporo Body which is 90% restored, Doors are like new, if someone needs it for parts or to put together, there was hardly any rust on this car. Please contact me. Also, I have parts for a Challenger, same body style as the Sapporo.

  • Nathan jones says:

    Good to hear from you guys and it’s nice to hear that there’s still plenty of interest in these old cars . I would be interested in getting in touch with George Martin in north wales as your so close to me it would be nice to meet up .
    Myself and a few other guys with these cars that keep in regular contact are always looking for parts so please get in touch if you have anything that could be of interest.

    I’m interested in keeping in touch with other owners so please feel free to keep in touch

  • Mr R . R . says:

    I have one in the field , twin carb . 20 years + 😌 . But am encouraged now to do something about it … Ps , and another 20 cars … ? …

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