“Why, you might ask yourself, should I buy an Australian-built Japanese car when I can buy the Japanese-built version of the same car?” Autocar wrote on 20 August 1983.
We were talking about the Lonsdale, a masquerading Colt Galant sold from early 1983 to 1984.
Its existence spawned from voluntary export restraint that was agreed between Britain’s SMMT and Japan’s JAMA in 1975 and supported by Harold Wilson’s Labour government.
Intended to protect the UK’s motor industry from rapidly rising market share from manufacturers such as Honda and Toyota, this ‘prudent marketing’ exercise restricted the market share of Japanese cars to 11% at a time when it was predicted to soon reach 20%.
To circumvent this, Mitsubishi, at the time still marketing itself as Colt in the UK, decided to annually import 5000 Adelaide-built examples of the Galant saloon and estate, marketed as Lonsdales and sold through the same dealership network.
The most obvious difference between the two models was the engines. The Lonsdale was available with 1.6, 2.0 or 2.6-litre petrols - Mitsubishi blocks built down under but with some different parts. For example, the 1.6 lacked the balancer shafts of the Japanese-built version and had 81bhp as opposed to 75bhp.
The suspension received softer spring rates for the UK, while the steering was of an 'ageing' recirculating ball design, with power assistance standard on the 2.6.
On the two more powerful models, a five-speed Mitsubishi-built manual was standard, while an Australian-built three-speed automatic was a £400 option.
Autocar tested the range-topping 2.6 model, which, as with the rest of the range, was cheaper than its Colt equivalent at £7499 (£23,300 today); the 2.0-litre-engined 2000 GLS cost £270 (£840 today) more.
“The big four-cylinder is undoubtedly ideal for barrelling along unending Bush roads, but does it have an application in British conditions?” Autocar asked.
We continued: “The power output is hardly remarkable at 102bhp, but there is torque aplenty, 142lb at peaking at a rather low 2400rpm, good for acceleration and ideal for quiet, long-legged cruising.”
This allowed it to go from 0-60mph in a “spirited” 10.8sec – faster than the 2.0-litre Galant GLS, which had the same power output.
“The lower gears seem well arranged, exhibiting a gradual closing of rations," Autocar wrote.
“Fourth pulls on to the car’s top speed of 106mph, at 4900rpm, suggesting fairly ideal top gearing since the engine’s power peak is at 4800rpm.
“Cruising at 70mph in fifth, the engine is at 2800rpm, not far above the good-for-economy peak torque point.”
The change was slick and smooth, although you didn’t need it much due to the engine’s flexibility.
“It revs smoothly and freely, the balancer shafts obviously doing their job well so that at idle the engine can hardly be heard or felt,” we continued.
“The torquey engine is willing, so that although the car is hardly sporting in character, it is still enjoyable to use its good acceleration around town. By the same token, the smooth, silent low-speed running helps to take some of the strain out of nose-to-tail, stop-start commuting.”
Due to its large capacity, we expected poor fuel economy of the motor, but it returned a competitive 22.4mpg; we got 20.9mpg out of the rival 2.3 Ford Sierra Ghia automatic and 23.3mpg out of the Galant 2000.
Although we had an issue with the driver’s door pulling back at 70mph, creating a hiss and rustle of wind, “the Lonsdale proved quieter than many competitors” despite its “dated design”, with “remarkably little wind noise” bar that particular issue and little road noise. Very little vibration translated through to the car’s occupants.
“The fairly stiff-suspension set-up does allow the occupants to feel a poor road surface, but in fact ride comfort is very good considering the rigid-axle set-up," we wrote.
“The steering is possibly the car’s worst point from the British point of view. As we commented when we tested the Galant 2000 GLS, if there is one thing worse than low-geared recirculating ball steering, it is adding feel-less power assistance.
“At speed, there is more weight (the power assistance was speed compensating) but it is difficult to know exactly what the front wheels are doing in fast cornering.
“The vagueness may make it difficult to hold the car precisely on line through a fast corner, but at least cornering behaviour is well-mannered and quirk-free. Roll is moderate, and the car can be driven enthusiastically on winding roads, due to high limits of adhesion.” The brakes, too, proved to be “of above-average efficiency”.
Inside the Lonsdale, “no attempt has been made to make it look like anything other than the Galant – indeed, none was needed, although we might have expected that typically Japanese inverted steering wheel spoke to take on a more boomerang-like countour”, we joked.
“Therefore our comments must also echo what we said about the Galant, which impressed us with its attractive and comfortable interior,” we wrote. “The driving seat has four separate adjustments, there is plenty of space for a six-footer and the controls fall easily to hand ad feet. The seat is also well shaped with good thigh and lateral support.
“The facia may be a Colt copy, but at least the layout remains clear and simple.
“The interior is quite spacious, so that there is adequate leg and head room in the rear for two adult passengers. There is adequate width to accommodate three at a pinch.
“The boot is capacious, offering 12.4cu ft of space, though a little awkwardly shaped because of the intrusive wheel arches.”
We struggled for a car that would provide a direct comparison to the 2.6 Lonsdale, with the closest the 2.3 Sierra, although that was a hatchback rather than a saloon. Other suggestions, all good choices as fleet cars, were the Vauxhall Carlton, Lancia Trevi and Mazda 626, all with 2.0-litre engines, and the 2.2 Volvo 240.
Autocar considered that, among these, the Lonsdale stood out in terms of handling and only fell behind the Sierra in terms of ride comfort.
Autocar concluded: “We said at the start of this test that we chose the 2.6-litre version of the Lonsdale to see if the concept of a big-engined, light-steering car had any real value in Britain. Undoubtedly in the Australian context it could be a winner, with hundreds of miles of poorly surfaced roads separating outposts of civilisation.
“The Sierra, Carlton and Trevi are cars born into the British style of motoring and so can find immediate acceptance. The 240 is an example, perhaps, of a European-style car edging slowly towards the American taste, while the 626 is a US-influenced Japanese product that now strives to attain the European norm.
“The Lonsdale 2.6 reverts to the US flavour. It may find some favour here – after all, there is a growing interest in American cars – but would be more at home in the Outback.”
We were proved right in May 1984, when the Lonsdale brand was discontinued due to very poor sales. The remaining stock was rebranded as Mitsubishi Galants as the Colt name was dropped. Today, there is none left on the road or even on SORN.