In Part 4 of our Power Wheels Project Cars series on the 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST that is owned since brand-new by ROPALI Chairman Roberto “Bob” P. Alingog, we were about to drive the 1978 Celeste donor car from our garage in Sampaloc, Manila to the workshop of JSK Custom Paint and Auto Works in Marulas, Valenzuela City to get the restoration work underway, when we got a call from Bob’s son, Aldous Rex Alingog, who was spearheading the project. He requested a last-minute addition – to convert the Celeste’s 4-speed manual gearbox and unassisted steering system into a 3-speed automatic transmission (A/T) and hydraulic power steering (P/S). Whew! Talk about tall orders!
We dug through files of Mitsubishi brochures and found that there was a Japanese domestic market (JDM) Celeste 1600 GL AUTO variant with a 3-speed automatic transmission in 1979. We also scoured through files dedicated to the 1979-1981 Plymouth Arrow (the American brand name for the Celeste) and we saw that the 3-speed slush box was optional in the 1.6-liter Arrow GS variant. So, we thought that it wouldn’t be too hard to convert Bob’s ’76 Celeste from a manual to an A/T if and when we find all the necessary parts and components, like the transmission, gear selector, shift quadrant, and all necessary mounting brackets and trim parts. However, we have to expedite the parts because of the timeframe we were up against.
Keeping the Deadline in Mind
To learn more on how to go about accomplishing Aldous’ late additions while sticking to our plan to keep the build within schedule, we consulted our friend and ace mechanic Lito Galvez. He installed a power steering system into a one-owner ’78 Celeste that he once enjoyed and that we published in Power Wheels Magazine and featured in this website in July 30, 2019 (https://www.powerwheels.com.ph/1978-mitsubishi-celeste-1600st-the-one-that-got-away/). He advised us that adding a power steering system is a relatively straightforward task if and when you have all the necessary parts like the hydraulic pump and its attending brackets, pulleys, belts, hoses, clamps, reservoir, nuts and bolts; and the hydraulic steering box with all the necessary mounting brackets, couplings, and steering knuckles.
Lito directed us to search in surplus parts shops in and around Banawe Street in Quezon City that specializes in Japanese imports to look for the necessary parts to complete our planned A/T and P/S add-ons. However, most shops didn’t stock these parts for an old-school Celeste because almost nobody, except for us, looks for parts to convert a 4-speed Celeste into an automatic but they have encountered a few customers looking to add power steering. Some shops offered to ask their Japanese counterparts to look for and send us the parts we need but they cannot promise a delivery date. Meanwhile, we have to be mindful of the deadline set by Aldous, that is, to have the Celeste completely restored and finished on his dad’s birthday on May 12, 2019.
Getting Another Donor
We told Aldous that we might experience considerable delay in achieving his last-minute additions of installing an A/T and P/S into the project car because of the difficulty in finding and completing all the needed parts. He understood the difficulty in finding parts for a 40-year-old car but he really wanted his dad to drive the restored Celeste with ease after Aldous presents the finished car to Bob. We had an epiphany when we remembered that Mitsubishi offered automatic transmission-equipped box-type Lancer SLs here in the Philippines in the ’80s. We learned that besides the automatic transmission, some other parts are interchangeable between the Celeste and the Lancer and this might prove useful when we are putting the finishing touches on our project car.
Aldous was convinced that finding another donor car was the most expedient alternative to his desire to equip his dad’s Celeste with A/T and P/S and accomplish everything before Bob’s birthday. Now, all we have to do is find a box-type Lancer SL 1400 A/T in good running condition and hope that its 3-speed automatic received the proper maintenance and fluid change from its first owner up to its succeeding owner/s. Otherwise, we will be compelled to have the automatic transmission overhauled just to make sure that it is in good working condition so Aldous’ dad won’t have any problems with it. On top of that, we also have to find all the parts for a complete power steering system from the Japanese auto surplus shops we’ve been scouring into.
It Pays To Be Tenacious
We called our friends in the buy-and-sell car business, who, in turn, called their friends in the same trade and their friends’ friends, but we turned out empty in our search for a Lancer SL A/T. By 2018, box-type Lancers have aged more than 30 years and most of the cars listed for sale are stick-shift models, with a large number mostly beaten up after passing through numerous owners. We learned that there were very few box-type Lancers sold with automatics and that some second-hand A/T units were converted to manual transmission by their succeeding owners because the A/T developed a problem that was too expensive to fix or the new owners found automatics “too feminine” for their own machismo. Anyway, we scoured the classified ads in the newspapers and the online ads in the web, and joined Lancer Box-Type enthusiasts clubs and online forums.
We began to suspect that finding an available box-type Lancer A/T was as difficult as finding a first-generation 1976-1978 Celeste 1600ST in mint condition. But our tenacity paid off when we got a call from a friend of a friend of a friend who referred us to a green 1982 Lancer SL that was for sale in Meycauayan, Bulacan. We looked at the online ad and then called the seller to schedule a viewing of the car. We found that it used to have a 4-speed manual that was replaced with a proper 3-speed automatic, which means that all the parts we need to convert the Celeste to A/T are in the Lancer. The best part is that the Lancer also came with power steering, thus, all the parts we need to add P/S to the Celeste are also in the Lancer. We negotiated with the seller, paid for the car, and immediately drove it from Meycauyan directly to the JSK garage in Valenzuela City. Thank God for small favors!
A Donor with Everything We Need And More
On the way to the JSK garage, we stopped to take a photo of our newly-acquired 1982 Mitsubishi Lancer SL 1400. The green paint was faded, the paint doesn’t match in some panels, and the aircon was very weak, but we didn’t really care because we were only after the A/T and the P/S. However, we were surprised that it was modified to look like the more desirable Lancer GT 1600 with its GT front bumper/integrated spoiler and GT ducktail spoiler. The seller accessorized the Lancer with power-actuated fender mirrors, driving lights, stainless gas lid, quarter window garnish, rain visors, hood scoop and faux Mosport wheels in broken sizes – 13×6 in front and 13×7 at the back.
The original 4G33 1.4-liter 4-cylinder SOHC engine was modified with an igniter-type distributor that eliminated the old contact point and condenser, a 4K carburetor, and a newly-overhauled radiator. Inside, the Lancer was equipped with a push start/stop button, 2-DIN head unit with reverse camera, and leather seat covers. The previous owner even converted the bulbs in the gauge and transmission position indicator lights into bright LEDs.
Daydreaming of Another Project Car
Once we got to the JSK workshop, we handed the car keys of our newly-acquired ’82 Lancer SL over to JSK proprietor Johnson Tan. He was tasked to schedule a team of mechanics to swap the transmissions between the Celeste and the Lancer, as well as transfer the power steering system from the Lancer to the Celeste. While he was on the phone arranging the schedule of the mechanics, we were looking at our donor car and began daydreaming. We’ve always wanted a box-type Lancer, preferably a GSR or a GT with a 1600 cc Saturn engine modified with twin side draft carburetors (Webers or Mikunis) and preferably, a 5-speed manual transmission and 4-wheel disc brakes. Our donor car would be a perfect candidate because it already looks like a Lancer GT.
We also realized that we can paint our 1982 box-type Lancer in a shiny gloss Ruby Red in honor of Batch ’82 graduates of the University of Santo Thomas High School (USTHS) to which we belong. We could restore the car to like-new condition and have it as a raffle prize or auction it off during USTHS Batch ’82’s 40th Anniversary (Ruby) Alumni Homecoming in 2022. We could donate the proceeds to fund the education of deserving students. Of course, we realized that we have to raise the funds to get another project going but that’s not going to be too hard.
Lest We Digress…
We were deep in our daydream while we were staring at the faded green Lancer SL when we were jolted back to our senses by Johnson. “Hoy, gising! Tapusin muna natin itong Celeste bago ka pa mangarap ng isa pang Project Car! (Hey, wake up! Let’s finish this Celeste before you dream up another Project Car)”, he barked. Johnson was right. We have to focus on the task at hand. Johnson was able to schedule a team of mechanics to work on swapping the transmissions of the Celeste and the Lancer as well as transferring the P/S system from the Lancer to the Celeste. However, foul weather and floods delayed the work by a couple of weeks and it was only on September 20, 2018 that the mechanics were able to finally work on the Celeste and the Lancer.
It is often said that “Everything is easier said than done” and transferring the automatic transmission from the ’82 Lancer into the ’78 Celeste required a lot of blood, sweat and tears. The green box-type sedan has more legroom in the driver’s footwell than our sporty red fastback coupe so fitting the brake pedal and attendant accessories required some massaging, finessing and cursing. Likewise, transferring the clutch and brake pedals of the Celeste to the Lancer required a lot of work. After the A/T of the Lancer was fitted into the Celeste, the shift lever and transmission quadrant was installed with some modifications to the mounting brackets. It was relatively easier to install the Celeste’s 4-speed gearbox into the Lancer because it was originally equipped with a manual transmission. The P/S was another “easier said than done” proposition but it was accomplished with some cuts and welding of the front left frame that was found to be rusted out! Oh, Jeez…
Obliging a loving son’s desire to convert the his dad’s 1976 Mitsubishi Celeste 1600ST from a 4-speed stick shift with 3-pedal foot control into an automatic with only two foot pedals and then adding a power steering system to make the car easier to drive and more enjoyable for his dad is not an easy nor inexpensive task and it consumed a great chunk of our time but it was a worthwhile last-minute addition. Tune in next time when we strip the Celeste to bare metal and get surprised by what we find!