Many so-called “American” cars have been made over the years that just weren’t American at all. Most have been re-badged offerings from Toyota, Mitsubishi, Daewoo, Kia, or Hyundai. Rarer though, are the ones that source their heritage to Europe. So, let’s have a look at a couple of these European-American automobiles (in no particular order):
Hudson / Nash Metropolitan (1953-1961)
Nash-Kelvinator saw the American desire for smaller cars -particularly marketable towards women – beginning to make an appearance. With the introduction of the VW Beetle to the US market, they didn’t want the Yankees to be left out. They embarked on a plan for a small and inexpensive personal car. Nash decided that building such a vehicle from scratch wasn’t going to be cost effective and eventually teamed up with Austin-BMC of England to do the work. The car would be manufactured there using a variety of Austin bits, including the B-series 1.2 and later 1.5 liter engines. Several exterior variations occured through the years, though essentially they maintained the “Nash” family look. Though produced in the UK, less than 2,000 of the nearly 10,000 Metropolitans were sold there, and only the earlier models carried an “Austin” badge. Though sales were not bad, Nash ended production of the car due to internal competition from the AMC Rambler, which was significantly larger and not much more expensive than it’s diminutive English cousin.
Plymouth Cricket (1971-1973)
Back in the days when Chrysler was actually buying-out companies rather than trying to stay alive, they acquired the Rootes Group of England. During that time, the Hillman Avenger saloon and estate was developed and sold under a variety of names throughout the world. Notably, even as a Volkswagen 1500 in Argentina.
The English market looked upon the Avenger favorably and so, in 1971 it found its way to American shores badged as the Plymouth Cricket. Conveniently, being of Anglican decent, it used SAE fasteners and the ‘Coke bottle’ styling fit with the rest of the Plymouth range. Unfortunately, it was also rather unreliable, underpowered (70 hp from the 1.5L engine) for American tastes, and had a tendency to rust rather badly. By 1973 Chrysler gave up on the Cricket and the final model year was simply to dump the remaining stock.
Dodge Omni / Plymouth Horizon (1978 – 1990)
Chrysler Sunbeam / Simca Horizon / Talbot Horizon
Known internally as the “C2”, the Simca division of Chrysler Europe somewhat unwittingly produced a true “World-Car”. The 1977 launch of the Chrysler Sunbeam and Simca / Talbot Horizon from Chrysler Europe came at a time when the American counterpart was facing real trouble as a result of the fuel crisis. The decision was made to bring the new design Stateside. The US cars were in fact American built, but little about this car was American at all. The European versions utilized Simca sourced drive-trains, whereas in North America, a Volkswagen manual transmission and 1.7 liter engine was used initially though they sported a Chrysler-designed head (complete with traditional Mopar valve clatter). The VW engine was used until 1983 and was then replaced with a 1.6 liter Peugeot/Simca unit. Eventually the “L-body” American versions would see a variety of engines including a two turbocharged units from Chrysler itself – some Shelby versions even! The American cars also utilized different suspensions – A pity considering Europe got a Lotus-tuned version of the Talbot. Chrysler Europe was sold to Peugeot for $1.00 in 1978 amidst horrible monetary hemorrhaging – the same year the car began to roll off US production lines. The Franco-American hatchback met its demise in 1990, four years after the PSA group allowed the sun to set on the Horizon overseas.
Pontiac LeMans (1987-1993)
Opel Kadett E / Daewoo LeMans / Vauxhall Astra MkII
Opel Kadetts have been a major seller throughout Europe for decades as an affordable economy car. Beginning with the “D” variant, the Kadett became front-wheel-drive. The “E” variant continued using the “T-Platform” of the “D” but with updated aerodynamic fast-back styling. At best, this, the last of the Kadett evolution, was “crappy”. Nevertheless, GM never lost an opportunity to make an easy buck and the rights were sold to Daewoo of South Korea. At the same time the decision was made to have Daewoo produce the Kadett for the North American market under the rather presumptuous “LeMans” badge. A sedan was also made with a 2.0 engine and a wheezing 96 hp. The end result was perhaps one of the General’s worst offerings to date. The horrid build quality killed the car even in it’s “home” Korean and German markets and it provided a less than stellar book-end to the Pontiac LeMans series of performance cars.
Cadillac Catera (1997-2001)
Opel Omega B
The “Caddy that zigs” was more like the “Caddy that gags”. Intending to appeal to a more youthful market with the Cadillac brand, the Catera promised performance and handling like that of a European sport-sedan. Well, they were almost there when they chose the Opel Omega sedan as the basis. Though “sporty” is up for considerable debate. The car was rather ‘lame’ in terms of excitement and just down-right bad in terms of quality. Numerous issues plagued the German built Cadillac from unacceptable tire wear due to suspension settings to complete failures of its L81 V6 (a unit which would plague numerous GM-built Saab models as well). Not to mention the fact that the car’s “styling” was more like a gaudy patterned polo shirt than the cheap suits of other Cadillacs from the era. In 2001, poor sales led to the Catera’s death and it was the final guise of the Omega B to be offered after European sales ended in 1999.
We could of course go on to discuss more; the most recent Pontiac GTO, the Saturn Aura and Astra, and even the latest Chevrolet Malibu. But then really, havn’t we all heard enough about GM lately? It of course will also be interesting to see what Fiats make it here in the coming years via Chrysler’s lineup. Ford is of course absent here, as they have long had a significant European presence. While occasionally some make it here, I think it’s safe to say the Focus, Cortina, old Xr4ti’s, and so-on need not be grouped with the above examples.