Oh, Canada: 8 Cars That Trace Their Roots To The Great White North
You might be surprised at some of the cars on this listby Kirby Garlitos, on
Most of us think of Canada as our friendly neighbors up north, and while that holds true for the most part - Canadians are really friendly - the Great White North also has a rich automotive history of its own. Ok, not as rich as ours, but rich enough to be given a list of some cars that trace their roots up there. The fact is that Canada’s automotive history goes all the way back to around the same time that cars became a thing here in the US. We just don’t know about most of them because there’s enough to worry about as far as our own American brands are concerned.
That’s one of the reasons why this list is being made. Canada is more than just a land of moose and maple leaf syrup. It’s also home to a rich automotive tradition that deserves to have the spotlight fixed in its direction, for however long it’s supposed to last. Some of the names and models on this list will be completely foreign to some of you, but that’s precisely the point. It’s time to give them the recognition they deserve for playing a part in creating and shaping the history of the Canadian auto industry. Oh, and stick until the end because there are some surprises along the way.
Continue after the jump to read the full story.
The first car on this list actually has its roots in Sweden, but its story is unique for a number of different ways. Some of you will probably remember the Volvo 122, which made it to north America through Halifax, Nova Scotia where Volvo established a production facility. The first car it built there? The 122 sedan, or as it’s called in other markets, the Amazon. Today, the 122 is regarded as one of the best models Volvo ever made. In Canada though, it was referred to as the Volvo Canadian, and soon enough, the fascination between car and country took hold. That relationship has stood strong despite the fact that the last 122 left the production plant in Halifax in 1998. Make no mistake, Nova Scotia is proud of its industrial identity, and one of the biggest reasons of its pride is because of the 122.
Ever heard of McLaughlin? You can be excused if you haven’t because the company’s history dates all the way back to 1869. Yep. 1869! It first started as a carriage company but as the automotive history evolved in the early 20th century, McLaughlin soon became involved, together with then-independent company Buick, in the creation of what we now know as General Motors. Owing to its Canadian roots, McLaughlin was eventually absorbed into General Motors Canada where it sold models in Canada under the McLaughlin-Buick name until 1942. Beyond its fabled history, McLaughlin was a popular luxury brand back in its heyday, and no less than the Prince of Wales purchased one of his own in 1936. Three years later, McLaughlin once again got involved with the Royal Family when a pair of 1939 Phaetons were built exclusively for the Royal tour. It’s hard to come by any existing McLaughlin-Buicks today that are in working condition, but one was put up for sale a little more than a year ago on the Bring a Trailer website.
To be clear, the Lada Niva wasn’t produced in Canada, nor was it born there. But I’m including it because it’s one of those cars that has became a staple for Canadians who wanted to get their chops off on the off-road. Just as important, buying a Niva here in the US is about as rare as scoring a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Over the years, the Russian-built Niva has been called many things, but the one underlying theme about it that has transcended time is its toughness and ruggedness. Simply put, the Niva is indestructible and it has been since it was launched in Canada in 1977 as a compact hatchback. It’s hard to imagine, but the Niva is actually still in production to this day and even more incredible, it’s looks have barely changed in 40 years. Go to Canada now and you’re likely to find a Niva on the streets there. That’s a testament to the car’s status as pound-for-pound being one of the toughest cars to kill.
Just so you know, the next two items on this list are pick-ups that some of you might be familiar with. The first of these two models is the Mercury M-100, which is essentially a Ford F-Series pick-up that was badged as a Mercury model specifically for the Canadian market. Why exactly did Ford do this? Well, the answer goes back to 1946 when Ford of Canada decided to split its dealership networks into Ford and Lincoln/Mercury. It didn’t have any issues offering pick-ups in their Ford dealerships but the split meant that Lincoln/Mercury dealers lost out on pick-up truck sales. The solution? Use a Ford F-Series, take off its Ford badge, and replace it with a Mercury badge. The result is the M-100, a pick-up that was in production from 1946 to 1968. It didn’t last as long as Ford’s F-Series, which soldiers on to this day, but it did leave an important mark in the history of Canadian pick-ups. And, if for nothing else, seeing a Mercury nameplate on a Ford model resonated for some people.
Ford wasn’t the only American automaker that had to make the decision of splitting its dealership network in Canada. So, Chrysler did what Ford did and split its Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships. On top of that, Chrysler also dusted off Fargo, a truck brand that it took ownership of in 1928, six years after its original owners went under. The brand itself didn’t fare well under Chrysler stewardship, barely lasting a decade before it was discontinued in the US for good. That, of course, didn’t stop Chrysler from transporting the name to Canada where it became its official pick-up trucks in the north. The Fargo trucks were simply rebadged Dodge trucks that were sold in the US, but the strategy of replacing the nameplate with Fargo turned out to be a stroke of good fortune for the American automaker as the brand lasted in Canada for another three decades before departing the market in 1972.
Ford’s history in Canada is actually steeped in rich history, provided you know where to look. A good example of that history is Frontenac, a stand-alone brand that Ford decided to bring to Canada just so its Mercury-Meteor dealerships had a compact car to sell. Unlike Mercury, Frontenac was created as a separate division. Frontenac models that were sold in Canada were rebadged models of the Ford Falcon, albeit with a different grille, tail lights, and external trim. Regardless of what made it what it was, Frontenacs eventually became the second-best-selling compact car in Canada in the one year that it existed. Wait, what? Yes, Frontenacs lasted only a year despite the fact it sold almost 10,000 units in that short time. It’s unclear why Ford decided to ditch it prematurely - it was replaced by the Mercury Comet - but it did make its mark in the Canadian market, however long it lasted.
By now, you’re probably noticing a trend here. An American automaker can’t sell a certain model in Canada so, instead, it decides to make a new one for that market, essentially making it a substitute car for the real thing. The Acadian Canso somewhat fits that mold because it was born from the Auto Pact (APTA) that was enacted in Canada at that time. The law had certain provisions, including one that called for the prohibition of sales of certain US-made cars so as they don’t compete against models being offered in Canada. For its part, GM somehow circumvented that rule by offering certain makes of car that were not only made in Canada, but sold there as well. That’s where the Acadian Canso fits into all of this. It was largely based on the Chevy II, but to make it more “original,” GM decided to use styling cues from Pontiac in the car’s design. In any case, the Canso proved to be a top-seller in Canada during the time it was sold there. Even today, the Canso’s reputation has held strong to the point that they’ve become collectibles in their own right. Adding weight to that sentiment is the fact that five years ago, Barrett-Jackson actually auctioned off a 1966 model for $73,700.
Wait a second. Why is the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon included in this list? The answer actually isn’t in the car itself as it is in the place where it’s built. For that, we can turn to the Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s production facility in Brampton, Ontario, Canada for the answer. Yes, the Challenger SRT Demon may be as all-American as it gets for a performance car, but it’s roots - same as that of every single Dodge Challenger, Charger, and Chrysler 300 that’s been built since 2008 - is tied into the suburban city located in the Greater Toronto Area. It may not seem like a relevant detail today, but just as the other cars on this list have been identified for their ties in Canada, so to will the Challenger SRT Demon when we revisit this list 50 years from now.
Read our full review on the 2018 Dodge Challenger SRT Demon.