The American auto industry’s history has been mined over and over again. Most gearheads can name some classic nameplates from bygone days right off the top of their heads: GTO, 442, Caprice, BelAir. But what about Sceptre, Acadian, Richelieu, Frontenac, McLaughlin?
No, we’re not making those up. These are all cars built by the Big Three (General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler) at the height of the classic car era. But they were all exclusively sold in Canada. Our neighbors to the north got some pretty interesting cars over the years, and unless you’ve spent a significant amount of time up there you’ve probably never seen or heard of them. With that in mind, here’s a look at the Canadian auto industry. These classics may be familiar, but they’re all proudly Canadian.
1. Dodge Demon
We’ll start with something modern. Dodge’s latest muscle car with hypercar power may look like an all-American. But this 840-horsepower dragstrip assassin is built with pride in Fiat Chrysler’s Brampton, Ontario, plant. The complex, which was built by American Motors in 1985 — ironic, right? — was taken over by Chrysler in 1988. Since 2008, it has churned out every single Dodge Challenger, Charger, and Chrysler 300.
2. Acadian Canso
Because of 1960s-era trade laws, certain American models couldn’t be sold in Canada. General Motors worked around this by producing a number of models that were interesting jumbles of Chevys and Pontiacs. A standout is the Acadian. A sub-brand sold through Pontiac-Buick dealerships, the car was based on the Chevy II but with trim and styling cues from Pontiac. At the top of the line sat the Sport Deluxe models. With an available 396-cubic-inch big block V8 and four-speed manual transmission, it was as hot as anything GM offered stateside. Today, they’re incredibly rare collector cars. This ’66 model fetched a whopping $73,700 at Barrett-Jackson’s 2012 Scottsdale auction.
3. 1966 Pontiac Grand Parisienne Sport Coupe
Americans got the full-size Pontiac Parisienne from 1983 to 1986. But in Canada, it was a popular model sold from 1959 to 1987. And this mid-’60s model shows just how good GM was when it was at the peak of its powers. Based on a Chevy frame and body, GM radically cut down Chevy body panels to add the roof and rear fascia from an American-market Pontiac Grand Prix. Up front, the Parisienne shared its sheet metal with the Bonneville. And under the hood, a big block Chevy V8 was mated to a four-speed manual transmission. We really wish Pontiac had sold this car in the U.S.
4. Mercury M-100
In 1946, Ford of Canada reorganized, separating its dealer networks into Ford dealers, and Lincoln/Mercury dealers. To keep Lincoln/Mercury dealers from losing their important truck sales, Ford began building Mercury-badged F-Series trucks specifically for the Canadian market. Offered from 1946 to 1968, there isn’t much difference between the Mercs and their Ford siblings. Still, it’s cool seeing “MERCURY” stamped across a tailgate.
5. Fargo Trucks
Like Ford, Chrysler’s dealership network was split in the Great White North. So to ensure that rural Canadians could get Dodge trucks from their nearest Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, it sold them as Fargos. Chrysler used the name for Canadian-market trucks from the 1930s all the up to 1972.
6. Lada Niva
The Niva was never built in Canada, but we had to include it. Launched in 1977, the Lada is a compact, Russian-built hatchback that features one of the most rugged, un-killable 4×4 systems on the planet. Amazingly, the Niva has remained in production, largely unchanged, for 40 years. While the Cold War kept Nivas from being sold in the U.S., Canada’s winter weather made it a natural fit for the cheap, simple little 4x4s. It was popular in rural areas and offered by farm supply stores from 1979 to 1998.
Today, The Big Three have as big a presence in Canada as they do in the U.S. But for General Motors, it all starts with McLaughlin. Founded in 1907, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company signed a partnership deal with then-independent company Buick. The next year, General Motors was formed, and by 1918, McLaughlin had been absorbed into General Motors Canada. McLaughlin-Buicks were sold in Canada until 1942. Sam McLaughlin remained on the board of GM Canada’s directors until his death at age 100 in 1972.
This rare, 1938 model was offered for sale on Bring a Trailer in 2016. It failed to meet its reserve price.
8. Volvo 122S
Volvo is proudly Swedish, but in 1963, it established a foothold in the North American market by opening a plant in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The first car it built there was the now-iconic 122 model. Badged in its “domestic market” as the Volvo Canadian, the 122 quickly became a point of pride for the Canadian auto market. The last Volvo left Halifax in 1998. But the cars it built there remain part of Nova Scotia’s industrial identity.
By 1960, Ford had toyed with the idea of launching a unique brand for Canada several times. But that year, it tried again with the Frontenac. Marketed as a standalone brand, the car was a Ford Falcon with its own unique trim, including red maple leaf ornamentation. With nearly 10,000 sold, it was the second best-selling compact in Canada. By 1961, it was gone.
10. Monarch Richelieu
With the aforementioned Ford dealer split, Canadian Ford dealers needed upscale models to compete with rival Lincoln-Mercury dealerships. Ford’s answer is the interesting Monarch brand. Essentially American Mercury models with slightly different trims, Ford relied on Canadian-sounding names for the models. The Richelieu, Lucerne, and Sceptre were decent sellers from 1946 to 1957. After a year hiatus, the brand returned for 1959. It was discontinued in 1961.
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