3 October 2014

Five awesome cars never sold in North America

The U.S. and Canada might get a wide variety of unique and exotic cars, but we can’t help but think that there are a few cars missing from our shores. Here are our top five.

  1. 1972 Lancia Stratos HF – The Lancia Stratos HF is a monster of car. In the concept stages, the Stratos was an attempt by Bertone to get its foot in with Lancia, who had previously worked with Pinin Farina for design. The legend states that Bertone re-bodied a Lancia Fulvia and drove it to Lancia’s headquarters. Impressed with the Stratos prototype, Lancia agreed to partner with Bertone to create their next generation rally car. The Stratos was built around a Lancia chassis, with a Ferrari Dino engine positioned behind the seats. The rolling chassis was finished off with an aerodynamic body fitted by Bertone. The Lancia would go on to have a legendary career, winning the World Rally Championship from 1974-1976. It should be noted that one 1972 Lancia Stratos HF did make it to the U.S., according to Hemmings: Body number 111 was originally sold in Germany but came over in the 1980s.
  2. 1973 Chevrolet Firenza Can Am – American automotive manufacturers have made a number of performance cars exclusively for Europe and Australia, but have you ever heard of an African performance car? Meet the Chevrolet Firenza Can Am, a Euro-American mash-up that was never sold in either of those markets. Built to compete with Ford’s inferior Capri Perana, the Can Am began its existence in Britain as a Vauxhall Firenza frame, which was then shipped straight south to Port Elizabeth, where it was paired with a power train straight out of an American legend — the 1969 Camaro Z/28. With a lightweight body and nearly 300 horsepower, the smell of burning rubber was a no-cost option, and we’re sure there was plenty of that. The car was limited to a run of 100, which were built to satisfy homologation requirements for Argus Production Car series, 30 of which are still known to exist.
  3. 1969 Ford Escort RS1600 – While the latter part of the 1960s might have been the middle of the Mustang’s heyday, Ford was busy building fast cars all around the world. One of those cars was Ford’s venerable Escort, which was one of the top selling cars in Europe at the time. Of course, Ford engineers weren’t satisfied with a compact coupe with 1.3-liter engine, so they contacted the blokes over at Cosworth and developed the Escort RS1600. While the Cosworth engine may have put out only 113 horsepower, the tiny Escort was barely tipping the scales at 1,800 pounds, making the RS1600 one of the coolest cars cruising the UK at the time. While the car was a smashing success in Europe, the car would never see American soil, with the exception of the few brought over by collectors.
  4. 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R – The Nissan Skyline GT-R is arguably the most iconic sports car to ever come from the islands of Japan. While the GT-R is most commonly idolized in its mid-'90s guise from the Fast & Furious franchise, our pick is the original — the 1969 Skyline GT-R. Introduced at the 1969 Tokyo Auto Show, the GT-R was a Nissan Skyline sedan that was stripped out and given the special treatment by the boys in the Nissan Skunks Works team. The heart of the GT-R is a Nissan racing V-6 engine putting out 160 horsepower, allowing the GT-R to outrun its European rivals. Other cool upgrades included wide wheel arches, rally wheels, front and rear spoilers, and of course, the now-iconic GT-R badges. While Nissan managed to bring a lot of cool cars over to the States, the GT-R was not available in the U.S. until 2009, with grey-import GT-R’s being highly coveted.
  5. 1986 Porsche 959 –The Porsche 959 is a perfect example of what happens when some German mad scientists in Porsche decide that the 911 Turbo isn’t just quite enough. Built to be the ultimate Group B rally car, Porsche decided to slap an all-wheel drive system and a twin-turbo 2.8-liter boxer engine in a highly modified 911. In order to fulfill the FIA’s homologation rule, Porsche built 337 examples for consumption by the general public. Of course, the EPA and Porsche weren’t quite on the same page, and the 959 was never legally sold in the U.S. However, several example of the 959 have made their ways to our shores, most notably the “Gates 959,” which was stored by U.S. Customs for 13 years and was key in the passing of the “Show and Display” law.

27 Reader Comments

  • 1
    MikeB N.Calif, USA October 8, 2014 at 15:55
    Come on folks, those (2) photos were the only ones you could drum up? Seriously??? Why post such an article without at least one photo of each car being reported. Perhaps our overseas friends are familiar with these cars but, practically nobody in the States is (myself included). That said, great stories, thanks for the article -
  • 2
    Chad S. Montana October 8, 2014 at 16:01
    Though not a super car or speed machine the VW type 34 Karman Ghia is cool and was never sold here. There are a few that have made it Stateside. When new it cost as much or more than a Porsche 356.
  • 3
    Dave Virginia October 8, 2014 at 16:49
    Nice list! I'll take one of each.
  • 4
    Len Zapala Troy, NY October 8, 2014 at 17:14
    I think you should include the Lancia Delta Intergrale series. It was the car the Shelby GLH should have been. Lancia made thousands of the aluminium bodied, twin turbo charged, 16 valved, 200+ hp, full time all wheel drive, 2000 lbs Plymouth Horizon lookalikes. It won about 100 rallies and a dozen WRC titles. It drove Audi out of the WRC. All you had to do was go down to your local Lancia dealer: pay about what you would pay for a Plymouth Horizon in the U.S. and then go Porsche hunting!
  • 5
    Duncan MacKay Canada October 8, 2014 at 17:28
    just a note on the 1969 Nissan Skyline GT-R. All skylines were powered by an inline 6 cyl engine until the introduction of the current model in 2007
  • 6
    Greg NICOclub.com October 8, 2014 at 18:03
    "The heart of the GT-R is a Nissan racing V-6 engine" - Nope. The PGC-10 packed a 2-liter straight-6 (an S20).
  • 7
    blue72 United States October 8, 2014 at 19:02
    Ummmmm, the Hako Skyline GT-R was powered by an S20 DOHC, crossflow, triple carbed INLINE six.
  • 8
    Paul Moore Arizona October 8, 2014 at 19:05
    Does anyone know what happened to the 1966 Ford Mustang fastback the was commissioned to Bertone for a redesign. The story is told that the car did get redesigned and made the car show circuit in Europe but disappeared not to be found again.
  • 9
    flyingfish United States October 8, 2014 at 19:18
    5 awesome cars, two awful pictures. What's up with that?
  • 10
    Michael Yount United States October 8, 2014 at 19:19
    No pictures? C'mon Grant....
  • 11
    JOHN LESTER Melbourne Australia October 8, 2014 at 20:14
    Another Historic vehicle not sold in North America, but had the benefit of Ford's "parts Bin" to cherry pick from was the Legendary FORD Falcon GT Phase III which unfortunately was the last of a line of Australian produced Muscle cars developed "down under" to win the prestigious "Bathurst 1000" km production race around the "Mount Panorama" road race circuit in rural NSW, a combination of open rural road with start grid and pit lane areas several miles long rising over 1000 feet up and over the mount with some very extreme corners on the way and down. To comply with racing rules for the vehicle to race a minimum production run of 500 cars had to be produced and sold to "Joe public" for the cars to be raced in road trim, no mods not even any roll cages etc. The Falcon GT phase III was claimed to be the fastest 4 Door sedan in the world in 1970-1971 capable of speeds up to 145 MPH, fitted with a cleveland 351 cube engine, top loader g/box 31 spline 9 inch diff. Engine rated at 330Hp but most production cars churned out 375 Hp. Also Phase III were the first car in Australia to cost over $5,000.00 Aussie dollars at the time, ( standard Falcon 6 cylinder automatic cost approx $3,250.00 Aussie dollars) , today a genuine phase III can fetch up to $750,000.00 Aussie dollars and is worth every cent to the genuine enthusiast. If you ever get the chance to do a story down under this is the car to drive, it won the battle between Ford and GM down under. Mount Panorama is still used and the 2014 Bathurst 1000 is on again this week end 10th -12th October racing Ford / GM / Mercedes/ Nissan and other race prepared V 8 cars, but nothing beats the phase III for shear brute force grunt in a 1960's designed 4 door general commuter vehicle. Regard from Down under John Lester
  • 12
    Mark United States October 8, 2014 at 20:55
    How about some photos of the cars ????
  • 13
    Carl Beck Clearwater, FL October 8, 2014 at 21:05
    Funny- I don't remember the Nissan Skyline GT-R having a V6 engine in 1969. Always thought it was the In-line 6, DOHC, 2.0L "S20" engine. Most of the cars mentioned - did not make it to the US because of our Emissions and Safety Standards. Are unsafe and air polluting cars really that desirable?
  • 14
    Dennis Mamchur New Jersey October 8, 2014 at 21:41
    Dont forget the Fiat Dino
  • 15
    Bob Arper Bremerton, WA October 8, 2014 at 23:49
    The Chevrolet Firenza Can Am body looks like a1973 or 1974 Opel Manta with a Chevrolet name on it to me. I can imagine how it must have moved with 300 horses under the hood. Did it have a Camaro transmission and rear end too?
  • 16
    tom mason sacramento ca. October 9, 2014 at 13:41
    I really like your stories BUT unless I am doing something wrong could we PLEASE have some pictures of the cars. It seems like a waste of space to tell me about some car but no picture.
  • 17
    Scott Dool Ventura County, California October 9, 2014 at 02:15
    Information on unique cars is always interesting.
  • 18
    Tim Correia Southern New England October 9, 2014 at 14:55
    What about the '72 Australian Valiant Charger Hemi Six Pack? 302 hp in a cool looking little compact (by our standards anyway). I love these cars.
  • 19
    Steve Turner Battle Creek, MI October 9, 2014 at 07:40
    Too bad the article didn't have accompanying pictures of those rides!
  • 20
    Sam Ohio October 9, 2014 at 11:55
    I could surely be wrong, but I recall them being legally sold but they could not be legally driven. Also, as I recall, Al Holbert sold them through his dealership in Pennsylvania. Am I right or wrong?
  • 21
    Bob Lyle United States October 10, 2014 at 13:13
    Inferior Ford Perana, c'mon....that thing has been a top competitor in historic rallies for years now....won the historic safari rally last year. A 289 V-8 in a Capri Mk 1 body is not inferior to much, it's just scary fast!
  • 22
    John Neuenburg San Rafael, CA October 10, 2014 at 15:46
    I agree about lack of photos making the article weak. Maybe the targets are foreign car geniuses who know what they look like. Reminds me of the International Comedian's Convention where everybody knows every joke and they are all numbered. Joe gets up and simply says, "Number 47" and everybody roars with laughter!
  • 23
    Steve Pettersen Chico, Ca. October 10, 2014 at 10:28
    I am happy to have the mention of the early GT-R Skyline in this article, but the writer needs to check his facts. The very thing that made the GT-R a standout was it's engine......a high RPM capable STRAIGHT-6 (S-20), not V-6. Which was perhaps the worlds' first 4-valve production engine available to the general public. How many production 4-valvers can you name from 1969?
  • 24
    Charlie Romeo Rockledge, Florida October 13, 2014 at 19:42
    Great story but more photos would have really made it better. I like the Chevrolet Firenza. Is it just my slightly skewed GM eye or do I see styling cues from Opels, Novas, and Vegas?
  • 25
    Dan Kaiser Santa Rosa CA October 14, 2014 at 00:59
    I believe I saw the Gates 959 at a car show north of San Francisco a few years back... It was being shown by a high end Porsche service shop. I inquired if it was owned by Gates and they would not confirm or deny it. I have a picture of it somewhere... you should have a way to attach images to this discussion!
  • 26
    Bob Mittendorf Traverse City MI October 19, 2014 at 19:47
    How about the Volkswagen SP2 from Brazil? I've only seen pictures; they look fabulous.
  • 27
    Ian Maryland October 21, 2014 at 16:27
    What about the Ford Cortina? That would round out the list very nicely...especially if it was a Mk. I...

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