Canadians. We’re special, and we’ve got the cars to prove it. While the rest of the world mistakes us for Americans, a handful of shrewd auto execs have, over the years, pandered to us with special editions and Canada-specific models. And we loved it!
Just like our taste in potato chip flavors, bagged milk, spelling (it’s actually flavours in the Great White North), units of measure, and politicians differs from our southern neighbours, so too does our taste in cars. Case in point: the compact Honda Civic is on track to become the best-selling car in Canada for the 20th consecutive year. Meanwhile in America, the mid-size Toyota Camry dominates the best-seller list.
Canadian drivers historically gravitate toward smaller, cheaper, more rugged vehicles. In 1963, Volvo’s Swedish bosses saw that as an opportunity. Born of our two countries’ mutual suffering of bad roads and bad winters—and Volvo’s desire to avoid import tariffs—the company set up its first overseas assembly plant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. There they built a local-market version of the Amazon, dubbed the Volvo Canadian. It was available as a coupe, sedan, and wagon through the ‘60s and early ’70s.
One local Volvo ad, published in the Ottawa Citizen in 1963, proclaimed, “Volvo is overbuilt for places like Florida; but it’s the ideal car for Canada.” Take that, Florida!
The Volvo Canadian was little more than a re-badged Amazon, but cars wearing the Meteor nameplate were proper Canada-only parts-bin specials. Introduced in 1949, they were a hodge-podge of Ford bodies with unique grilles and/or a smattering of Mercury trim. They were given especially patriotic names like Niagara, Rideau, and Montcalm.
The 1961 Meteor Montcalm boasted, “Baked-on enamel finished in 16 colours [that] hold their brilliance under Prairie sun or Laurentian blizzards,” according to an ad unearthed by the Canadian Science and Technology Museum. It was built in Oakville for us, by us.
The most-Canadian car name ever is the Chevrolet Maple Leaf, a Canadian-built line of large trucks with a mix of Chevy, GMC, and other parts sold in Canada and exported to commonwealth countries during the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.
The Hyundai Pony wouldn’t pass U.S. emissions tests when it was introduced in 1984, but it was good enough for Canada. Hurray! Canadian drivers proved their love of small, affordable (and dirty) hatchbacks by making the Pony the best-selling car in Canada that year. Giugiaro played a role in its styling, but don’t expect the Pony to become a classic anytime soon.
Canadian drivers aren’t always so practical. Despite our polite 100 km/h speed limits, we have an inexplicable predilection for German muscle cars bred for the Autobahn. In some years, on a per-capita basis, Canadians buy more BMW M cars and Mercedes-AMG models than anyone else.
If you’re looking for a Canadian-only classic that’ll hold its value, look to the E36 M3, but not the watered-down version sold in the U.S. In 1994, BMW Canada managed to import 45 Euro-spec E36 M3s. The price was eye-watering, but these cars had the M-developed S50B30 inline-six engine with individual throttle bodies and 286 horsepower. All 45 quickly sold out.
Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Canadian-only specials. There was Bricklin, the Acura CSX, Pontiac Acadian, Frontenac, GMC Tracker, and, more recently, the sub-$10,000 Nissan Micra.