Canada-exclusive classics that make Americans jealous: Part 2

Aurora GRX Cobra

To most auto executives in their baggy grey suits, Canada is but a footnote, or perhaps a rounding error on annual sales charts. Two million new vehicles were sold here last year. A record! But that national total is barely equal to the annual haul of new cars and trucks in California. And, unlike in the Golden State, where cars seem to live forever, vehicles north of the 49th parallel usually live short lives and die salty, rusty deaths.

However, as we established previously, a handful of car companies have nevertheless pandered to me and my fellow Canadians with special editions and Canada-specific models. These were not all—strictly speaking—good cars, but at least they were ours.

As you, dear readers, so expertly elucidated, our first article was but the tip of the iceberg. So, due to overwhelming popular demand, here is a second edition of Canada’s exclusive bounty.

Volvo 850 T5-R
Dennis Elzinga
Volvo 850 T5-R

Volvo has always been especially attentive to Canada. The company named a car after our country and set up a factory here, in Nova Scotia. By far the best thing Volvo ever did for Canadians, however, was to offer the 1995 T-5R—in both wagon and sedan form—with a five-speed manual. The company figured Americans wouldn’t be interested in a slightly sporty, banana-colored Swedish car that forces you to use your left foot. American T-5Rs were only therefore available with an automatic, as the reader who goes by catfishdb pointed out in the comments section the last time around.

“Our American cousins, by the way, don't get the manual gearbox because that powertrain has not been outfitted to meet what's known as the onboard diagnostics (OBD II) proviso of U.S.,” Canadian auto critic Jim Kenzie explained.

At the time, a T-5R would set you back about $47,000 Canadian loonies, which was a fair price for what was essentially an 850 Turbo with the boost turned up and a set of 17-inch rims.

It’s certainly a more exciting prospect than the Nissan Micra, a car which is also only sold in the northernmost part of North America. The diminutive Micra’s main attraction is that it costs just $9988, which at the current exchange rate equates to $7700 USD. It does, at least, make for an enjoyable one-make racing series, the Micra Cup.

The Aurora GRX—Canada’s Cobra—was one of the most ambitious small-batch cars to come out of this country, as reader Lenncurtis reminded us. The GRX was a slab-sided Cobra rep unlike any other.

Aurora GRX Cobra
Aurora GRX (MotorCar Studios)

“Only one Cobra replica, however, came factory-built as a finished car that met U.S. DOT safety and EPA emissions standards,” Jim Koscs wrote in 2016. As a result, the GRX was delivered to owners as a 50-state street-legal car.

Each GRX took 450 hours to build at the Aurora Cars factory in Ontario. Unlike the original Cobra, these cars had coil-spring rear suspension with inboard disc brakes à la Jaguar E-type. Each GRX was beautifully finished in five layers of wet-sanded acrylic lacquer. Only 157–170 examples were completed in the early 1980s, according to AuroraCobra.org.

Sadly, the Bricklin SV-1 is the car most people think of first when the topic of Canadian cars comes up around the dinner table, as it so often does.

Despite the Bricklin’s cult-following, it was a massive financial failure and frequently crops up on listicles about the worst cars ever made. As a used classic, however, it’s not a bad investment. SV-1 values are holding steady with excellent examples currently going for $22,700. More recently, both Honda and Mercedes-Benz recognized the Canadian predilection for nice, small cars.

Mercedes will sell the all-new 2019 A-Class hatchback in Canada, but not in the U.S., a company spokesperson confirmed. Fingers crossed for an AMG version, and that it’s better than the rough-and-raspy CLA 45.

Honda took a more ambitious approach when pandering to our market. The company’s Canadian division designed and built the 2006–11 Acura CSX assembling them at the Alliston, Ontario, plant. Honda Japan reportedly liked the look of this Canadian luxury compact so much, it used the design for the Japanese-market Civic.

Several commenters reminded us about the Pontiac Parisienne, sold only in Canada throughout the 1960s and ’70s. The cars were built at the huge Oshawa Car Assembly plant, east of Toronto. Based on Chevrolet underpinnings topped off with Pontiac bodywork, Parisiennes were sold in Canada as top-spec models, resplendent in finest chrome and fabric trim. Commenters Marco and Rij of their own Parisiennes: “Very Canadian,” and “Has been in the family since it was new. Love it!”

At this point, if you’re thinking to yourself, “Heaven above, there’s enough material here for a book!”—someone has beaten you to it. For further reading try Canadian Cars, 194684 by R. Perry Zavitz, as recommended by the commenter See2xu.

To all treasure hunters: Let it be known, Canada is fertile ground for rare and obscure automobiles. There’s as much rusty gold in our scrap yards as there is in the whole Yukon Territory.