9 of our favorite captive imports
If an automaker has a hole in its lineup it needs to fill, often the quickest, easiest solution is to rebadge an existing vehicle and drop it in the showroom. When that vehicle is imported and sold under the guise of a different brand, it’s called a “captive import.” The practice has resulted in some fun and interesting enthusiast vehicles. Here’s a quick look at nine of our favorites.
When F-body production ended in 2002, GM was left without a sporty, rear-wheel-drive two-door. Holden—may it rest in peace—stepped up with a rebranded version of its Monaro muscle car. Critics were underwhelmed by the car’s subtle styling; perhaps they’d forgotten that the original GTO wasn’t an Orbit Orange Judge with contrasting graphics and a huge wing but rather a Tempest with modest hood scoops. The LS1-powered 2004 GTO offered 350 hp but in 2005 Pontiac added hood scoops and a 6.0-liter LS2 that brought 400 hp.
The short-lived GTO made way for the Holden-sourced G8 sedan. Unlike the GTO, the G8 was offered with a V-6. Of course, you could also choose between two V-8 trims: the G8 GT, which used a 361-hp 6.0-liter and a six-speed automatic, and the G8 GXP, which appeared in the car’s final year with a 415-hp 6.2-liter and a six-speed manual. There was even a Firehawk version from SLP with 500 horses that picked up where the factory left off. The G8 received praise from critics for its responsive handling and well-honed steering but came just in time for a recession that would ultimately doom the Pontiac brand.
After Pontiac’s demise, Chevrolet became stateside channel for rear-wheel-drive Holden muscle—specifically, the Commodore SS. Like the GTO, this oddly named Aussie import was only available with a V-8 and came to our shores nearly fully loaded. If you crave the fifth-generation Camaro’s Zeta chassis but need more functional rear seats, this is the most well-sorted version. Essentially an updated G8, the SS was well-received and also eventually received a six-speed manual for its final years.
The Tracker was built in Japan for its initial model year before production moved to Canada in 1990—where it was also sold as the Chevrolet Tracker, GMC Tracker, Pontiac Sunrunner, and Asüna Sunrunner. For all intents and purposes a rebadged Suzuki Sidekick, the tiny sport utility was offered with some truly ’90s paint colors and graphics. As interest has grown for two-door SUVs from Ford, Chevy, Dodge, Jeep, and International in recent years, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar resurgence in these nimble runabouts.
This one’s a twofer. In the United States, the Plymouth Cricket was a rebranded Hillman Avenger. In Canada it was also a rebranded Mitsubishi Galant, which was sold as a Dodge Colt in the United States. The ancestry is a bit confusing, but what you really need to know is that both cars were decent-looking, boasted solid compact car proportions, and made absolutely bonkers drag cars when zany Mopar fans crammed huge V-8 drivetrains into their short wheelbases.
Mitsubishi’s GTO/3000GT was Mitsubishi’s flagship performance model and packed all sorts of technological marvels into a stunning package. However, the slight restyle that morphed it into the Dodge Stealth produced an equally beautiful vehicle and gave us one of the most instantly recognizable rear wings in automotive history. The transverse-mounted, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 in the R/T Turbo models produced 320 hp and sent it to all four wheels.
We love boxy SUVs, especially those that are actually ready to hit the trail. Dodge’s Raider was a rebadged Mitsubishi Montero and it was plenty capable off-road, even if, like most SUVs of the era, it wasn’t terribly eager to get up to freeway speed. If you’re going to buy a Montero, wouldn’t you really have a Raider? A Raider sounds like it’s ready to make a late-night sortie to pillage a campsite. How can “Montero” compete with that?
This is a tough one, because it seems that Ford didn’t really rebadge its European-market Ford Capri when brought the model stateside; Ford debadged it. The Capri was sold at Lincoln-Mercury dealers but carried neither that emblem nor a Blue Oval badge. Instead, it was referred to as the Capri II, the Capri 2000, or the Capri V-6 that was “Imported for Lincoln-Mercury.” Regardless, the svelte coupe was a stunner and slotted in as a replacement for the Cougar as that model ventured into personal luxury territory and left its pony car roots. The rising strength of the Deutsche Mark in the late ’70s put an end to its import, although solid examples still exist.
Buick Regal TourX
Buick has been the American entry point for plenty of Opel models over the past 60 years. Sporty GTs and Mantas, along with compact imported wagons from the German brand, shared dealership space with huge B-body boats and GSX muscle cars. For a while, Saturn was the European brand’s destination as the Astra, Vectra, and Antara all had Saturn iterations. There was also the Cadillac Catera, “the Caddy that zigs.” Buick has since returned to being America’s Opel store and it’s the Regal Tour X that’s our modern favorite. A stylish, reasonably powerful, and nicely-equipped AWD family hauler packed with utility is exactly the kind of vehicle that American wagon enthusiasts want. Presumably, all dozen of them have purchased one, which is why Buick has canceled the model.