While the USA has built some remarkable cars, and continues to do so, there are many outstanding or simply wacky vehicles that have been in enjoyed in Europe, Latin America and Japan that were never an option for drivers Stateside.
Back in the 1950s it was a bit different. You could buy a Citroen 2CV in the US if you wanted, and had $1195, along with a raft of European models, but a combination of stricter legislation and Volkswagen starting to dominate the market for foreign cars there led to less choice by the 1970s. Here’s just a few of the noteworthy cars they missed.
Dates in brackets are the year of first production.
Renault 4 (1961)
At first glance this looks less than scintillating, but the modest Renault had front-wheel drive and a hatchback, long before such things were usual. The Americans would probably have struggled with the dash-mounted gearshift though.
Toyota Century (1967)
By the time Toyota created Lexus in 1989 as a luxury brand, it already had decades of experience in the luxury car market. The Century has been made for half a century now and is Toyota’s flagship sedan in Japan. The V12 that has powered it so far is going to be replaced by a V8 hybrid, as shown at the 2017 Tokyo motor show.
Renault Rodeo (1970)
The US may have a lot of beaches but utility beach cars from abroad never caught the wave. Citroen lasted one year with the Mehari for example. But this Renault Rodeo might have done better, and not just because of the US-focused name.
Volkswagen SP2 (1972)
This is what happens when a VW subsidiary goes rogue. VW Brazil was a long way from Stuttgart and could do its own thing in the home market, like this gorgeous SP2. With a 1.7-litre air-cooled flat four and fastback styling, it’s a shame it never made it out of Brazil.
Lancia Stratos (1973)
You have to feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get the Stratos. The Stratos was only built for homologation purposes and it was an expensive project – too expensive to take to America. Sad face.
Citroen GSA (1979)
This is one of those ‘could have been’ cars. The economical hatchback was about to hit the USA, indeed a batch had been delivered to dealers, before upcoming safety regs linked to a fixed ride height crushed the project.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class W460 (1979)
Mercedes worked hard to keep its image classy in the US, and something that looked like a boxy Land Rover didn’t fit the image so it was kept away. However, grey imports selling for silly money changed the company’s mind in 2002, by which time the vehicle had gone upmarket anyway.
Volkswagen Transporter pickup (1979)
This vehicle fell foul of the Chicken Tax. Sorry. Light commercial vehicles had a 25% tariff bunged on them, so the only Transporter in America was solely for passengers.
Alfa Romeo 33 (1983)
Another case of brand protection, this time with the prestigious Italian company deciding not to sell a small economical five-door. Far too sensible a car, and anyway Alfa’s US division was already in serious trouble. It would get worse.
Ford Fiesta XR2 (1984)
The self-proclaimed ‘Wundercar’ led many in the US to wonder why they’d want it. Ford dropped it in the American market after 1980, and so Americans never got to enjoy the fun and thrills of the 96bhp XR2 a few years later. Ford went back in with the Fiesta in 2011 but is coming out again as sales are less than wondrous.