Motor Junkie has an interesting piece about familiar-brand cars that you may not recognize if you’ve never left the U.S.:
Everything began when Ford started selling their Model T cars worldwide, establishing assembly plants on several continents. The Model T was a utilitarian product people all over the world loved. But to continue selling cars in different countries, Ford needed to develop models to suit each specific market. This started the idea of founding subsidiary companies independent from Detroit.
So, Ford concentrated on engineering and building specific products under well-known American names. And here are the most interesting cars by U.S. companies they sold in various parts of the world. Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet offered everything including right-hand drive muscle cars, luxury sedans and even pickup trucks. And they sold them in Europe, Australia, Africa and South America.
Ford Falcon GT HO 351
Probably the most famous Australian muscle car was the mighty Falcon GT HO 351 Ford introduced in 1971. Despite its performance portfolio, it was a four-door sedan with proper muscle car equipment. And it came with Ford’s 351 V8 with a shaker hood and beefed up suspension and brakes.
The power output was 300 HP for the standard version, but Ford also offered Phase II and Phase III options. The car looked the same, except with upgraded mechanicals. And in the ultimate Phase III version, the Falcon GT HO produced over 350 HP. The performance was astonishing with 0 to 60 mph in the six-second range and top speeds over 140 mph.
The Falcon GT HO was successful at racing, dethroning its arch enemy, the Holden Monaro GTS 350. In the U.S., the Falcon was an economy car. But in Australia, it was a well-respected four-door muscle model with racing pedigree.
It’s true that the American Ford Falcon was an economy car (except for the Falcon Sprint), but the Falcon’s underpinnings made up the first Ford Mustang.
Chevrolet Firenza CanAm
One of the craziest, rarest Chevrolet muscle cars is the Chev Firenza CanAm. Chevy introduced it in 1973. They based the Firenza CanAm on the Vauxhall Firenza, a two-door sedan they designed and constructed in England. However, they built it in South Africa under the Chevrolet badge.
But, the best thing about this car was the engine. It was a 5.0-liter Chevrolet V8 straight from the Z28 Camaro with performance intake and heads producing close to 400 HP. Since the Firenza body was light, the V8 could launch this homologation special in 5.4 seconds to 0 to 60 mph.
These acceleration figures were closer to a Ferrari than a Chevrolet. They only produced 100 Firenza CanAms, almost by hand and mostly for racing. Today, surviving examples are quite rare and expensive.
The success of the Mustang inspired many American brands to offer a pony car model of their own. Even in Europe, the Mustang was popular and common. However, Ford wanted to explore the market further with a smaller, European version. It would be less expensive and more suited to the needs of their European buyers.
And this is how the Ford Capri came to be in 1969. They designed in the UK, so the Capri was a European Mustang in every way. Using the “long hood-short deck” formula and semi-fastback styling, the Capri had a fantastic stance. Although they based it on the standard Cortina floor plan with the same engines, the Capri looked like a thoroughbred sports or muscle car.
In fact, people often confused it with U.S.-built Ford. This affordable coupe proved almost as successful as the Mustang, selling in millions during its 16-year lifespan. Interestingly, they imported it to America as the Mercury Capri in the mid-70s.
Want proof that a Capri was a hot car? Watch this scene from the John Wayne-as-cop movie “Brannigan,” set in London:
Chevrolet Opala SS
The Opala SS is the typical example of a Brazilian muscle car Chevrolet produced in the height of the muscle car craze. They introduced this handsome fastback coupe in 1969. It came in a wide arrange of formal body styles as Chevrolet’s main mid-size model for the Brazilian market. However, the name, “Opala,” was controversial because customers thought it represented a mix between the names, “Opel” and “Impala.”
Germany’s Opel was a part of GM and produced a model they called the Rekord. While it was visually the same, the U.S.-made Chevrolet Impala used the 4.1-liter straight six, like Brazil’s Opalas. Either way, Chevrolet decided to introduce the performance version of the Opala using the same 4.1-liter straight six tuned to produce 169 HP.
Although not much by today’s standards, it was enough to give the Opala SS decent performance figures, attracting many customers. The Opala SS was even successful on the race tracks and won many events in Brazil during the 1970’s. And the Opala SS had a distinctive appearance package that included a vinyl roof and racing stripes. Also, it came with cool graphics and sporty wheels to differentiate it from its lesser cousins.
The Opala certainly does look like an Opel Manta of the early 1970s.
Dodge Charger R/T
Most people know what the Dodge Charger looks like since it is one of the most popular classic muscle cars in the world. However, the Brazilian version is different even though it carries the same name and model designation. In the late 1960’s after the demise of the Simca operation, Chrysler introduced the Dodge Dart to produce locally.
The car was modern and among the most prestigious Brazilian models. But in 1971, Chrysler surprised Brazilian performance enthusiasts with a new model they called the Charger R/T. It was a dressed up two-door Dart with a new front design and cool graphics. They also gave it a vinyl roof and a 318 V8 engine with 215 HP.
The new Charger R/T was immediately one of the most desirable cars in Brazil. It came with optional air conditioning and a plush interior. The front disc brakes made it highly advanced for the time. The high price meant it was relatively rare, but it was a hit with Brazilian car fans.
Ford Falcon Cobra
In 1978, Ford was getting ready to introduce a new body style for its popular Falcon. They wanted to produce a new model in a sedan or station wagon because the two-door coupe was out of production. After closing down the assembly lines of the old model, Ford was left with 400 coupe body shells to scrap. However, Ford decided to turn the leftover bodies into a special version they called the Falcon Cobra.
The 1978 Falcon Cobra came with a 5.8 or 5.0 V8 engine and automatic or manual transmission. Also, it came in two colors, white or blue. Each car had racing stripes as an homage to the Shelby Mustang, which was popular in Australia. Today, the Falcon Cobra is a valuable and popular car in Oceania.
Chrysler Valiant Charger
Chrysler Motor Company wanted to participate in the Australian muscle car class, so in 1971, they introduced the Valiant Charger. They based it on a regular Valiant platform but gave it a sporty new two-door body. The Charger got its name from its American cousin, the Dodge Charger. To be able to keep up with mighty Falcon GTs, Monaros and Toranas, the Valiant Charger came with several performance engines.
The most popular engine came from a hot version of Chrysler’s six-cylinder engine featuring new cylinder heads and updated intake systems. In the R/T version, the 4.3-liter six delivered over 240 HP, but the most powerful version was Charger 770 SE E55. Under the hood was a well-known Mopar-built 340 V8 with 285 HP and three-speed automatic. This engine was common in Dodge Challengers and Plymouth Barracudas in America.
The concept of a hemi Slant 6 probably would have been a bit mind-blowing here 50 years ago. With few exceptions like the Ford 300 six (which was only used in trucks because big cylinders are great for torque) and the Pontiac Sprint overhead-cam six, the answer to “we need more horsepower” always ended with the number eight.
Ford Sierra Cosworth
Ford UK is a popular economy car manufacturer. However, occasionally, they produce a machine with amazing performance and power at affordable prices. Some say that fast Fords are perfect examples of “blue collar” sports and muscle cars since they attracted mid-class buyers.
One of the most legendary British muscle cars is the fantastic Sierra Cosworth, which they introduced in 1985. And the Sierra was an ordinary family sedan Ford produced in numerous versions. The car featured rear-wheel drive and an independent rear suspension. However, when Ford decided to contract Cosworth tuning house for a performance model, a legend was born.
Cosworth took a three door-body and added a special body kit with spoilers, unique wheels and colors. Under the hood was a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 225 HP, propelling the car to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. For 1985, those were fantastic numbers, so the Sierra Cosworth immediately became one of the hottest British cars on the road. Also, it was successful on the tracks, winning many races.
Ford brought this car to the U.S., calling it the Merkur XR4ti, with the same engine that would be later put into the Ford Probe GT. An ex-girlfriend of mine had one. All I remember about it is that it mechanical issues. As for the Probe GT, I drove one. It was fast once the turbocharger spooled up, but it had the most torque steer of any car I’ve ever driven.
Lots of American manufacturers produced trucks and vans abroad using identical platforms and designs as in America. Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge produced pickups for the South American and Mid-Eastern markets similar to their domestic models except for the engine and trim options. However, for the big Brazilian market, Chevrolet decided to go with unique styling and somewhat of a different concept than in the U.S.
The best example is the cool-looking Chevrolet Veraneio. It was just one SUV/crossover model they produced from the late 1950s to early 1980s in Brazil. Chevrolet realized Brazil needed trucks as well as a local version of the Chevy Suburban. The Suburban model could carry up to nine passengers and their luggage and still could tackle those rough Brazilian roads.
They built the Veraneio on a truck chassis and equipped it with standard six and V8 engines. But, they covered it in a groovy looking SUV body. Despite having a unique design, the Veraneio was identical to other Chevrolet truck products underneath the body. Today, it is hard to find one in good condition since most people used their Veraneio as a work vehicle.
They could have called this the “Suburbano,” which is Portuguese for “Suburban,” but no Brazilian may have understood the reference.
When Ford realized Chevrolet was building special models for the Brazilian market and winning buyers over, so they decided to do something similar with their truck operation. And that is how the interesting and quite strange F-1000 came to be. Ford introduced the F-1000 in 1979 and it was outdated in styling but advanced in construction.
It featured an extended cab but came with two doors and a short truck bed. They equipped it with an all-wheel drivetrain, which local buyers needed for driving through the jungles of Brazil. However, the most interesting thing was the engine.
All F-1000s came with diesel six cylinders and later, turbodiesel engines. The engine choices limited the F-1000’s appeal to commercial users. But almost all buyers used them as dependable work trucks. Production ended in 1998 but those interesting trucks are still roaming through Brazilian roads.
The first four-door short-box pickups I remember seeing were on a family trip to Minnesota, where we were staying at a house next to a train station, where four-door Dodge Stepsides were parked. They also could be driven on the tracks, which blew my four-year-old mind.
Behind this strange name is the Australian built Holden Monaro GTS. They exported it to South Africa and sold it under the SS badge through their dealerships. The car was basically the same as the Monaro GTS except for the front grille. Also, the South African SS had four headlights. Buyers could choose between two V8 engines.
The standard powerplant was 308 V8, but most customers wanted the 350 V8 with 300 HP. With this engine, the SS could accelerate to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds and top 130 mph. Interestingly, despite relatively high production figures, the Chev SS is rare. This is because drivers either crashed most of them or sent them back to Australia.
Between 2004 and 2006 Pontiac took the last Holden Monaro, put Pontiac badges on it, called it a GTO, and brought here. The styling kind of doomed it, which is too bad, because that car was fast, as I found out when I test-drove one. Sadly, it had only seats for four, and we have five in the house.
Ford Escort Mk1
Although the British car industry was always known for its luxury and sports cars, their economy models were just as interesting and unique. And this was the case with the Escort Mk1, a mass-produced economy car that became one of Ford’s global bestsellers. Also, it was a fantastically successful motorsport legend.
Ford introduced in the Escort Mk1 in 1968. It was a compact rear-wheel-drive saloon they aimed at family buyers. And the basic version used the forgettable 1.1 and 1.3-liter engines. But for those who wanted more, Ford offered the hot 1600 RS and RS 2000 models. Those cars had special suspensions and engines.
They also had a lot of power and a small weight. And this combination made them capable of defeating much more expensive cars. Also, they were proper racing monsters.
Not here, though, I had a 1991 Escort GT, which was a great car, though it had merely a 1.8-liter DOHC four with 127 horsepower. The hairiest British Escorts had 200 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
Ford presented the Landau in 1971 as the biggest and most expensive car they sold in Brazil. However, the Landau was basically an upscale mid-60s Ford Galaxie. They produced it until 1983, make few changes during that time. So, the Landau was common and a car the government officials used.
Under the hood was a 302 V8 engine the mated with a three-speed automatic or manual gearbox. Interestingly, in the late ‘70s, Ford Brazil produced several thousand Landau models they modified to run on alcohol rather than gasoline due to the oil crisis. They built over 77, 000 Landaus during its 12-year production run.
As you will notice with the previous car and the next one, South American vehicles of this vintage look like updated 1960s designs, which is a strange effect.
Ford Falcon Sprint Argentina
Ford unveiled the Falcon in America in 1960 as their bestselling compact model. And it came with a range of six and eight-cylinder engines and several body styles. So, to reclaim its position as the market leader in Argentina, Ford decided to present an Argentinean version in 1962. It was basically identical to the U.S. model featuring just a few design differences.
In 1973, Ford Argentina wanted to explore the muscle car market, so they announced a new performance model they called the Falcon Sprint. This was the same 10-year-old four-door sedan. However, it came with an appealing graphics package, a different front end and a 3.6-liter straight six delivering 166 HP.
Ford Capri Perana
Basil Green was an accomplished racer turned tuner and dealer. So when Ford introduced their affordable and cool-looking Capri coupe in late 1969, he realized the potential. And soon, he introduced the Capri Perana. Green took the 3.0-liter V6 Capri they delivered from England and installed a 5.0-liter Ford V8 from Mustang.
To make the car handle properly, Green had his engineers modify the suspension, chassis, brakes and steering. So, after some thorough work, the Capri Perana was born. The power output was around 280 HP. But in the lightweight body of the standard Capri, the Perana was able to reach 60 mph in just six seconds.
See the comment about the Firenza CanAm.
The Taunus was a line of mid-size, family sedans and wagons Ford Germany built from the late 1930s to 1982. Over the years, Ford Germany produced numerous models and versions. And they sold well in Europe as well as in other parts of the world, too.
The Taunus didn’t share any components with American-built Fords. But Dearborn often used the same compact V4 engines they produced in Germany for some of their show cars and prototypes.
That’s Taunus, not Taurus.
In 1989, the GM subsidiary Opel introduced an advanced sports coupe they called the Calibra. The car featured modern, aerodynamic styling. Chevy built a lineup of four and six-cylinder engines and front wheel drive. And at the time, it was one of the best affordable sports cars on sale in Europe.
However, GM decided to reintroduce this car in South America, and not as the Opel but as the Chevrolet Calibra. They sold the car with minimal modifications. The top brass at GM even considered bringing it to America, but that didn’t happen.
It looks sort of like a Geo Storm or a Saturn SC.
American car enthusiasts will recognize the Granada name since Ford introduced it on a series of mid-size cars from 1975 to 1982. However, you may not know about the European Granada. It was a different model Ford produced from 1972 to 1985.
Ford conceived it as a luxury model, so the Granada was the biggest car they sold in Europe. It was also powered by four and six-cylinder engines and featured a long list of optional extras. The model came in two distinctive generations and they later replaced it with the Ford Scorpio in 1985.