European and Asian cars have their devotees, Australian cars seem to be in the news a lot lately, and Yank Tanks are well known worldwide, but seemingly forgotten are the native vehicles of Canada, South America and Central America. Often, these were derivatives of U.S. designs but with local changes influenced by marketing, tariffs and sales infrastructure.
Now, your intrepid reporter doesn’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, so his burning desire to investigate the Ford Falcons of Argentina and the Willys Aero’s second life in Brazil will have to wait for another day, but Canadian brochures are readily accessible and usually in English, so it’s a relatively simple matter to dig into the special vehicles produced for the Great White North.
Setting aside the independents leaves the Big Three. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all had manufacturing plants in Canada as early as the 1910s. The big reason at that time was that it gave them tariff-free access to the whole of the British Empire by virtue of being Canadian-, rather than U.S.-built vehicles.
Early on, Canadian-produced vehicles were essentially the same as their U.S. counterparts, albeit often with provisions for right-hand-drive production (the functional driver’s door on Ford Model T runabouts and touring cars, for example). But as variety proliferated for the U.S. market, the scale of consumption in Canada and the Empire didn’t warrant matching U.S. diversity.
Simultaneously, some diversity was demanded by the fact that many small towns only warranted one dealership from each corporation. Thus, a town with a Pontiac dealer might not have a Chevrolet dealer; a town with a Ford dealer might not have a Mercury franchise; and a town with a Plymouth dealer might not have a Dodge outlet.
The answer for the corporations was to offer more breadth within their brands. Thus were born Canada-only models that were different only superficially from U.S. models. Canadian Pontiac dealers tended to offer both a line of imported U.S. Pontiacs and a line of domestic Pontiacs built with a large percentage of Chevrolet components but with special Pontiac sheet metal (and, prior to 1955, Pontiac six-cylinder engines). As time wore on, the Chevrolet content in Canadian Pontiacs steadily increased.
Canadian Ford dealers received specially trimmed Mercury bodies sold under the brand name “Monarch” (a name that would later become familiar to U.S. consumers as the Mercury model equivalent to the Ford Granada). Canadian Mercury dealers, meanwhile, received Fords with Mercury trim initially sold as the “Mercury 114” (so called for its Ford-length wheelbase) and later “Meteor”, and with the debut of the Ford Falcon, Canadian Mercury dealers received for 1960 only a specially trimmed version called the Frontenac.
Beginning in 1932, Chrysler Corporation was perhaps the earliest creator of Canada-only models, creating “Plodges” by combining Plymouth vehicles with Dodge trim to create a junior-series Dodge to compete with Ford, Chevrolet and Pontiac at the low-priced end of the Canadian market. Another uniquely Canadian aspect of both Dodge and Plymouth brands in Canada was their use of the longer, Chrysler- and DeSoto-style engine. These engines, identified by their 25-inch-long cylinder head versus the 23-inch head used on U.S.-market Plymouth and Dodge engines, allowed Chrysler Corporation to rationalize its casting facilities in Canada around a single engine family. Similar displacements to U.S.-market cars were attained by appropriately varying the bore and stroke—although hot rodders would later discover that it was a simple matter to shoehorn in a large 251- or 265-cu.in. Chrysler six where once a 201-cu.in. Plymouth engine had resided by using the Canadian-spec motor-mount and radiator positions!
Trucks were another area where Canada received unique models, again due to the exclusivity of certain dealerships. The Mercury M-1 and M-100 pickups are well known in this country as they are a handsome variation on the familiar Ford F-1 and F-100 models of the ‘40s and ‘50s. General Motors had no need to produce a Pontiac pickup, however, as it already had a secondary truck line in GMC, ready to be sold by any non-Chevrolet GM dealer who needed one. While Chrysler built a Plymouth truck in this country in the 1930s, it was the earlier “Fargo” name that would become most familiar as a Canadian truck brand sold through non-Dodge dealerships in our neighbor to the north. Like the Mercury trucks, Fargos were essentially badge-engineered Dodges.
All of this fascinating variation would wind down quite quickly after the mid-1960s, however, with the signing of the Canada-United States Automotive Products Agreement, commonly known as the “Auto Pact” in 1965. The Auto Pact, which was a precursor free-trade agreement to NAFTA, abolished tariffs on automobiles and automotive components between the United States and Canada. That would open the door to the full variety of U.S. models being sold through Canadian dealerships and eliminate the necessity of producing badge-engineered brands or models for Canadian consumption. A few vestiges, like the Pontiac Parisienne, would hang on through the 1980s, but the U.S. / Canada automotive scene is fairly well homogenized today.
To the U.S. collector, however, the variety remains tantalizing. How many folks out there in the Hemmings Nation own Canada-spec versions of familiar U.S. brands?
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by David Conwill.
Firebird. It’s a name that conjures up images of power and energy, freedom and superiority. A name that has become synonymous with everything that’s desirable about American muscle cars. But where did Pontiac get this name from?
Back in the early 1950s, when one-off prototypes were regularly being created to showcase the future of automobile design, General Motors started on the creation of a series of three rocket-shaped cars that they called Firebird. Designed by Harley Earl and his staff of stylists at GM, the first of these showcars was the Firebird I, the car shown here.
Firebird I was introduced in 1953 as the Firebird XP-21, and was the first car ever built and tested in America that was powered by a turbine engine. With its rocket-inspired pointed nose, it was designed to slice through the wind with ease, and featured a jet-like vertical fin and small wings in the rear.
Its compact Whirlfire Turbo-Power turbine engine produced approximately 370 horsepower at a speed of 13,000 RPM. It was located in the rear and propelled the car via a two-speed transmission directly linked to the rear wheels. With its body crafted of lightweight fiberglass-reinforced plastic, the overall weight of Firebird I was around 2,500 pounds.
In the Arizona desert, Firebird I reached a speed of only around 100 MPH because the tires had traction problems due to their inability to handle the excess torque of the turbine engine. But determining the Firebird I’s top-speed capability was never the focus of the test, only whether or not it was feasible for a turbine engine to power a passenger car.
The GM Heritage Collection stated: “Designed strictly as an engineering and styling exercise, Firebird I was intended to determine whether the gas turbine could be used as an efficient and economical powerplant for future vehicles.”
Today, Firebird I, along with Firebird II and Firebird III, resides in Michigan at General Motors’ North American Heritage Collection in Sterling Heights.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Richard Lentinello.
The 3-1/2 year build on this 1955 Ford Customline sedan ended just in time for the 2015 car show season. Everywhere the car appeared, people loved it. They loved it in Nashville, where the Ford was a Builders Choice pick by Bobby Alloway. The Ford continued to collects Builders Choice awards all summer—in Indy where it was selected by the Roadster Shop, in Des Moines with a pick by Roger Burman, and in Columbus where Andy Leach honored the car. It was especially loved at the Car Craft Summer Nationals in its hometown of Milwaukee. The Customline, nicknamed GT55, earned Car Craft award for Best Paint and Best In Show, and a STREET RODDER selection for Best Ford In A Ford.
Nobody loves the GT55 more than owner Gene Schwister. "I'm a Ford man," Gene told us. The folks in Milwaukee already know that, especially all the other Ford men and women who have purchased cars from the Schwister Ford dealership in town.
Gene’s grandson Tyler is another Ford man. Tyler was looking for cars on the Internet in 2010, when he spotted the Customline advertised for sale. It looked appealing and the body was described as “restored.” After negotiating, agreeing on a price, and driving to Pennsylvania to get the car, Gene realized that “not to be in the best of shape” was a better description for the Ford’s condition. Even so, he knew that he and Tyler could turn it into a nice car.
The project started at Gene’s home shop. With the body off the frame and stripped to bare metal, attention turned to the chassis. One of the first decisions was to use an Art Morrison chassis as the updated platform for the sedan. Engine and transmission mounts were added to the tube frame. The frame was ground smooth and powdercoated in the same color that would eventually be used in the interior. The Art Morrison Enterprises independent front suspension with dropped spindles was added. Power steering is provided by a Ford rack. The Strange Engineering Ford 9-inch rear with 3.70 gears and a Posi is located by a four-link and Panhard bar setup. Antiroll cars and Strange coilovers front and rear upgrade the Ford’s ride. Many of the suspension components were smoothed and finished with black powdercoating.
Once Gene and Tyler had the body back on the frame, they turned to Dave Widmann at Dave's Hot Rod Shop in West Bend, Wisconsin, for help with the build. By now, Gene told us, the bodywork was moving way beyond dent and rust repair, and the “nice car” was on its way to becoming extraordinary.
The body modifications are subtle but extensive. The front fenders were reshaped to replicate the crown in the doors and to be flush with the hood edges. The fenders, hood, and rear quarters were peaked, holes were filled, and ornamentation was removed. The front bumper was flipped, and sectioned front to back, side-to-side, and top to bottom. The grille was sectioned, relocated, and reangled. A lot of attention went into customizing the lights. Dave created custom LED headlight lenses and lenses and bezels for the taillights and parking lights. Parking light buckets were resized to reduce bulkiness.
The contemporary tire and wheel combination blends with the classic body. Wide Toyo radials measure 225/35ZR18 and 275/45ZR20 and are stretched over 18x8 and 20x10 GTs from Schott Performance Wheels. Rolling stock is back up by Wilwood disc brakes. Six-piston calipers grab 14-inch front rotors, with four-piston/12-inch brakes at the rear.
Dave’s stunning paintjob is monochromatic black from SPI contrasted by a wide band of Black Diamond running the length of the hood, top, and deck—divided by saddle-colored pinstriping. The amazing effect is what earned Gene’s Ford its Best Paint award at the Car Craft Summer Nats.
Instead of continuing the black on the inside, Dave finished the custom sculpted door panels and headliner, modified 1965 Thunderbird buckets, and hand built rear seats in smooth and perforated saddle tan Italian leather—accented with Black Diamond painted pieces and stainless trim. Most of the dash was metal shaped, dressed up with a customer insert, and covered with a 1956 Ford dash top section—plus more Italian leather. Gauges were selected form Classic Instruments and a Billet Specialties steering wheel was chosen to top the ididit column. Pedals are from Wilwood. The center console houses switches for lights, ignition, and wipers, as well as the Kenwood receiver. The Vintage Air controls and vents are hidden.
Dave created the sculpted panels in the engine compartment and designed the brown and black color scheme on the Ford Coyote engine that powers the GT55. Gene and Tyler preferred an Eight Stack injection system to the factory setup, so a system was created for this application using Weber 48 IDA carb-inspired throttle bodies. Dave hid the injectors and hand-shaped the fuel hard lines—and built the fuel block and regulator. A Performance Electronics ECU and sensors control the system. Custom exhaust pipes run from the stock exhaust manifold to the custom stainless tips exiting through the rear bumper. MagnaFlow mufflers sound just right. The Coyote is dressed up with more Black Diamond paint plus satin saddle colored paint, which gives the look of leather. A Tremec five-speed ties the Coyote to a Dynotech driveshaft.
Gene told Dave that when the 1955 Customline was finished, he would stop building cars. That plan didn’t last long. Now Gene has a 1957 Ranchero in the works. In the meantime, he’s having a blast touring and showing off the GT55. As for Tyler, he says that his plans to autocross the 1955 Ford are on hold for now, while he and his grandfather continue to display their car at prominent events, where even Chevy guys love this Ford.
Article courtesy of Hot Rod Network, written by Tim Bernsau, contributer Robert McGaffin.