These are the cars that most British enthusiasts might only encounter in The World Car Year Book. This Top Ten is my list of the Anglo-American or Anglo-Canadian products that have intrigued me the most –
Nash Metropolitan 1954 – 1961
Not so much a British car sold in the USA as a pioneering American compact made in the UK. The Wisconsin firm lacked experience in building small cars, and so it was decided to outsource production to Longbridge. The Metropolitan was formally launched in January 1954 and if the 1.2 litre A40 Somerset engine was no Rocket 88 it was still offered ‘smooth and commendably brisk travel for two occupants’ to quote Motor magazine. Post 1955 Metropolitans were powered by the 1.5 litre BMC B series unit and UK sales commenced in 1957.
Vauxhall Victor ‘Envoy’ F-Type 1959 – 1961
The Victor F-Type was the first Vauxhall to be marketed in the USA, although its corrosion-prone tendencies and price did not exactly enhance the marque’s reputation. By contrast, it enjoyed considerable success in Canada where Chevrolet/Oldsmobile outlets marketed them as ‘Envoys’. The car that offered ‘low cost driving pleasure’ with an ‘Econo-Power’ engine and ‘Synchro-Ease’ transmission proved so popular that the Envoy brand was used on Canadian market Vauxhalls until 1971.
Triumph TR3B 1961 – 1962
In 1961 Triumph’s American dealers were concerned that the new TR4 would appear too decadent for sporting motorists, so the logical solution was to use their surplus TR3A body shells for a stop-gap model. The ‘TR3B’ was never officially available on the British market and the later versions combined the TR4’s 2,138cc engine and all-synchromesh gearbox with the familiar styling. Sales ended in October 1962, and the TR3B is now regarded in many quarters as one of the most desirable open top Triumphs.
MG Princess 1100 1964 – 1965
The 1963 model year saw the US debut of the MG 1100 Sports Sedan and in late 1964 a small number of the quite magnificent Vanden Plas Princess 1100 were re-branded as with the Octagon badge for the American market. The specification was per the VDP, but the MG name was far more- recognisable to American motorists. Unfortunately, only 154 were made – potential buyers were possibly deterred by a $3,000 price tag that was over $800 more than the four-door MG – and it could well be that many were used primarily by BMC sales staff.
Ford Cortina GT Mk. II 1967- 1970
US dealers carried several Dagenham products during the 1960s, the most notable of which was the Mk. II Cortina GT. For the sporting motorist who wanted to be considered the Michael Caine of downtown Cincinnati, $2,291 worth of Cortina GT four-door was quite a bargain, in addition to being less draughty than an MGB. Imports of British Fords to the USA ceased in 1970 but 13 years later, as many a film enthusiast will tell you, a 1969 two-door Cortina has a very memorable encounter with Christine.
Austin America 1968 – 1971
A two-door ADO16 1300 that was sold across The Pond as ‘the perfect car’ and nearly 60,000 examples found a home over a three-year period. On paper, they appeared to be an ideal alternative to the Beetle ($1,895 for the automatic version as compared to $1,799 for a manual transmission VW) and Road & Track stated that the Austin was ‘the biggest bargain in today’s imported car market’. Sadly, the America was plagued by corrosion issues and a plethora of mechanical issues. British Leyland certainly had the knack of wrestling defeat from the jaws of victory.
Plymouth Cricket 1971 – 1973
Aka the Hillman Avenger and in 1971 American motorists were introduced to the car that dominated British suburbia as much as Fine Fare supermarkets and the Watney’s Red Barrel logo. The Avenger 1,250cc was deemed too underpowered for freeway driving, so the Cricket sedan and station wagon were always fitted with the 1.5-litre engine. ‘Coming through with the kind of car America wants’ claimed Chrysler but the compact Plymouth lasted a mere two seasons. Despite its many virtues, its lack of bhp compared with other cars on the freeway and general unreliability proving to be its downfall.
Austin Marina 1973 – 1978
BL extensively tested the US market Marina prior to its launch in North America subjecting cars to 75,000 miles of tests through Ontario and Death Valley. On the 23rd February 1973 motorists of Canada and the USA were introduced to the ‘gas guzzling Marina; and its prospects seemed promising in the lucrative ‘compact’ market sector, especially in the aftermath of the OPEC oil crisis. Around 23,000 found a home in the US before sales ended in 1974 due to ‘cost pressures’ – Canadian versions continued until 1978 – but in 1977 the Marina did achieve TV stardom as the transport for Lou Grant.
Rover 3500 SD1 1980 – 1981
You might have reasonably thought that here was a Rover capable of luring young executive types away from their BMWs. Back in 1980 $15,900 was a considerable sum of money but the 3500’s combination of looks, dynamics and performance made it initially seem worth every cent. All that BL had to do was ensure its build quality for, as Car & Driver magazine put it, ‘England’s car industry has been making all the moves Rome did just before Nero took up banjo lessons’. Sadly, they did not and just 1,100 SD1s were sold in the USA; some were not registered until 1982.
Sterling 800 1986 – 1991
Or the Rover 800 as rebadged for the US market as by the mid-1980s one of the proudest names in British motoring history had become so tainted with American buyers. As it was, the 800’s sister model the Accura Legend became a familiar sight in middle-class circles but a mere 14,171 Sterlings were sold in its first year and only 35,000 before imports ceased in 1991. The core product was highly viable with the US yuppie motorist, the quality control was somewhat lacking, from electrical faults to body issues.