I Found A Song For The One Who Visited My Planet

Alert regular visitors to the corner shop we call DTW will certainly recall our recent discussions of American cars sold in Europe.

Three American cars for Europeans

By way of a follow-up article for what will undoubtedly be a fine spring morning  I have been delving into the recent past (2006). This is to look at a few other American vehicles that made it to this side of the Atlantic. That’s just what you want to read as you tuck into your cornflakes and toast.   Before some of you jump up shouting “You must be overlooking cars like Jeeps!” I am not overlooking such vehicles.

I have a private definition of “American car in Europe”. It’s anything imported on an opportunistic basis or imported unofficially. This is to distinguish them from the reasonable kind of American imports such as the smaller Jeeps of recent years. So where does that leave rubbish like the Chrysler Neon and P/T Cruiser? These were sent over with the stated aim of selling quite well because they were small enough dimensionally and engine-wise.  Well, yes, I suppose they are American cars too. They aren’t the ones I have in mind.

The archetypal American car in Europe is the one that is obviously not designed with Europe in mind. The Mercury Monarch mentioned recently is one. All those 80s GM cars that ended up in Switzerland would also fit my bill along with patent nonsense like Chevrolet Suburbans and Hummers, vehicles plainly unsuited to our roads and petrol prices.

And trucks? These I have no interest in. They aren’t cars.

Bringing it back to today’s trio: the 2006 Mustang, the CTS and the 300C. The first could be had as an unoffical import. The second two were here via Vauxhall/Opel dealers and Chrylser dealers respectively.

2006 Ford Mustang: Motor Trend

One firm bringing in Mustangs was Litchfield Imports. They are still in business if not exactly in Litchfield. They have brought over and remapped Mustangs such as the one shown above. This could be had with a V6 or V8 engine. The V6 can be dismissed as not being butch enough and the V8 can be dismissed for its profligate petrol consumption which is to say this is not a car for people who don’t like American cars.

And if you want an American car it’s your business whether you want one more suited to UK petrol prices of if you want the full-fat 4.6 litre V8 experience. The car is noted for its live axle and iffy cabin plastics but it’s also not an expensive car in the US so these things are relative.

2005 Cadlilac CTS: edmunds.

The Cadillac CTS first appeared in 2003. The first iteration ran until 2007. Anoraks know it was the first Cadillac with a manual transmission since the Cimarron. It had independent suspension and rear wheel drive. That arrangement plus its Art & Science styling signalled GM’s intent to go head to head against the German brands stealing their sales. Car magazine considered it ready to park next to a Volvo S80 at the bowl’s club. That was when Jason Barlow had the editor’s chair, note.

Despite the relatively modest engine, the CTS still only obtained 20 mpg. It also had light steering and a light brake pedal, conforming to the stereotypes of US motoring, I suppose. You can get a used one for about between one and three grand. And Parker’s likes the car apart from the “rather plasticky interior” and hard ride. Well, it is supposed to be able to manage the ‘Ring, unlike Cadillacs of yore (and it goes to show Cadilllac can’t win: either too soft or too hard).

2005 Chrysler 300C: source

Into the same market came the Chrysler 300C, a car that went on to become a Lancia in its second generation. In 2006 the first generation had just been launched (and ran to 2010). Like the Cadillac, it’s a RWD car, formed in line with what US motoring writers had been asking for for decades. It looked unashamedly Detroit, had 5.6 litre V8 and also struggled not to throw raw petrol out the back when underway.

Right-hand drive versions originated in Austria, courtesy of Magna Steyr. Like the CTS it had vague steering but better brakes. Honest John thinks they are okay and aimed at people who miss lazy, comfy, inexpensive cars like the Omega and Scorpio.

Such is the convergence of automotive design and engineering that none of these three cars are really, truly North American, not in the unique way of cars like the Olds 98 and Cadillac coupe de Ville. Yet for all their watered-down conformity, they are still too American for most tastes and probably not American enough for those of us who like our US cars to look plush and stately and that little bit too tinselly.

Image credit for composite title picture – Ford Mustang (CarGurus);  Chrysler 300C (AutoBlog) Cadillac CTS (Edmunds).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

26 thoughts on “I Found A Song For The One Who Visited My Planet”

  1. I think it’s very much a case of horses for courses: I have driven both the Mustang and 300C over a few thousand miles in the US and found both to be very pleasant companions, eminently suited to the driving environment there. Wide roads and large parking spaces make both feel perfectly wieldy, as does the lightness of their controls. The Mustang, in convertible form, is our first choice of rental car when undertaking our US road trips. The cooking 2.3 litre rental version is best thought of as the US equivalent of, say, the Opel/Vauxhall Cascada, rather than anything more overtly sporting.

    US cars will, I believe, always be a minority interest in Europe. Ford and GM had little or no incentive to redevelop their US models for the European Market, given that both companies had large European operations already producing suitable vehicles. Having sold Opel/Vauxhall to PSA, maybe GM might consider dipping a toe back into Europe, but I very much doubt it. The company’s attempt to rebrand Daewoo models as Chevrolet was a disaster. GM seriously overestimated the appeal of the Chevrolet brand in Europe. Those who knew their cars recognised them as Korean, not American, those who didn’t were simply indifferent. Moreover, the move must have antagonised Opel/Vauxhall dealers, already struggling to sell cars in a saturated market.

    1. Hi,

      There was this girl at a place I used to work at and I asked her why did she buy a 3rd generation Chevrolet Spark (when I found out she bought it new). She told me that in one of her favourite TV series (can’t remember which one) the main character drives an old Chevrolet and she always wanted to say she owns one. Of course it beggared belief that she jumped on a bland econo box to fulfill her American dream but it was a rare insight into the mind of who buys these things in Europe.

      See, how a name can be important. People would buy any rubbish as long as it has the right name.

    2. The current Mustang 2.3l is a turbo with 310 bhp. I suppose that would suffice in a pinch with a sub 6 second 0 to 100 km/h dash, Richard. Best place to see Mustangs is airport rentals in places like Florida. A typical dealer might have one or two – they are niche cars.

      The subset of actual US-designed cars sold in Europe is very far removed from the typical mix you actually see in North America! I must say, I have to tune out the comments about big, lazy engines – you’re talking trucks, and niche models like Mustang GTs and Camaros which barely raise a blip on sales charts here. Four cylinder engines are the norm in cars even from GM – Ford and Chrysler essentially gave up on cars anyway – perhaps you may have heard?

      I cannot go out and buy from stock any of the big Chrysler sedans like the 300C. Dealers don’t stock them, they’re so niche, and sell in minor quantities. You can order one on spec if you like.

      Oh, and the US Golf comes with a 1.4l turbo these days. 2 litre engines haven’t been used for years; 1.8 was the usual size, but that has changed.

      It’s quite amazing to me to observe that the skewed product mix sent by US-based car makers to Europe (when they can be bothered) leads to a skewed opinion on US cars. People are happy to proceed in their mind’s eye from the particular to the general, and thus presume by extension that from the few examples sent their way, the product mix that sells in North America is similar. Not even close.

    3. Bill: I wasn´t aware VW had reduced the displacements on their US Golfs. I must be candid and say my impression dates back to the days when I read paper magazines like Automobile and Car&Driver. The digital stuff I read since then hasn´t stuck because I am sure I did read it! About the Mustang, I am properly surprised. I thought it was in some sense popular if not not common – like the Camaro and Charger. There was a feeble effort to sell the Camaro and Cadillac Seville around the late 90ss. Those were US-cars given a thin wash of EU type-approval and sent over here. In the meantime US passenger cars have become more European, I feel. What count as real American cars now are flippin´massive SUVs which are way further outside EU size norm than 80s American cars were (in relation to city centre streets). I am sure you can get by in the UK and EU with an Escalade but it would be something of a challenge in the way a 1986 Seville would not be.
      Speaking of which I saw recently a last-gen Chevy Caprice driving around my patch. It looks superb, with a nice V8 burble.

  2. The Mustang can be found in the standard configurator of Ford UK’s website.
    For me, this mekes it look like a standard official import.
    Isn’t the brash Chrysler related to Benz’ W210?

    1. In 2006 the Mustang didn´t feature in Ford´s official line. Now it does. Is it an opportunistic product? Not sure, now that Ford has tried to make its product lines global. In the 1980s the difference betweeen a Eurocar and a US car was very marked. Now, much less so, at least among passenger cars. The USican taste for big has migrated to non-cars lie the Suburban and Escalade

    2. The 5.0 litre V8 Mustang GT is, I imagine, appealing to European aficionados of US “blue-collar muscle cars”. (A local builder I know has recently bought one!) The 2.3 litre model, however, is harder to position: too unwieldy and insufficiently fast to be regarded as a sports car, but lacking the premium badge (and finish) to be considered a grand tourer. It has no direct competitors in Europe, but that’s probably because there’s no real market for it.

    3. I believe so, but not to the same extent as the Crossfire, which was simply a rebodied R170 SLK. The 300C was a mix of Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz underpinnings.

    4. The 2.3 litre Mustang is for people who like the style more than they need the engine power. The 2.3 is enough to move the car at a fast-enough pace to keep up with traffic. I wouldn´t mind that if I had a Mustang.

  3. Should I be ashamed of rather liking the “rubbish” Neon?

    Some clever, mainly Renault thinking, and apparently profitable at a sub-$6000 list price. That doesn’t make it a good car, but it seems to have been competent enough to give its mid-’90s European competitors a shake-up. Should have done better here; unfamiliarity, lack of engine choice and dealer apathy let the Neon down.

    1. Yes.

      Seriously, I had one as a loaner many years ago when our Jeep Cherokee was in for a service. It was ok, but had a real pound shop feel. Fine as basic ttransportation if cheap enough.

  4. Ah, the Chrysler 300! I was on holiday in America quite a few years ago and the hire company kindly upgraded me from a “intermediate” car to a 300, I think because they were new and Chrysler wanted the exposure. It had a 3.7 litre engine, which sounds like a recipe for easy performance and dire thirst. In the event it had neither, with subjectively about the same performance as my own 2 litre and very good fuel consumption which I put down to very high gearing and spending all my time at a steady and legal speed on motorways.

    1. It puzzles me that US car magazines seem always to want more acceleration from what seem to me to be pretty accelerative units. While it´s possible I am sensorily ignorant, the 2.0 litre cars I´ve had have all seemed fast enough to not cause trouble at moving off, overtaking or just keeping up. Even my XM which is a fairly heavy, old car with a not-super-powerful engine manages. Put another way, those 3 and 4 litre engines seem to have a lot of displacement with not much to show for it. And what´s with those 2.4 litre 4-cylinder engines? And why does a Golf in the US have to have a 2.0 litre engine when a 1.6 is more than enough?

  5. @ritchard
    small displacement engines might be fine for most european driving conditions and just the driver occupying the car, but load the car up with some passengers, and a 2l petrol engine starts feeling incredibly sluggish when approaching an incline or trying to get up to speed, and you will really have to wring it to keep up with traffic up hills and mountains.
    it’s also not exactly ideal when trying to merge safely into a highway if there is not a long on ramp, which i guess is quite normal in everyday american driving.

    i guess it’s not much of a problem in denmark as i’s flat as a pancake, but here in norway and other hilly countries you can really feel the difference an extra passenger can make.

    Also, the gearing required to make small engines suitable for highway driving usually compromises the gearing for everyday low speed driving, which explains why even in europe, people are moving towards automatics, as rowing your own gears are getting less enjoyable due to less driver friendly gearing.

    old cars from the 80s and 90s with small engines and tight gearing are great fun at normal european speeds, but god help you if you ever find yourself on a highway with a 110km/h speed limit. keeping up with traffic usually requires screaming high RPM’s and lots of fuel.

    i guess you can compare the the american love for lazy large engines with the now extinguished european love for diesels, lots of torque for pulling passengers and things along, (only without the sluggish and rubberbandy nature of the diesel of course), and no need to rev the engines much above 3000 rpm, which it seems most people really hate doing.

    so in conclusion, a big lazy engine with lots of torque and power down low really is the most suitable engine for most people as it will be relaxing to drive, have enough torque to ignore the “bad” gearing it needs to be good at both high and low speed driving, low fuel consumption when driven lazily, and enough pulling power to not feel sluggish when fully loaded.

    whats not to like? (except the earth killing image)

    1. Your last paragraph just described the attributes of an EV but without the large physical size, complicated gearing and earth killing image.

    2. I am increasingly convinced that for high fuel tax markets, that pushrod engines (especially inline 6) with cylinder deactivation offers the best combination of durability, simplicity, low cost and fuel efficiency.

      For the typical urban driving cycle, and an inline 6 operating on 2 cylinders at 45 percent of peak power, the fuel consumption is half compared to all 6 cylinders at 15 percent of peak power.

      Without all the complexity and cost of: turbos, intercoolers, multiple cams, direct injection… etc etc.

    3. “Your last paragraph just described the attributes of an EV but without the large physical size, complicated gearing and earth killing image.”

      Yeah, most EV owners over here in norway seem to really love their cars, and having driven some Teslas i can see why.
      as long as there is a network of superchargers around (as there is here), range is no problem, and you can easily cross the county on a whim, just stopping for 40 minutes now and then to stretch your legs and recharge.
      The only thing missing for us petrolheads is the nice engine noise and a manual gearbox for the sake of involvement, but accelerating on to the motorway with one of the twin engined teslas can litteraly rip your face off, and to many that’s all the exitement you ever need.

    4. RE: nice engine noise… I don’t see where you could get that on a car that’s less than ten or fifteen years old. I do of course like nice sounding petrol engines (air-cooled boxers are a delight!), but I don’t see why I wouldn’t prefer a silent or slightly hissing electric motor to a modern ICE which is either utter indifferent or annoys with its artificial roughness and fake misfires. I’ll make one exception, though: Fiat’s TwinAir engine is probably the only one today that still has a genuine sound of its own.

    5. yeah, i guess i’d rather have no noise then bad or fake noise, but i find that really revving a tiny engine and listening to the desperate howl as it tries to keep up with traffic is one of lifes great joys, even if its not a nice sounding or sporty engine.

      my old subaru domingo is a blast to drive “fast” with its tiny 55hp engine, and my R5 GTE feels like a rocketship with its 95hp and boy racer exhaust, even though both of them are slower then most new cars.
      neither handles passengers or the highway very well of course, and 7 hour drives are as exhaustive as they are fun.

      you can kind of get the same feeling when revving the shit out of something like a base model three pot VW UP, even though it’s not quite as enjoyable due to the light steering.

      Drive anywhere in a tesla, and you will soon fumble around for the autopilot stalk and queue up the spotify playlist, as is just not that much fun to drive, faceripping acceleration notwithstanding.

    6. So far lacking any real electric driving experience, I’d probably have to agree to your last statement. My only electric drive was for about twenty minutes in an Opel Ampera. In this time, I was still fascinated by the quietness, the acceleration and the one-pedal driving. I’d probably have missed spotify only on longer trips. On the other hand, my C6 isn’t a very engaging drive either, at least on cruise-controlled highway drives with constant low revs. But still I sometimes like to switch off the music and just enjoy being transported with no fuss. I guess a Tesla could do this as well.

    7. I guess Sweden is a little different from European mainland, there are lots of companies making a living out of importing US cars here.
      I guess we have similar driving environment, with long distance and big roads.
      There’s lots of Mustangs here, all V8. The Chrysler 300 was something often seen here before, the Voyager minivan was a common sight too.
      And there are lots of US cars to see in every day traffic.

    8. Switzerland can’t compete in the distances department, but still there has been quite a love for American cars. I’ve seen a lot of grey imports in the nineties, and today we have many Mustangs and some Camaros. And of course, the Swiss always go with the big engines.

  6. Funny isn’t it that since the dawn of motoring the quest has been for more refinement with designers turning to V8’s V12’s V16’s automatic trannies etc and yet today some are pining for the sound/ noise of the reciprocating engine while choosing to help it along by “also” selecting their own ratios!

    1. People are always drawn to the extremes – either the charm and headache of full analog or the soothing excellence of digital perfection.

      My tastes are of course colored by the fact that i have never had to commute by car, and therefore i can prioritize a bit of fun instead of comfort and reliability.

      the city i live in is becoming more and more anti car though, so now i’m probably going to have to get rid of my old 72 mini and R5 GTE, as it has just gotten too expensive and too much of a hassle to own and store several cars.
      The Domingo will get to stay of course (for as long as i can find parts for it), as it is the perfect city car, and life without a van just isn’t the same.

    2. I can see why cities don’t want cars. I live in the centre of a small city, and of course I’m glad I can drive right to my home, but I also see that it’s a problem when all the people do this all the time. Therefore commuting has become a train / bike game for me (mostly).

      What’s the wrong way in my eyes is making owning a car so expensive. This makes no sense, especially if old cars are punished*. Driving them should be more expensive, especially in cities. Then it’s my choice to own a car for fun and only drive it in a reasonable way.

      * This inevitably leads to people scrapping old cars and buying new ones and by this wasting a lot of resources for what is probably a small amount of driving.

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