Hooniverse Asks- What Import Car Made The Worst Transition in Return For U.S. Sales?

We’ve all had it happen, seen a picture of a possible long-term relationship online, or on the wall of the Post Office, and a spark of interest ignites. That image is carried, and potentially manipulated by the rationalizer in our brain – that little bit that convinces you that it would be stupid not to have that fourth drink, or to avoid the dark alley shortcut to the bank. And then, when you actually meet the subject of that picture, there’s something different about them. Different, and potentially off-putting. Maybe it’s that mole on the back of their neck, or the home incarceration ankle bracelet, beeping frantically under their jeans.
Cars are like that too. And many an import has arrived on our shores with dreams of acceptance, and a massive neck mole that will guarantee the impossibility of that eventuality. The standards in other countries – both for safety and emissions – are, like Mrs. Gump’s boy, different. And that has resulted in cars initially designed only for foreign consumption to sprout all kinds of questionable appendages and smog controls that add weight, spoil looks, and slow them down to the point that walking is a viable alternative.
That’s less the case today, but for years it was hard to tell the U.S. model of many a car from it’s home-market progenitor. That was the case for pretty much all of the ’70s, ’80s, and part of the ’90s. And the question is, which one fared the worst in making the switch from Not Sold Here to Here I am?
Image sources: [gminsidenewshemsath.net]

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66 responses to “Hooniverse Asks- What Import Car Made The Worst Transition in Return For U.S. Sales?”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    This one might have even been worse:
    <img src="http://www.cartype.com/pics/3623/full/mg_midget_poster1.jpg&quot; width="500/">
    From what I here the raised suspension did really bad things to the handling.
    At least MG sort of tried to integrate the bumper with the rest of the car, instead of just adding a huge battering ram like Triumph.
    <img src="http://www.ohioconcours.com/2001/fc-01-1545.jpg"width=500&gt;

  2. P161911 Avatar

    Some were subtle but still not good.
    1998 BMW M3 US Spec 240HP
    1998 BMW M3 Euro spec 316 HP
    <img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3145/2825134738_123cb6a055.jpg&quot; width="500/">

  3. Jim-Bob Avatar

    Nissan Silvia. In Japan it had the awesome SR20DET engine under the hood while in the US it got the reliable but boring KA24DE out of the Nissan truck. It also lost the cool looking J-Spec front end with projector headlights (on the coupe) and instead got the hideaway headlights from the 180sx.
    <img src="http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcTSq2mGwB2e9T4WA3ui85THDsi0E9UigDiBgPuxeaSy6IvRRJ5j"&gt;

    1.  Avatar
    1. skitter Avatar

      It gets worse.
      <img src="http://i615.photobucket.com/albums/tt237/jskitter/hooniverse/LamborghiniCountach.jpg"&gt;
      That's not a wing. That's a bumper.

  4. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

    The US version for the SM is for me the same like having a house painter toutch up a Rembrandt to hang it in a different museum.
    A piece of art may not be retoutched.
    <img src="http://www.allsportauto.com/photoautre4/citroen/sm/1973_citroen_sm_opera_07_m.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://bringatrailer.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/1972_Citroen_SM_Maserati_Survivor_For_Sale_Front_1.jpg"&gt;

    1. P161911 Avatar

      So Burt Reynolds had the right idea on what to do with one. Skip to the 3:39 mark.[youtube sgcGQx_Efow&feature=fvwrel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgcGQx_Efow&feature=fvwrel youtube]

      1. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

        No need to get this radical though.

    2. texlenin Avatar

      I actually like the US headlamp set-up better. When I buy mine, (whenever that really happens),
      I think I'll move the inner two lamps further forward, cut that divider back, mould it all in, and
      hook up the swivel mechanism. Two more lights in the center.
      I've already got it all drawn up- but not patented.

  5. LTDScott Avatar

    Whoa, that's a new one to me. Horrible!

  6. skitter Avatar

    If I'm going to spring for a McLaren F1, a car that drove away from a 30mph crash test, I'd like to have all three seats.

  7. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

    That is ugly, didn't know they were ever sold in the US

  8. Jim-Bob Avatar

    A few more modern examples would be the Ford Fiesta and the Smart Fortwo. Both are available with smaller gasoline engines or diesels in Europe but can only be had with far thirstier engines in the US market. Likewise, the Toyota Yaris which is available with a 1 liter 3 in Europe but only a rather large 1.5 liter 4 in the US. They may not be faster overseas, but they do get 5-10 mpg better fuel economy with the smaller engines and it would be nice to have the option.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      I'm more than a little disappointed that the US got the Fortwo – we got the original diesel model up here in Canada until the US and EPA proved why we sometimes don't get nice things/

    2. engineerd Avatar

      The Fiesta diesel in Europe gets 50+ mpg (US). If only the US didn't have onerous emissions requirements for diesels…

    3. smokyburnout Avatar

      The ForTwo would be on my list too. I remember thinking, "wow, they're bringing the redesigned next-generation one here, so it won't have that stupid transmission I heard so much about." WRONG.

  9. Alff Avatar

    The greatest injustice is not modifications to certain models but models that the makers choose not to offer us.
    "You want a wagon? Here, my bloated American friend, have an SUV instead."
    "Thanks for bailing us out, Mr. Taxpayer! No, we can't offer you that nice G8."
    "We can notta make-a money in Amereeka anymore. Arrivaderci."

      1. TX_Stig Avatar

        I'll second that. Real shame, the first really appealing car that GM has made in ages, then they kill off the division that showcased it. Thanks guys. I want a refund. They could have at least had the decency to produce it long enough that someone like me could hope for one in 5 years on the used market.

    1. Deartháir Avatar

      I've got a wagon right in front of my office. At least once a day, I hear someone say, "Now who in their right mind would want a wagon when they could get an SUV instead."
      I have bruises from the number of times I ::headdesk:: in a day.

  10. Black Steelies Avatar

    Here in 'mericuh we like our bumpers big and our headlights sealed!
    ..Basically we plan on running into stuff and sealed beam headlights are less expensive to replace.

  11. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    I can tell I'm a native North American, because even today sealed beams still seem somehow more "correct" than older cars with euro headlights.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      i had a friend comment on Facebook a couple of days ago that he had just spent a couple of hours polishing the headlight lenses on his newish BMW and then looked over at the beat-up old '73 Chevy pickup in the parking lot with gleaming glass sealed beam headlights.

  12. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar
    Peter Tanshanomi

    You win. My eyes hurt, but you win.

  13. Manic_King Avatar

    Merkurs i.e. Ford's Sierra and Scorpio.
    <img src="http://www.automk.com/media/2008/09//Merkur_Rr_RH_High.jpg"&gt;

    1. engineerd Avatar

      Exactly what I was going to say.

    2. Alff Avatar

      I'm curious how this was worse than its Euro counterpart. From what I've read, the chassis was stiffer and the 2.3L Turbo generally preferable to the Cologne V6.
      I'm not very familiar with the European versions, though. What changed?

    3. James Avatar

      I disagree. I'd much rather have a Lima 2.3 OHC Turbo 4 that you could intercool, plug injectors in, and drastically up the boost safely than a freaking heavy, gutless Cologne V6. XRatty's rock!

      1. Deartháir Avatar

        I'm with you on that… if you were modifying it to modern standards. I've driven a TurboCoupe with that engine, and it was just all over the place with gobs of turbo lag. Hella fun, but not great for actually having good performance.

      2. Tygur Avatar

        My friend got an XR4Ti a couple months back. Gave me a ride in it a couple weeks ago. He didn't want to, but only one he could find was an automatic, which from what I've read, got shorted down to ~140hp. Probably because putting much more through whatever crap transmission that is would cause it to explode. I love the quirkyness of its look and the odd dash and placements of things but it was just freakishly slow. Compared to my (same year) N/A 300ZX, it was just miserable, and even my wife's automatic subaru legacy 2.2 (with nearly the same horsepower) would have thrashed it. But I'll have to chock it up to the poor transmission. Because I have too much respect for Sierras to think otherwise.

  14. mr. mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
    mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Here's the JDM '08 Nissan Cube interior, seats 8:
    <img src="http://nissanpicgall.co.cc/pictures/car/images/19/2008-Nissan-Cube-Interior-3-1024×768.jpg"&gt;
    Here's the US '10 Nissan Cube, seats 5 with a stupid CVT, floor shifter, and center stack:
    <img src="http://image.automobilemag.com/f/10875976+w750+st0/0811_10_z+2009_nissan_cube+front_interior.jpg"&gt;
    In Japan they still have the front bench and now it even has a nifty cupholder molded into it. None of the other stuff I listed were added, but hey in USA we can get leather!

    1. smokyburnout Avatar
    2. Lotte Avatar

      I remember sitting in the Cube at an NA auto show and really, really liking the airy cabin. The seats were close enough together that they did seem bench-like, though an actual one would be nice (but then you have to relocate the sifter and the handbrake…) I would be tempted to consider one (meaning, recommend it to someone else then getting seat time in it 😉

    3. Jim-Bob Avatar

      +1. I really liked the original Cube. It was funky and small, like the original Scion XB. However, like the Scion, the US Cube got big and pudgy and lost it's space-efficient packaging. I'm a big fan of well-designed small cars but it seems that no one will actually sell one here. What counts as a small car today would have been almost an intermediate 10 years ago.

        1. Jim-Bob Avatar

          Based on the March chassis I presume?

          1. Syrax Avatar

            Yes, they all are. It took me more time to remember than I'd like to admit. My cousin had a Micra and I just can't associate that car with 'March'.

  15. engineerd Avatar

    In a bit of a twist to the question, I'm going to say the 2nd generation Ford Focus. The 1st generation was co-developed with Europe and was similar (with the exception of some cheaper materials). The 2nd generation, however, diverged. Europe went to the C1 platform and the US stuck with the C170 platform and a sheetmetal change. The 2nd gen Focus was quite inferior to that sold elsewhere. An aging platform and the inability to offer the RS or ST models.
    I hope that with the 3rd generation being common once again, we can at least get a little hot hatch action.

  16. autoidiodyssey Avatar

    Bingo! That is the winner. Worst Federalization ever.

  17. LTDScott Avatar

    Huh, I had no idea they were even sold in the US at all.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Yep, they were imported in 1980, but lasted on US shores less than a year before Rover gave up in disgrace. Rover's final attempt in America was with the 800-series in the later '80s, but the Rover name was so poisonous that the cars were sold under the Sterling name. Didn't help much – people quickly found out that British Leyland could screw up building a Honda. A shame too – the Sterling 827 hatch was pretty nice looking.
      <img src="http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2114/2270673640_455767c022.jpg&quot; width=500>

  18. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    <img src="http://img225.imageshack.us/img225/1452/240pl1mi5.jpg&quot; width="400/">
    <img src="http://img507.imageshack.us/img507/5870/volvo244.jpg&quot; width="400/">
    OK, the Euro machine was still no Brit Eckland, but those headlamps on the US machine definitely should have stayed on a Peterbilt.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Volvo pretty much fixed that problem after flush aero headlights became legal in the US in the mid-'80s.
      <img src="http://www.saltspringcarclub.com/images/VolvoFront.jpg&quot; width="400/">

      1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

        Ayup. I am thankful for the earlier single-rounds and even quad-rounds (on the right car) – the single-round 7" sealed beams look better to me than the awkward square 'TV screens' on early European DLs – but the E-codes are so much nicer than the quad squares (and the flathood nicer than the coffinhood in general). E-codes also definitely beat the plastic-lensed '86 lights, too, but only because the American plastic lenses developed jaundice after a few years of sunlight.
        In their favour, though, unlike the turn signal lenses and taillights, they didn't have a tendency to shatter – I don't know what type of plastic they're made of, but I have literally run over and merely bent my 244's right lens, and my 745's hit a Silverado at a closing ~15 MPH, mangled the hood and grille, but left its goddamn lens completely intact.

        1. tonyola Avatar

          I prefer the big rectangles myself. Round headlights look out of place on these cars. Particularly the single round lights on the early 240s – they make the car look like some experimental USDOT "safety car". Ugly.
          <img src="http://forum.i3d.net/attachments/silly-offtopic-games-english/18973d1211990363-game-count-pictures-volvo-244-1974.jpg&quot; width=400>.

          1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            Single-rounds really need a foglight grille and the right car to look good. Flathood 242? Yes. 244? Not so much. 245? Sometimes.
            <img src="http://www.autogaleria.pl/tapety/img/volvo/volvo_242_gt_1980_01_s.jpg&quot; width=600>

          2. tonyola Avatar

            The foglights and bright grille/headlight buckets as well as the striped bumper are a big improvement. They make the Volvo look less like this thing.
            <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/Volvo_vesc.jpg&quot; width="400/">

          3. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

            I figured you meant the VESC.
            <img src="http://www.downbeast.com/Pleccy.jpg"&gt;
            I still love its chrome-yellow-with-black-hood colour scheme, though. If my 244 had a black interior I'd be all over that.

  19. tonyola Avatar

    Rolls Royce Silver Spirit. No points for guessing which is the US version.
    <img src="http://www.cars-concept-focus.info/images/rolls-royce-silver-spirit.jpg&quot; width=400>
    <img src="http://www.arcar.org/fotos/vehiculos/25896-rolls-royce-silver-spirit.jpg&quot; width=400>

  20. facelvega Avatar

    From up top, I actually don't mind the Lancia Scorpion's looks, it still maintains much of the Monte Carlo's weirdo coolness. It was the engine mainly and a little the suspension, and that we didn't get the better mark 2. But I still want one.
    Question: what would be the better project car now, a Scorpion or a Lancia Zagato? Or just a Fiat X1/9?
    <img src="http://cache.jalopnik.com/assets/resources/2007/06/Lancia_Scorpion.jpg"&gt;
    <img src="http://www.velocetoday.com/images/October%2004/WA11.jpg"&gt;

    1. Maxichamp Avatar

      If any of you have the guts to own a Lancia Zagato or Scorpion, contact Lenny: http://www.auto-italia.com/
      When I was up at his place last year, he had at least one Scorpion/Montecarlo. It was yellow.

    2. skitter Avatar

      Wow, I didn't realize the lead images were the same car. I also used to wonder how they found actors who looked like the historical figures they played, so nothing to see here…

  21. Alff Avatar

    A friend of mine had an XR4ti – for its time it was a standout performer, if a bit odd looking. I did a semester in Europe while he had it and was pleasantly surprised to see all the Sierras.
    The Scorpio though – ugh. Ugly in any language.

  22. facelvega Avatar

    Yeah, if there was an easy and proven engine swap to get a Scorpion into 150hp territory, it would be an easy win. But in practice, the X1/9 is way more doable, so light that it's low power isn't as egregious, and supposedly handles like a dream. The Zagato (actually only built by Zagato, styled by Pininfarina like the Montecarlo) seems almost too practical to compete with this crowd. I don't think body parts are a huge issue, as I've seen plenty of intact ones for sale online in the last six months. Of course the Italian mechanicals will always be a problem.

  23. Deartháir Avatar

    Cosmetically, absolutely… but let's be fair here. The Rover SD1 was butchered rather badly straight from the factory.

    1. tonyola Avatar

      Oh, no question – the SD1 was a horrible car. But at least it looked good in European form.

  24. JayP Avatar

    Beggars can't be choosers in my case.
    It didn't take much to lower the suspension and swap out the Zenith for a Weber. Hell, adding a rear anti-sway bar was a world of good. The only really good thing was the rubber cars had the engine lowered to handle the BOP V8 and once the suspension was sorted had a lower center of gravity.
    At least that was what I kept telling myself.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      Oh, hey, no argument that it's not too hard to turn it back to a proper car. And, I suppose the original flaws made the later cars the better value, and in a roundabout way making it good changes.
      It makes sense, if you don't think about it too hard.

  25. Van Sarockin Avatar
    Van Sarockin

    No love for the Caddy that Zigs? Shocking. And not even a whisper about the Chrysler TC….

    1. tonyola Avatar

      There was no Euro equivalent to the Chrysler TC. It was built in Italy specifically for Chrysler USA using a shortened Daytona platform as a base.

      1. Van Sarockin Avatar
        Van Sarockin

        Was too A MASERATI. Lido would never lie to us about that!

  26. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    It's more that our road network is stupidly designed – short onramps and quick merges. Nothing highlights that like a Volvo 745 Turbo with a slushbox, no boost, markedly lower compression than the N/A cars, 208,000 miles, restrictive exhaust from a N/A car. and one fuel injector that's completely plugged to the point that disconnecting it makes no difference to the car's idle. Well, okay, an old diesel Benz might be equally bad.