Canada’s Unique Autoscape, Part 2
The British Invasion
However, GM’s story in Canada wasn’t limited to special Pontiacs, Chevrolets or some combination thereof. Also, a factor in the 60s automotive climate was a growing market of smaller, imported cars like the Volkswagen Beetle. Long considered to be a niche market in the U.S., sales were growing enough to become a concern. By the late 1950s, an American car’s size had a direct correlation with perceived wealth. Our obsession with longer and wider cars with each new model year meant there was little for American automakers to offer to those looking at smaller cars, like those offered overseas. Even American compacts of the time, like the Rambler, were still much larger.
To trace the history of British cars in North America, we have to go back to the late 1940s. Most American brands by this time had a related European subsidiary, producing small cars made for the European market. Ford was the first to attempt to capitalize on their existence, shipping over British Anglias, Prefects and Thames commercial vans for sale in the U.S. and Canada in 1948. Although American sales were dismal, they sold relatively well in Canada (no doubt aided by tax incentives for being members of the British Commonwealth, and our preference for smaller cars). British Fords continued to be sold in the U.S. until 1971, when Ford’s new compact Pinto deputed to replace them. The otherwise identical Canadian British Fords were sold until 1974 — in Canada they were sold at Mercury-Lincoln dealerships, and were replaced by the Pinto-based Mercury Bobcat, when it was released that same year.
GM also had European subsidiaries in the form of the British Vauxhall and German Opel. Following Ford’s lead, GM started importing the F-Series Vauxhall Victor into the U.S. and Canada in 1957 as a 1958 model. An attempt to quickly provide a compact model to fight the incoming wave of smaller imports (including the British Fords), the American Victor — available at Pontiac dealerships — sold very poorly and the brand was pulled from the market for 1961 (not coincidentally the same time GM’s American bred compacts were due to hit the market). Opel was also introduced Stateside at the time, available at Buick dealerships, and sold marginally better (possibly due to sporty offerings like the Opel GT), until they too left, in 1975. Opel sadly didn’t make it north to the land of ice and snow.
Vauxhall’s story in Canada was a more positive one, in much the same ways that British Fords were a success in relation to their American sales. And this is when some additional unique Canadian content comes into play.
Vauxhalls were sold at Pontiac/Buick dealerships in Canada. They were selling well enough that Canada was Vauxhall’s #2 export market following the U.S. (although it was deemed a failure in the U.S., Canada’s market is much smaller). As was often the case in Canada, this left the existing Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealerships without a compact import. GM’s solution was to create a new brand and rebadge existing Vauxhall models to sell at these dealerships. This brand was called Envoy.
The first Envoy available for sale was based on the Vauxhall F-Series Victor, reskinned by Larry Shinoda to look fresh compared to what was essentially the same car being offered at Pontiac/Buick dealerships. The Envoy was available as a sedan, or “Saloon”, and wagon, or “Estate”. Its model range consisted of Standard Saloon, Deluxe Saloon, and Sherwood Estate. A higher spec Custom Saloon was added soon after, in 1959. Bedford’s CA commercial vans were also sold under the Envoy nameplate, but sales were small and about to become smaller as the birth of the American cargo van was around the corner with the Ford Econoline and Corvair Greenbrier, debuting in 1961.
Continue this story on page 13.