Canada's Crap Contribution to Car Culture

Canada has given the world the pop-rock stylings of Bryan Adams, the transcendent comedy of Howie Mandel and the best pro sports league on the planet, the CFL. We get ripped on pretty bad for all three.

While it's arguable that Canada's horrific contributions to popular culture can be mitigated by our good ones: Rush, SCTV, and Wayne Gretzky; one area where Canada has contributed to more blandness and groupthink than any other is our automotive industry, which hasn't had a good idea since Wayne and Shuster were funny (read: never).

With Chrysler (1925), General Motors (1918) and Ford (1904) building cars in Canada for generations, there are many examples of strong, reliable and functional cars, including the Dodge Caravan, Mercury Grand Marquis - not actually sold in Canada since 1999, but still built here - and eighth-and-ninth-generation Chevrolet Impala, built here in the past two decades, but one thing they haven't been is cool.

Possibly the one thing Canadian auto plants have churned out more than anything apart from labour - yes, I used the 'u' - strife in recent memory are some of the worst examples of badge engineering that plunged the General and Chryco into bankruptcy and nearly destroyed Ford.

The word 'Plodge' entered Canadian vernacular in the 1950s after Chrysler decided to swap parts between its Plymouth and Dodge models for export up north, starting American badge engineering as we now know and loathe it.

This was originally seen as a protection for Canadian industry, but one benefit to this is if you're restoring a Canadian-spec 1965 or '66 Dodge Monaco sedan, finding interior parts is simpler, as it shared a dashboard and trim pieces with the Plymouth Fury of the same vintage.

In recent memory, some of the fine vehicles churned out of Canadian auto plants include the Dodge Daytona (the four-banger version, badged 'Chrysler' up here), Eagle Vista (look this one up, it's a peach), Buick Allure (Canadian version of the Lacrosse sedan, which needed a name change up here, as 'lacrosse' is Quebecois-French slang for masturbation, though if you drove an Allure, you weren't scoring much anyway), Pontiac 6000, Mercury Monterey minivan (built, but not sold here), and who could forget the Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz, the only twins more toxic than Tyler/Perry.

To be fair, there's been more than just the 'Big Three' operating out of Canada. More than 500 different automobile companies have set up shop here, most in the early 1900s, with all - apart from McLaughlin family, who sold their company off to Buick, with the cars being known as 'McLaughlin-Buick until 1942 - failing terribly.

If there was one guy who knew how to fail more spectacularly than anyone in the automotive industry, it was Malcolm Bricklin - for the younger kids in the audience, Bricklin was the 20th century's version of Elon Musk, all talk, no money - who at the time was best known for bringing the Subaru 360, a car about as safe as a shopping cart, and with slightly less power, to North America.

In 1974, Bricklin started production on the Bricklin SV-1 (Safety Vehicle 1), the first mass-production car to be conceived and built in Canada in decades, with factories built in Saint John and Minto, New Brunswick, the heart of Atlantic Canada to realize the eccentric millionaire's vision of a safe car with gas-crisis efficiency. With $4.5 million in seed money from the New Brunswick Provincial Government, Bricklin was off and running.

Cooked up by Herb Grasse, designer of the original Batmobile, the SV-1 was a gull-wing coupe constructed from fiberglass and originally powered by a 220-horse AMC 360 V8 - later models made use of the glacial Ford 351 Windsor V8 - but was hampered by several factors, most notably that each vehicle cost more than $15,000 to build and sold for about $5000 apiece, as well as Bricklin's propensity to put inexperienced members of his family in high-ranking executive positions, with one example being the hiring of his mother to be head of public relations for the failing company.

SV-1 also sported a Pontiac Trans Sport-esque dustbuster physique, framed by homely crash bumpers, and 1975-76 models were hobbled by the asthmatic 175-horse 351 Windsor, which barely got the 3,500-pound car moving.

With less than 3,000 cars built and a dozen still on the line as 1976 variants, Bricklin was broke by September 1975, after the provincial government turned down a $10 million cash call from the company. In the end, Bricklin was dissolved, leaving a trail of unpaid bills totaling more than $23 million.

Undaunted, Bricklin resurfaced a decade later, bringing the Yugo to North America, disappearing in 1988 with $40 million, easily his biggest success in the automotive business.

Ironically, a 45-cent stamp [link: http://www.saintjohn.nbcc.nb.ca/heritage/bricklin/Stamp.htm] commemorating the Bricklin - did the U.S. government ever issue a stamp for the Edsel? - was issued in 1996, selling out quickly. A $20 coin featuring the Bricklin was also issued [link:http://www.coins4me.com/images/canada/2003/6242203.jpg], and was also popular, with only 15,000 ever produced.

And after that, a government in Canada never got involved in a private automotive company again.. until GM went tits-up. We're screwed, aren't we?

Well.. we're building the new Camaro up here, that's good, right? The new 5.0 Mustang is better-looking and cheaper? Shit.

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