There’s a few things that share a name and general description both here and in the United Kingdom, but, for some cruel reason, maybe as penance for our misbehavior in 1776, the Brit just have better versions of. Kit-Kats are one example. I want to talk about three examples today, examples that our American readers will recognize as mostly shitty American cars, but were a different story across the Atlantic.
I don’t think it’s just a case of something seeming better just because we never got it here; I think it’s pretty clear that, objectively, the Brit versions of these cars were better, or, at the very least, more engaging cars.
It’s also worth noting that I’m just talking about shared model names, really, since in two of the three cases here, the cars themselves (or some versions of the cars) were completely different. It still stings, though.
When we got the Escort in the U.S. in 1980, it was touted as a “World Car,” and it did share a platform with the British Escort, the third generation one. This was a pretty underwhelming car even at the time, with lackluster 70 horsepower engines and over-chromed styling and not a whole hell of a lot about it to make it particularly desirable or interesting.
This was hardly the case in Britain, where the Escort name had been around since 1967 and was a great-looking little rear-wheel drive charmer that was both a useful little car and a hell of a competitor on the rally circuit.
The Mk II Escorts were lots of fun as well, and, sure, while maybe later generations lacked the plucky charm of the original, in the U.K. Escorts continued to have exciting variations like the Escort RS Cosworth, while we in the states had to make do with the (comparatively) anemic Escort GT.
There’s no question here; the Brits had a vastly better Escort.
This one may represent the biggest discrepancy; in America, a Granada was a Malaise-Era shitbox that traced its platform roots all the way back to the 1960s Falcon. It was outdated and with the indifferent (94 horsepower) inline-6s and three-speed slushboxes these things had, were about as exciting to drive as a Barcalounger on roller skates and handled almost as well.
Even more embarrassing is that Ford managed to convince themselves that their big competitor for the Granada was a Mercedes-Benz, in an act of really entertaining delusion:
Compare this to the British Ford Granada, which, while sold in Britain, was actually a product of Ford of Germany, though they used British Essex V4 and the torquey Essex V6 (later the Cologne V6) engines.
The British/Euro Granada was a powerful executive car with engaging handling, something close to a poor(er) person’s BMW. Plus, this Granada came in a whole range of styles, including a handsome wagon and a great-looking fastback coupé, even with a 70's-tastic vinyl roof.
In America, the Chevette was primarily a way for Chevrolet to have a really cheap, reasonably fuel-efficient entry-level car. They even made a version called the Chevette Scooter with no back seat just so they could sell something really cheap.
The Chevette was based on GM’s global T-car platform, like an Opel Kadett and Isuzu Gemini, and was, unusually for a little hatchback this size, a front-engine/rear-drive car. In the way it was targeted in the U.S., this was always a hinderance, since it couldn’t match the packaging efficiencies of the front-engine/front-drive small cars almost everyone else was offering.
In Britain, though, the Vauxhall Chevette never seemed quite as much of a miserable little shitbox. There were more versions—one with a trunk, a wagon, even pickup versions through the Bedford brand.
Even better, there were attempts to make actually fun-to-drive versions of the Chevette, which would turn its RWD layout from a detriment to a positive. The Vauxhall Chevette HSR was a genuine hot hatch variant of the Chevette, something that Chevrolet could never be bothered with for Americans.
I’m not bitter about all of this, though. At least our beer isn’t served tepid.