The Top 10 Mexican Market Cars of All Time
Almost exactly one year ago, we brought you 10 of the most tasty-as-Timbits Canadian car market curiosities ever to cruise under the maple leaf flag. Today, in honor of Cinco de Mayo (which is not, we repeat, not Mexico’s independence day, ya ignorant zurullos), we turn our gaze to our southern neighbor, and bring you the 10 most interesting Mexican domestic market vehicles in history. ¡Vamos!
Hyundai selling cars in Mexico under its own name is a fairly recent development. How recent? Try last year. Prior to that, it would occasionally provide vehicles to other automakers to sell with their badges attached. One of the last and most interesting such creation was the Dodge Attitude, a re-badge of the Hyundai Accent Sedan. But the Attitude wasn’t just any badge-engineered model; it was quite possibly one of the laziest re-badge jobs ever. Hell, the second-gen Attitude – based on the fourth-gen RB-chassis Accent – didn’t even bother ditching the “leaning H” logos; workers simply added “Dodge” and “Attitude” lettering to the trunklid and proclaimed it good enough.
For a company as big and as global as General Motors (particularly pre-bankruptcy), it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that it has offered products familiar to American buyers under different names and with different parts abroad. A good current example of this practice is the Mexican Chevrolet Cheyenne. For many years, the name was a trim level on full-size Chevy pickups, closing out its run on U.S. and Canadian C/K trucks in the late-‘90s as the base trim level before the 1999 debut of the GMT800-series saw the name Silverado (previously the top trim level) followed by two- or three-letter designations (LS, LT, etc.) adopted across the board.
However, they do things a little different down in old Mexico: Today, the V6-powered bargain basement version of the big Bowtie hauler is called the Silverado. If you want a V8, chrome trim and some bells and whistles, you step up to the Cheyenne. Seems weird, but if customers are on board with it, who are we to judge?
In addition to being the name German karaoke enthusiasts blurt out when they want to share their interpretation of “Careless Whisper” with the world (Think about it…), VAM is also an acronym for Vehiculos Automotores Mexicanos, the company that was for many years jointly owned by the Mexican government and American Motors. Naturally, having AMC as a part owner meant that many of the company’s products were essentially locally-made versions of the cars coming out of Kenosha.
However, there was at least one noteworthy model that couldn’t be found up here: The VAM Lerma. Taking its name from the town in which VAM’s engine factory was located, the Lerma married the bodies of the AMC Concord (a.k.a. VAM American) two- and four-door sedan bodies with modified hatchback and rear roof sections from the AMC Spirit (a.k.a. VAM Rally). The resulting vehicles worked remarkably well from both styling and functional standpoints (though it’s worth pointing out that the Lerma had considerably less cargo space than the Concord/American wagon), so much so that a U.S. market version was studied. Alas, AMC found the labor cost of cutting and welding each body by hand the way VAM was would have been prohibitively high, so the project didn’t go forward. What’s more, the Lerma itself only lasted three years (1981 to ’83) before the effects of a recession and a sale to Renault brought it (and, a few years later, VAM itself) down.
If you happen to be such a huge fan of the generation of Nissan Sentra from the early 1990s (chassis code B13) that you wish you could go out and buy a brand new one, then you’re going to want to get your culo to Mexico because it’s the place where you can do exactly that. Okay, so it’s called the Tsuru instead of the Sentra (The current Sentra is sold alongside it at roughly double the price.), and it’s got a different grille, taillights and other trim items. Also, it’s only available in one configuration: Four-door sedan with a 105 horsepower 1.6L inline-four and 5-speed manual transmission. However, you do get a few 21st century amenities like side-mirror-mounted turn signal repeaters and, on the range-topping GSII trim level, a four-speaker stereo system with MP3/WMA CD playback and an Aux In jack. Caliente stuff, huh?
The first generation of small, forward-control American vans that arrived in the early 1960s changed many facets of the North American automotive landscape; chief among these was driving the less space efficient panel truck (basically pickup trucks with windowless van bodies grafted on where the rear of the cab and bed would be) to extinction. At least, that’s what happened up here…
In Mexico, Ford kept making panel trucks long after it quit building them for us. From the B-pillars forward, these panel trucks were identical to contemporary F-Series pickups, other than badges that replaced the “F” in their names with “B” (e.g. B-100, B-250, etc.); from the B-pillars back, they were vans, either panel or passenger. Ford continued to offer these full-size panel trucks to buyers in Mexico and a few other Latin American nations through at least the mid-1980s, which makes it all the more annoying that these practical machines never made it north of the Rio Grande.
Dodge Magnum (1981 and ’82)
As the 1970s dragged on, the Dodge Charger morphed from large muscle coupe to personal luxury car. Eventually it got to be such a lard-ass that when the company gave it a facelift in 1978, it renamed it the Magnum. Two years later the Magnum was dead again, as Dodge’s new personal luxury coupe was the downsized Mirada.
One year after that, in 1981, Dodge introduced a new Magnum in Mexico. Based on the two-door version of the Dart (the Mexican version of the Diplomat), the Magnum featured blacked out exterior trim, a Mopar engine oil cooler, a 300 horsepower 360 cubic-inch (5.9L) V8 teamed with either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, heavy duty springs, shocks and sway bars, and a Dana 44 rear axle with limited-slip. In other words, it was a proper muscle car…one that as far as we know never came remotely close to being offered here, even in neutered U.S. emissions regulated form. Sad (mariachi) trombone…
Lincoln Mark LT (Second Generation)
Although the Lincoln Mark LT (a spruced up Ford F-150) did only slightly better in the U.S. marketplace than the flop-tacular Blackwood (and was subsequently axed after just three model years), it somehow managed to become Lincoln’s best selling model south of the border. As a result, the company not only kept the first-gen Mark LT in production for Mexican consumption one year after it quit making them for us, but actually introduced a second generation model for 2010.
Like before, the Mark LT differed from the F-150 by way of a specific grille insert (featuring Lincoln’s then-new “wings” motif), tailgate trim and badges, as well as a ritzy interior. And unlike the previous incarnation, the new MLT was available in both short bed and long bed crew cab configurations, though the only engine offered was a 310 horsepower 5.4L V8. Basically, it was a rebadged version of the American F-150 Platinum, which essentially replaced the Mark LT up here, but that was good enough to keep it in production through the end of last year.
Although the original rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle finished fourth in Car of the Century voting back in 1999, it arguably had the last laugh by surviving a few years into the current century. Mexican Beetle production began in 1961, while VW’s sprawling production facility in Puebla churned out its first Bug six years later. As time went on, running changes and improvements to the Beetle were made, including larger windows, front disc brakes, catalytic converters and even electronic fuel injection, as well as a name change to “Volkswagen Sedán.”
But as the 20th century gave way to the 21st, the Mexican government (at both the regional and national levels) started tightening the screws on the rump-motored icon, including enacting tougher emissions standards and requiring taxis in Mexico City (the Sedán’s primary buyer demographic by this time) to have four-doors. Consequently, VW produced one final batch of 2,999 special Última Edición (Final Edition) models for Mexican buyers in early 2003, while a 3,000th Final Edition – the 21,529,464th and last air-cooled Type 1 Beetle ever made – chugged out of the Puebla factory door on July 30th, 2003, and was almost immediately shipped to Germany to go on display at the museum on the campus of the company’s world headquarters in Wolfsburg. Pretty remarkable, if you ask us.
Dodge Ramcharger (Third Generation)
When Dodge introduced the groundbreaking 1994 Ram pickup, it spelled the end for the second generation Ramcharger, the two-door SUV based on the outgoing version of the company’s full-size truck. And with sales of the Ramcharger and its rivals (Ford Bronco, GMC Yukon and the full-size Chevy Blazer) already plunging in the U.S. and Canada, Chrysler elected not to create a third-generation version. However, in 1999, after a great deal of prodding from Mexican dealers and customers, Dodge did introduce a new locally-built Ramcharger exclusively for that market, where the previous model sold quite well.
Offered with a choice of two V8s (a 5.2L and a 5.9L) and, oddly, rear-wheel-drive only, the nuevo Ramcharger was a hodgepodge of Mopar truck and van parts: The quarter windows immediately behind the doors were shared with the Ram Quad Cab, while the rear liftgate was grabbed from the Voyager/Caravan/Town & Country minivans. And because it had a wheelbase that wasn’t shared with any cab and bed configuration of Ram, the Ramcharger got its own chassis.
Unfortunately, even Mexican buyers grew tired of the disadvantages of two-door SUVs (even though the Ramcharger could seat as many as eight with the optional set of inward-facing rear benches), so by the end of 2001 the big Dodge SUV said “Adios” for a second (and we’re quite certain final) time.
Ford Elite II
In 1974, Ford introduced the Elite, a Torino coupe with a different front end and a fancy-pants interior to help bridge the gap between the Torino and the Thunderbird. And after 1976, it was gone, a victim of a division-wide downsizing and renaming spree. Fast forward to the 1980s and Ford of Mexico wanted a fancier version of the Fairmont, but didn’t sell the Mercury Zephyr (or any Mercs at that time) down there. Thus was born the Ford Elite II, which united the Fairmont/Zephyr two- and four-door sedan bodies with the U.S. market Ford Granada front sheetmetal and a ritzy interior. It’s stuff like this that gets us thinking about the Fox Body’s high degree of parts interchangeability (and, thanks to the Fox Body Mustang, a massive amount of aftermarket support) and what kinds of interesting projects could be built.