Canada builds a lot of cars, primarily for American and Japanese manufacturers. But what about true Canadian cars—vehicles designed, engineered, and built north of the border? There aren’t many Canadian car brands, but they do exist. Let’s take a look at some home-grown Canadian automakers, past and present.
Bricklin Motorcars Ltd.
Malcolm Bricklin is the man who brought us the Subaru 360 and the Yugo GL, and he also took a crack at designing his own car, the 1974 Bricklin Safety Vehicle 1, built by a new company he established in the Canadian province of New Brunswick.
Powered by either an AMC or Ford V-8, the Bricklin SV-1 had a nifty (if odd-looking) gullwing design. Quality was pretty terrible: The plastic-and-fiberglass body panels would crack, warp, and delaminate, sometimes before the cars were even finished, and the gullwing doors would often crack under their own 90-pound weight, or the electro-hydraulic system that operated them would fail and trap the car’s occupants. In 1976, with only about 3,000 SV-1s built, the Bricklin operation went bankrupt.
We’ve always thought of Canada as a peaceful country, which means the armored brutes Conquest manufactures come as a surprise. The Conquest Knight XV is custom-built on a Ford F550 chassis. This 19.5-foot-long brute is fully armored on the outside and is over-the-top luxurious on the inside, with leather and suede upholstery, Wilton wool carpets, and a flat-screen TV. It’s also protected against gas attacks and electromagnetic pulses of the sort caused by nuclear bombs. Oh, and it can be had with an optional cigar humidor. If you want the look of the Knight but aren’t a corrupt former dictator or a drug overlord, Conquest makes a non-armored version called the Evade.
Felino is the brainchild of Canadian race-car driver Antoine Bessette. The first prototype of its whimsical cB7 supercar appeared in 2012, with the first delivery taking place in 2017. The cB7R was offered with either a 525-horsepower, 6.2 liter V-8, or a 700-hp 7.0, the latter capable of getting it to 100 kmh (62 mph) in 2.9 seconds and onward to 345 kmh (214 mph). Production of the 2,500-pound supercar was limited to 10 units. Felino is now working on the cB7+, which it says will be lighter and even more powerful.
Quebec-based HTT (High Tech Toys) planned and built what might have been Canada’s first supercar. The Pléthore LC-750, named for the horsepower of its home-grown 7.0-liter V-8 engine, was supposed to run from 0-60 in less than 3 seconds and exceed 200 mph. Company founders Carl Descoteaux and Sébastien Forest pitched their supercar in 2011 on the show Dragon’s Den, the Canadian version of Shark Tank, and got a $1.5-million financing deal that fell through when the car’s transmission failed during an investor’s test drive. The company reportedly pre-sold six cars, but its website went dark and we’ve heard nothing about HTT or Pléthore since 2012.
Intermeccanica was founded in Italy by a Hungarian-born Canadian named Frank Reisner, who first moved his company to the U.S. before bringing it home to Canada. Its credits include the Apollo GT and Italia, and more recently Porsche 356 and Volkswagen Kubelwagon replicas. Electra Meccanica—technically Intermeccanica’s parent company—builds the Solo, a single-seat, three-wheel electric car with a 100-mile range and an electric 356 replica called the E-Roadster, and it is working on a sports car called the Tofino.
Magnum is a low-volume manufacturer of race cars and track cars. It introduced its first street-legal vehicle, the MK5, in 2014, though like the Ariel Atom and the BAC Mono, it’s a track car at heart. Power for this open-top two-seater comes from a Suzuki Hayabusa 1.3-liter four-cylinder that Magnum secret-sauced up to 247 hp at 11,000 rpm. Magnum claims a 0-62 time of 3.2 seconds, and a 149-mph top speed. Good luck getting one, as Magnum only builds 20 per year.
McLaughlin Motor Car Company
Ontario, Canada-based McLaughlin, like many early automakers, started out building horse-drawn carriages in the late 19th century. It turned to automobiles in 1907, though the carriage business remained strong until it was sold to a competitor in 1915 (good timing). Sam McLaughlin, son of the company’s founder, was friends with General Motors founder William Durant, and the two struck a deal involving a stock-swap and use of Buick powertrains in McLaughlin automobiles. In 1918, McLaughlin bought Chevrolet’s Canadian operation, which had built cars with McLaughlin bodies, and the new company became General Motors of Canada. McLaughlin cars remained in production, and were labeled with “McLaughlin-Buick Canada” from 1943 until 1942.
Technically, the Meteor wasn’t a Canadian car; rather it was a Ford sub-brand that was exclusive to Canada. First introduced in 1949, the Meteors were rebadged Fords intended to give Canadian Lincoln-Mercury dealers a low-price car to sell. Some Meteors used Canadian-specific names, such as the Meteor Niagara. Canadian L-M stores also sold the upscale Monarch brand, as well as the Frontenac, which was a rebadged Falcon.
The Meteor brand disappeared in the mid-1970s. General Motors also offered Canadian-specific brands, including Acadian and Beaumont—both built in Canada—while Pontiac sold Canadian-specific models like the Laurentian and the Parisienne, with the latter later coming to the U.S.
Prevost Car doesn’t actually build Canadian cars, it builds buses—big fancy ones which often form the basis for million-dollar motorhomes including Ground Force One, the American presidential motorcoach. Prevost is now owned by Volvo, but it was founded in Quebec and remains headquartered there. Many of the buses you see on the road in the U.S. come from Canadian manufacturers including Prevost, MCI, and New Flyer Industries.
Russell Motor Car Company
Billing itself as “The Thoroughly Canadian Car,” Russell got its start when bicycle manufacturer Canada Cycle and Motor Co. in 1903 bought-out failing Canadian Motors Ltd. Russell began selling electric cars in 1903 and gasoline cars in 1905, and by the early 1910s had sales offices in Australia, New Zealand, and England. Russell switched to the Knight sleeve-valve engine, which turned out to be troublesome. That and a downturn in the market for high-end cars precipitated by World War I led Russell to sell its automobile business to American automaker Willys-Overland in 1916. Willys continued to build cars in Russell’s factory until the 1930s.
Canadian Car Manufacturers and Brands:
- Bricklin Motorcars Ltd.
- Conquest Vehicles
- HTT Automobile
- Intermeccanica / Electra Meccanica
- Magnum Cars
- McLaughlin Motor Car Company
- Meteor / Monarch / Frontenac
- Prevost Car
- Russell Motor Car Company
Notable Canadian Cars
- Bricklin SV-1
- Conquest Evade
- Conquest Knight XV
- Felino cBR7
- HTT Plethore LC-750
- Electra Meccanica Solo
- Electra Meccanica Tofino
- Magnum MK5
- Meteor Niagara
- Pontiac Laurentian