There are certainly plenty of North American obscure rebadges that could be featured in this series, like the Mitsubishi Precis and Saturn Relay. This series, however, has always been about finding obscure rebadges much further afield. In the first six instalments, we’ve looked at rebadged vehicles sold in South Korea, the Philippines, Japan, Sweden and Argentina. Today, let’s look at some from India, Malaysia and South Africa – and another one from Japan, too.
The British marque Standard had died out in the 1960s, a victim of declining sales and the much greater popularity of its sibling brand Triumph. The name then lingered on in India throughout the 1960s and 1970s on a rebadged Triumph Herald before disappearing there, too. Then, in 1985, the Standard name returned on a version of the Rover SD1 manufactured by Standard Motor Products of India.
Though the decade-old SD1 was ending production in the UK as the Standard 2000 was introduced in India, this new full-size hatchback looked positively futuristic against the ubiquitous 50s-vintage Hindustan Ambassador and 70s-vintage Hindustan Contessa. The Indian market was growing at a rapid rate, too, even if by the time of the 2000’s launch there were only 8 million cars in a country of 800 million people.
Unfortunately for the 2000, what was inside the engine bay wasn’t as modern as the rakish sheetmetal around it. The 83 hp 2.0 inline four that powered all Standard 2000s was the same engine used in the Standard Vanguard, first introduced in 1948. It struggled to haul the 3000-pound SD1 body around, moaning and groaning and letting the driver know this was too little engine for this much car. Top speed of the 2000 was only 90mph.
Demonstrating the difference between markets in what a “luxury car” is, the 2000 was considered one in India despite its asthmatic engine and mandatory four-speed manual, both of which had been used in commercial vehicles for years. The 2000 did, however, feature power windows and other niceties that weren’t commonplace in India during the 1980s, as well as a price tag above and beyond every other Indian car. Ride height was also increased so the car could better cope with often poorly surfaced Indian roads.
Considering the 2000 was targeted at the wealthiest Indian consumers, it’s puzzling why Standard Motor Products didn’t attempt to get the tooling for the Rover’s 3.5 V8 or, for that matter, any of the SD1’s engines. The Vanguard’s old four was both gutless and guzzled fuel, which led to controversy as Standard was accused of falsifying fuel economy figures and the government raided the Madras factory. The company’s legal troubles made production unsustainable and, besides, sales had fallen well short of expectations. In 1988, the 2000 was discontinued. Fortunately for SD1 enthusiasts, a stockpile of Standard 2000 parts made their way out of India.
Ford Tonic/Tracer & Mazda Midge/Sting
In the very first instalment in this series, we looked at the Sao Penza, a South African-built version of the 1985 BF-series Mazda 323 exported to the UK. The Penza was an abysmal failure and disappeared into obscurity but in its home market it enjoyed a lengthy run. The final South African BF-series 323s were built in 2003.
The Sao Penza name wasn’t used in the home market, being a marketing invention of Samcor used to sell exports. Samcor had been founded in 1985 as a merger between Sigma, a local assembler of Mazda products, and Ford of Canada’s South African subsidiary. The South African company produced the Mazda 323 sedan and hatch and the Ford Laser hatch and Meteor sedan.
The Laser hatchback used the same attractive sheetmetal as the Asia-Pacific market Laser, closely resembling the first-generation Mercury Tracer. The sedan, in contrast, was virtually identical to the 323 sedan. US sanctions on South Africa and its apartheid regime led to Ford selling off its 42% share in Samcor in 1987 but they continued to license their brand name and supply components, purportedly to avoid Samcor going out of business and laying off its 4900 workers. The Laser and Meteor continued to be produced until 1996, two years after Ford officially returned to South Africa and after they introduced the European Escort. By this point, Mazda was also selling the then-new generation of 323, badged in South Africa as the Etude.
Although Ford and Mazda had fresh new compacts by the mid-1990s, as well as the subcompact Ford Fiesta and a clone of it using the familiar Mazda 121 name, there was still a demand for even cheaper vehicles. Toyota, for example, continued to sell the E90-series Corolla as the Conquest and then until 2006 as the Tazz…
…while Volkswagen continued to sell the first-generation Golf/Rabbit as the Citi Golf, finally discontinuing it in 2009.
Having purchased back its share in the Samcor operations, Ford decided to introduce a new budget model varyingly called Tonic or Tracer. No longer using the classic “bubbleback” body of the defunct Laser, the Tonic/Tracer now used the same sheetmetal as the BF-series Mazda 323 albeit with a rather crappy new Ford grille. In Mazda showrooms, that 323 became the Midge or Sting.
The powerful, fuel-injected four-cylinder engines available in the early 1990s were off-limits for the new budget Ford/Mazda, with a carbureted 1.3 providing the motivation. It’s unclear what differentiated a Tonic from a Tracer or a Midge from a Sting; these new budget models were also referred to as the Laser and 323.
Related to this new budget offering were the Ford Bantam and Mazda Rustler, introduced in 1994. These were bakkies (utes) that had the front-end of the Ford/Mazda twins but retained the rear of the previous generation of Bantam, derived from the European Escort. The Bantam was replaced in 2002 by a new generation derived from the Fiesta/Ikon.
The Tonic, Tracer, Midge and Sting were all gone by 2003, Mazda embracing a more modern product line and Ford introducing the stylish new Ka as their budget offering.
Japanese automaker Mitsuoka has been covered on these pages before. For the uninitiated, Mitsuoka takes humble Nissans and Mazdas and drapes them in ungainly, retro sheetmetal. Some of their products only feature extensive modifications to their frontends, leaving them looking like an old Austin and a 90s Nissan drove into the machine from The Fly. Believe it or not, the Mitsuoka Like is probably the small build-to-order automaker’s most subtle and tasteful design ever.
Produced between 2010 and 2011, the Like was based on the Mitsubishi i-Miev. Beyond the strange new grille, however, there were other modifications. The i-Miev was stretched almost 7 inches to create the Like. This still left it 4 inches shorter than the extensively-modified North American-market Mitsubishi I but it still encouraged Mitsuoka to make the Like a five-seater.
The Like was short-lived but other i-Miev rebadges live on. In Europe, the i-Miev is also sold as the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iOn. Those two are the simplest of rebadges and certainly lack the, ahem, style of the Mitsuoka Like.
There have been two generations of Proton Perdana and both have been rebadges.
The first-generation Proton Perdana was a rebadged Mitsubishi Eterna (Galant), serving as the flagship of the Malaysian Proton range. It outlived the seventh-generation Galant upon which it was based and, later during its run, received a handsome, Alfa Romeo-esque facelift. Proton had exported vehicles as far away as Europe but its flagship, while popular at home, was never sold outside of the region. By 2013, Alfa grille or no, the Perdana was looking quite tired and the Malaysian government wanted new large sedans for its fleets.
It was time for a replacement but Proton had mostly moved on from Mitsubishi, developing a range of home-grown models with engineering input from acquisition Lotus. In 2006, Proton had some brief discussions with Mitsubishi to determine if Mitsubishi Motors Australia could export to Malaysia its 380, an Australianized version of the ninth-generation Galant. These conversations never went anywhere, nor did discussions with Volkswagen and Nissan, and Proton trudged along with its increasingly dated first-generation Perdana.
Evidently, Malaysian government ministers got tired of driving the same tired old Mitsubishi, grumbling the maintenance costs were higher than Japanese and European models and the cars suffered from fragile transmissions. It appears the Malaysian government, as us Aussies say, “cracked the shits” and demanded Proton manufacture a new flagship sedan, giving them an eight-month deadline. Proton struck a deal with Honda to manufacture their recently discontinued eighth-generation Accord. Production commenced in 2013, the first 3000 units specifically for the Malaysian government.
For 2016, the Perdana was treated to a modest interior makeover and a huge exterior overhaul. Although the Accord DNA is still identifiable – note the Honda’s oversized door handles and prominent side creases, revealing the carryover doors – the 2016 Perdana now has a fastback-style rear and an aggressive new front. No, it wasn’t a flawless restyle – the rear detailing is a bit fussy and the fastback-style rear is somewhat wonky – but the Perdana now has a personality of its own.
Underneath the new sheetmetal, the Perdana is the same as it had been before and therefore pure eighth-generation Accord. This includes the Honda-sourced 2.0 and 2.4 four-cylinder engines and five-speed automatic transmission. There were absolutely no mechanical changes with the restyle, much as there were no changes from the Accord when the Perdana was first introduced.
While the Perdana is now two generations behind the Honda Accord, it offers Malaysian buyers a mid-size/D-segment sedan at a compact/C-segment price. Besides, if you’re going to borrow another automaker’s car, you could do a lot worse than a Honda.
Just ask Mitsuoka, who used the Accord for their Nouera.
Mahindra Voyager & Ford Husky
The sturdy, utilitarian second-generation Mitsubishi L300 has spawned numerous rebadges, including the Indonesian Isuzu Bison and Korean Hyundai Porter. More interesting, however, are the South African Ford Husky and the Indian Mahindra Voyager.
First came the Ford Husky. Like the aforementioned Ford Tonic, the Husky was a product of South African auto manufacturer Samcor. To understand how a Mitsubishi came to wear Ford badges, it’s best to look back.
Chrysler had been manufacturing Valiants in South Africa since the beginning of the line and, by the late 1960s, the Valiant had become South Africa’s best-selling car. Unfortunately, the early 1970s were brutal to Chrysler South Africa and sales declined dramatically. In early 1976, Chrysler introduced the Mitsubishi Galant to South Africa, using the Colt nameplate often used in lieu of the Mitsubishi name in export markets. That year as well, Chrysler merged with Illings, a subsidiary of mining conglomerate Anglo-American and an assembler of Mazda products. The merged company became known as Sigma and they continued to produce Mazda, Mitsubishi and Chrysler products. Later, Sigma acquired Peugeot and Citroen’s South African operations and assembled some of their products as well.
When Ford of Canada’s South African subsidiary merged with Sigma, the automaker became Samcor and Ford had access to the Samcor-assembled Mitsubishi L300, badging it the Husky. Though Ford also got access to Mazda vans through Samcor, the Husky continued in production into the 1990s.
It wasn’t the first time the Husky name had been used on a rebadged vehicle in South Africa. The Dodge Husky, sold in the 1970s, was a bakkie (ute) version of the Rootes Arrow (best known as the Hillman Hunter), engineered for the South African, bakkie-mad market.
In 1997, the Mitsubishi L300 popped up in another market: India. Although most of the second-generation Delicas still in production were pickups – e.g. the Indonesian-market L300 – the Mahindra Voyager was a people-carrier. It was well-equipped by Indian standards, boasting optional second-row air-conditioning. Bigger and more powerful than the hot-selling Maruti Omni van (Suzuki Carry), the Voyager was positioned as a luxury multi-purpose vehicle, a first for India. The only engine was a Peugeot-supplied 2.5 turbo diesel four.
Unfortunately for Mahindra, the Voyager was seen as too expensive and outdated with question marks hanging over it in terms of parts availability and cost. Mahindra decided to pursue the ambulance market and private sales of the Voyager flatlined. After just three years, the Voyager was discontinued. The L300 lives on, however, in markets like Indonesia.
There’s a whole world of rebadges and many more to discuss. In the next few instalments, we’ll look at some from Russia, Singapore, China, the Middle East, and Uruguay.