The United States has an automotive history so rich and diverse it can be described as nothing short of glorious. As consumers in the United States car market, we have had the pleasure of being offered the absolute best cars from all the best manufacturers, a privilege many countries are not lucky enough to have. This is largely a function of the sheer size of the US market, as the US represents the 2nd largest market for global vehicle sales and production, bested only by China.
However, this doesn’t mean that we really get all the best cars, because even the US has missed out on some truly awesome vehicles over the years. In fact, North America has missed out on quite a few vehicles, something you may have noticed if you’re an enthusiast who has travelled abroad. Car companies tend to adjust their line-up considerably depending on what market they’re selling in, but the top-tier, flagship models are generally the same across markets. “Generally” meaning most of the time, which implies that some of the time, we get the short end of the stick.
In this article, we’re remembering the instances where we stateside consumers got the shortest end of the stick, when our roads were deemed unworthy of these automotive greats; these are the coolest cars the USA has never seen.
R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R
The R34 Nissan Skyline is the poster child for the cool-cars-never-sold-in-the-US club, and for good reason. Sold from 1999-2002, the R34 Skyline is the best remembered version of Nissan’s Supra-fighting GT-R, though other versions, the R32 and R33, were also sold alongside the famous MKIV Supra.
However, the R34 is the one that people remember most fondly, likely because of its presence in the Fast and Furious films. That’s not to say that it’s not good enough to be remembered based on merit though, as the R34 was quite a performer. It was equipped with Nissan’s RB26 twin-turbo straight six, a six speed manual transmission, and all wheel drive, not to mention looks that the R35 would kill to have.
So, it’s in light of all this Japanese awesomeness that the sting of knowing the R34 was never sold in the US is made even worse. However, R34’s will be coming stateside soon enough, as the year 2024 marks the 1999 Skyline’s 25th birthday, meaning it is old enough legally to be imported (not under the Show and Display rule) into the US. Mark your calendars!
C6 Audi RS6
What if I told you that Audi once made a station wagon with a Lamborghini V10? Then what if I told you they were so far out of their minds that they decided to bolt two turbochargers to it and release it to the public? Well, they did, and they called it the RS6, and it was sold between 2008 and 2010.
Now, I’ve written about the RS6 before, but I wrote about the comparatively mild-mannered C5 generation. The C6 is an updated version of that car with two more cylinders, 127 more horsepower (571 total), and infinitely more reason to cry over it, because we can’t buy one. That’s right folks, Audi was crazy enough to sell a twin-turbo V10 station wagon, but they weren’t crazy enough to sell it in the USA. Truly a shame.
Many US consumers may not even know about the Holden brand, and for good reason: they’ve never, to my knowledge, sold a car in the USA. And for the most part, I’ve never really wanted them to. Holden is an Australian company owned by GM that more or less sells Chevys, Buicks and GMCs with Holden badges on them.
However, Holden did have (it was just recently discontinued) one vehicle in their lineup that every warm-blooded American was dying to get behind the wheel of, and it was called the Ute. The Holden Ute is categorized as a “coupe utility”, and it is the product of the combination of a sedan and pickup truck. The Ute was sold in many different versions over its fairly long life cycle, but the best versions were had with SS badges on the doors and V8s under the hood. Sadly though, despite how characteristically American the Ute may seem, GM never decided to sell it in the US.
Toyota Land Cruiser Diesel
Toyota has been nice enough over the years to offer US consumers most of the cool cars they have made. However, Toyota tried to pull a fast one on US consumers by selling a cooler version o f an already cool car and keeping it out of the hands of US buyers. The Land Cruiser has been on sale since the 50’s in various forms, but the more pedestrian Land Cruiser, the version that popularized it in the US market, was born in 1998 and sold through 2007.
The Land Cruiser is a seemingly normal full-size SUV, like the Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition, but the Land Cruiser had a party trick: its off-road ability. The Land Cruiser is as good at crossing rivers and climbing mountains as a Jeep is, but it’s more luxurious, comfortable, and reliable than anything else that can match its off-road ability.
However, there was a version of the Land Cruiser that was even better than the already great version that we had in the US, and that version didn’t have spark plugs. That’s right, Toyota offered the Land Cruiser with a 4.2L turbo-diesel inline 6, and we didn’t get it in the US. Instead, US markets were left with just the gas-powered V8, a fine engine, but not nearly as cool as a turbo-diesel straight 6.
BMW E61 M5 Wagon
If you thought I was done talking about V10 german station wagons, you were wrong! In fact, the RS6 only exists because of this BMW; Audi developed that monster RS6 in response to BMW’s E61 M5, a wagon version of the already great E60 M5. The E61, sold from 2005-2010, was equipped with a 5.0L V10 developing 500 horsepower.
Dubbed the S85, BMW’s V10 revved to a truly incredible 8,250rpm, making it one of the most glorious sounding engines ever produced. And then, to make the never-offered-in-the-US pill even harder to swallow, the M5 wagon was, in my perhaps unpopular opinion, remarkably beautiful.
However, in the case of the E61 M5, there is something to ease the pain. BMW did offer the sedan version in the US, and only the North American market got a manual transmission version of this generation M5. Europe was stuck with the 7 speed SMG automatic. So, Europe got the wagon, but we got the third pedal. Hard to tell which I’d prefer…