Skip to content

GRINDING GEARS: Canada has a great grey market for imported automobiles

Well, it’s the Canada Day long weekend, a time for face-painting, backyard barbecues, waving the flag and cheering politely, and then dropping the gloves in a game of street hockey.
The Audi RS6 Avant wagon is one of the hot numbers now available on Canada’s grey market. photo Brendan McAleer

Well, it’s the Canada Day long weekend, a time for face-painting, backyard barbecues, waving the flag and cheering politely, and then dropping the gloves in a game of street hockey.

In this country, we can’t spell neighbour without “u,” and it’s time to party.

If you’re a gearhead, it’s easy to take a look around and see that there are easier places in the world to enjoy your hobby. Both fuel and insurance are really expensive in the Lower Mainland, and it’s not like we’ve got a lot of spending money left over after paying for housing. Pennies must be pinched.

But, on the other hand, there’s our excellent collector car insurance program that keeps costs down on the collectible you only drive a few times a month. And there’s the local car community: on the North Shore, we’ve got one of the best in the world. Where else can boast a Pebble Beach winning restoration shop that opens its doors to the public once a year? (Stay tuned: this year’s open house at RX Autoworks is July 14 – details next week.)

Not to mention the variety of vehicles that show up at our local CarBS and Coffee, and how everyone seems to get along. Even the youthfully exuberant seem to understand about the correct time and place for said exuberance. Let the supercars get impounded on the Upper Levels Highway, most of the true car culture folks are far more respectful to their fellow road users.

Anyway, all this rambling is just a lead up to one of my favourite topics: Canada’s 15-year grey market. On this end of the country, we’re close to a busy port, one that’s filled with new cars arriving from Asia and Europe. However, we Canadians get a chance that the Americans don’t. They have to wait 25 years for a car that was never sold in North America to become street legal. In Canada, you only have to wait 15 years.

Right now, that’s a build date of mid-2004, meaning all sorts of delicious forbidden fruit is now available for import. Some of them are even here already, tucked away carefully in garages, or being shined up for the local show. Let’s take a look at some of the tempting machinery that’s just waiting to become a new Canadian.

Audi RS6 Avant

Unusually among the big three German automakers, Audi has usually had a hot station wagon at the top of its performance tree. Reason being, the original RS2 Avant marked the beginning of the RS breed, and was built as a wagon because of a complicated partnership with Porsche.

RS2s are currently shooting up in value south of the border because they’re now importable into the U.S. In Canada, however, we’ve got the chance to own something a bit stouter.

The C5-generation RS6 Avant is a complete monster. Under the hood is a twin-turbocharged V-8 cranking out 444 horsepower and 428 foot-pounds of torque. In a full-size wagon! Ideal for laminating the family labradoodle to the rear window.

Renault Clio V6

No one, and I mean no one, is as nutty as the French when it comes to cars. The Citroën 2CV is charming and quirky, the DS is gorgeous and weird, and then there’s the SM, co-developed with Maserati. It’s basically a spaceship on wheels.

However, if Citroën has the oddball stuff nailed down, it’s Renault who handles France’s racing honour. You’ll find that spirit in things like the Renault R5 Turbo II (featured as the femme fatale’s ride in the Bond film Never Say Never Again). Or you can find it in the more modern package of the Clio V6.

Here’s how Germany makes a hot hatchback: a little more power under the hood, a sportier suspension, and maybe some cosmetic upgrades. Hier is der VW GTI.

Here’s how France makes a hot hatchback: lots of smoking Gauloises, discussions of philosophy, perhaps a little fromage as a snack, and then....

“What if we,” (a long pause), “Put ze engine in ze back?”

Yes, the Clio V6 sees French engineers taking a friendly family hatchback and shoving a 250 h.p. V-6 where the rear seats would go. It’s hilariously impractical, a bit of a handful in the wet, and wonderfully insane. And you can have one.

TVR Sagaris

Okay, so this British battleaxe is actually possibly still a few months away – it was released as a 2005 model. It is, however, the best TVR ever produced, and that means a driving experience unlike any other.

How best to describe TVR? Well, put it this way: the Sagaris does not have airbags because its designers believed that too many safety measures would promote overconfidence. Better to be scared and careful.

And scared is what you’ll be driving this Dodge Viper with an English accent. I mean, if you can find time to be scared in between laughing so much.

The exhausts point sideways. The door handles are mounted on the dashboard. The styling is so aggressive it makes the aforementioned Viper look like a minivan. And it also weighs next to nothing, thanks to a fibreglass body, and has more than 400 h.p.

What could be better for a country that has the Queen on its money, but is also home to the largest land predators on Earth? It’s the perfect machine for celebrating Canada Day – and then apologizing.

Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and automotive enthusiast. If you have a suggestion for a column, or would be interested in having your car club featured, please contact him at Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendan_mcaleer.