By on April 18, 2013

My girlfriend and I recently vacationed in Zurich. Anyone who’s ever been to Switzerland will be surprised by this, since it’s possibly the least romantic place in human history. Seriously: instead of flowers, stuffed animals and chocolate, Swiss couples exchange presents like a well-built lamp, oddly-shaped stainless steel kitchen utensils, and … chocolate. And then they shake hands and sleep in two separate very sturdy beds.

Beyond the pragmatic, stoic nature of the Swiss, Switzerland has one other major issue: it’s really expensive. And I don’t mean in the usual American traveler “Oh it’s Europe and things are expensive” way. I mean my girlfriend and I were walking down a street in Zurich and saw, in a shop window, a coat hanger that cost 45 francs. The dollar-to-franc exchange rate, for those who are curious, is roughly one-to-one. So they wanted 45 dollars for a coat hanger. Presented with chocolate, it would’ve made a great gift for a Swiss wife.

But…

You might think I’m trying to dissuade you from visiting Switzerland, but I’m not. I’m just trying to convince you not to take your significant other, unless she (or he – the Swiss would be OK with that) absolutely loves the color gray and evenly-spaced concrete sidewalk slabs. On the contrary, I think the TTAC crowd would really enjoy a trip to Switzerland for precisely one reason: the Swiss absolutely love old American cars.

My girlfriend and I arrived in Zurich on a Saturday night and immediately began seeing them. An old Cadillac Eldorado here; a 1980s Caprice there. Zurich is absolutely filled with AMG Mercedes and “S” model Audis, but it doesn’t require a very keen eye to also see big old American cars that most Americans have long since forgotten, unless we’re a TTAC commenter.

Interestingly, it isn’t just old cars that the Swiss lust after. Remember that rather awful Buick Regal they made from 1988 to 1996? You know the car I’m talking about: it’s the default choice for senior center parking permits. (“Ma’am, which vehicle do you have? 1994 Buick Regal, or Other?”) The Swiss have those. And as you can see below, the Swiss also have the 1986-1991 Buick Skylark, despite the best efforts of General Motors to make sure they fell apart after about seven years.

Even more interestingly, the Swiss keep all of these cars in absolutely perfect condition. Seriously, when was the last time you saw an ’86-’91 Skylark with its original wheels and a grille badge? This has happened only twice in history: this guy’s car in Switzerland, and the president of Buick’s car for about six months in 1987 until a hubcap fell victim to a Detroit pothole.

The Swiss Are Crazy

Clearly, the Swiss are crazy. But it’s not because they love old American cars. It’s because they want to drive them in Switzerland.

Let’s go back to my earlier remarks about how expensive everything is in Switzerland. It’s not just coat hangers: the average liter of petrol costs 1.4 Euros. I know what you’re thinking: I have no idea how much that is! Neither do I, but Google tells me it translates to $1.84 per liter, or more than $7.00 per gallon. I can verify this because I had a BMW 128d rental car in Switzerland, and filling it up required payment via cash, credit, or kidney.

It’s not just the cost that makes old Detroit iron (note my use of the term “old Detroit iron,” like a car journalist from the ‘90s) so absurd in Switzerland. It’s the size of Swiss cities. Anyone who’s been to Europe will agree: the roads were designed for vehicles sized somewhere between a horse and an original Fiat 500. Everything else is ungainly. I once rented a GLK in Europe and it felt like I was riding a piano down the sidewalk.

The size issue is no different in Switzerland. The roads haven’t been enlarged to compensate for K5 Blazers and Gran Torino station wagons, meaning that actually driving one of these things requires a) constant fear of running into something, and b) encyclopedic knowledge of gas station locations. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to attempt it.

So Why Do They?

This question has bugged me ever since I visited Switzerland. I immediately came home and researched it, but found absolutely nothing on the psyche of the Swiss that would explain why they might choose to pilot these 18-foot, gas-guzzling behemoths down the smallest streets in the world.

I did discover that vehicle importation laws are rather relaxed in Switzerland. That means as long as you can pass various safety inspections, you can drive pretty much whatever you want. This, of course, explains the perfect condition of all the cars.

But it doesn’t explain the reason for them. Except that maybe, beyond the drab buildings, spotless streets and perfectly-groomed lawns, the Swiss secretly enjoy a Sunday morning drive just as much as the rest of us. As long as it’s in some old Detroit iron.

And before you ask: yes, every single one of these pictures was taken on a single day in Switzerland.

Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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116 Comments on “Switzerland Loves Old American Cars...”


  • avatar
    challenger2012

    Doug
    You will not last long at TTAC if you write nice things about American cars, old or new. I will assume this is a rookie mistake.
    Please BS don’t ax him. He didn’t know any better.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’ve been thinking about a trip there and I think you’ve synched it for me Doug.

    Well built lamps, sturdy beds, real Cadillacs driving about? Sign me up.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    On car forums I frequent, including HUMMER, there are a lot of Europeans that either imported or bought existing vehicles others had imported, quite often.
    Until 06 quite a few (in relative terms) of people in Norway were importing H2′s at the cost of the vehicle AND around usd $250k.

    France from what I have heard has a large number as well.
    Today low mileage late model h1,2 are going for as much as they were new or in some cases quite a bit more, since they can’t be bought new, many by foreigners in Europe, China, and the Middle East.

  • avatar
    Vega

    I think it’s mainly a tradition thing. With Switzerland surviving the war unscathed and wealthy the Swiss were able to afford (through personal wealth and a strong currency) big US cars in the 50s while European manufacturers were still mainly producing smaller, less luxurious vehicles.
    In addition, not being in the EU there was no inherent tariff advantage for European cars vs. American cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      Plus American cars exude a whole “f–k you, I’ll do what I want to” attitude better than any others in the whole world. An 18′ Cadillac has so much more attitude than a wimpy Fiat 500 or a boring, old Merc.

    • 0 avatar
      W.Minter

      Tradition is 100% right.
      General Motors Suisse SA produced Chevrolets until 1968 in Biel, Switzerland. So to speak GM was the only Swiss car maker (until oil crisis). Might be a reason for the Swiss’ love for old swiss iron or similar.

      Some nice pictures:
      http://www.us-schrauber.de/html/gm_suisse_sa.html

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      American cars were, and to a certain degree still is, popular in Sweden as well. It might be that neutral countries starting with an S is keen on old barges? The Swedish thing for american cars did last until the 70′s cadillacs, after that point the americans lost the big car game to the Germans. Seeing a 70′s S-class and a similar vintage cady makes the shift seem reasonable.
      Switzerland is a beautiful country if one goes out into the countryside, beautiful alp lakes and decent skiing in the winter is not bad at all. If you’re not american or french, (as their citizens are required to pay french or american tax wherever they live) and quite wealthy it might make a lot of financial sense to move there as your tax burden can be severely decreased.

  • avatar
    nguyenhm16

    You should have tried to ask one of those American car owning Swiss why he/she owns one.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    The Swiss have a special fondness for Chevy; Louis-Joseph Chevrolet was Swiss.

    Take a look at the Swiss flag and the Checy bow-tie emblem for verification.

    ….

    I noticed the same thing in Switzerland myself, children would flock and gawk at an a 1984′s Camaro and ignore the $150,000 Italian sex-on-wheels.

    The nice thing about expensive Swiss gas is that it helps to keep the roads clear. My inner snob liked it very much.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    If you are in Zurich, you should keep your eyes peeled for the blue Type 35 Bugattis, or if you must, the pristine yellow GTO Judge ragtop… American iron is not that unusual here, even in the more pastoral regions…

  • avatar

    Doesn’t look like there’s much traffic. Parking looks easy too. Have never been to Switzerland so, I’m comparing to what we see in pics of Paris or Rome for example. A desire for individuality, the fact that the Buick is probably one of two in the whole city..who knows?

    Great article.Thanks!

    • 0 avatar

      These photos were all taken on a Sunday. In Zurich, that means EVERYTHING is closed. And when I say everything, I don’t mean “oh, a few stores are open.” EVERYTHING is closed. I once tried to buy contact solution in a different European city on a Sunday and was literally laughed at by people when I asked if anything would be open. “Contact solution? On a Sunday?!”

      • 0 avatar

        Well, that explains it then. Sunday drivers! Kind of like what I’d do if I ever have enough left over to buy that 80s Brazilian Ford iron I dream about from time to time.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Come to Sweden, I’ll promise you that contact solution will be available in any pharmacy or at any optician any day of the year in any city. If you want to buy booze on a Sunday you’ll be out of luck unless you go to a restaurant thou.

      • 0 avatar
        HiFlite999

        Not quite everything is closed … when we lived there, emergency Sunday shopping meant a train ride to the Zurich airport terminal. There was an underground mall for the convenience of travelers returning home after holiday facing potential empty refrigerators.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The 25 year old Ford Scorpio in the last photo seems like at least as unlikely a car to still find on a European street.

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    So, in one of the Vin Diesel movies, he’s some x-treme spy something or other in Europe or something with cars and chicks or something. Anyway, out of nowhere he comes up with a late 60′s Pontiac GTO. I’m thinking, like hell! Where’s he going to get a Pontiac anything in Europe?

    Now I know the answer. Switzerland.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Anyway, out of nowhere he comes up with a late 60′s Pontiac GTO.”

      It was actually found in Berlin. And the guy even says it was “difficult to find”. AIRTIGHT PLOT!

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kBv8g9vxfc

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The film in question, “XXX”, starts out so good and then slowly devolves as it progresses into Dr. Forrester level pain.

  • avatar
    mvoss

    I went to Switzerland as a little kid. I didn’t have a good handle on cars at that time, but I did notice that it was ridiculously clean. Part of the reason for that is probably the expense for everything, though.

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    When I saw this article, I knew right away what you were going to write.

    My aunt lives in Zurich since the 1960s so we visited Switzerland millions of times. One thing that stuck to my mind to this day: we visited a town outside Zurich for the shopping in 1982. What flabbergasted me the most was one out of every three vehicles in that town was American. I commented this to my parents because it was very unusual sight in Europe.

    The fascinating observation was how General Motors had modified its North American vehicles to comply with ECE regulations: taillamps with yellow turn signal and red European retroreflex lenses; rear side running lamps covered with plastic sticker or changed to yellow colour; ‘flagpole’ external rear-view mirrors; Hella H4 and H1 headlamps; different type of seat belts and anchors (stronger ones with larger orange release button); etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes! Isn’t it so crazy? A lot of the Swiss imports have this stuff done privately, but it’s so funny to see the “dustbuster” GM vans with bizarre afterthought taillights with orange markers – or how about Corvettes with small orange parts in their turn signals instead of just the two red circles?

      American cars absolutely ARE an unusual sight in Europe (presuming you don’t count stuff like the Focus), so I noticed it right away too. Switzerland is odd, but the cars alone are worth the return trip.

      • 0 avatar
        Manic

        I was in Switzerland last summer and saw some American cars too. I guess in every country there’s small-ish groups of people who like Americana, some who like muscle cars and some who are…uh, lets call them “wannabe cowboys” with all the wild-west clothing etc. In the countries with more relaxed import rules a lot of these people drive US cars. For me too that Scorpio is even bigger surprise.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        The cost of making an american car EU compliant as a private citizens is around a $1000US in western Europe so not even close to what the transport/shipping from the US runs. The thing to avoid is american cars fitted with xenon/HID as that will require fitting a washer system and ride or light height control in most cases.
        If you visit most parts of Europe in spring you’ll see a lot more american cars as many are enthusiast vehicles.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    Sounds like a worthwhile trip, fortunately my SO is addicted to bicycles so as long as I keep her away from the Assos store I’m safe. Plus I get a chance to see a Volvo CH230 http://www.volvotrucks.com/trucks/global/en-gb/aboutus/history/1980s/pages/CH230.aspx in the wild, that’s right Volvo builds special 2.3 meter wide versions of its heavy trucks for Switzerland because the roads are so narrow. This makes driving a Detroit land yacht in Switzerland even more crazy.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    Switzerland is lovely, and despite what Clarkson says, it’s brilliant to drive there. In Sweden I noticed something slightly different. The breakdown of cars in Stockholm was: 98% Volvo V70s. 1% Saabs. 1% American muscle cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Hah! Never been to Sweden but wouldn’t be surprised. My issue with Switzerland is they are tremendously strict about speed enforcement. Even as an American I was very careful, because I’ve heard stories about foreigners being detained at airports on return visits for unpaid speeding fines.

    • 0 avatar
      MeaCulpa

      That breakdown isn’t exactly accurate as there is a lot of quite expensive metal rolling around Stockholm. But the V70s are numerous to say the least (and a boatload of them are unmarked cop cars), for some reason SAAB never seemed to get a hold of the car market in the capital.

  • avatar
    Mazda Monkey

    Great article! I had no idea. The pictures are amazing. Did you see newer stuff such as late model muscle cars, or do they really just love old American cars?

    • 0 avatar

      They truly and honestly seem to prefer stuff from the ’70s and ’80s. You do see some ’60s muscle cars, and you see the occasional recent pickup truck (seriously), but there weren’t many 2010+ Camaros and retro Challengers and such.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I remember this from a trip to Europe in the late 70s. Large American cars were nowhere to be found outside a few American army bases. A few service members brought their vehicles with them only to find how impractical and unaffordable that was once they got there.

    Except for Switzerland – a sizeable number of the locals drove the Detroit barges even back during the oil crises. Obviously there are some pretty wealthy people in Switzerland who truly can afford to drive whatever they want, no matter how impractical it may have been at the time.

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist

      That is particularly true with the large SUVs and pick-up trucks having 2500 and 3500 attached to them. There’s an IKEA store in Fürth (outside Nuremberg) that is very popular with the American military families who are based in Ansbach or Bamberg.

      I had queried a few of them whether it was wistful thinking to drive the large land barges, especially Ford Expedition, in Germany. All of them concurred and added that they avoid certain areas due to the difficult manoeuvrability on the smaller streets or tiny parking spaces. One had to leave his Ford F350 with long bed at the base and bought a smaller European car for the local errands.

  • avatar
    Ltd783

    This immediately reminded me of this 1990 ad for a Chevrolet Beretta bragging about how popular they, and GM in general, were in Switzerland. A Beretta was my first car, so this stuck out. When I was in Europe in high school I kept an eye out for them, only saw one in Spain, but the American cars in Europe are always fascinating.

    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5106fJ5cYHL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      OliverTwist

      I remember this ad very well for a very good reason. The European version of Chevrolet Beretta had ‘gutted’ headlamps look. Instead of form-fitting composite headlamps, the European version had the quintessential American four-eyed treatment popular in late 1970s and early 1980s like this one:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiattipoelite/5574478462/

      Oh, there’s this taillamp with yellow turn signal on European Beretta:

      http://www.beretta.net/forum/download/file.php?id=879&mode=view

  • avatar
    imc

    Great article! Was on vacation last week and while driving through Luxembourg couldn’t help laughing when I saw a broken down 1995ish Dodge Ram on the side of the motorway. It was the last thing I expected to see. Quite the ride with gas at more than 1.50 Euro a litre…..let alone squeezing it into western european parking spaces.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    If you were only paying $7-8/gal, either Switzerland is very cheap for gas, or the exchange rate is WAAAY better than it was summer of 2011 (the dollar was at near record lows vs. the Euro. I was paying $10-12/gal while I was on my Euro-delivery trip, with the cheapest being in Germany and the most expensive in Finland. Call it $180 to fill up my 3-series and drive 400 miles or so.

    This goes to show to that you cannot just translate prices. Europe IS expensive, but the fact that the dollar is in the toilet greatly exaggerates it. The Swiss can afford to live there, they are paid in Francs, not dollars. They come here on vacation and it is like the whole country is on sale. Goes the other way too – I went to Sweden some years ago when the dollar was flying high and the Krona was in the toilet – cheap vacation that time.

  • avatar
    skor

    Murica wasn’t always despised in Europe like it is today. From the end of WWII, until the late 60′s, Europeans greatly respected, admired and envied the US, and almost all things American….including American cars. This began to change during the Vietnam War.

    Since Vietnam, America’s reputation has gone into steady decline. It’s a combination of factors. America’s insane loyalty to Israel. Its ever increasing paranoia, and belligerent attitude toward other nations. It’s insistence on rejecting modernity and civilized behavior in the name of the “free market” religion. Many Europeans look at America today and see a country with deteriorating infrastructure, collapsing medical services, lack of opportunity and social/economic mobility, yet Americans are happy not to complain as long as maniacs are guaranteed access to guns.

    Europeans, and most of the rest of the world no longer respect America, they fear it. If it wasn’t for America’s nuclear arsenal, and carrier battle groups, the US would be now what it was back in the 19th century: A risible backwater.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Luckily, Europe is doing great.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        I didn’t say it was paradise. In Europe, unlike America, I don’t see people being put out of their houses by the sheriff because they can’t pay their hospital bill. I don’t see dozens of five years old kids shot through that head at school either.

        Kindly take your Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, NRA, Alex Jones garbage and shove it up your ass.

        • 0 avatar
          Summicron

          Heh… this might give you a mellow memory:

          “So take your medications an’ your preparations an’ RAM IT…. up your snout!”

          Zappa, from Cosmik Debris.

          Y’all liked Zappa over there, no?

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          I hope you don’t think your making some salient point by pointing out people on the right.

          I could do the same for the left

          Bill Ayers (terrorist)
          Al Sharpton
          Louis Farrakhan

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          I don’t watch any of those and have never even heard of Alex Jones. However, what you are proposing sounds downright painful. Rush Limbaugh alone…

          • 0 avatar
            MeaCulpa

            Alex Jones – if my memory of wackos serves me right – is the guy that believes that Obama, Bush, the British royals and probably most of the UN general assembly are lizards from outer space that are working to enslave the human race. If all of that seems somewhat familiar it’s probably because it’s basically the plot of “V” so he gets pretty low marks for originality while scoring of the charts for mental illness.

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            That’s stupid. Everyone knows our Lizard Overlords live in the center of the earth. Duh. Alex Jones is an idiot.

        • 0 avatar
          wmba

          @skor:

          “I don’t see dozens of five years old kids shot through that head at school either.”

          What about that Norwegian freak who in 2011 gunned down or blew up 78 people, mostly teens? And 319 injuries as well.

          Your memory is far too selective. Your preachiness is OTT, and I’m Canadian, not American.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        Some of us are, others, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      “It’s a combination of factors. America’s insane loyalty to Israel. Its ever increasing paranoia, and belligerent attitude toward other nations. It’s insistence on rejecting modernity and civilized behavior in the name of the “free market” religion. Many Europeans look at America today and see a country with deteriorating infrastructure, collapsing medical services, lack of opportunity and social/economic mobility, yet Americans are happy not to complain as long as maniacs are guaranteed access to guns.”

      __________

      Ok, this argument is absolutely terrible, you have no idea what your talking about

      America changed to suit the rest of the world, yet now were expected to pay for all of the worlds problem and fund the UN, with the only thing we gain is lost rights to comply with the AntiAmerican views of the UN

      We’re loyal to Israel because their the only other country on this planet with at least a few people with brains in power, the rest of the world would have liked to have seen them offed by Hitler, I’m sorry if you lack compassion for a country, that is SURROUNDED by enemies, every single country around Israel hates it because it is different. Israel isn’t the one launching rockets at surrounding countries putting fear into others eyes, they have a hard time keeping their people safe, and I can’t believe when people make such a disgusting statement.
      The only shift that we have had toward other nations is to make some attempt to follow what the rest of the world does, we as a country were loved because we represented freedom, the ability to go from nothing to big shot, and had things people from other countries dreamed of. Once we changed paths and started copying what other countries did (dumb things such as emmission laws, archtecture, etc) is when we started becoming disliked by others, we no longer had what made us immensely different.
      I’m sorry but the irony in stating we have rejected “modernity” and “civilized behavior” in the name of free market is beyond laughable. We haven’t had a truly free market in this country in over a century. Capitalism is the only market system in the world that works, and gives everyone the shot to make something of themselves, but there is not one such system on this planet, so your rejecting something based on a nonexistant practice, again one that hasn’t been around in a century.

      _____
      “deteriorating infrastructure, collapsing medical services, lack of opportunity and social/economic mobility,”

      Thank you for proving my point, we are becoming exactly like European countries
      ——
      And please don’t make me laugh on the gun argument, we haven’t sold a new automatic weapon in this country since the mid 80′s, the only people that would have guns if they were banned would be criminals, and then such truly good people wouldn’t be able to protect themselves. For the rare occasion you hear about gun violence you must completely ignore the amount of news regarding lives saved by killing intruders, attempted murderers, and rapist.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        A correction, the UK was integral in Israel,s creation. So it incorrect to say only theUS is their only friend.

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          True, sorry.

        • 0 avatar
          darex

          Yeah, well Benedict Arnold is celebrated in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. The UK is becoming one of the most vocal anti-Israel (anti-Semitic?) mouthpieces in all of Europe. It’s disgusting!

          • 0 avatar
            MeaCulpa

            I think you’re confusing the UK with what some British subjects are saying. But there is a lot of truly horrible muslim leaders saying truly shocking things, but that is the price of freedom of speech I guess, as well as recruiting terrorists. One of those little buggers blew himself up on a busy street in the city where I, then, lived. Thankfully he was as inapt at suicide bombing as he was of rational thinking and only managed to blow himself up, well he did nail the suicide part. That the British government criticize Israel doesn’t mean that the country is inherently “anti-israel”, just that the British government doesn’t agree with some of the actions taken by Israel, something that Israel as a democratic country has to accept, just like Britain had to accept criticism over their actions in Ulster.

          • 0 avatar
            darex

            UK Academia then? I recall a major university pushing for a ban on Israeli professors. A disgusting precedent!

            From Wikipedia:

            Proposals for this boycott have been made by academics and organisations in the United Kingdom to boycott Israeli universities and academics.[2] The goal of proposed academic boycotts is to isolate Israel in order to force a change in Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians which opponents claim to be discriminatory or oppressive.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Yep.

      • 0 avatar
        Aqua225

        Never mind skor, he is the resident anti-Semitic Socialist on the board.

        • 0 avatar
          MeaCulpa

          I don’t know about Skor but being hesitant about Israel doesn’t necessarily equal anti-Semitic even if the Israeli government likes to play that card whenever they get criticised.
          Israel were pretty close to becoming a Jewish-socialist state, somewhat similar to Egypt’s socialistic-arabic-nationalistic ideology under Nasser. The, perhaps, most influential book of pro Zionist policies “Der Judenstaat” was authored by a Jewish atheist that harboured views that would probably be considered socialistic by american standards. A Kibbutz is also a pretty socialistic affair.
          So skor might be an old schools zionist for all we know. Or not.

      • 0 avatar
        MeaCulpa

        The belief that america pays thru the nose for UN and foreign aid, for one, when the country actually contributes quite modest amounts compared to GDP seems straight out of the “Walker Texas Ranger” school of foreign policy.

        Why does the rest of the world dislike america besides american airport security personnel (with the proud tradition of treating everybody arriving without a US passport as terrorists, goat herders and illegal alien. My father, staunchly middle class and conservative, got questioned a couple of hours on why he was wearing a red turtleneck shirt in the 80′s as that shirt made him a suspected communist, a now deceased uncle vowed to never visit america again – and never did – after his encounter with airport security)?
        Well honestly most people I’ve met, and that is a quite broad spectrum both geographically and socially, doesn’t harbor any specifically negative views of America in general. Some policies are not well liked and a lot of the wars get people riled up, but in general, most people doesn’t care much either way.

        Why people stopped buying american cars isn’t hard to answer as they got bad, or rather, everybody else got better. So if the american auto industry wants to get back near the top they need to be good, damn good, and be good for a long time.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        So Israel is disliked because it’s different, and the US stopped being liked when they ceased to be different. Do I have that right?

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    Back in 2003 some of the members of Moparts helped a Swiss engineer restore, load, and ship back to Switzerland a vintage Road Runner that he lusted over. I’ve got pics somewhere of his car being loaded. He came over here when the car came out of the body shop and was ready to go. IIRC, he had a 440 rebuilt and a shit-ton of parts to go in the container also.

    • 0 avatar
      BobAsh

      I have a friend with a barn full of Mopars, including freshly rebuilt Charger R/T clone… And I have even bought a few cars on Moparts and imported them here – I can remember at least two of them, one being a 1969 Imperial and second a 1969 Polara convertible. They were both from the same city somewhere in Carolinas. Maybe the ex-owners are still active on Moparts…

  • avatar
    BobAsh

    Well, I have been to Switzerland only once, about 8 years ago (to visit a US car meeting), but I think that as a European (and Czech Republic has neither bigger streets, nor cheaper gas than Switzerland) who spent 5 years with a 1988 Chevy Caprice as a daily driver, and who is now slowly looking for another American fullsize sedan to use as daily driver (preffferably another Caprice, or some kind of Panther), I have something to say about it.

    As a matter of fact, there is currently a Caprice STW just like the one on your last picture, standing in front of my apartment block, with keys in my pocket. I have borrowed it from a friend to write a “road test” for Czech edition of German “Chromm und Flammen” American car magazine. I spent last week behind it’s wheel, and if I were able to afford it right now, I wouldn’t return the car, just some cash.

    So, why do we love American cars?

    First, probably, they’re different. Driving an old American car in Europe is a bit like driving an old European car in America. You’re the kind of excentric guy with strange taste, owning a thing that a lot of people admire, but only a few would actually go and buy it. You have people asking about it at gas stations, waving at you… if I drive my W124 220CE, I feel like low-rent gangster and feel that people look at me kinda strange. With any old American metal, I’ve always felt that people liked it. In old Beemer, Merc or Audi, you look like you’re trying to look that you have money. In a Caprice or even a Town Car, you look like you’re just a crazy guy with a hobby. I experienced similar reactions when I told people I drive a 20+ year old US car, and when I told them I have five cats, if you know what I mean :)

    Second, old American cars are still cheap to run (yes, even with expensive gas – my 220CE gets similar fuel mileage to the 307 powered Caprice of similar age, is not much faster and it’s hell of a lot complicated to fix), easy to repair and parts are in fact not that hard to get by. And are usually as expensive as part for Euro econoboxes.

    Third, old American cars are fun to drive slow. You drive them for the sight, the sound, the wallowing on the road… you have no need to rush. This may be very important in Switzerland with their draconic speed limit enforcement. Here in Czech Republic, you can get away with a lot more shennanigans, but still, owning a car that looks like a giant, lazy dinosaur and sounds like a thunderstorm is kinda fun.

    If anyone’s interested (especially Bertel, Derek & Co.), I can do an article about driving American cars in Europe… it’s been part of my life for 8 years now, I have driven them, imported them from US, have many friends with them…

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      Yes, please.

    • 0 avatar

      Tremendous post and thanks for the insight. Very neat to hear from you – this is exactly what I wanted to hear about when writing this story!

      By the way, CZ is one of the many countries on my “must visit” list for a future European trip. Friends have gone and all say nice things.

      • 0 avatar
        BobAsh

        I will definitely be writing a series about driving old US metal in CZ. It may be for TTAC, it may be for Hooniverse, but I think I should to it.

        By the way, if you ever actually come to CZ, let me know. I can show you around.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      The fact that Harley-Davidson sells a ton of bikes in Switzerland goes very well with your explanation.

      • 0 avatar
        HiFlite999

        Indeed they do: HD is the most popular brand in der Schweiz. The strong swiss franc helps. Also, since it’s rarely more than 15 km to the next village cafe, the low and slow cruiser style fits well.

  • avatar
    henkdevries

    Switzerland is expensive in everything EXCEPT gas. In expensive gas prices the Dutch are champion I’m not letting the Swiss take that away. We pay 1,75 euro/l that is 8.63 US/gallon.

  • avatar
    geomatic1

    Last October, I took my wife for a tour of Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria. We loved Zurich, and it was very clean and efficient, but yes, it was expensive. She quickly dropped about 200 CHF on Bahnhofstrasse buying clothes and accessories that I’m sure were much cheaper back home in Austin. We found a guesthouse for the night on Weststrasse that had no receptionist, only a card key that fell out of a slot when I keyed in my reservation number. The accommodations were comfortable and moderately priced, even though we never saw another soul in the building. In the morning, I noticed that there was a whorehouse next door.

    In Munich, I had rented an Opel Astra 1.6 turbo with a sweet short-shifting six-speed, and that was certainly adequate for Autobahn cruising, but I met my navigational match in trying to find my way around Zurich with its one-way streets, some closed for construction, and general inefficient layout of the town. Anyway, despite all this, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    When I traveled to Europe on several occasions, I as quite surprised to see as many American cars as I did. What really shocked me was the particular models I saw. During my first trip in the mid 80s I saw quite a few unremarkable models, for example K cars and the like. I saw an old Volare and couldn’t help but wonder why somebody would bring a piece of crap like that to Europe. Later trips showed better choices…I was happy to see two Vettes and a few classics. A near-mint Chevelle was parked by a pub in Belgium…there are least a few fans of heavy metal out there…

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    A few thoughts as a Canadian-born Swiss who spent about 5 months there in 2007 (and again for a week last month):

    People, including the Swiss, are constantly saying how lucky North Americans are with our gas prices. It’s bunk! In mid-March gas in Switzerland was about 30% more expensive than in Canada, which itself is about 20% more than in the US. However, minimum wage is over 100% higher. The Swiss idea of “poverty line” is $50,000 a year, and only the absolute worst jobs pay less than this. In 2007 I was making $18/hr as an unskilled helper and people’s response was, “That’s criminal!” Doug is right that the cost of living is higher, but outside of the large cities – Zurich and Geneva are astronomical – it’s much more reasonable. I have a cousin who has a nice 2 bedroom apartment in rural Switzerland for less than my middling 1 bedroom in Montreal.

    The average Swiss could more easily afford a fancy car and its gas than an average North American, but most are more pragmatic than that. They’d rather build a $100,000 kitchen in their apartment – home ownership is low, but the furniture in their apartments alone can exceed the value of an American home – or travel during their minimum 4 weeks of holidays. Add the ever-present speed cameras which will fine you for going as little as 3 MPH over the limit and a small land mass with tight roads, and you wind up with less ostentatious cars, on average. That’s not to say I didn’t see Lamborghinis, Ferraris, the old Buicks and even a couple of Vipers. 911s are so common in Zurich you don’t even notice them. Many high end cars are debadged, and in most cases you can bet that someone who has a car like that was able to pay for it in cash. There is far less use of credit than in North America.

    The Swiss mentality is quite different than the North American, but what makes them little fun at parties also makes for a society that’s economically solvent, clean, safe (very low murder rate despite the presence of an assault gun in nearly every home) and beautiful. Just don’t take a Swiss’ word for it; their perfectionism has them constantly complaining about what’s wrong with their country rather than appreciating that they have one of the highest standards of living in the world.

    • 0 avatar

      Wonderful insight. Never knew minimum wage was THAT much of a walk.

      The amount of cars that are de-badged really is insane. I’ve never understood why someone would buy an E63 AMG in Switzerland, where the speed limits are ACTUALLY limits, and then remove the badges. Takes all the fun out of it, but then, that’s the Swiss.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        They do it because the AMG is a technically brilliant car, and they can afford it. The ostentatiousness and law-breaking performance are mostly beside the point to them – that kind of crassness is for Italians, or at least only to be used on the Italian Autostrada while on the way down to Milan to pick up some cheap wine. They’re all about, “I know I have the wealth/power, so I don’t need to show it.” Witness the assault guns given to everyone who has gone through military training (which is essentially every man in the country), hidden mountain bunkers, every major tunnel and bridge being rigged to explode for defensive purposes should the need arise, and at least a couple of fighter jets. All this in a country that’s 250 miles across, hasn’t been invaded, and whose soldiers aren’t permitted to operate outside of the country’s borders. You don’t see these things if you don’t know where to look, and unlike the US, they don’t wave their arms around over their military, but the Swiss all know that this stuff is there. We snicker when others make jokes equating our neutrality with weakness. Don’t make fun of our pocket knives, though; we’re serious enough about those to have an hour-long documentary on them available for viewing on SWISS flights.

        Doug, I commend you on your perceptiveness. I’ve known residents who hadn’t captured the spirit of the Swiss like you’ve seemingly managed in one visit.

        • 0 avatar

          Your sentiments make sense and seem to perfectly fit with exactly what I saw when I was there. The Swiss would do well to adopt “Speak softly but carry a big stick” as their national motto!

          As for the perception – I can’t take full credit. Working in an office full of Germans, you quickly learn what THEY think about all the European countries. (You learn this whether or not you ask.) Then, you have to modify your own thoughts to counteract the biases natural to Germans. But they’re pretty spot-on about the Swiss.

  • avatar
    markholli

    I lived in Berlin for a while and I loved seeing “Detroit Iron” there. I saw quite a few full-size conversion vans, Ford Explorers, and the occasional full-size truck or Suburban. I still remember how massive, wide, overweight and out of place they looked in that setting.

    Also, a comment on the Swiss: I met several Swiss people while in Germany, and without exception they were attractive, intelligent, well-educated, and pleasant smelling people. Oh that I were born in Switzerland.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    I am so jealous of Swiss people. Everyone is tall, beautiful, rich, clean, with beautiful apartments and gorgeous mountains for hiking, skiing, driving around. Their food isn’t that great, though.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    My 78′ Chevy would fit in perfectly. I use at a daily driver, and frequent the city streets with it. Yeah, I live in America, but in this day it’s pretty rare to see a 35yo anything running the streets, especially in decent condition.

    I usually have the oldest car wherever I go. It’s slow, but cheap to run and durable. Plus, I like being different. Other cars might be newer, faster, more expensive, newer, etc. But mine is mine, I made it what it is, and when you see it, you’ll know it’s me.

  • avatar
    fabriced28

    That’s very well captured! I currently live there, and yesterday, I saw what I have now identified as a Chevrolet Celebrity Eurosport VR, in white, in perfect condition. Can you imagine that, it seems to be super-rare even in the US!
    Plenty of 80′s cars that do not really look desirable, lots of Mustangs also, but it seems that the fact you can buy the new Camaro out of a regular dealer is detrimental rather than helping its sales! The “import” hobby remains part of the fun. And the sales guy that does 99% korean metal is unlikely to help you appreciate your new purchase…

    But the main reason for buying an American car here is that they can be enjoyed slowly on a Sunday morning, just for aural pleasure. And you barely have another option than to enjoy your car slowly, for plenty of reasons already written here…

    Another point of interest here: car dealers are extremely concentrated with only a few major players, and these do a minimum of 10 brands. Just an example of one of the big shops: Alfa Romeo, BMW, Daihatsu, Fiat, Fisker, Ford, Jaguar, Jeep, KIA, Lancia, Land Rover, Lexus, MINI, Mitsubishi, Piaggio, Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Volvo. Whooosh!

    • 0 avatar

      Another very interesting and much appreciated bit of insight. Are you in Switzerland? A Celebrity Eurosport – absolutely crazy. Haven’t seen one Stateside in years.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        I saw a Celebrity Eurosport wagon on a snowy day in Tahoe this past winter. It looked great. I have no idea how they kept it in such good condition if they drove it in snowy conditions regularly.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Swedes, Fins and Danes are also nuts about old American cars, the rarer the better. It takes real guts to restore or keep a 50 year old American car in Sweden.
    The Japanese are also big into old iron. 15 years ago I picked up a mag/advert for old iron and saw a Olds Vista Cruiser wagon for 15K dollars. Immediately I started thinking about how to get forgotten Detroit cars over to Japan on a weekly basis.

    Japanese men told me it’s the allure of being different, a Renegade, rebelling that makes these cars desirable. Of course it helped that relative to other cars like M-B or BMW these cars were a bargain.
    What isn’t a bargain is the Sha-Kin or inspection process. The cars need to be practically perfect to be passed, although in the rural areas they get away with a lot more variations.
    The wildest one I saw was a 70s Pinto with a V-8 conversion in Yamanashi. How it ever was granted legal driving status is a mystery to me.

  • avatar
    Arild G

    Guess alot of guys and gals here,didnt know this..but there has always been exported american cars,and Switzerland has been the place where most of the cars and trucks went.

    Sweden is the other country here in Europe,that get its share.However,Scandinavia is probably the place on earth,that has the biggest quantity of classic american cars.As an example….of the 852 Buick Limited convertibles produced,there are over 100 of them in Sweden.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    After reading some of the blogs people should realise the Swiss have a very high GDP per capita compared to the US and most of the Eurozone (execpt for Norway,Luxembourg and Monaco).

    Also, another point not mentioned is about US grey imports into the Eurozone is that the US has draconian socialist measures stopping grey imports coming into the US.

    All UNECE will accept US manufactured vehicles, but the US will not allow a UNECE vehicle in. Very short sighted and lame.

    Essentially if it isn’t sold in the US you can’t legally drive it on a public road. The US is missing out on some fantastic vehicles, even if they would be grey imports.

    How many people would love to import some of our HSV and FPV muscle cars and drive them in the US.

    Or even import a global Ranger or BT50?

    I’m travelling to Europe in a few weeks and will keep and eye out for US vehicles.

    Me being an Australian, Europe is a cheap place to visit, Australia is expensive like Switzerland.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      “After reading some of the blogs people should realise the Swiss have a very high GDP per capita compared to the US”

      Depends on who you believe. The IMF(10%), CIA(8.5%), and UPenn(2.6%) have us ahead of them. The World Bank has them ahead by 6%. I’m sure their coat hangers are worth as much as our bottles of single barrel bourbon though.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @CJinSD
        Here is a list of nominal GDP figures on per capita GDP. PPP GDP can also be used, but PPP and nominal don’t give an accurate or true comparison.

        Generally the higher the GDP (per capita) the higher the average income is also, but this come with the added costs of consumer prices.

        By Euro standards the tax paid as a percentage of GDP is very low. Just like Australia, we have a very high GDP per capita, but our tax as a percentage of GDP is slightly higher than the US and slightly lower than Canada.

        The cost of living here is at least 25% more than the US, but our average wage is 40% higher.

        GNP is also another comparison, but GNP differs from GDP.

        Switzerland is right at the top globally. The US is down about 12th position. We are about 5th-7th globally.

        The link has the IMF, World Bank, CIA figures, they all differ, but you will get the point.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28PPP%29_per_capita

          This one takes cost of living into account, and the US winds up better than Switzerland and much better than Australia. Places are ‘cheap’ for you to visit only because you’re accustomed to paying vastly more than most people do. Our paychecks still buy more in our home market than your paychecks buy in yours.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @CJinSD
            Yes, PPP isn’t an accurate reflection of costs between countries. PPP is based on a relatively comprehensive basket of goods.

            PPP can only measure goods that can be traded ie, commodities, manufactured products, financal products etc.

            Non tradeable goods can’t be measured ie haircut, mechanic fixing your car (but spark plugs and filters can)

            Non tradeable goods represent over 50% of our and your economies and probably Switzerland.

            What about medical systems? Or insurance within a country? I do know our medical system is slightly more than half the cost of the US system per capita, insurance is way cheaper here.

            If you use PPP in India for example gasoline is about 20% more per US gallon, but in reality a gallon of gas would cost an Indian person the equivalent if you were paying $18 per gallon in the US.

            The major problem with PPP it is a ratio based against a common currency. The currency it is based on (genrally USD) has a different economy.

            Flucuations globally change by the minute or even second. Take our AUD is has dropped 2 cents in a day, but prices here haven’t changed.

            In Australia the flow on of our AUD appreciating against the USD is now starting to have a larger impact after 5 years. The same occurs when a currency devalues like the USD did, prices remained constant, but they will rise as ours decreases.

            After going between the US (my family lives there) and Australia I think its about 20%-25% more expensive to live in Australia, if you aren’t buying a home.

            Homes and housing in Australia is a large burden. But in the US as your housing market improves our PPP will align more closely.

            Even though the PPP shows a significant drop in the ‘value’ of what we can buy for an AUD it isn’t that accurate, especially if you have such a huge variation.

            The greater the variation the larger the error.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @CJinSD
            “accustomed to paying vastly more than most people do”

            We earn vastly more as well. Here is a link to what costs are in an Aussie supermarket.

            https://aldi.com.au/

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @CJinSD
            Here is a link to look at with our average weekly earnings. It is broken down into male/female.

            In the tables full time work here is ’40hour week job’ and the average takes into account school kids, and part time/casual.

            http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/6302.0main+features4Nov%202012

    • 0 avatar
      JD23

      As CJinSD mentioned, nominal GDP per capita is not an accurate figure for comparing the relative standards of living across countries because it is highly sensitive to exchange rate fluctuations. For example, the yen has depreciated by approximately 25% against the US dollar in the past six months, dramatically reducing their nominal GDP in dollars. Would you argue that the Japanese standard of living has dropped 25% over the same time span? Although the PPP GDP has some limitations, it is a better metric for comparing standard of living across national boundaries.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @JD23
        Nominal and PPP both don’t give an accurate measure of the standard of living between countries.

        PPP was implemented by the EEC in the early 70s to replace the MER system of determining the ability of countries with the EEC to ‘exchange’ debt and loans. This is done for a nationnal measure. Using PPP to measure individual standards isn’t accurate.

        Take a look at the US in the NE the cost of living in the US has a ratio of +1.25 (measured off the US as a whole equaling 1) and living in some areas of the south it is -0.8. That is a huge discrepency, the difference within the US is larger than the difference between Australia and the US as nations.

        The World Bank adopted the PPP measure of measuring national economies also after the EEC.

        Governments when giving economic data use both MER, nominal, GNI, and PPP, for spin purposes, ie whatever figure that makes them look better.

        Actually the best measure for the standard of living at the moment is the HDI or Human Development Index.

        This system uses personal income, schooling, infant mortality, life expectancy etc to determine standard of living.

        The Swiss do have a higher standard of living than the US in both relative income and all of the other factors.

        That is why they buy and can afford to operate US vehicles. Iceland and other Nordic countries have also had a flavour for US vehicles. But historically the Nordics have produced larger vehicles than their Euro counterparts.

        Australia is in roughly the same boat in regards to vehicles as the US, we have had larger vehicles on average than the rest of the world.

        As you can see regulation, taxes and barriers on imports play a significant role in shaping the motor vehicle culture within countries.

  • avatar
    hoonthatprado

    I´m a Swiss citizen myself, and having lived in SE Michigan I have come to understand both Swiss and American car culture. I have shipped 10+ American cars to friends back in Switzerland while living in the U.S., from 1940-ies Fords to brand new Mustangs and Camaros.

    Why the Swiss have a fascination for American iron has several reasons, but here the key drivers: Lower cost (a fully loaded V8 Mustang costs around $55k, delivered to Zurich, while a Bimmer or Benz with comparable horsepower would cost more than double); “American lifestyle”, or better said, what the Swiss believe it is – the U.S. is referred to as the “Land der unbeschraenkten Moeglichkeiten” (the land where everything is possible, or the land of freedom); last but not least, the f-u effect of owning a big, gas guzzling car (in Switzerland it is important not only to keep up with the Joneses, but also not to deviate much from what is considered “correct” – hard to understand for non-Europeans).

  • avatar
    HiFlite999

    ^ Agreed … as a US citizen living in Michigan and former resident of Brugg, Switzerland.

    Another factor plays some role. There are some jobs American Iron does better. One of my then co-workers was a paraplegic: He drove a G-20 van which allowed easy access and exit for his wheelchair, plus the ability to camp. (Handicap access to European hotels is virtually unheard of, which is one reason he took all of his vacations in the USA or Canada.)

    The bf of the daughter of a good Swiss friend of mine owns several American pickups and big SUVs. He runs a landscape company and a towing service for trailering horses, both of which require some genuine torque to deal with the weight and steep inclines, as well as off-road tracks.


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