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By Andrew Ganz

The grass always looks greener on the other side, doesn’t it? For roughly 20 years, American car enthusiasts could do nothing but imagine how much better looking their federalized vehicles were in their home markets.

Over the course of about 20 years, the United States government mandated various changes to European-specification vehicles that ranged from 2.5 or 5 mph bumpers to sealed beam headlamps to increased ride heights as part of its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards program. And let’s not even get started on the souped up engines they had “over there” that way outperformed our neutered units.

As a result, European automakers scrambled to adapt bumpers, change headlamps, raise suspensions and tack on reflectors in order to continue legally selling cars in the highly lucrative U.S. market. The requirements weren’t specific to European imports, but they certainly affected them the most. American automakers more easily adapted their vehicles since their primary market was right here at home and Japanese designers seemed less phased by the changes required.

Global safety standards have since changed, meaning there are few noticeable differences between current U.S., Japanese and European vehicles that aren’t dictated by market demands.

Leftlane’s editors have come up with a list of ten vehicles that looked noticeably better in their home market than they did over here, even though many were successful on this side of the pond.

What cars have we left out that you would want on our list?

10. Citroen SM. A collaborative effort between Citroen and its then-subsidiary, Maserati, the SM was a fantastically advanced vehicle for its era. A hydropneumatic suspension, variable assist power steering and phenomenal dynamics set it apart globally. Unfortunately, U.S. models lost the home market’s six self-leveling, swiveling headlamps and the adjustable height suspension spelled the end of the SM here because it could be adjusted to levels that didn’t meet our regulations.

9. Alfa Romeo Spider. Alfa Romeo’s first Spider – the one Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate – was a swoopy, shapely model. But the roadster’s second outing in North America didn’t last long with its svelte chrome bumpers. A pair of big black rubber jobs bulked up its front and rear ends in 1975, effectively killing its look. The similarly Italian Fiat Spider had much better integrated bumpers.

8. Lamborghini Countach. The poster child (literally, if you grew up in the 1980s and had a Countach poster in your bedroom) for hideous U.S.-spec modifications, the Countach’s massive black federalized bumpers looked like the kind of fake moustache you might find if you’re looking to dress up like a police officer for Halloween.

7. Fiat 500. As the Fiat 500 prepares to return to America, it’s worth remembering that the original U.S. spec models featured goofy sealed beam headlamps mounted above the front fenders in order to satisfy the U.S. government during its short visit here in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

6. Renault 17. Call any Renault 17 “good looking” and we’ll question your taste, but at least European-specification models of these funky two-doors didn’t rival Ford Broncos for their ride height and ground clearance. Our 17′s stance was comparable to an AMC Eagle – not quite what the French had in mind.

5. Jaguar XJS. At home, Jaguar XJS coupes and convertibles received a pair of very advanced-looking single-piece headlamps covered by a glass panel, but U.S. consumers were subjected to a quartet of akwardly-fashioned headlamps all the way up until 1992. Luckily, every market received electronics designed by Lucas, the Lord of Darkness.

4. Porsche 911. Keen to keep costs down, Porsche didn’t offer unique bumpers for North America for very long, instead choosing to fit its global lineup with the same big bumpers. But 1973 stands out because it is the last year Porsche offered chrome bumpers on its original 911 sports coupes. Burdened with massive rubber pads, these cars still look infinitely tidier than the bulkier 1974 models. The 1974 Jaguar XKE also deserves mention for its similarly attrocious bumpers.

3. BMW 2002. Like so many other European models, BMW’s small sports “sedan” (as it was called despite its two doors) was graced with a pair of heavy black plastic 5 mph front and rear bumpers. Notable not just for the way they bulked up the 2002′s appearance (and weight), the bumpers are worth remembering because BMW had a difficult time learning how to integrate NHTSA-mandated bumpers into its products until the late 1980s.

2. VW Beetle. Like most European cars, the Beetle gained ever-larger bumpers beginning in 1968. By 1974, however, the Beetle’s 5 mph units stuck out so far you could comfortably use them like bleacher seats. Covered in as much chrome as you might find on a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado, the Beetle’s bumpers practically weighed more than the car’s body.

1. Mercedes-Benz SL. We’ve already concluded that European models gained larger bumpers for the North American market, but few were as atrocious as those found on the R107-series Mercedes-Benz SL. The biggest bumpers arrived in 1974. Comprised of more rubber than you’ll find in Amsterdam’s red light district, the 5 mph jobs wrapped all the way around the fenders and stuck out about an extra foot, simply killing the SL’s neat lines.

Leftlane’s bottom line

The good news for most of us is that these federalized modifications can be reversed. Changes come at a cost, however, as finding European-specification bumpers and headlamps can prove to be a challenge, as can refitting them to your car. Don’t expect to simply unbolt that moustache on your wedgy Lamborghini and expect it to look like it should be storming the streets of Bologna.

Some states still require federalized bumpers, lights and more to remain, so you’d better check your local laws before going crazy on eBay.de.

The European Union continues to push its pedestrian safety standards, which are already changing front fascia and hood designs in order to better protect wayward bystanders in congested European cities. Will we revisit this subject in another 10 years when we compare models that look better here? Only time will tell.



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Talk about an article that's nearly worthless due to a lack of pictures.

Click the link.

Honestly, the article really should be about the Euros' refusal/inability to integrate federal regulations into their designs. As stated, the Japanese just did it, but I suspect it was really a cost-saving measure on the part of the Euros. Guess what? Bitching about funny-looking bumpers from 1974 here in 2010 seems pretty stupid. Must be a slow news day at Leftlane.

Edited by Croc
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They are right though, stupid laws back then really did ruin the look of so many cars. It isn't confined to the Euro cars however, the domestics suffered too. Japanese cars of the era had little to no style anyway, so the impact was hardly noticeable on those ugly little beasts.

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