For American car guys, Canada can seem like a very foreign place. Not only do our neighbors up north refer to American cheese as processed cheese, or more charitably as “mild cheddar,” they have a history of buying and selling cars that many of us Yankees have never heard of.
A brief (and woefully incomplete) list of Canada’s peculiar automotive-retailing behavior might include selling Dodge trucks under the Fargo banner, Canada-only brands such as Meteor and Frontenac, selling Russian cars (Lada) and unique Hyundai models (Stellar, Pony), and rebadging Chevrolets as Pontiacs (too many to list).
Well-versed car guys can tell you about many of the aforementioned oddities, but there is one bit of Canadian automotive history that even the most keenly observant American car guy may have missed: Passport dealerships.
Between 1988 and 1991, and only in Canada, General Motors consolidated several of its “acquisition brands” into a single showroom. The new franchise, dubbed Passport, retailed Isuzu, Saab, and Daewoo vehicles. Isuzu and Saab products were sold as-is, while a single Daewoo model, the Optima, was sold as a Passport. Americans know the Passport Optima better as the LeMans, which was sold in the U.S. as a Pontiac between 1988 and 1993.
The Passport network was rebranded in 1992 when the Saturn brand came online in Canada, and Passport dealerships became Saturn-Saab-Isuzu stores. Now without a brand, the Daewoo-built Optima disappeared after 1991.
With all this in mind, you now know that, should you be waiting in the drive-thru queue of a Canadian McDonald’s when a Passport Optima drives by, the car you just spotted is a brand orphan–and your Quarter Pounder will be delivered with melted mild cheddar.