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Rust in Pieces: The Auto Brands You Probably Forgot About

The automotive industry has seen its fair share of brands come and go over the decades. While automotive giants like Ford, Chevrolet, and Toyota have stood the test of time, countless other carmakers have fallen by the wayside. From audacious startups to once-mighty empires, these defunct car brands represent the dreams and failures of an ever-evolving industry. Join us as we explore the rise and demise of some of the most fascinating automotive marques that have faded into history.

Studebaker (1852-1966)

1963 studebaker avanti
Hailing from Germany, the Studebaker clan were initially skilled blacksmiths who eventually ventured into the carriage and wagon industry. They made their first foray into the automobile market in 1912, earning recognition for their high-quality and dependable vehicles. Despite facing management issues, they weathered the storm of the Great Depression and continued to produce groundbreaking vehicle designs throughout the 1940s, setting trends that would inspire other manufacturers for generations to come. However, the fierce pricing competition between automotive giants GM and Ford in 1953 nearly drove the Studebakers to the brink of extinction. They managed to keep their legacy alive for another 13 years by merging with Packard, a decision that unfortunately proved to be detrimental for the latter.

Oldsmobile (1897-2004)

1967 oldsmobile cutlass
Once a standalone entity, Oldsmobile was acquired by General Motors in 1908. The brand became renowned for its audacious spirit and unparalleled potency, largely due to its iconic “Rocket V8” engine. This image of power and adventure was a defining characteristic of Oldsmobile through the golden eras of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. However, as the 1990s rolled in, the brand started to lose its luster and its reputation for performance began to wane. The practice of rebadging, over time, brought about the downfall of this once mighty automobile titan.

Packard (1899-1958)

packard 110 touring sedan
Envisioned as a beacon of luxury, Packard was priced at a premium, costing more than four times its Oldsmobile counterpart. This image of opulence was critical in upholding the brand’s reputation, even amid the economic turmoil of the Great Depression. However, the brand’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when they ventured into the mid-priced car market. They found themselves unable to hold their own against the formidable “Big Three” auto giants. The fierce price competition among the major car manufacturers, coupled with a risky merger with Studebaker, led to the unfortunate downfall of this once thriving independent car maker.

Pontiac (1926-2010)

1964 pontiac bonneville
Pontiac, like several other brands featured here, initially entered the market as a cost-effective substitute for high-end luxury vehicles. It was the groundbreaking vision of individuals like John DeLorean in the late 1950s that transformed Pontiac into a symbol of speed, thrill, and power. However, the golden age of Pontiac was short-lived. The fuel crisis and heightened safety norms in the 1970s and 80s significantly impacted its iconic image, triggering a gradual downward spiral. The final blow came with GM’s 2008 Chapter 11 restructuring – marking the end of an era.

DeSoto (1928-1961)

1932 DeSoto Six Series SC 4-Door Sedan
Chrysler birthed DeSoto as a moderately priced vehicle, but its journey to success hit a wall almost instantly. The acquisition of Dodge by Chrysler soon after DeSoto was established set the stage for an internal rivalry in the mid-range market. In a strategic move to propel Dodge’s sales, Chrysler tried to rebrand DeSoto as a luxury, yet affordable car in 1933. However, Chrysler’s continuous mishandling, combined with the economic downturn in 1958, ultimately led to DeSoto’s downfall.

Plymouth (1928-2001)

1952 plymouth suburban
Plymouth, a brainchild of Chrysler, was conceived as a budget-friendly alternative to the latter’s more upscale vehicles. The brand soared to popularity in the 1950s and 60s, thanks to its avant-garde and space-age designs. However, the 90s saw a shift in strategy, with Chrysler merely rebranding their other vehicles under the Plymouth name – a practice known as “badge-engineering”. This move led to the dilution of Plymouth’s unique identity. In a bid to rekindle Plymouth’s distinctive charm, Chrysler had initially intended to launch the Prowler and PT Cruiser under the Plymouth brand. Alas, Plymouth’s doors were closed before these models could hit the market.

Mercury (1938-2011)

1949 mercury eight sedan
When Mercury first rolled onto the scene, it was pegged as a budget-friendly option – not as costly as the swanky Lincolns, but a step up from the more affordable Fords. But by the mid-40s, sales had tanked, leading Lincoln and Mercury to become one. Despite this, the trusty Marquis and Grand Marquis models held their ground, enjoying a heyday from the 60s all the way to the 2000s. But alas, a shrinking and aging customer base eventually spelled the end for Mercury.

Tucker (1947-1948)

1948 tucker torpedo
After World War II, American car lovers were itching for fresh automotive designs. The big players in the industry, however, were dragging their feet. This is where Preston Tucker saw an opportunity with his groundbreaking Tucker 48 Sedan. This car was chock-full of innovative safety features that seemed straight out of the future. But, the journey wasn’t smooth sailing. The first prototype had a pretty rough introduction in 1947. It was noisy, had a tendency to overheat, relied on external power to start, and reversing? Forget about it! That said, Tucker didn’t throw in the towel. Later prototypes were much better received., but he would ultimately only build 51 cars before more trouble headed his way. To get the funding to push his dream car into reality, Tucker had to get creative. He sold accessories and even places on a waiting list to excited potential buyers. Unfortunately, this strategy caught the attention of the SEC, leading to a legal battle. Even though Tucker was cleared of all charges, the whole ordeal left a mark. With a mountain of debt looming over, the Tucker Corporation had to close its doors.

Kaiser-Frazer (1945-1953)

1948 kaiser special sedan
Guess what? There was this fascinating car company that made a significant impact, even though their time in the spotlight was brief. The company was the brainchild of two heavyweights – Joseph Frazer, a top-notch auto executive, and Henry Kaiser, a major industrial player. While the big guys were busy repackaging pre-WWII designs, Kaiser-Frazer decided to shake things up. They were the first to roll out a completely fresh car model post-war. Talk about being trailblazers! They were riding high until 1951, when Kaiser and Frazer hit a roadblock. They disagreed on how to flog their cars and ended up parting ways. But that didn’t stop Kaiser. He kept the engine running with Kaiser Motors. Here’s where things get really interesting. Kaiser Motors eventually snapped up Willys-Overland, the masterminds behind the iconic Jeep. And guess what they did next? They introduced Jeep to a whole new set of fans after being scooped up by the American Motors Corporation. Crazy, right?

American Motors Corporation (AMC) (1954-1988)

1959 rambler sedan
You know, it’s quite a story how AMC came into being. Hudson Motor Company and Nash-Kelvinator Corporation decided to join forces, and at the time, it was the biggest corporate merger in the history of the U.S. Then, towards the end of the 1950s, they thought, “Hey, let’s focus on making compact, fuel-efficient cars,” which was pretty gutsy and unusual. But you know what? It paid off big time in the 60s! Now, by the 70s, things were getting a bit rocky, but AMC’s Jeeps were like the secret sauce, keeping the company ticking along while the rest of their models were going out of style. Then in the 80s, along came Chrysler, saying, “We’ll take it from here,” mainly because they had their eye on that profitable Jeep line. Quite the rollercoaster, eh?

Edsel (1956-1959)

1958 edsel pacer
Ford really hyped up the Edsel, you know? They poured tons of research into it, trying to make it the ‘it’ car for everyone in America. They even called it the “YOU car,” hoping it would resonate with everyone. But then, when the big reveal happened on “E Day” (that was September 4, 1957), the reaction was pretty underwhelming. People just didn’t dig it – they thought the name, design, and even its performance were kinda cheesy. To make matters worse, they priced it like a luxury car, even though they were trying to appeal to the mid-range market. Can you believe they lost around $2.57 billion on the Edsel project when you adjust the loss to 2023’s dollar value? Talk about a flop.

DeLorean (1975-1982)

dmc delorean
John DeLorean is famously recognized for his stunning design of the GTO, and a host of other cars. Not to mention, he holds the record of being the youngest GM executive in history. With solid financial backing from Hollywood celebrities and the British government, DeLorean set up a factory in Northern Ireland to roll out the DMC-12. However, the first batch of vehicles had issues with quality control and testing, and the car’s features, price, and design received a lukewarm reception in the US. Battling financial woes, DeLorean found himself in hot water when the FBI implicated him in a drug trafficking case in 1982. Although he was eventually cleared of all charges, the trial smeared his reputation. Despite all the controversy, the cars managed to garner a cult following. In 2016, a new DeLorean Motor Company sprung up, vowing to manufacture new DMC-12 models in the coming years.

Saturn (1985-2010)

saturn s series 1990s
So, here’s the story about Saturn, which was born in Spring Hill, Tennessee. People referred to it as “a fresh type of car company.” It was a private venture, owned by the employees themselves. It operated independently from GM, and had a lot more freedom compared to GM’s other divisions. They sold a fair share of cars, but not quite enough. There was also some envy from other divisions because of Saturn’s special status. But in 2004, the privileges Saturn was enjoying came to an end. That was probably their downfall – in 2010, when GM was shutting down divisions left, right, and center, Saturn got axed.

Propeller Powered Vehicles That Never Made It Mainstream

helica propellor car at concours of elegance
Tim Scott / Concours of Elegance
There are plenty of curious creations in auto manufacturing. Propellers were one attempt at innovation that did not go as well as the inventors as hoped. View the propeller driven cars

Vintage Film Thrills That Capture 1902 Auto Racing In Action

mors type z 1902 racing car
Revs Institute
Ever wonder what racing was like in 1902? In this amazing video footage you can find out!

Vintage Pickup Trucks From the 1930s That Prove Grandad was Pretty Cool

The Dirty Thirties was when men were men, and trucks were built to take a beating. As the nation struggled through the Great Depression, the humble pickup truck became a trusty companion for hard-working Americans looking to make an honest living. Vintage Pickup Trucks From the 1930s That Prove Grandad was Pretty Cool

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