Throughout America's history, there've been myriad car brands that were sedulously developed only to fail and fade slowly into obscurity. And some of those brands produced truly amazing automobiles that didn't deserve their untimely fates.
Here are 11 auto brands that were taken from us way too soon.
Originally founded in the late 1920s with the goal of being a big-selling entry-level brand, Plymouth’s story was one filled with ups and downs. The brand that brought you Christine (1958 Fury) also unleashed the Hemi ‘Cuda and Road Runner...then gave the PT Cruiser to the world around the same time it revealed the amazingly unique Prowler.
As the permanent home of upscaled Ford models, Mercury was both blessed and cursed by its familial ties. During its golden age, rolling out all-time greats like the Mustang-based Cougar tied in beautifully with Ford Europe-based cars like the Capri and the Merkur. The ever-cool Marauder was essentially an up-market Crown Victoria with a Mustang Cobra engine in the 1990s. Then came the Topaz, the Explorer-based Mountaineer, and, ultimately, death.
During Pontiac’s heyday, its executive staff consisted of all-stars that did everything imaginable to elevate the brand. Guys like John DeLorean (yep, that DeLorean), paved the way for cars like the GTO—the original muscle car—the always-gorgeous Bonneville, and the legendary Banshee, a concept that was so ahead of the curve that GM’s brass feared it could take sales away from Corvette. They killed it, then let it inspire ‘Vette’s 3rd generation offering a few years later.
Ransom Eli Olds founded his company on the spirit of pushing the envelope, and in the earliest days of the Olds Automobile Company it set land speed records. Decades later, it became the first automaker to mass produce an automatic transmission...then again for a turbocharged engine.
Fascinating side note: Ransom Olds went on to start another car company named after his initials: REO. Yes, it produced a Speedwagon, from which the band takes its name.
If you want to see a prolonged fall from grace, AMC is your answer. Formed from the largest merger in history as of 1954, AMC was at the forefront of economy cars under the leadership of George Romney (Mitt’s dad), then right in the thick of the first great muscle car wars with the AMX. As a company, it bought and refined Jeep, formed AM General (which you know as the producer of Hummers), then wound up taken over by Renault, and ultimately parted out by Chrysler, which kept only Jeep.
6. Duesenberg, Auburn, and Cord
Most people don’t realize that Duesenberg, Auburn, and Cord were all the same company. Auburn spearheaded some of the most beautiful cars of the art-deco era, before being taken over by E.L. Cord, who ultimately named the company’s revolutionary front-wheel drive car after himself. He then bought Duesenberg, and made serious history. Often thought of as America’s Rolls-Royce, Duesenbergs were among the fastest and most luxurious cars of their day, winning the Indy 500 multiple times. When Cord took over, he gave one instruction: build the best damn car in the world. Mission accomplished.
Look at any vintage movie wherein someone rides in a cab. Chances are it was a Checker. The company itself did a lot of behind-the-scenes manufacturing for various other conglomerates, but the Checker Cab is an American Icon.
Rest in peace, Doc Hudson, a.k.a. Paul Newman.
For decades, Packard was one of the cars to own if you wanted the very best in American luxury. It routinely traded punches with Cadillac and Lincoln, produced P-51 Mustangs during WWII, and somehow managed to squander all of its financial well-being in just a few short years thanks to a series of Hall of Shame-worthy business decisions.
The sometimes-quirky Studebaker was around for generations, often just missing out on realizing supreme success. After making the first purpose-built proving grounds in North America, Studebaker ultimately fell into financial ruin after routinely finding itself incapable of lowering costs enough to remain competitive. A last-gasp merger with Packard led to some...interesting...designs, like the Hawk you see above, before both brands ultimately faded away.
From the late 1920s until the early ‘60s, the DeSoto lineup was Chrysler’s main means of reaching the middle class. The majority of DeSotos weren’t what you’d call revolutionary, but they were exactly the kinds of cars that would be popular today as cheap rides that respond well to modification. Case in point: many of the earliest NASCAR racers drove DeSotos.