Hundreds and hundreds of automakers have come and gone over the years. Sadly, it's very hard to remember them all. Each of them was born of a dream, and many manufactured dazzling cars that deserve to be remembered. Perhaps it's no surprise that so many automakers have had to close their doors over the decades. It takes an enormous amount of talent, focus, and, yes, money to design and engineer automobiles. Setting up factories to manufacture them is more time- and budget-consuming, and then the cars still have to be sold and serviced. Looking back over U.S. auto history, you may recognize a few of the names that have come and gone: Studebaker, DeLorean, Packard and more. But the details of these companies are disappearing.
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The Nash Metropolitanwas the first compact car sold in the United States, and the now-defunct brand was an innovator in many other areas as well. Its 600 model from 1941 was the first unibody automobile built in the United States, setting the stage for pretty much every car manufactured today. Nash was also the first auto manufacturer to introduce seatbelts, so bravo for them. Unfortunately, the Nash name disappeared when the company merged with Hudson in 1954, and the subsequent company, AMC, disappeared when Chrysler bought it in 1988.
For decades, if you were looking for a family sedan that provided spacious comfort without having to pay luxury prices, a De Soto would have been on your list. The De Soto was the best-selling car of the year repeatedly from the 1930s to the 1950s — but due to brand mismanagement, which mostly involved trying to push luxury models of the line that apparently no one was looking for, the make took a steep nosedive in the 60s. But if it ever comes up on Final Jeopardy, when you see the clue, "This defunct automaker was the first to introduce pop-up headlights," you'll know the answer is "What is De Soto?"
The dream of a flying car has been around for a long time. In fact, the first prototype was created — and shelved — in 1921. The Aerocar, manufactured in Longview, Washington, hit the roads in 1949, powered by a 135 HP airplane engine. In the early 1960s, Aerocar designed several models: The Aerocar Aero-Plane, the Aerocar III, the Coot (a float-plane/car) and the IMP. Unfortunately for those who want to see sci-fi come to life, legislation in the late 60s made it clear that there was no future in flying cars. You can see one of the remaining Aerocars at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
This company started out building wagons for horses to pull, so it's rather remarkable that it survived as long as it did. Studebaker saw the future as early as 1902 when it started making cars — including electric cars — in Indiana. By the late 1920s, the Studebaker brand was well-known for turning out stylish vehicles that came complete with large engines, rumble seats, and flashy two-tone paint jobs. But Studebaker couldn't maintain its momentum after World War II. Although the company almost revived its fortunes with the tiny Lark model, by the 1960s, it was faltering.
Most Americans are very familiar with the big Japanese car companies, such as Nissan and Toyota. But who remembers Daihatsu? Daihatsu was actually one of Japan's biggest automakers some 50 years ago. Seeing the huge success of brands like Toyota in the United States, the car manufacturer decided to make the leap and start selling in American as well. It introduced the Charade in 1987 and the Rocky in 1988 — but no one was really interested. Daihatsu's U.S. doom was sealed by its small dealership network and issues with parts availability, and six years after its launch, the brand left the United States for good. In 2016, Toyota bought Daihatsu, ending the brand in Japan as well.
Daewoo was the second largest conglomerate in Korea before the Asian financial crisis that hit the continent in 1997. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, Daewoo made not only automobiles but everything from vacuum cleaners to ships to subway trains. It branched into the United States in the late 80s — and if you don't remember models like the Lanos, the Nubira, and the Leganza, well, that would explain why the brand didn't last long. By 2001, Daewoo Motors had declared bankruptcy and was bought by GM.
Okay, if you once drove a muscle car like the Trans-Am or the GTO, Pontiac still holds a fond space in your heart. But its bankruptcy in 2008, during the massive worldwide recession of that time, doomed the company, which had been a major division of General Motors. While Pontiac was still putting out plenty of strong models at the time, GM had to jettison the entire brand to keep the parent company alive, leaving it to dwindle away in people's memories.
Maybe this brand suffered because its name made folks think the cars were just for old people. Actually, the brand was named for its founder, Ransom Olds. Or maybe it was just a victim of the woes General Motors was going through in the late 90s and early 2000s. Either way, the Oldsmobile is now only a fading memory in the American conscious. A shame, since Oldsmobile was the first car manufacturer in America, founded in 1897. Its first car, with an astonishing 7 HP engine, was the first mass-produced car in the country. By the 1970s, Oldsmobile was the third largest car manufacturer in the United States, pumping out sedans and muscle cars by the millions. But GM, which had bought the brand as early as 1908, decided to shutter the 100-year-old company in 2004.
If you were in the market for a luxury car in the 1920s or 30s, chances are you owned a Packard. The brand, founded by two brothers in Ohio, was the first with a 12-cylinder engine. These luxury cars remain highly collectible today, long after their memory has faded from the American consciousness. Unfortunately, though the cars maintained their excellent quality after the war, their design was stuck in the pre-war mode, and buyers moved on to other makes. Packard had to close its doors for good in 1958.
With a hood ornament that featured a warrior loosening an arrow from a bow, the Pierce-Arrow established itself quickly as a powerhouse in the early 1900s automobile marketplace. The Pierce-Arrow had many features that were futuristic for the time, including power brakes, fender-mounted headlights, aluminum bodies, and V6 engines that hummed quietly. Other models featured V8s that powered massive autos packed with luxury and even V12s that set speed records. Unfortunately, the last Pierce-Arrow rolled off the assembly line in 1938.
Have you ever said "It's a doozie" about anything? If so, you were referring to the classic Duesenberg of the 1920s and 30s, even though you almost certainly didn't realize it. The 1928 "Deusie" was, in fact, the most expensive and valuable car ever made in the United States, and it reached a blistering 110 mph. No wonder it was the car of choice for movie stars like Gary Cooper and Clark Gable. But look at the date of its introduction. The Great Depression hit soon after the original Duesenbergs were brought to market, and by 1937, the automaker shut its doors under sad financial pressure.
It may not look like a race car, but a Hudson made it across the country, San Francisco to NYC, in just over five days, and early roadsters from the company were clocked at 102 mph, which was a record-setting speed in 1916. The popular Hudson Hornet raced in NASCAR in the 50s as well. After a merger with the Nash company, though, the Hudson name was phased out.
Even most people who were around when the Tucker was produced didn't know about this auto company and car. The only reason it's been remembered at all is thanks to Francis Ford Coppola's 1988 movie Tucker, which hypothesized that the Big Three automakers conspired to cause the company's failure. The Tucker 48, more commonly known as the Tucker Torpedo, pioneered many innovative features, including a rear-mounted engine, directional headlights that turned to light the way around corners, a padded dashboard, a crumbling crash zone, and a collapsible steering column. Fewer than 100 Tuckers ever rolled off the assembly line, unfortunately. Unless you visit the Smithsonian or Coppola's winery in Northern California, you're unlikely ever to see one in real life.
Sure, people remember the famous DeLorean that became a time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy, but probably very few folks realize that DeLorean was a car manufacturer that made an actual car. That's in part because only about 9,000 DeLoreans were ever made, so your chances of passing one on the highway are slim. And yes, you would have passed it. Despite its breathtaking looks, the DeLorean was a bit sluggish. Think 0 to 60 in a laggardly 10.5 seconds. The gullwing doors and stainless steel exterior sure were eye-catching, though, which is probably how the car gained its status as a movie star. Unfortunately, company owner John DeLorean was arrested for cocaine smuggling in 1982. Though he was later acquitted, the company went into bankruptcy during his trial and was never able to recover.
Maybe while playing Monopoly, you've picked up a Community Chest card directing you to "Take a ride on a Stanley Steamer" and wondered what it was talking about. That's because no one today remembers the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, which turned out hundreds of steam-driven automobiles beginning in 1902. The car was colloquially called the Stanley Steamer, or sometimes the "Flying Teapot." However, as the internal combustion engine began to take over the automotive marketplace, there was little call for the weaker steam-powered engines, and the Stanley company closed in 1924.