Dead Car Brands That American Drivers Miss (and a Few They Don't)

DeLorean DMC-12

moisseyev /istockphoto

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DeLorean DMC-12
moisseyev /istockphoto

Ghost Riders

America's love affair with the automobile is a long, long road — one that's littered with the wreckage of automakers. Some, such as DeLorean, produced just a few thousand vehicles before shutting down; others, such as Studebaker, thrived for decades before going bankrupt. Although gone, these dead car brands definitely are not forgotten.

Related: 12 Unique Cars That Should Be Resurrected.

Studebaker Avanti


By the time automobiles were beginning to appear on U.S. streets, Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing had been building carriages and wagons for more than three decades. In 1902, the South Bend, Indiana, company began building electric automobiles, and gas-powered vehicles two years later. Studebaker survived the Great Depression relatively unscathed and, like competitors, turned to defense contracting during World War II to survive. But in the booming postwar years, Studebaker — like other smaller U.S. autobuilders — couldn't compete with the Big Three. The company merged with Packard in 1954 and limped through the rest of the decade. Despite some success with two compact models, the Lark sedan and the Avanti sports coupe, Studebaker continued hemorrhaging money. Its South Bend plant closed in 1963; the last vehicles rolled off the company's Hamilton, Ontario, plant in 1966.

Did you know? When Studebaker collapsed, it gifted the corporate collection of vehicles, presidential carriages, and other transit memorabilia to South Bend. Today, you can view the collection and learn more about the city's automotive history at the Studebaker National Museum.

Related: 15 Classic Car Models That Were Resurrected

Nash Police Car


Few U.S. automakers were as groundbreaking in their time as Nash Motors. Founded in 1916, the Kenosha, Wisconsin, company was the first to offer air conditioning (1937), unibody frames (1941), and seatbelts (1950), as well as one of the first to use wind tunnels to test the aerodynamics of its autos. Among its most notable models were the Rambler, introduced in 1950 as a compact two-door convertible but soon to spawn an entire line of models, and the subcompact, British-built Metropolitan coupe in 1953, one of the first vehicles marketed to women drivers. Despite these innovations, Nash sales declined from 1951 onward, and in 1954 the company merged with Hudson to create American Motors.

Did you know? Nash Motors merged with Kelvinator, an appliance manufacturer, in 1937. The company would be known as Nash-Kelvinator until it merged with Hudson.

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1971 Plymouth Road Runner muscle car


Chrysler created the Plymouth division in 1928 as its entry-level brand, a role it would occupy happily through the 1960s with mainstays such as the Belvedere, Fury, and Valiant sedans. Plymouth bulked up its product line in the late '60s and early '70s with muscle cars such as the Barracuda, Duster, and Road Runner. The energy crunch of the mid-1970s spelled the end of Plymouth's gas guzzlers, and despite the success of the hatchback Plymouth Horizon (and its twin the Dodge Omni), Chrysler teetered on the brink of bankruptcy at decade's end. Although chairman Lee Iacocca managed to revive the company in the '80s with its groundbreaking minivans and "K-car" sedans, Plymouth vehicles became virtually indistinguishable from its Dodge and Eagle brandmates. By the time the division was shuttered in 2001, only one Plymouth model, the compact Neon, remained.

Did you know? Plymouth wasn't named in honor of the Massachusetts town where the pilgrims landed in 1620, but so buyers would associate it with the strength and success of Plymouth Cordage, at the time the world's biggest twine and rope manufacturer (though the company was based in Plymouth, Massachusetts.)

Hudson Hornet
Hudson Hornet by CZmarlin (CC BY)


In the first decade of the 20th century, dozens of small companies were making cars. Founded in 1909, Hudson Motor Car grew quickly on the success of relatively low-priced vehicles such as the Hudson 20 and Phantom. By 1929, Hudson was the third-biggest automaker in Detroit, behind only Ford and Chrysler. Although the company weathered the Great Depression, Hudson's sales never matched its 1929 peak, and it came to rely on military contracts to bolster its civilian auto division. In 1954, a diminished Hudson agreed to be bought out by Nash-Kelvinator; the Hudson name was phased out by 1957.

Did you know? Hudson Motor Car Co. was named after Joseph Hudson, a Detroit department store magnate who provided the seed capital to found the company.

Related: 15 Ford Muscle Cars That Defined a Generation

AMC Pacer
AMC Pacer by Chad Davis (CC BY-NC-ND)

American Motors Corp.

By the early 1950s, the U.S. auto industry was dominated by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors. Struggling to compete, Nash-Kelvinator merged with Hudson Motor Car in 1954 to create the American Motors Corp., also known as AMC. Although the company enjoyed early success with its Rambler line of sedans, as well as later models such as the Hornet, Matador, and the iconic AMC Pacer, the company never could escape the shadow of the Big Three. In a last-ditch attempt to stay independent, AMC entered into partnership with French automaker Renault in 1979, producing the Alliance and Encore sedans. But the company continued to lose money, and in 1987 sold out to Chrysler.

Did you know? AMC may be gone, but a piece of it lives on in Jeep, which AMC acquired from Kaiser (another long-dead car company) in 1970. The original Jeep, built by Willys-Overland, can trace its lineage back to World War II.

1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass Convertible


When General Motors shuttered its Oldsmobile division in 2004, it marked the end of the road for one of the world's oldest automotive brands. Founded by Ransom Olds in 1897 and acquired by GM in 1908, Oldsmobile rose to prominence by midcentury. Its legendary Rocket V-8 engines, which first appeared in 1949, powered a generation of memorable vehicles, including the Olds 88 and Cutlass coupes and sedans, the 442 muscle car, and Toronado luxury vehicle. In the 1960s, the company pioneered the use of turbochargers and front-wheel drive, and by the mid-'70s was the No. 3 brand in the U.S. — only Ford and Chevy outsold Olds. But by the 1990s, Oldsmobile was faltering, despite streamlined new models such as the Aurora performance sedan intended to appeal to younger drivers. At the end of 2000, GM announced it would begin phasing out production.

Did you know? The final Oldsmobile Alero sedan to roll off the assembly line in 2004 is in the collection of the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan.

Ford Edsel
Ford Edsel by nakhon100 (CC BY)


Perhaps no other marque is as synonymous with failure as Ford's Edsel. Ford invested millions in market research and spent an entire year teasing and touting the brand before unveiling the first models in 1958. The company projected first-year sales of 200,000 models, but sold less than one-third that. The cars were too expensive, and consumers complained they were plagued by quality-control issues. And then there was that oval grille, which people joked looked like a horse collar. Ford built only about 2,900 vehicles in 1960 and, facing losses of $250 million to $350 million in today's dollars, decided to throw in the towel and killed off the brand immediately.

Did you know? Ford asked poet Maryanne Moore to think up creative names for its new car line. Her most remarkable suggestion? The Utopian Turtletop. Ford executives were unimpressed and opted for Edsel, in honor of founder Henry Ford's son, who died of cancer in 1943.

Related: 25 Ugly Cars That Should Have Never Left the Assembly Line

Eagle Talon TSi 2G
Eagle Talon TSi 2G by Mikeetc (CC BY-SA)


After Chrysler took over American Motors Corp. in 1987, AMC got a spiffy new name and logo: Eagle. The initial models, the Medallion and Premier sedans, were holdovers from AMC's joint venture with Renault. Other vehicles joined the lineup, including the Eagle Talon sports coupe and the Eagle Vision, a full-sized sedan, but they were just warmed-over models built by Chrysler's other divisions and its Japanese partner, Mitsubishi. By the mid-1990s, Chrysler began phasing out the division, and the last Eagle rolled off the assembly lines in 1998.

Did you know? The Eagle brand name was inspired by the AMC Eagle (first built in 1979), considered by many to be the first true "crossover" four-wheel-drive vehicle.

DeLorean DMC12 (1981)
DeLorean DMC12 (1981) by Steve Glover (CC BY)


After making a name for himself at General Motors' Pontiac Division — his biggest hit was the Pontiac GTO muscle car — John DeLorean struck out on his own. In 1973, he founded the DeLorean Motor Co. and unveiled plans for a futuristic sports car with gullwing doors and a polished stainless-steel exterior. With financial backing from the British government and Renault, DeLorean built a factory in Northern Ireland, but construction delays and quality-control issues delayed the debut of the DeLorean DMC-12 until 1981. Within two years, DMC was bankrupt and DeLorean himself was facing federal drug charges related to an FBI sting operation. In 1984, John DeLorean was acquitted of all charges, but his days as an auto industry titan were over.

Did you know? A 1980 ad for American Express advertised 100 special-edition DMC-12s plated in 24-karat gold, available for $85,000 each (about $275,000 in 2019 dollars). Only a handful were sold.

Related: 25 Most Iconic Movie and TV Cars

Classic Saab.


Founded in 1945 by the Saab aviation company of Sweden, Saab is perhaps best remembered for its swoopy hatchback sports coupe, the 900. Introduced in 1978, this quirky import developed a cultlike following for its sporty handling, unique styling, and quirky mechanical features, such as an ignition mounted next to the parking brake and gearshift. General Motors, which had held a 50% stake in the company since the 1980s, took control of Saab in 2000, making it a subsidiary. Although GM's investment provided much-needed financing and an opportunity to expand the line, new models weren't unique to the brand they way they had been. Instead, GM slapped Saab badges on Opels, Subarus, and Chevy SUVs. Saab loyalists noticed, and sales tanked. General Motors sold Saab to a group of European investors in 2010, who offloaded it in 2012 to a Swedish company. Repeated attempts to revive the brand have failed.

Did you know? Saab names lives on in Sweden — the namesake defense and aviation company is still in business.

Sterling 825s
Sterling 825s by Decampos (CC BY-SA)


In the 1980s, British automaker Rover Group joined with Honda to develop a luxury sedan both companies would market. Honda's version became the Acura Legend; in the U.K. the vehicle was sold as the Rover 800. Eyeing the U.S. market, Rover launched Sterling, rebranding the 800 as the Sterling 825. With burled wood accents, Connolly leather-clad seats, and a sportier suspension than the Legend, the Sterling made a splash when it appeared in 1987. But Sterlings were plagued by quality-control issues that soon landed the marque at the bottom of J.D. Power's annual car-owner survey and crippled sales. In 1991, the brand's final year in the U.S., Sterling sold just over 2,000 cars.

Did you know? Hoping to give its brand a bit of international panache, Sterling hired actor John Steed of "The Avengers" spy show fame (and the James Bond film "A View to a Kill") to tout the vehicle in TV commercials.

2000-2002 Saturn SL2
Wikimedia Commons


Determined to prove a U.S. automaker could make cars that were just as affordable, efficient, and reliable as Japanese imports, General Motors announced the creation of its Saturn division in 1985. From the start, Saturn was supposed to be different, with a brand-new plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee, a dealer network independent of other GM divisions, "no haggle" pricing, and two models, the SL1 sedan and SC1 coupe. In an era when GM was notorious for selling cookie-cutter vehicles across its four divisions, Saturn's cars were a breath of fresh air. But Saturn was slow to introduce larger models to stay competitive with Japanese rivals. When it did unveil new vehicles, such as the L-series sedans and Vue SUV, they were based on platforms shared with other GM marques. The General shut down Saturn as part of its corporate restructuring in 2009.

Did you know? The SL1 and SC1 had dent-resistant plastic polymer body panels, unique among General Motors vehicles.

1992 Metro convertible
Wikimedia Commons


Hoping to win back customers lost to Japanese automakers, General Motors in 1989 launched Geo, a line of compact cars built with Toyota, Suzuki, and Isuzu. The Geo Metro, perhaps its most iconic vehicle, was a hatchback built by Suzuki; the 1993 XFi version, powered by a 1-liter, three-cylinder engine, promised up to 51 mpg on the highway. Other popular models included the Prizm, a rebadged Toyota Collora, and the Tracker, which began life as the Suzuki Sidekick SUV. In 1997, GM retired the Geo brand, and the remaining models became Chevys.

Did you know? During the economic collapse of 2008, gas prices spiked. For a brief period, used Geo Metros sold for as much as $7,300 (now about $9,220).

Related: 20 Ways to Get Better Gas Mileage

Daihatsu Rocky (F300)
Wikimedia Commons


Daihatsu is Japan's oldest automotive brand, dating back to 1907. Best known for making super-compact vehicles (called "kei" cars) in Japan for decades, Daihatsu decided to try its luck in the U.S market in 1987. It introduced two models: a cheap subcompact called the Charade and a mini-SUV similar to the Suzuki Samurai called the Rocky. But the company underestimated the challenge of building brand recognition and a dealer network from scratch, and just five years later Daihatsu pulled out of the market.

Did you know? Daihatsu exists, but today the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota. It sells vehicles only in Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Merkur Scorpio
Merkur Scorpio by ilikewaffles11 (CC BY)


By the mid-1980s, Detroit's luxury brands were feeling the heat from European marques such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Ford execs decided that if you can't beat 'em, you may as well join 'em, and in 1985 unveiled the Merkur (pronounced "MARE-coor," German for Mercury) brand, to be sold in showrooms alongside its Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. The first model, the XR4Ti, was a twin-spoilered, turbocharged hatchback sedan sold in Europe as the Sierra. Two years later, the larger Scorpio hatchback luxury sedan arrived. Despite their German provenance, buyers were largely unimpressed with the styling (especially the Scorpio, which bore more than a passing resemblance to the Mercury Sable) and the relatively high sticker prices. By the time Ford put the brand out of its misery in 1989, fewer than 100,000 Merkurs has been sold. Mercury itself succumbed to corporate cost-cutting, ceasing production in 2011.

Did you know? Merkur wasn't Ford's first attempt to sell a German-made car in the U.S.: the Mercury Capri coupe was sold from 1970 to 1975. A 1971 ad described the car as "The First Sexy European under $2,400."

Scion xB
Scion xB by Tino Rossini (CC BY)


Toyota had millennials in mind when launching Scion in 2003 with the wedgelike subcompact xA and boxy xB hatchback. The following year, Scion's tC sport coupe — which boasted a smoked-glass roof and colored interior lighting — appeared in showrooms. And while initial sales were strong, young drivers weren't loyal to the brand when it came to trading up. In 2010, Toyota sold only half the number of Scions it had four years earlier. Toyota introduced more models, including the ultra-compact iQ and FR-S sports car, built with Subaru, but sales continued to slide. In 2016, Toyota quietly snuffed out Scion and rebadged existing models as Toyotas.

Did you know? Scion as a brand may be gone, but three of its vehicles were sold as Toyotas: the subcompact Yaris, Corolla hatchback, and 86 sports coupe.