Businesses come and go—it’s a fact of life. It’s especially true in the automotive industry, a veritable elephant graveyard of companies that contended with today’s Big Three but couldn’t last. Today, we’ll look back upon some of the defunct auto manufacturers we miss the most. Who knows who we’ll add to the list?
The Studebaker Corporation
When someone says, “South Bend,” what comes to mind? Surely, it’s the venerable University of Notre Dame, where the Fighting Irish do battle on the gridiron. Before we came to know South Bend as the home of an idyllic college campus, this mid-sized town was a motor city of its own: the home of Studebaker. When Commanders and Starlight coupes stopped rolling off the assembly line in 1967, South Bend lost a part of itself that not even the Fighting Irish could refill. Once one of many thriving industrial cities of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence megalopolis, this Rust Belt city has struggled to reinvent itself ever since.
Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company
Detroit is synonymous with the manufacturing of automobiles, but it’s Indianapolis just to its south that forever bears the reputation of pushing motor vehicles to excellence. Indy would play host not only to the Indianapolis 500 but also the Duesenberg brothers, originally of St. Paul, Minnesota, who arguably established one of America’s first luxury autos. With their bespoke designs and high performance, the Duesenbergs took the Roaring Twenties by storm. You can see where this is going. The opulence of Duesenberg motors was an early victim of the Great Depression, swiftly adding them to the list of defunct auto manufacturers we miss the most before some of their most interesting concepts could hit the assembly line.
American Motors Corporation
When we talk about American automakers, we generally refer to the “Big Three” of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler. So dominant is this trio that we sometimes even metonymically refer to them as “Detroit,” important enough to stand in for the city itself. American Motors, or AMC, was the arguable #4 behind that Big Three, and it was through ingenuity, cleverness, and scrappy attitude that they even nipped at the Big Three’s heels. Legendary auto executive George Romney sought to play Moneyball against his competitors, finding an opening against the “gas-guzzling dinosaurs” to market fuel-efficient compacts. AMC couldn’t last, but its legacy lives on in two ways: Chrysler acquired the Jeep from AMC, and the gas-guzzling dinosaurs have indeed gone extinct.
No longer a standalone car company but a division of General Motors, a streamlining of GM in 2004 would end an influential and innovating maker after over a century of service. Despite its 19th-century heritage, Oldsmobile had the reputation of pursuing the cutting edge thanks to the F-55, the Toronado, and the Cutlass. Unfortunately, synergy was Oldsmobile’s downfall, as many of the models associated with the manufacturer were nothing but rebadged Chevys and Pontiacs—a betrayal of the discriminating auto enthusiasts who appreciated the Oldsmobile brand.
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