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14 Luxury Car Makes That Disappeared From The Roads

Vukasin HerbezFebruary 20, 2018

It could be hard to believe, but between the late 1800’s and 1940 there were over 1,800 car manufacturers in the U.S. Most of them were small companies that produced a few forgotten models. But among them, there were a few respected and important luxury brands. Back in the early 20th century, America had more luxury brands than Europe did, but unfortunately just a few survived.

Most of those forgotten luxury brands were independent companies that couldn’t endure the Great Depression or Second World War. However, even some brands that were parts of General Motors, Ford Motor Company or Chrysler Corporation were doomed and faced an untimely demise.

Here is a list of the legendary American luxury brands that don’t exist anymore. You might have heard about some names on this list, but there will be at least a few you probably don’t know. Most of the names disappeared from the American car scene before the Second World War, but some lasted until the mid-70’s. However, all these brands have several things in common. They are all American luxury brands that made great cars that are dead and forgotten.

  1. Edsel

The Edsel story is one of the biggest commercial failures in the car business, even by today’s standards. In the late 1950’s, Ford launched the Edsel. It was an upscale brand based on the Ford and Mercury models they planned to compete with Oldsmobile and Buick. The idea was viable, so Ford invested over $400 million in design, development and marketing. In fact, most of that money went to promote the new Edsel and create unequaled hype among the car buying public.

When they officially presented the Edsel in 1959, people were puzzled. The design was strange because the front end reminded many folks of a urinals or a part of the female anatomy. This even caused outrage among conservative members of society. It was the 50’s, after all. The Edsel cost a bit more than the Ford.

But it was still affordable even though it introduced powerful engines and upscale features. After the promising sales in the first few months, the interest of buyers simply disappeared, and Ford struggled to sell cars. In 1960, after just two years on the market, they killed the Edsel. Ford’s massive investment was turned into massive losses. So, what was the problem with the Edsel?

Quite simply, it was the hype that caused problems with the Edsel. Ford invested a lot of money to present the image of the Edsel as a fantastic new car with unrivaled features and power. People were expecting something extra special, but instead, they got an upscale Ford with a funny design. The Edsel wasn’t a bad car, but Ford overhyped their badly designed new style. Today, people remember the Edsel as Ford`s biggest but not only failure.

  1. Imperial

People often mistakenly call Imperials Chryslers, but in fact, this was a separate brand in the Chrysler family. They produced luxury cars from 1955 to 1975 and then briefly from 1981 to 1983. The Chrysler Corporation always had a luxury brand in their lineup and at the beginning, this was Chrysler itself. Eventually, managers found out that they could not battle with Cadillac, Packard or Lincoln on the market. Investing heavily in new design and engines, Chrysler introduced the Imperial.

It was a new luxury brand dedicated to producing upscale sedans and limousines to compete with other similar brands on the American market. They based Imperials on Chrysler products and used some components. But often the design was special, the interiors were luxurious and trim levels were second to none. Despite not being as successful as Cadillac or Lincoln in terms of sales numbers, Imperial had an army of faithful buyers and decent sales results.

However, in the early 70’s, the magic of the Imperial was gone. The recession hit the luxury car market, so European models like Mercedes were gaining ground on the American market. The Imperial was nothing more than a big Chrysler with an upscale trim. This, in fact, was the reason for poor sales. Cadillac and Lincoln had a whole lineup of models with different engines and body styles. But Imperial only had one body style in different trim levels.

This wasn’t good enough for the market at the moment, so they discontinued the Imperial after a few years of poor sales. However, the ghost of the Imperial never left Chrysler. Even today, there are people who say that Mopar needs an American luxury brand and the revival of the Imperial is a good idea.

  1. Packard

The average modern car enthusiast probably doesn’t know much about Packard. But once upon a time, this car company was bigger than Cadillac and one of the symbols of the American luxury automobile. The Packard car company was started in 1899 and closed in 1958. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s, Packard produced some of the finest automobiles on the American market.

Big and powerful engines, shiny black sedans and top-notch quality were the company’s signature. Always competing with Cadillac, Packard was statelier in appearance and preferred by the government, U.S. presidents and even several European royal families. The downturn of the Packard started after the Second World War when the market for luxury cars changed as the world went back to normal. As a part of a bigger company, Cadillac and Lincoln could produce and sell cars, but Packard soon faced financial difficulties.

The answer was downsizing, but that didn’t turn out as expected. In 1953, the company teamed up with Studebaker, another defunct company, forming the Packard-Studebaker Corporation. The things got worse and the last Packards were just rebadged Studebakers they produced in 1958. Despite a few attempts, nobody managed to revive the brand. Since it has been dead for so long, most car fans think it is better to leave it that way.

  1. Duesenberg

Despite being on the market for only 24 years, from 1913 to 1937, Duesenberg left an everlasting mark on the American and global automobile industry. In fact, this brand was so fantastic that even today, 80 years since it was gone, people still recognize the name and the legacy. Affectionately called “Duesy,” Duesenberg was responsible for some of the greatest American made cars of all times.

The idea behind the brand was to offer luxury, bespoke cars with powerful engines and uncompromised performance. Back in the day, there were plenty of luxury brands, but none of them paid much attention to performance. Duesenberg did, and the hearts of most models were fantastic straight eight engines that they hand-built. They were fast for the day. In fact, SSJ models featuring supercharged engines produced 320 HP in 1930.

The amazing power level meant having a Duesenberg in those days said you are not only rich, but also a capable driver since you could handle all that power. Duesenbergs were famous among early Hollywood stars and rich playboys, and even successful in racing. Unfortunately, the Big Depression affected the market. So, Duesenberg as a small manufacturer never managed to get over it. They closed the company in 1937, but the legacy and gorgeous design of 1930’s Duesenbergs still lives on.

Over the years, Duesenberg was the name most people mentioned when asked what legendary company they would like to see return, but nothing happened. However, if Volkswagen could revive the Bugatti, someone could do the same with Duesenberg.

  1. Pierce Arrow

One of the most famous, forgotten and long-gone American luxury brands is Pierce-Arrow. The company started as truck and engine manufacturer in Buffalo, New York in 1901. However, Pierce-Arrow soon moved to luxury models with great success. Right from the start, the company developed a specific style of its cars with flowing lines, headlights in the front fenders and some wild color choices.

Along with Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard and Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow was representing the American automobile industry in the best possible way. They even exported their cars to Europe. The style of Pierce-Arrow was always somewhat different than their competitors. They were also more artistic, so the cars were favorites of musicians and movie stars of the era.

But, the Great Depression of the late 20’s and early 30’s killed the brand, so this legendary company ceased to exist in 1938. A small, independent company like this couldn’t survive a big recession, so the end of the 30’s marked the end of the road for Pierce Arrow.

  1. American Mercedes

This is not about the Mercedes products that are currently assembled in the Mercedes, Alabama factory. This is a separate brand they established in 1904 in Long Island, New York. As you can guess, American Mercedes started producing cars under a license from the Mercedes-Benz Germany. Soon, they started developing their own versions of cars.

Interestingly, the American Mercedes was a direct competitor of German Mercedes. The two companies with basically the same car fought for buyers on the American market. However, the venture was short lived. In 1907, they closed the doors of American Mercedes and people soon forgot about them.

  1. Auburn

Auburn Automobile was a company they started in Auburn, Indiana in 1900. It soon grew to be one of the largest local automobile manufacturers. Auburn started as mid-class offering. But in the mid-1920’s, under the supervision of Errett Lobban Cord, it became a premium manufacturer. They offered some elegant, stylish and fast cars.

The first step was the introduction of straight eight-cylinder engines which, in those days, were synonymous with luxury models. The rise of Auburn in the premium car segment corresponded with the Great Depression. It was a devastating recession in 1929 that sunk many of America’s car brands. However, Auburn managed to survive for a couple of years after trying to offer models to rival Cadillac in style and power.

Its finest model and the company’s swan song was the glorious Auburn 851 Speedster, which they introduced in 1935. The car had a 4.5-liter straight eight engine with an optional supercharger. It delivered a fantastic performance for the standards of the time. Unfortunately, the market wasn’t impressed, so Auburn ceased production in 1937.

  1. Cord

Despite being involved with Duesenberg and Auburn, Errett Lobban Cord was a successful car salesman and businessman who had a dream of building cars under his own name. So, in 1929, he established a company he called Cord, introducing his first model, the L-29.

The philosophy behind Cord cars were simple. Offer advanced technology, powerful engines and gorgeous designs. The L-29 had bodies produced by finest coach building companies and one interesting feature: front wheel drive. In those days, the FWD layout was unheard of, and Cord was the only manufacturer in the world with this drivetrain.

The most famous Cord was the fantastic 812. It featured Art Deco styling, front wheel drive and a powerful V8 engine. Unfortunately, despite being a favorite ride of the Hollywood elite, Cord was forced to close its doors in 1937.

  1. Peerless

The Peerless Motor Company began in 1900 in Cleveland, Ohio. It soon became well-known for producing high quality, luxurious cars. In those early days of the car industry, Peerless was one of the more popular domestic premium brands. People praised them highly praised for their innovation and technology.

During the First World War, Peerless designed and produced many military vehicles that were proven on the battlefield. However, after the war, it looked like Peerless was losing their battle on the luxury market. This was in spite of its efforts to introduce updated cars and even a V16 engine. The automotive production closed in 1931, but the company continued as a brewery at the end of prohibition in 1933.

  1. Stutz

The Stutz Motor Company was an American producer of high performance and premium cars based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Harry C. Stutz started the company in 1911. Since it was at the home of America’s motorsport tradition, the Stutz was successful in races on the famous Indianapolis track.

The Stutz Bearcat model was the first American sports car, born out of the company’s racing efforts. This also helped its reputation as a high performance, luxury brand. Stutz raced in Europe and introduced advanced 32-valve cylinder heads for its engines, which were the first ones on the market. With high performance hardware and quality construction, Stutz cars won numerous races and broke speed records in the 1920’s.

This help them to establish the Stutz as the one of the fastest American cars ever. However, it wasn’t enough to keep the company alive, so Stutz closed its doors in 1935. In 1968, they tried unsuccessfully to revive the Stutz name with a series of retro-looking custom cars.

  1. La Salle

Entering the car industry in 1927, La Salle was a luxury brand established by General Motors. They wanted it to fill the market gap between luxury Cadillacs and common brands like Buick and Oldsmobile. La Salle was under the control of Cadillac, so they developed it alongside their own brand. The concept was successful, and La Salle was a relatively popular model.

The big part of its appeal was the design and technology. Buyers got a baseline Cadillac for less money, which appealed to a wider audience. However, by the end of the 1940’s, General Motors realized having several brands covering the same market segment was not practical. So, they decided to kill the brand. In the 50.s and 60.s, the La Salle name reappeared on several GM concept cars.

  1. Marmon

Marmon Motor Cars Company was another renowned luxury manufacturer from Indianapolis, Indiana. Howard Carpenter Marmon established the brand in 1902. It soon became famous for its innovative V2, V4, V6 and V8 engines. Marmon cars were fast and powerful for their time, so the next logical step was to enter the races. In 1909, the Marmon Wasp racing car was the first car to win the famous Indianapolis 500 race. This gave the company some valuable publicity.

The company was famous for luxurious, fast sedans, but over the years, it lost ground to its flashier, better marketed counterparts. In its last attempt to win the market over, Marmon introduced a V16 engine to compete with Cadillac. However, it just wasn’t enough, so the company closed in 1933.

  1. Dual Ghia

Not many people know about Dual Ghia. It was an exclusive American car company they founded in 1956. But it was defunct just two years later in 1958. Businessman Eugene Casaroll, started Dual Ghia. Casaroll sent its chassis to Italy to be re-bodied by the famous Italian design house Ghia; hence, the name.

It was a producer of high powered, custom built convertibles that used Chrysler platforms and 315 V8 engines. The selling points were the body and luxury appointments. The Dual Ghia appeared in 1956 as the most expensive American car at the moment. They only made 117 Dual Ghias. However, A-list celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Richard Nixon bought most of them.

  1. Continental

If you think the Edsel is Ford’s only failed luxury attempt, think again. In the mid-50’s, Ford decided to establish a separate brand. They called it the Continental Division. It was supposed to produce new luxury cars positioned above the Lincoln brand. The first and only car was the famous Continental Mark II, which they introduced in 1955.

Ford’s idea was to present a superb luxury coupe with the finest technology and comfort, and then market it as a separate brand. The idea sounded good, but the market response wasn’t great. Ford shut down the Continental Division after just five years following the disappointing sales of the Mark II coupe, even though it was one of the finest American cars they ever made.

This list covered the forgotten luxury of those long lost American luxury car manufacturers. Most car fans respect and appreciate these vehicles and some would even like to see them return someday.

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