The automotive business is a tough business. Troubles of big brands like Ford, GM, and Chrysler are legendary. Many of us wonder what would’ve happened if the Delorean, made famous in Back to the Future, was still in production. Even more have tried to deduce a world where the cutting edge ideas that Tucker would’ve brought to the table had his very, very short automotive career, made famous by the movie of the same name, not been cut short. We’re sure that no one will ever forget the epic battles of Pontiac when we hear reference to movies like Smokey and the Bandit either. Yet alas they didn’t make the grade.
These are all famous products that have been immortalized in film and history, but how many have been forgotten to time? How many famous brands have disappeared into obscurity, forgotten, and we are either too young or just not informed enough to know?
Here we’re going to talk about some and surmise what they would’ve brought to the table if they were still around today.
Auburn Automobile Company and Cord
Founded in 1909 through acquiring and merger of two other car companies the Auburn Automobile Company would be known for designing luxury cars. When the brand failed to meet expectations the new owners came to a man by the name of E.L. Cord to run the company and he created the Cord Company as a holding company creating the Cord automobile in the process.
The Cord was a legendary vehicle. It was notable as being front wheel drive and having hidden headlamps. It was also underpowered and pricey, but its styling defied the negatives and it sold along with the Auburn designs that were produced in partnership with another vehicle on our list, the Duesenburg.
Even though Auburn and Cord defied the odds, Cord’s stock manipulation and the depression finally caught up and mounting reliability problem spelled demise and in 1937 the company folded.
It would be tough to see where the Cord would be today. Television loved the vehicle and it made its appearance in James Bond books and as Batman’s car in the comics. This just accentuates the brashness of the design. Some would surmise the design would be similar to the Mazda RX 7’s with sloping aerodynamic lines and cutting edge looks. Even the rotary engine fit right in with the kind of thinking Cord was known for. Even if they weren’t reliable you could guarantee that they would be fun.
This brand was part of the Chrysler brand created in 1928. It was made to compete against the larger luxury vehicles by being a low cost option, similar to mid-size cars of today and its initial sales broke records.
First failure for DeSoto came from a redesigned look that, although it worked for larger vehicles, failed miserably for the smaller DeSoto and it would be continue to be plagued by marketing and design problems while finding moments of renewed success for the rest of its tenure until it finally couldn’t keep up with the mistakes and in 1958 when the economy took a hit the DeSoto took a hit with it. Losing over half its sales in a single year Chrysler decided to cut its loses and did away with the brand.
If DeSoto was around today it would be sort of small luxury vehicle. It would be priced to sell but have good amenities. During it’s time it fit right in with Dodge so there’s no doubt they would share similar platforms if not be a brand with Dodge, but chances are if it had made it this far it would’ve had little life expectancy past the bail outs and down-sizing Chrysler went through.
Duesenberg Motor Company
Duesenberg began its life in 1913 producing engines and race cars in Minnesota. They would build on that race car heritage while developing luxury vehicles.
Many assign the word “doozy” to the manufacturer and although there are those that argue the etymology there is no denying it earned the title. A coach built vehicle that was know for being gaudy big, crazy expensive, and insanely powerful. In a time (1930s) when most cars couldn’t reach 100 mph Doozys were getting to zero to 60 in 8 seconds and passed 100. It’s hard to really capture the true magnificence of the vehicle, but to put it in perspective many Duesenbergs sell today for over a million and even those that eclipse the $10 million mark.
Duesenberg’s leadership was never business savy and although they finally found footing as they moved toward the ’30s they were doomed from the start. It would also be their laudyness that would be their demise when the depression destroyed the demand for luxury vehicles Duesenberg was unable to recover and in 1937 they closed up shop.
If Duesenbergs were around today they would be somewhere between Maybach and Bugatti. It’s doubtful they would’ve embraced the compact cars of the ’60s, instead following in the likes of brands like Lamborghini with touring cars so notably they would share bedroom wall poster space. There is little doubt that they would’ve already created the fastest production vehicle and would’ve held the title with a death grip with scary fast luxury cars. The only car that has a good comparison to what we could’ve expected from every model would’ve been the Maybach Exelero, except the Doozy would’ve been worth more and have more power. Absorb that for a moment.
Studebaker and Packard
Studebaker started making wagons for farmers and the military back in 1852. They entered the automobile business in 1902 producing electric vehicles and in 1904 added gas powered vehicles. They would go on to produce quality reliable cars for 50 years out of their headquarters in South Bend Indiana.
Unfortunately by the 1950s the World War and an automotive war against GM and Ford, among other things, had taken its toll on the brand. In an attempt to recoup it purchased Packard, another luxury brand, in 1954, but the move was too little too late and as new and ever burdening problems mounted they eventually toppled the behemoth. Many of its dealers went on to sell Mercedes-Benz products.
What would we see today if Studebaker was still in production? These brands were known for reliability and luxury and they would’ve redefined, if not totally rocked, how we look at the concept of high end luxury today. To put it in context, the Studebaker and Packard would be the American counterpart of Rolls-Royce and Bentley respectively only better.
In fact, we don’t have to imagine too much as Packard tried to revive the brand in 1999 with the the Packard Twelve. Equipped with a 573 horsepower V12 8 liter mated to a 4 speed all wheel drive system, the prototype sold for a measly $150,000 it’s no doubt that had the brand continued we would be seeing quite a different landscape.
Lola may not jump to mind as a street vehicle, but if you’re associated with racing Lola is legendary. Lola started in 1958 form a merger between a rowing company and a carbon fiber company. One of their famous cars was the Ford GT40. Lola actually made many cars for other manufacturers which is why you may not even know they existed. It would go on to be one of the oldest and largest race car designers in the world.
Lola is best known for its Formula and LeMans cars, but you would be hard pressed to know all their vehicles because they often wear the badges of the companies they were built for such as Nissan, Ford and Mazda. Even though their vehicles never made it to city streets the Lola made quite the impression on the track with cars such as the T70.
Unfortunately Lola was unsuccessful in returning to F1 and without financial support mixed with other factors they declared bankruptcy in 2012 ending a long run of successful track time.
If Lola was still around they would still be producing amazing race cars for cutting edge competition while flying well under the radar for most enthusiasts.
Unfortunately we’ve lost a lot of other brands that have fallen under hard times or simply couldn’t net the support they needed to continue into the current day. Chances are we’ll lose more down the road, but I hope we remember some of these legendary brands and take a moment to imagine what the world would be like if they were still around.