An ode to fallen heroes
The auto industry is a tough place. Nearly a dozen American car brands have called it quits in the last few decades, some fledgling startups and some legendary hundred-year old companies. Tesla is the only significant American automaker started in the last 60 years that’s still alive, a testament to the kind of innovation and cultural revolution necessary to gain a foothold in the market.
Some failed manufacturers were too niche or poorly run. The more recent brands to kick the bucket were victims of the 2008 housing crisis, dropped by their parent companies to streamline portfolios and concentrate resources into the moneymaking marques. Those business decisions are understandable, but for those of us who enjoy variety and consumer choice in the auto industry, regrettable.
To celebrate and honor the founding of these United States of America, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane to visit some of the fine products made by now-defunct American carmakers. Some of these brands have century-old model histories, so we’re focusing on the more recent examples found right here on Turo. Take a gander at the last breaths of some American greats and try driving a piece of history.
Mercury was a division of the Ford Motor Company from its inception, essentially offering premium rebadged Fords throughout its 73-year lifespan. Despite producing some successful models like the Cougar and the Comet, Mercury dwindled into insignificance during the twenty-first century, and Ford axed the brand after the 2008 crash.
Today, the Mercury brand engenders little enthusiasm — their recent models were affordable and largely unremarkable. But one day these cars will be recognized as a part of history, and their Mercury badges will make them more interesting than their Ford counterparts. This 2008 Mariner is recognizably a Ford Escape — a practical, no-frills family SUV.
This last generation of the Mercury Montego was introduced as a version of the Ford Five Hundred, a full-size sedan assembled in Chicago. The Montego was developed alongside Volvo, who helped ensure acceptable build quality and finish.
The loss of Pontiac was truly a cause for sadness in the enthusiast community. The storied make acted as General Motors’ performance brand since the ‘60s, producing many legends during the golden era of muscle. The Pontiac Tempest GTO was the very first muscle car, and Pontiac followed it up with favorites like the LeMans, Firebird, and Fiero. Somewhere along the way, Pontiac lost its edge. Sales fell sharply during the ‘90s, ultimately leading GM to cut the brand in 2010.
Here is something exciting. The full-size Pontiac G8 (a rebadged Holden Commodore) was one of the standouts of Pontiac’s last decade, offering impressive performance for the price. This 2009 G8 GXP is a true gem — the top-level GXP trim was only offered for one year, during which fewer than two thousand units were made. This car makes 415 horsepower from a 6.2L V8, the same engine found in the Corvettes of the time. It has a manual transmission, Brembo brakes, and upgraded suspension, and it’s safe to assume this baby will be soon be sought-after as a classic.
The Solstice was a budget roadster with a friendly face. But this one here is in the GXP trim, which had a turbocharged 2.0L engine making 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. It was the very first direct-injection engine offered from an American manufacturer, so this car too is a piece of history.
The GTO is perhaps Pontiac’s greatest contribution to automotive history, but the last generation of the legendary name fell short of the legacy. It received a lukewarm reception from consumers who felt it was too conservative. However, this 2006 GTO packs a 6.0L V8 and 400 horsepower, so give it a whirl and get back to me about just how conservative it really is.
Hummer was what happened when AM General packaged its Humvee military vehicles for civilian use. The Hummer was a bit of a cultural phenomenon, becoming popular for its gigantic size and rugged, boxy look. Both the H2 and smaller H3 had famously terrible fuel efficiency, offering about 10 mpg and 14 mpg, respectively. GM unsurprisingly discontinued the Hummer brand after it filed for bankruptcy in 2008.
GM introduced Saturn in the ‘80s and billed it as “a new kind of car company.” Saturn never really took off like it was supposed to, and it ended up simply poaching customers from other GM brands. Not many Saturn models are looked back upon fondly, and the brand met a messy end after failed attempts by GM to sell the company.
Look familiar? The Sky roadster was Saturn’s version of the Pontiac Solstice. It received slightly revised styling, but otherwise it’s very much a Solstice with a Saturn badge.
Oldsmobile was one of the world’s OG automakers when it was finally shuttered in 2004. Olds was founded in 1897 and made over 35 million vehicles during its run, closing up shop as the oldest surviving American automobile marque. Its history is long and rich, and Oldsmobile produced countless cherished cars over the decades. In the end, Olds was doomed by GM’s crowded stable of brands and the emergence of luxury Japanese makes like Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti.
This beautiful machine is a prime example of American automotive design in the ‘50s. This 1955 Oldsmobile 88 is a full size sedan, with pillar-less windows, gleaming chrome, and many delightful details. It carried a “Rocket” V8, which made 170 horsepower, but just look at this thing. Really — click the link and go through the pictures. It’s fantastic.
In 1928, Chrysler introduced Plymouth as its entry-priced brand. During its long tenure, many successful and now collectible cars bore the Plymouth name. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, muscle cars like the Barracuda, GTX, and Road Runner represented the height of Plymouth’s achievements. The marque saw much success in drag racing with these models until the oil crisis. In 2001, Chrysler (then DaimlerChrysler) absorbed a few of the remaining Plymouth models, and the brand was discontinued.
The Barracuda is one of the most collectible muscle cars of the golden era of muscle. This 1970 340 ‘Cuda rocks a 5.6L V8 and plenty of attitude to match. The Barracuda is the Plymouth most affectionately looked back on, thanks to its style and differentiation from the more common Camaros and Mustangs. Oh, and it has one of the coolest names ever put on a car.
DeLorean Motor Company (1975-1982)
John DeLorean was an engineer and General Motors executive when he left to start his own company. Seeking favorable tax incentives, the DeLorean Motor Company built its factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland, then torn apart by sectarian violence. Delays, budget overruns, and inexperienced workers led to DeLorean’s car, the DMC-12, to suffer many build quality issues as it began production in 1981.
As his company hemorrhaged money and the DMC-12 underperformed in the market, John DeLorean became desperate to find funding. In 1982, he was filmed conspiring to smuggle millions of dollars worth of drugs into the US. DeLorean was ultimately acquitted as it was revealed he was set up as part of an FBI sting operation designed to arrest drug traffickers.
But the damage was done, and DeLorean’s reputation was tarnished. All hopes for much-needed investment went out the door and the DeLorean Motor Company went bankrupt, having produced around 9,000 cars from 1981–1982.