Automobiles Lost to History
It’s been so long that the big three automakers (GM, Ford and Chrysler) with their familiar brands have ruled the roost that it’s easy to forget that a lot of companies were building cars in the 1900s. In fact, estimates are that during the first half of the century that over 500 car manufacturers came and went. Some did achieve success and were significant brands for many years but eventually faded away. Here are 4 automakers that were once big but have since been lost to history.
Nash was a Kenosha (WI) based independent automobile brand that was started in 1916. Nash was a small company but highly innovative. They knew that to compete with the big brands, they need to be different. Heres a few examples of what they accomplished. In 1939, Nash introduced the “Weather Eye” system, a heating and ventilation system that became the basis for every modern HVAC system made since. In 1941, they introduced the Nash 600, the first unibody (frameless construction) automobile built in America. This was revolutionary and virtually every car built today uses the same technique. And in 1951 they launched the Nash-Healey, a two seater sports car that predated the Corvette by two years. Still with all its innovations, Nash decided to form a bigger entity and merged with Hudson to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC). In 1988, AMC was bought by Chrysler Corporation.
The top shelf automobile in General Motors stable was their Cadillac brand. Cadillac always represented the best automotive engineering available at the time. The problem is that Caddys were expensive and this drove the company to offer a model that was a “step down” from the Cadillac, it was called the LaSalle. Often referred to as “The Poor Man’s Cadillac,” the LaSalle outsold Cadillac from 1933 to 1940. In 1940, GM decided to discontinue the brand so they could concentrate on the Cadillac brand.
Another car that is rarely spoken about today is the DeSoto. Stones Chrysler of Rexburg, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Rexburg, ID, told us that the DeSoto was Chrysler’s mid-market automobile. It was designed to compete with cars such as the Ford’s Mercury and General Motor’s Oldsmobile. Launched in 1929, the DeSoto set a record as the best-selling first-year model ever. De Sotos were considered fine automobiles but brand mismanagement and a changing segment doomed the brand. Chrysler retired DeSoto in 1960 in the US but continued to sell trucks badged as DeSotos in other countries.
The British auto industry made some fine automobiles in the 1930s to 1970s but by the 1980s the British car industry was a mess. Rover Limited, however, had an idea to bring it back from the brink: partner with a more successful brand. In 1986, Rover launched the Sterling 800, a luxury sedan based on the Honda Legend. However, in 1987, the 800 launched in America at the same time as the Acura Legend. From the start, the poorly-built Sterling was no match for the nearly-identical Acura. The 800 had a more luxurious interior and actually handled a little better, but reliability and fit-and-finish were generally terrible, and it was much more expensive. The brand never gained any traction and Sterling disappeared by 1992 after five years and fewer than 40,000 sales.