By on November 12, 2012

Are you talkin’ to me???

 

There was the Cadillac of minivans. A different kind of company selling a different kind of car. A Swede with no compromises, and a Frenchman that went from strength to strength.

Daihatsus that were perhaps, a bit too modest, by skinny dipping their unknown name in a slogan-less lake. And then we had that crazy distant Yugoslavian cousin who bragged about a ‘road back to sanity’ while his neighbors blew up his plant.

They are gone now from these shores, for now. As is Opel, Hummer, Mercury, Plymouth, and in due time, Suzuki. An amazing variety of brands that offered their own interesting contributions to the mosaic of the American automotive experience.

Rockys and Rodeos were rugged for too short of a while. While Hummer alternated between playing the role of the military bad-ass and the fashionista poseur. Eventually style won, followed by bankruptcy.

Europeans always offered a more sophisticated level of style while battling Gremlins on every level. While weaker Japanese marques, plainly, contributed varying levels of utility and engineering excellence to a marketplace that expected far more.

Then there is Oldsmobile.

Oldsmobile, the rocket division, was the power and the glory.  From their 300+ horsepower cruisers of the late-60′s to the best selling Cutlass Supremes of the mid-80′s. It’s hard to find fault with a popular brand like Oldsmobile that was torturously mis-marketed and blandified into irrelevance.

All defunct brands have their unique qualities. But which vintage offered the very best? Which model among them all provided that level of power and prestige that begs for a resurrection of the brand?

Any constraints on choices? Well… no outright luxury or exotic brands. Vectors, Deusenbergs, Cords and Tuckers may have their place in museuems the world over. But for this particular exercise I want special attention to be given to those models that served the everyday Joe.

Choose your car wisely, and defend it well.  Hell hath no Fury like a Plymouth.

 

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69 Comments on “Question Of The Day: What Is The Best Orphan Car In History?...”


  • avatar
    tatracitroensaab

    Got to be AN.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    NO FAIR ! this thread is 100 % subjective .

    My example would be my 1959 Nash Metropolitan Fixed Head Coupe .

    When new , it was designed to be the second or third car , mostly for In Town use as it ran out of steam around 50 MPG due to absurdly low final dri ve ratio of 4.22 / 4.66 depending on the year model .

    @ 40 MPG it was thrifty and being made by BMC of England using all MG / Austin A-50 parts under the skin , it handed pretty darn well .

    Mine is slightly massaged with 3.72 final drive , a Slush box tranny and a highly modified MGA 1622 cylinder head on the otherwise bone stock engine , it now cruises @ 65 MPH all day long and returns 35 MPG’s plus it’s a good Rally Car , and easily outhandles many faster cars in the twisty bits .

    Others will say thier old Lloyd or Borgward (both darn good cars) are the best Orphans ever….

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I would have said Locomobile, but it breaks the everyday car rule above. It was so solid and robust it was Walt Chrysler’s benchmark when he started out. Next, I would have said Mercury because of my love of their Cologne Capris, early unibody Cougars and big wagons up to the end of the Colony Parks. Ultimately I have to say the Lloyd. It’s the grand daddy of the Suzuki Swift and is the first transverse engine FWD production car I know of – almost a decade before the Mini. I would love to see a modern version of the Lloyd LP 600 or Suzuki Suzulight. Simple, tough, and reliable. In the end, Borgward couldn’t save it.

      “Wer den Tod nicht scheut, fährt Lloyd”
      “He who is not afraid of death, drives a Lloyd”

  • avatar
    tatracitroensaab

    Sorry about that.Got to be AMC – in my mind the quintessential orphan brand – scrappy, struggling, innovative, always doing the most with the least. They pioneered the segments now dominant in the American car market, it’s just that theirs came out too early — the midsize car (rambler) the crossover (eagle) and helped launch the suv boom (jeep)

    • 0 avatar
      d524zoom-zoom

      @ tatracitroensaab

      I would have to agree with you. This choice AMC I suppose was ahead of it’s time for a mass market auto manufacturer. Your reasons support your clain

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      Agreed, without amc there would be no suv, aka wrangler or cj or 4 door suv Wagoneer or Cherokee no luxury suv, grand wagoneer no crossover, amc eagle. Like it or not they have influenced automobiles more in the last 40 years more then anyone!

    • 0 avatar
      chicagoland

      AMC officially still exists, I think, since it was absorbed by Lee Iacoccca. It was not shut down like Studebaker or SAAB.

      Chrysler adopted many of AMC’s R&D, and the LX car can be traced to the Eagle Premier.
      Jeep is still going strong, and carries AMC forward.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    You forgot their pioneering efforts in the Unibody ~ AMC was the very first to deisgn the HVAC plenums into it…..

    An old School Chum of mine , drove Pacers in Boston until he couldn’t find rust free ones anymore….

    Icky cars IMO but well loved by The Faithful .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Zackman

    DeSoto. Looked no different from all other Chrysler products when they pulled the plug.

    Not missed, either.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    What about Packard? After they disappeared, those empty boots were never quite filled. Maybe by Cadillac, but not for very long.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      Talking about brand equity, Packard has perhaps more of that than every other orphaned brand put together. I swear, if for example GM owned that brand, they would be stronger than Buick. And that on brand recognition only, never mind the product.

  • avatar
    dcars

    It’s got to be Pontiac. Great cars like the Trans Am, Bonneville, GTO and the Solstice Coup. This the one brand that they should resurrect.

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      As a current G6 owner, I agree. The only difference between Pontiac and all of the above-mentioned is that Pontiac is only in hiatus and is destined to return in the future. Remember, “Pontiac” was one piece of property that new GM held onto rather than divesting it to the “old GM” corporation. There is simply way too much equity in names like Firebird and GTO to let this brand stay dead.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I disagree with both of your points. I feel Pontiac is gone permanently as GM doesn’t need it, whether they kept the old name in their files or not.

        On second point, I feel the G6 is an underwhelming, overweight, poorly screwed-together, big shining example of why Pontiac should have gone away.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        G6 seems to have been a mixed bag, but IMO Pontiac as a brand should have kept going no matter what the administration drones thought. Heck even keeping it going as-is with one or two of its last models would be preferable to the current crop of car crap from the General. I’ll take a poorly put together G6 over Daeworolet seven days a week.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Two arguments in favor of the version of the Epsilon platform that spawned the G6 and Saturn Aura.

        G6 with the 3.9 V6 (torque-y pushrod engine – like an old school muscle car) and a loaded Aura with the 3.6VVT V6 and six speed auto. Those were good cars and the Aura was even favorably reviewed right here on TTAC.

      • 0 avatar
        ott

        Agreed. It’s easy to pick on a value leader to justify stomping on the brand, even though the G6 was a vast improvement on the Grand Am. Good looks, good power, good value in my opinion. We sold a ton of them. But those cars were only daily-bread earners for Pontiac. The real gems were the G8, Trans Am, Solstice, and I for one would’ve loved to see what a next-gen Bonneville would’ve been! I’m very glad to hear GM held onto the Pontiac Brand for possible future resurrection. I for one would love to see them back, as I think they had the most going for them out of all the doomed brands.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        The G6s interior looks like it came off a Chinese three-wheeled moped truck. It is just poorly molded hard plastic.

        The Grand-Am’s interior looked like a bunch of gray plastic blobs. Need I go on?

      • 0 avatar
        Easton

        My G6 coupe with the 3.9 has been rock solid. Never had a single problem and it accelerates and handles far better than the Accord coupes and Mustangs I test drove back in 2008. Still get complements from strangers on the styling. Great car. There is a reason new GM held on to the brand.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        As a current Pontiac owner, I would love to see Pontiac come back. I was sorry to see it go, as they truly held my attention, especially after the demise of Oldsmobile.

        But, unless a number of things happen, which would include the new GM making incredible strides, I can’t imagine Pontiac (or Olds) coming back. As much as it pains me to say, I think the current marketing model fits the times.

        We forget the GM “companion” makes that either barely survived or didn’t survive at all into the 1940′s; the only exception to that was Pontiac. Pontiac was the companion make to Oakland, but ask anyone what an Oakland is, and likely you’ll get a blank stare…

        It wasn’t the first time a contraction happened in the GM universe. GM axing the companion makes probably inflicted some pain and alienated some customers, but apparently set up the company for great growth in the succeeding decades.

        I think the landscape has changed and there seems to be less room for makes in any corporate structure. The only big auto company that seems to thwart this rule is VW right now. But I have to imagine that it won’t last forever.

        I would add that if we had asked this question 20, 30, 40 and 50 years ago, we’d get wildly different answers. Our collective memory is only going to go back so far. All of the Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles and Plymouths of recent times become the Stars, Willys and Pierce Arrows of yesterday.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Packard, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, Willys and AMC come to mind. That Oldsmobile bit the dust is a travesty. Plymouth and Pontiac, not so much.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I have to say Packard as well. Their cars were held in such high prestige, and had every available convenience. And having a big swan on the hood, and a price higher than a Cadillac says something.

    The 8 sedan was even large enough to unfold and read your newspaper in the back (as one old ad I saw boasted).

    Might still be around today if Studebaker hadn’t ruined it. So, Ford! Bring it back! Phase out Lincoln like ya should and trounce Cadillac with the reborn Packard.

    • 0 avatar
      Easton

      Agreed. Lincoln should go next.

    • 0 avatar

      Studebaker didn’t ruin Packard. Packard was circling the drain for years before the merger and was effectively dead by the time the merger went through. Had Packard gone through with the earlier suggested merger with Nash, the company might have survived. Packard’s financial situation, coupled with Studebaker’s unsustainable cost structure was bound to fail eventually.

      I’m a big fan of the independents but Roy Chapin, George Mason and George Romney, who were competent executives, seem to be the exceptions, rather than the rule. The independents weren’t managed particularly well in the 1950s. To be sure they were up against some stiff competition from the Big 3 and they didn’t have the economic resources to compete.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Oldsmobile is the one that surprises me the most. I believe they were on the right path with a rebirth as “Aurora” but they ran out of time and couldn’t undo all of the damage that Roger Smith’s dullard badge engineering did. I really think it should have survived instead of Buick (I know, I know, the Chinese connection with Buick).

    As for AMC, they probably went before their time but would have gone eventually. There is only room for so many players in any market whether it is cellphone service, laptops, airlines and, of course, cars. AMC would have eventually been pushed out by the onslaught of Japanese & Korean models.

    The beat does on, Suzuki now and I believe Mitsubishi isn’t far behind. Mazda’s horizon doesn’t look that sunny either, at least in my estimation; we’ll just have to see about them.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Alas poor Oldsmobile, I knew him well…

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Agreed but between Buick and Olds, something had to give. Blame Saturn.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @28 Cars: No, blame Chevrolet. The cars kept creeping up in options and equipment and was eating into Pontiac’s, Oldsmobile’s, Saturn’s, and really Buick’s territory.

        I’ll p!ss off a bunch of fellow GM-ers, but I still believe the massive effort to launch Saturn was a complete waste of resources. That should have been put into developing the J-bodys into world class cars instead of allowing them to become the cockroaches of the road.(TM geozinger). Lutz’s Hail Mary plan to salvage Saturn with Opels was not bad, but it was too little, too late. The Saturn reputation was sullied and Chevy was circling for the kill. Remember, Chevy IS the volume of GM and wasn’t happy having to share. Now that they’ve gotten what they wanted, they’d better make it work…

      • 0 avatar
        d524zoom-zoom

        “Agreed but between Buick and Olds, something had to give. Blame Saturn.”

        I used to work for a large family of dealers in STL that started in 1971 as a single line Olds franchise(16 franchises today). When the talk went around about Olds going away I asked the owner what he thought about it. He was not happy about to say the least. He also blamed the whole Saturn deal for Oldsmobile dying. Misguided efforts on the part of GM to “rebrand” Olds for the last 10 years it was around. He even mentioned the whole fixed pricing (ala Saturn) thing they tried for a while as an example. He HATED Saturn, and made that clear. Now how many times does a salesman tell you what they really think??

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        My idea was Saturn should have stayed as a small car line and would have been good as the GM electric car brand. But the marketing might of the Chevrolet division axed that…

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      GM was so proud of ruining Oldsmobile that they put it in their advertising.

      “Not your father’s Oldsmobile.”

      My father’s Oldsmobile was art on wheels with a Rocket V8. My father’s Oldsmobile was the car I dreamed of buying on my own one day.

      That day came and the Oldsmobile they had for me was a Lumina with a different grill. My father wasn’t dumb enough to buy one either.

  • avatar
    Acd

    From E.L. Cord’s empire: Auburn, Cord & Duesenberg.

  • avatar
    fintail jim

    Although I thought the image at the top of the article was very suggestive of a particular brand I’m surprised no one has yet mentioned the automobile “Born From Jets.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzMBrd_OEuQ

    The marque may not have been able to survive on its own in the current environment (in fact, I doubt it could have no matter how good its product might have been) but when you are the adopted child of a conglomerate that eats its own (Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and, of course, its “special child” Hummer) you must not expect any mercy.

    I have a book I found at a used book store many years ago titled “The SAAB Way.” It covers the first 35 years of the automobile subsidaries existence (because it was published around 1982). It is a great book about a remarkable automobile. I’m thinking of putting it on eBay so a true aficianado can enjoy it.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Kaisers were pretty kool and the early fifties ones were pretty innovative as well . Unlike Pontiac at the end , Oldsmobile and Saturn both came out with much improved products in their final years . I have never owned a French car but Panhards and Simcas both brought out some interesting products . Is the top photo an early postwar Panhard ?

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    How about the “Tucker”?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Tucker_Sedan

    —————-

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Saturn. Bring back the happy work teams in Tennessee and all the good stuff. The closest GM will ever get to a Corolla.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    Buick is doomed.

    I owned an Oldsmobile, a Saturn, and the wife has a Suzuki. I now own a Regal.

    Sorry.

  • avatar
    Marko

    No Pontiac G8 yet? Granted, it probably got overlooked in favor of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger because of those cars’ more distinctive styling, but it ALMOST gave me hope that Pontiac would survive. Maybe its successor will do better as the “Chevy SS”…

  • avatar
    Pan

    No contest : Jowett Jupiter.

  • avatar
    SilverHawk

    I’ve never had the privilege of owning one, but I have friends who own Packards, and over the years, I have developed a great respect and admiration for their vehicles. With the luxury market expected to see continued growth in the years to come, the brand would make a good candidate for revival. Of course, the investment needed to do it correctly would be astronomical, so I don’t see it happening. The brand represented a level of prestige that is not found in today’s American luxury vehicles and, perhaps, the will no longer exists to produce such a vehicle in the US. It’s also possible that the Packard faithful really don’t want a revival.

    • 0 avatar
      oldfatandrich

      Silver Hawk, you are correct on all your points. The return on the capital necessary to re-introduce Packard would be insufficient—although the notion is entirely delightful to contemplate. At this point in the history of American motoring Benz and BMW are virtually unassailable as the summits of luxury, be your taste luxury (Benz) or sport (BMW). Forgotten in this discussion is Pierce—made so fine that it cannot be made for the many. Long sighs, please.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Nobody misses Borgward?

    • 0 avatar
      Grumpy

      +1 on the Borgward

      Two stroke smoker with 4speed on the tree. They were silly strong rally cars, if you could find a driver. who knew how to speed shift them. A buddy had a wagon in the early 60′s–survived much hoonery from teenage caretakers.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    For all the AMC lovers & Packard lovers, you have nobody to blame but each other. The original plan was for Packard to buy studebaker and Nash to buy Hudson then they would merge. Packard assumed too much debt in the studebaker takeover and bit the dust. Had they not they may have survived and been the American BMW. AMC was too busy building Ramblers to care.

    I would resurrect Plymouth but in the same stroke kill off Dodge’s cars unless they were true high performance and leave dodge their truck division again. Oldsmobile similarly should have their own body styles and interiors. Using unibodies makes sense but using a different interior goes so far.

  • avatar
    markholli

    There may be some among you older readers who remember when Plymouth and Mercury made great, unique and memorable cars. But as a child of the 80′s and 90′s, my only experience with both of these brands was that they made nothing but badge-engineered, warmed-over versions of their parent company’s cars.

    I don’t even know why people bought a Plymouth Breeze, for example, versus a Dodge Stratus. What was Plymouth’s brand angle?

    Anyway, suffice it to say that I, and probably the majority of my generation, felt no sadness at the death of these brands.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Same here. I never understood what made half these brands desirable. I remember friends fighting over which was better: a Firebird or a Camaro – they were the same darn car with just different bumpers during the 80s.

      You have to go back in history to find a real orphan brand, and my guess is one of British makes would be the winner. Given their automotive market was much smaller then US but with the same manufacturing tools/processes they must have some real niche brands early on. According to Wikipedia by 1922 there were 183 motor companies in the UK… that’s alot of orphans.

      Here is Wikipedia list of dead US brands: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_defunct_automobile_manufacturers_of_the_United_States the list is PAGES long!

    • 0 avatar
      Wheeljack

      The angle was low cost. On a Breeze, you could only get either a 2.0L or a 2.4L 4 cylinder. On a Stratus, the base engine was the 2.4L and you could option up to a V-6. Plymouth helped increase the volume for the platform and allowed them to sell a high volume, low cost car to fleets or buyers without a lot of coin.

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Plymouth always allowed Chrysler to have some cachet, while keeping the economies-of-scale in check.

        Imagine Chrysler’s 2000-2010 line if Plymouth had been allowed field the PT line as originally intended! Chrysler would still be mid-luxe.

        Wheeljack– the 2.0 was available on base Stratus as well– there was no need to step-up to the 2.4 in these cars, unless you prefer the automatics. The 2.0/5-speed actually had a better 0-60 time.

  • avatar
    ArBee

    I still miss our ’50 bulletnose Studebaker. Nothin’ looked cooler. And for elegance, revive the the 1962-64 Studebaker GT Hawk.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    My first car was a 1962 Studebaker GT Hawk, so I have to go with Studebaker also. Studebaker was a mixed blessing as cars go. They often had distinct, trendsetting styling and their drivetrains were smooth and trouble free. On the otherhand, Studebaker bodywork was very prone to rattles and rust.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      Was Studebaker the one who used continental engines?

      • 0 avatar
        Joe McKinney

        With just a few exceptions, Studebaker made its own engines. The 1956 Golden Hawk had a Packard engine and the Canadian made 1964-66 Studebakers used Chevy engines.

        As I recall, Continental engines were used by Kaiser-Frasier and Checker. Checker later switched to Chevy engines.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    AMC used continental engines. At least the early editions of the American. I will go with El Scotto above. Saturn S series especially were a tough and economical car. I quit thinking of them as Saturns when they killed the S series and went Opel. I also owned and liked AMC.

    Also Marcholli, Plymouth existed for many years to be the cheap car of the chrysler dealers. Pontiac or Buick and GMC trucks bunched for much of the same reason. Sloans hierarchy was kept happy with brands and the beginning of the end might have been the tri five chevys. It all sounded like smoke filled rooms to me.

  • avatar
    epsilonkore

    This confession will only ruin my opinion on cars in this forum… My parents have owned the following: Triumph TR4, Plymouth Barracuda, AMC Rambler, Datsun 110, AMC Concord and Eagle SX4, AMC Jeep Wagoneer, Oldsmobile Calais 442, Pontiac 6000 AWD, …and I now own a Saturn Sky and Scion tC… Scion is probably doomed because of me… alas I am eyeing a new BRZ or Miata and in the process will kill Subaru and Mazda :/ The only brands we owned that have NOT gone away since I was born? Toyota (much beloved model extinct 94 Celica) and Ford (in the form of the now model extinct Ranger, but surviving Explorer… though its probably doomed too) Why does my family love quirky soon to die brands/models?

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Ohh good lord no one has said it?

    Duesenberg can be the only answer to this. We still have the saying “it’s a duesey” as part of the English lexicon. No other brand has that type of influence on our culture.

    If Duesenberg was around today, I’m pretty sure Bugatti would has some serious competition for performance/luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Dusenburg was never more than an engine maker more or less. They never saw the birth of the modern car company (traditionally viewed around the 1930s-post-war era). I love the idea of a dusenburg but what would a modern car even look like? Would they style in house? Offer just a super engine and basic drivetrain or a whole car?

      • 0 avatar
        luvmyv8

        Plymouth…. a murderous ’58 Fury, and speaking of Fury’s… how about the police package ones, like the late 60′s 140 MPH+ with the fearsome 440 Magnum, or even the late 70′s one, the fastest American car for the time? Yes, back then the 440 ‘smogger’ Mopar cop cars were faster then Corvettes, Trans Ams and Mustangs of the era.

        Or the ultimate Plymouth? The Road Runner. Meep Meep!

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The car company I miss the most is BMW. They were great. BMWs had timeless stying that was devoid of ornamentation, excellent dynamics, durable engines that set the curve for responsiveness and smoothness, and spartan interiors that moved the cause of ergonomics forward. Unfortunately, nobody in reunified Germany seems to remember what makes a good car.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    this could be an early SAAB?

  • avatar
    cipro

    Pontiac Fiero GT


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