By on March 24, 2020

“I’m a lawyer from Denver, Colorado, Mike… I probably can’t hit a thing.” – William Holden, The Bridges at Toko-Ri

Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you planned. Sometimes, despite erring on the side of caution and always treading the right path through life, fate deals a cruel blow. It’s just the way it is.

A man who did everything right can find himself dying in a muddy ditch, far from home. Other times, it’s an automotive brand laying in that ditch — a victim of circumstance, world events, changing societal trends, financial incompetence, or hasty cost-cutting. Whatever came before no longer matters.

Still, some deaths are worse than others. Which automotive demise was least charitable to the deceased?

We’ve lost a good many brands over the past century and change, though many were blips on the radar. Here for a second, swallowed (and forgotten) by history the next.

Then there were the brands that once encompassed an entire automaker. AMC comes to mind, which saw (as a brand) its lineup dwindle to a lone, innovative-yet-still-outdated model by the late 1980s. That model would itself spawn a brand, Eagle, which met its own end after a fair bit of success. Ask Corey about his respect for the Vision.

Performance attributes aside, Eagle Talon owners still carry a stigma.

We can’t consider Studebaker’s to be the grimmest end, as 1964 saw a suddenly stately Lark, a gorgeous (but ancient) Gran Turismo Hawk, and the Avanti. The South Bend brand used its pocket change to good effect right to the end.

The same can’t be said about Packard, the “merger” partner that Studebaker managed to kill off in 1958. Smothered beneath its partner’s bloated overhead and myriad inefficiencies, the storied brand, once a contender for the top spot on the domestic luxury totem, ended life as an awkwardly tarted-up Stude that left all onlookers feeling sad.

That has to be the grimmest end.

Sure, we hardly go two minutes without thinking about Oldsmobile here at TTAC Towers, but the final decade of Olds’ life saw the introduction of a range of okay-to-better vehicles. Even the final model, the Alero, has an adoring fan base.

Things weren’t so inspiring at Plymouth. Aside from the Prowler, a vehicle whose debut, in hindsight, seems bizarre and unlikely, there was little to get excited about by the end. And that could include the V6-only Prowler. One could include Pontiac in this list, though there were attempts, at least, to return some thrills to the “We build excitement” brand.

Anyway, you’ve probably landed on a winner. Or loser, in this case. Which automotive brand met the saddest, most depressing end?

[Image: General Motors]

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42 Comments on “QOTD: The Grimmest End?...”

  • avatar

    Cadillac… Oh, wait ;-)

  • avatar

    For me, Saab’s demise was truly painful and undignified. It was also predictable; as soon as GM took over, I knew the brand would be mismanaged to death.

    • 0 avatar

      Consider the possibility that this was intentional.

    • 0 avatar

      I loved my Saab, and miss it to this day. At the end, it looked immaculate, handled as well as anything I had personally driven, was powerful and efficient with the big 2.3T, and was safe for my family.

      Unfortunately, it was also leaking 5 different fluids onto my garage floor despite regular maintenance.

      Looking showroom fresh with a diaper under the car to catch its inadvertent leaking…. that’s undignified.

  • avatar

    Mercury. Literally nothing but re-badges.

  • avatar

    2nd Nedmundo on Saab. A friend who is into the 9000 series, almost spontaneously combusted when it became clear what GM was doing.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree but why? Why would gm spend all that money and then squander it? I guess the real question is why would I expect rational behavior from gm……

  • avatar

    I think an argument can be made for SAAB’s demise as near the saddest. They really did begin as the product of aero-engineering; perhaps the first production car to be wind tunnel tested? They were technological leaders in 1948 with uni-bodies that had integral crush protection designed in, front wheel drive before it was cool, and three-cylinder, and hyper-efficient (if a bit smokey) two-stroke engines specifically designed for use in the car.

    By the end, they’d been sold into slavery to a soulless corporation who forced them to put their once proud family-name on some bastard SUV from Ohio. They’d become so degraded that not even the Chinese (who will famously eat anything) would touch them.

  • avatar

    A good case can be made for Packard. They were innovative and one of the marques of quality. Economies of scale and changing consumer tastes doomed them. I’m sure some poor management had a hand in it too.

    Most deserving to die? Bricklin SV1. I drove a new one right off the showroom floor and it was a rolling turd. Had all the fit and finish of a kit car.

    As for AMC, Ronnie Schreiber here on TTAC pointed to a great history of the company: “The Unfortunate History Of The AMC Pacer” by Joe Ligo. A top-shelf video documentary. It chronicles the brand from its roots in Nash and Hudson to when it was subsumed into Chrysler. Can’t find a link that permits downloading (anymore…I do have it) but it’s on Youtube.

    • 0 avatar

      I was going to say Packard too, even before I read further down in the article and saw that it was featured.
      One could say, “Ask the man who owns one,” but how many original Packard owners could be left?

  • avatar

    I count a grandfather who sold Studebakers in my family tree, along with a Mercury (Lynx), Pontiacs (Bonnevilles), Oldsmobiles (88), SAABs (9-5), and Chrysler cars (Sebring coupe, with a stick) in my past-life personal stable.

    I now own 2 Jeeps — which have killed every corporation that has ever owned them back since the 40’s — and a BMW.

    You have been warned.

  • avatar

    East German car production. The cars were awful, of course, but the deathblow came from the switch to West German currency. Suddenly the cars cost ten times as much to make than previously.

    Had they been given time, the manufacturers might have risen from the ashes like Skoda did.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    At the end Saturn still had a great dealer experience but the cars on offer were the same you could get elsewhere in town with a different name. For as much impact Saturn had when it started it was a shame to see how little regard GM had for actual loyalty and genuine interest.

    My mom leased a ~2008 Aura and she really liked the buying and service experience. I had finally convinced her to stop blindly buying whatever was on offer at our local Pontiac/Buick/GMC dealer after 12 years. After Saturn she moved on to Toyota – which was under the same ownership as the Pontiac dealer. She would have stuck with Saturn if they were still around – despite the actual quality of the cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Saturn is a great answer because it’s not just a brand that GM killed, but it’s a brand that GM *started* and started *well*. Which was shocking 30 years ago for a company like GM. The original compacts they put out were, sure, copies of import designs, but they were actually competitive. And do you know how many first-gen Vues I STILL see on the road? Granted, most of them have the Honda V6 (I still never figured out how that came to be) but they still seem to run fine and look great. Plastic doors! So considering at the end, they were offering the embarrassing Ion, the re-badged G6, and the Captiva-y Vue…ugh. So sad. Especially so considering how well the brand started out.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re right, Saturn was a fairly bold change from typical GM. It seemed as if they tried to distance themselves (geographically and figuratively) from Detroit-think. And at the beginning it worked.

        (Cue spooky tension music) Then the bureaucracy found in every large company reeled in the renegades that dared to buck the system. What should have been new models became badge-engineered designs from other divisions. Friends that bought them liked the sales experience but the repair shop at the dealer back-end? Not so much. It was a missed opportunity at GM.

        The plastic body panels did shrug off dents from shopping carts (an example used in Saturn ads). But amp it up and it was a fail. I was rear-ended by a five year old Saturn on a freezing cold night. The entire front clip on the Saturn shattered leaving a naked car with engine and wheels on the unit subframe. My bent Civic was drivable enough to get home but the Saturn had to be flat-bedded (no lights). I commented to the insurance adjuster about it and he said that wasn’t unusual, especially in cold weather after the plastic had aged enough to become brittle. He stated that the Saturn that hit me would likely be totaled instead of repaired due to the high cost of parts.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep I was going to say Saturn. It started off good. By the end the cars were not, but they still had a certain brand equity, and most people probably didn’t know they were part of GM anyway, which was to the benefit. The Saturn brand had more room for growth with less associated consumer stigma. I think that GM EVs could have come onto market under the Saturn brand and had better success. Instead, they got sold at dealers where the dealers really only want to sell you trucks.

    • 0 avatar

      Saturn was the experiment by GM to learn new ways to build, sell and service small cars, new kind of company. Just like Scion. After Saturn fulfilled it’s intention it was shut down, like Scion was. That’s all. GM learned something from project Saturn I hope.

  • avatar

    Saab and Packard come to mind for me.

    I can tell you for a FACT that GM’s decision to sell a Pontiac G3 and G5 was due to dealers demanding one. The General. I was told back in the day, initially had no intention of going down that road. Pontiac had no reason to exist after 1982 as it had basically returned to its original pre-1957 purpose of being a fancy Chevy. Anomalies such as the Fiero, mid-90s Bonneville and Solstice could’ve been easily tweaked and sold as Chevies. Grand Prix would’ve been a great value as the Lumina/Monte Carlo, again with styling more appropriate to Chevrolet.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Surprised no one has mentioned the DeLorean.

    True, John Z DeLorean was very profligate, acted like he was still working in that bottomless money pit called the 1970s General Motors.

    He also took the UK government for a ride.

    But his ignominious bust,dealing drugs in a seedy motel room, was straight out of a Breaking Bad episode.

  • avatar

    I would say Plymouth. If Chrysler management had not allowed Dodge to have a copy of every Plymouth it would have survived. Most of the Plymouth models were better looking. FCA should of sold Fiats under the Plymouth brand

  • avatar

    When GM started killing off brands, I always wondered why it kept Buick and killed Pontiac. Had I been King of GM, I’d have kept Pontiac and made it the performace division. Camaro/Firebird, Corvette, Chevy SS,
    et. al. would have become Pontiacs, Chevy would have been the “family” brand, Cadillac would be the luxo brand, and GMC would be … well, what
    it is today. Buick’s problem today is that it has no brand identity – who buys them?

    • 0 avatar

      – Buick made -some- money (Pontiac pretty much didn’t).

      – Buick had a history and reputation in China. (When China started buying U.S. brands in recent history, many of the sales were upper trim levels/long wheelbase/luxury vehicles/limos for businesspeople/party officials. With the Buick name, GM had an “in” with the decision makers.)

  • avatar

    Holden, a 164 year old company that went from an automaker with aspiring products that were special to their own country, to selling warmed over front drive German cars that didn’t even attempt to keep what made the brand special intact.

  • avatar

    It’s not quite dead yet, but Chrysler. The current market would have tremendously rewarded an effort to build equity for the Chrysler brand in CUVs. Unlike in many other parts of the market, there is a lot of room for a semi-premium product in the biggest CUV segments.

    But, instead, it has two competent products in dying, shrinking segments, one of which has an image problem related to what people are doing with older examples. FCA management was too worried about cannibalizing Jeep, but a couple of FWD-based Chrysler CUVs would have been playing in a very different space from Jeeps.

  • avatar

    Hudson by far. They went from Hornet step downs to being warmed over Nashs.

  • avatar

    SAAB. I had an 80’s 900 Turbo, and overall it was a decent car. It had a big enough back seat and was solid. The turbo four was ahead of its time…now everything is turbo four.

    I bought a 90’s 900 when GM had just bought half, the one built off an Opel frame. It was still saab-y we only got rid of it when a frequent “no start” electrical bug left mama and babies at the store one too many times.

    When Saab began being attached to Trailblazers, Subarus, and Cadillacs, it was clearly over.

    What killed SAAB wasn’t GM, though…it was the Great Recession. Most SAABS, as near-lux cars, were leased…when the banks shut down leasing and people lost ljobs, sales stopped. I recall an article in a local newspaper, dealer claimed they sold 30 cars a month, but only 2 after the crunch.

    Also, SAABS had what I call cranky VW syndrome….after 90k,stuff just blows up….

    Still, the OG 900t did a lot right…it was a notch bigger, it was quiet, the seats were fantastic, handling was excellent for the day, brakes were big. You could run 90 mph all day in 55 mph America….and the hatchback would swallow minivan levels of stuff. We moved two apartments with just the 900.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 2001 9-5 Aero with MT, and it was a simply wonderful car–most of the time. It didn’t have a “post 90k” syndrome, but a “50K syndrome”, at which point a couple of components failed requiring flatbeds to the dealer. One of these issues led to a recall, and Saab reimbursed me years after the fact, which was cool.

      But, after those issues around the 50k mark, it was ROCK SOLID for 80k miles. I was astounded by how well it did for that stretch, but I sensed trouble coming around 135k miles and dumped it.

      So, while GM’s mismanagement of the brand was seriously depressing, I can’t deny that Saab’s poor reliability was a huge factor in its demise. I loved my Aero and considered a 9-3 Aero to replace it. The V6/MT 9-3 Aero was great and I loved the brand, but I just couldn’t face those issues again.

      It’s no coincidence that Saab’s highest US sales occurred in 1986, just as Acura entered the scene, offering all-weather luxury and performance paired with Honda reliability. The Germans had enough sales and brand cachet to survive the onslaught of reliable Japanese luxury brands, but Saab didn’t.

  • avatar

    I would still say Oldsmobile, even though by the early 2000’s it was pretty clear that the brand image had gotten overshadowed by other GM marquis. It still stings though that their offerings at the time were still decent. The Alero sold well with both a 4 banger and a V6, with both auto and manual options, in either a coupe or sedan bodystyle. The Aurora was a great luxury sport car save for it’s shortstar engine wanting to blow headgaskets, the Silhouette was still the ‘Cadillac’ of minivans, and the Bravada SUV was basically a smaller Denali or Escalade.
    That mid-tier luxury idea of Oldsmobile was still there, but when most of your vehicles are badge-engineered copies, I guess it didn’t make sense to keep it around. Why pay for an Aurora when you could get a loaded sporty Pontiac Bonneville or a base luxury Buick Lesabre, both standard with the more reliable and fuel efficient 3800 V6?

  • avatar

    Glorious sports cars in the 50s and 60, even the 70s. TR range from TR2 up to TR8 are still worth driving. Spitfire and GT6. Stag with their own V8 (OK that may bring back some bad memories but what a beautiful car when it worked). Supplied the 4 cylinder to SAAB 99. Good interesting palet of other cars, mainly in the 60s and 70s. Technically maybe not the most advanced but always interesting. Herald, Vitesse, Toledo, Dolomite (Sprint with its 4 valves per cylinder), lovely six cylinders 2000 and 2500.
    And then start of the eighties its last model was a re-badged Honda Civic, for g**s sake. How low can you go, ugh.

  • avatar

    Glorious sports cars in the 50s and 60, even the 70s. TR range from TR2 up to TR8 are still worth driving. Spitfire and GT6. Stag with their own V8 (OK that may bring back some bad memories but what a beautiful car when it worked). Supplied the 4 cylinder to SAAB 99. Good interesting palet of other cars, mainly in the 60s and 70s. Technically maybe not the most advanced but always interesting. Herald, Vitesse, Toledo, Dolomite (Sprint with its 4 valves per cylinder), lovely six cylinders 2000 and 2500.
    And then start of the eighties its last model was a re-badged Honda Civic, for g**s sake. How low can you go, ugh.

  • avatar

    Maybe it’s too far back for most, but the Edsel, and DeSoto? Their demise straddled Packard’s and Studebaker’s, both mentioned, so they have to be mentioned. Hudson and Nash were both solid “value” cars that survived the depression, but both names were given the heave-ho when AMC became Rambler in 1958. AMC returned in 1976, but Husdon, Nash, and Rambler nameplates didn’t.

  • avatar

    Packard, it fell the farthest.

  • avatar

    Citroëns dilution into badge-engineered mostly-Peugeots was a huge bummer, particularly with the final break, when PSA dropped the last hydropneumatic suspension car in 2017.

    The saddest part was watching all the usual auto press and shade tree mechanics posthumously opining that, well, of course the suspension was hard to maintain…except that that’s not true and virtually anyone driving a hydropneumatic Citroën that’s not an apocalyptic beater can tell you otherwise. The old maxim about how he how knows nothing repeats it frequently is particularly applicable to non-Citroën gearheads trying to weigh in on Citroëns.

    Had 320K miles on my 1970 DS21 before I reluctantly sold it over the one truly horrible repair problem of those models (needed a new clutch for an engine that sits behind the transmission in the engine bay) in a financial low point, and for 100K of those miles, all it needed was one replacement suspension sphere, which cost me $50 and screwed in like replacing a light bulb.

    Cars today are fantastically safe, comfortable, and reliable, but as I’m reminded every time I climb into my ridiculous old 2CV, they’re no longer magical, and that’s a shame.

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