The auto industry is as volatile as driving on oil-slicked streets after a fresh rain: you never know who’s going to spin out next.
Most of the beauties on this list were at some point household names. Cars we’ll remember but millennials won’t, similar to the literal act of hanging up a phone. Others — the true greats — hail from a more distant past, when a car was not a necessity but a trophy on four wheels, masterfully crafted and scarcely acquired.
Without further ado, here are 20 carmakers that left us too soon, ranked from the dearly beloved to the don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-ass.
You Were Taken From Us Too Soon
Studebaker (1852- 1967)
A supreme vehicle if there ever was one. Originally a producer of farm wagons and military vehicles, Studebaker came to be known as the definitive early American automobile. They were always known as quirky, and got into some limit-pushing makes later in their life cycle. You could say they were too forward for their market and their time. The last Studebaker automobile rolled off the assembly line on March 16, 1966. There’s a museum dedicated to ‘em. Do go, should you get the chance.
Best ride: The 1953 Studebaker Commander Starliner
Packard (1899 - 1958)
This was once the pinnacle of American luxury. Lincoln and Cadillac owe their prestige to its passing. The Packard inspired Enzo Ferrari, broke land-speed records, and when other manufacturers ceased production in WWII, they made P-51 Mustangs. But they reemerged too slow. And when the dust settled, they were known as a “senior” car.
Best ride: The 1930 Model 734 Roadster
Within a year of launch, Hudson was the 11th largest auto manufacturer in a saturated market, in large part due to the funding from department store king Joseph L. Hudson. In its heyday, it broke records, like the Eight model that shattered the 1,000-mile record in its class, averaging 88.9 mph. But they were hit hard by the Depression, and while they survived, the company’s stubborn refusal to integrate a modern V-8 would eventually lead to its demise.
Best ride: The 1955 Hudson Wasp Super
Three makes, but they were all under one umbrella: Auburn Automobiles. At the height of the art-deco era, these gems were America’s Rolls-Royces. They won the Indy 500 multiple times.
Best ride: The 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster
Tucker (1948 - 1949)
Only 51 rides were produced, but by
Best ride: There’s was just the one. But one was enough.
You Had A Good Run, Buddy
Checker (1922 - 2010)
Yes, Checker like the cab, an American icon. For 60 years, the company was on a hot streak. But in 2008, CEO David Markin fell victim to that Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff at a time when the marque was already hard up for cash. By 2009, the 87-year-old company filed for bankruptcy. Sad story.
Best ride: The 1939 Model A Landaulet
Pontiac (1926- 2010)
Best ride: First off, not the Trans Am. And while toughness wouldn’t be the same today without that ‘69 GTO “Judge,” we just have to go with the ‘64 GTO.
Mercury (1938 - 2011)
Mercury was created to bridge the gap between Lincoln and Ford. Unfortunately, that kind of middle-child identity crisis rarely pays off. Is it utilitarian or is it luxury? When no one can answer that question, you end up with something like the Marauder — cool, but essentially a Crown Victoria. After that, it was lights out.
Best ride: The 1970 Mercury Cougar Eliminator
Oldsmobile (1897 - 2004)
Founded by envelope-pushing Ransom Eli Olds. The company produced more than 35 million makes, with 14 million of ‘em coming from Michigan alone. One of the world’s oldest marques, Olds follows Daimler,
Best ride: The 1970 Oldsmobile 442 W-30
Plymouth (1928 - 2001)
Low-priced and high-volume, Plymouth saw its share of ups and downs. It’s tough to imagine that the same manufacturer that brought us such ball-busting steeds as the Road Runner, the Duster, the Barracuda and the Fury would go on to flood the market with PT Cruisers, but so the story goes.
Best ride: It’s between the ‘64 Race HEMI (Belvedere) and the 1970 HEMI ‘Cuda
AMC (1954 - 1988)
They fell far. In 1979, Fortune magazine said that AMC was “a small company deft enough to exploit special market segments left untended by the giants.” But if America loves anything, it’s smiting niche companies into oblivion. It was just about a decade later, in ‘87, that the New York Times stated that AMC was "never a company with the power or the cost structure to compete confidently at home or abroad." And that is when AMC lost its seat at Detroit’s Big Three table.
Best ride: The 1969 AMC AMX
Can’t Say We Didn’t See This Coming
Saab (1945 - 2012)
GM was like the Jessica Fletcher (of Murder She Wrote fame) of vehicles. It just seems like whatever they touched resulted in a seemingly accidental death. The Swedish-born Saab was another of its victims. They were quirky and turbocharged. And when GM took them over wholly in 2000, they weren’t long for survival.
Best ride: The Saab 96, the first to hit the UK market, was darling. But you’ll never beat that 900 Convertible classic that made a cameo in Jay Z’s Soft Cry.
Suzuki (1909- 2013)
I bet you’re thinking, “Wait, Suzuki is dead?” But it’s true. It just never quite caught the necessary fire to sustain in a North American market. Makes like the S-90 certainly didn’t do them any favors.
Best ride: Love it or hate it, the Suzuki SJ
Saturn (1985 - 2010)
Saturn was supposed to be an “import fighter,” but GM wasn’t organized enough to sustain the new division. Plus there was that whole financial sh*tstorm that demolished the Detroit market.
Best ride: Most will say the Saturn Sky, but we have a soft spot for the first SL 1. It’s the car that you gave to your graduating daughter at the time. Reliable and easy to fix.
Kaiser (1947 - 1955)
Founded by one Henry Kaiser, a remarkable WWII shipbuilder known as “the Miracle Man.” Kaiser essentially went the way of the DeSoto. They dwindled under competitive pressure and their rides, intended to be mid-range makes, eventually snuck into the luxury market, where they couldn’t survive.
Best ride: The 1954 Kaiser Manhattan
You Were Born to Die
DeSoto (1928 - 1961)
Named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, the first documented explorer to cross the Mississippi. A post-war Chrysler struggled to find a place for their mid-range DeSotos, especially after pitting it internally against Imperial.
Best ride: The 1946 DeSoto Deluxe 4-Door
Geo (1989 - 1997)
Geo was formed as a reluctant subdivision of Chevrolet, but it was high times for America to get into the very-compact car game, and Geo was a big part of that. No surprises that it folded.
Best ride: The Geo Tracker was a bubblegum-smacking, mall-going high schooler’s dream ride.
Crosley (1939 - 1952)
The Crosley was an excellent idea: small, simple cars for a low price. The first weighed under 1,000 pounds and cost just $250. Everything you needed and literally not a bolt or gadget more. In 1941, Cannonball Baker set a world gas-mileage record run in a Crosley Covered Wagon when he drove from Cincinnati to L.A., then back to New Orleans, Jacksonville and on to New York. Traversing a total of 6,517 miles, the ride averaged 50 miles per gallon. But they were losing ground in the late ‘40s, and the 1950 launch of chore vehicle the Farm-O-Road couldn’t save ‘em.
Best ride: We’re partial to the funny lookin’ ‘47 Crosley pickup.
Trabant (1957 - 1991)
Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, this was a coveted steed. But it is also regarded as an emblem of the East German demise at the time. Which makes sense. It was cumbersome and otherwise known as a “spark plug with a roof.” Truth be told, it was originally supposed to be a three-wheeled motorcycle. Nonetheless, they were quite gallant for a two-stroke stapler on wheels.
Best ride: The Trabant 601. If it were a plane, you’d call your loved ones. But damn if it doesn’t look like a fun way to go out.
Daewoo (1937 - 2002)
Remember Daewoo? So fun to say: Daewoo! Wasn’t reminiscent of how they drove, unfortunately. In 2005, GM said that “Daewoo had grown up enough to be Chevrolet.” So it’s necessity had become moot. Their models litter worst-cars-of-all-time lists. Some would say they were cheap ... and everyone would agree. No hard feelings, but be gone and stay gone.
Best ride: The Daewoo LeMans, because we can’t believe they had the balls to name it that.