50 car companies that no longer exist
The automobile may have had its origins in Europe, but few sectors of the U.S. economy embody the American notions of personal liberty, expression, and freedom as fully as the automotive industry.
The rise of the industry at the beginning of the 20th century coincided with the ascent of manned flight and the motion picture industry, and a sense that the United States was entering a new and progressive era where anything was possible.
Hundreds of automotive companies sprouted all over the nation at the turn of the century, firing the ambitions of people in all walks of life.
Not all of these ambitions were realized. Many companies foundered because of mismanagement, overexpansion, misjudgment of the public taste, and underestimating supply chain costs. Some companies in the early part of the 20th century whose products were electric vehicles or steam-powered cars could not compete against gas-powered autos that had more power and were cheaper to drive.
Other factors such as the economic downturn in the early 1920s, and the Great Depression that caused widespread economic distress and dislocation, spelled doom for many carmakers, such as Du Pont, Durant, Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow, and Peerless. Even though cars from these companies are no longer cruising on the nation’s highways, many of these defunct companies developed innovations such as disc brakes and automatic windshield wipers that are standard features of modern cars.
Stacker has compiled a list of 50 car companies that no longer exist from various historical sources such as the Ohio History Connection and HistoricDetroit.org; websites from education sources that included Case Western Reserve University of Cleveland; car club websites; and sources such as Hemmings Motor News, a monthly magazine catering to traders and collectors of antique, classic, and exotic sports cars.
In compiling the list, we attempted to tell one part of the story of the American automotive industry through various eras, the innovations of these companies and their ambitions, and the segment they held in the marketplace. The story also outlined the causes and reasons as to why these companies no longer exist. This list is not meant to be a comprehensive record of all the companies that no longer exist, but rather a slate of companies that made an impact through their designs or innovations that helped move the industry forward.
Keep reading to find 50 car companies that no longer exist.
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Moulton Taylor founded Aerocar International in the late 1940s to capitalize on the soaring interest in civil aviation and tap the ranks of pilots who trained to fly combat planes during World War II. Taylor’s aircraft was a hybrid car/airplane that drew inspiration from Robert Fulton Jr.’s Airphibian, and was certified by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. The Aerocar could accommodate two people, had a four-cylinder engine and could reach a top speed of 110 miles per hour, and 67 miles per hour on the ground. It took 10 minutes to convert the plane to a car.
American Motors Corp.
American Motors Corp. existed from 1954 to 1987. The company came about following the merger of Hudson Motor Car and Nash-Kelvinator in 1954, and at the time was the largest corporate merger. AMC sold the Jeep brand from 1970 after it purchased Kaiser-Jeep, and also sold the Pacer and Concord under its nameplate. In addition, AMC produced the Rambler, which was named Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1963. In 1968, the company introduced the Javelin to compete in the sports car segment. French automaker Renault owned 46.1% of AMC stock, and in 1987, Chrysler agreed to buy Renault's AMC shares, as well as the remaining stock.
Apperson Brothers Automobile Co.
Apperson was founded in Kokomo, Indiana, in 1902 by brothers Elmer and Edgar Apperson. The early vehicles built by the company were touring cars with four cylinders and packing up to 50 horsepower. And they were expensive; the early Apperson models cost from $3,500 to $5,500. Among the most well-known of the Apperson vehicles was the 1907 Jack Rabbit, a 96-horsepower vehicle that according to advertisements of the time could reach speeds of 75 miles per hour.
Auburn Automobile Co.
The Auburn Automobile Co., founded in Auburn, Indiana, was incorporated in 1903 after brothers Frank and Morris Eckhart became interested in the burgeoning automobile industry at the beginning of the 20th century. Their first car was a single-cylinder, water-cooled vehicle that set consumers back about $1,450. Auburn vehicles became known for technical innovation and stylish design. The Eckharts left the automobile business in 1918, selling out to investors from Chicago. The company had its best year in 1931 when the company produced nearly 33,000 automobiles. But triumph turned to disappointment with the onset of the Great Depression, when sales fell. Internal conflict and market pressures pushed the company into bankruptcy in 1937.
Chalmers Motor Co.
Chalmers Motor Co., based in Detroit started in 1908 and made high-end vehicles until 1923, when it merged with Chrysler. The company takes its name from Hugh Chalmers, the chief executive officer of National Cash Register Co. Chalmers left NCR around the turn of the 20th century to try his luck in the emerging automobile industry. A born salesman, Chalmers was also a baseball fan and saw an opportunity to connect his company with America’s pastime. He created a marketing campaign that would become the predecessor of baseball’s most valuable player award, by giving a car to the leading hitter in each league.
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Checker Motors Corp.
Checker, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, is famous for its singular cabs, particularly in New York City. The company was founded by Russian immigrant Morris Markin in 1922. Among its particular features were its wide rear doors and spacious rear seats. The vehicles came in black, maroon, and yellow. Markin expanded the company in 1929 when he bought the Yellow Cab Co. The Checker Marathon taxi cab was produced with its signature checkered stripes from 1956 to 1982. Increasing fuel-efficiency requirements hurt the company. The last day for the vehicle in New York City was July 27, 1999.
DeLorean Motor Co.
Maverick automobile mogul John DeLorean created the DMC-12, the car that moviegoers know from the 1985 runaway time-travel hit “Back to the Future” that starred Michael J. Fox. DeLorean built a plant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to produce the DMC-12. The car was sleek but was criticized for being underpowered, and was not as fuel-efficient as advertised. The company ran into money problems and only produced about 9,000 vehicles. New financing failed to materialize and the company went bankrupt in 1982.
Dort Motor Car Co.
The Dort Motor Car Co. was based in Flint, Michigan, and operated from 1915-1924. Dort was founded as the Flint Road Cart Co. in 1884 by William Crapo Durant and Josiah Dallas Dort. By 1917, Dort offered four models—two sedans, an open tourer, and a roadster—at prices starting at $695. Dort continued making cars until 1924. By that time, the rising cost of developing and distributing vehicles made it difficult for the company to compete against larger automotive companies.
Duesenberg Motors Co.
Duesenberg Motors Co., known for well-crafted vehicles in the early part of the 20th century, made racing cars and high-end automobiles. Brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg founded the company in 1913 in St. Paul, Minnesota. They eventually moved the company to Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and built vehicles for racing. The company’s luxury car was a pricey $8,500, and owning one was considered prestigious. Celebrities were drawn to the vehicle, including actor Gary Cooper. The Great Depression hurt the luxury end of the automobile market and Duesenberg went out of business in 1937.
Du Pont Motors Inc.
The Du Pont family made its fortune by producing chemicals. But the family also made cars in the early part of the 20th century. The company was founded during World War I to make engines for the Allied war effort. After the war, the company made luxury automobiles in Wilmington, Delaware, in limited production. Du Pont’s largest vehicle was the eight-cylinder Model G that debuted in 1929. Four of the Model Gs competed in the Grand Prix d’Endurance at Le Mans. The car resonated with the public, and Du Pont made versions of the vehicle for sale to the general public. Du Pont Motors halted production in 1931 because of the impact of the Great Depression, and closed in 1932.
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