Orphan Cars

orphan car exhibit

Orphan Cars

An Orphan Car is: "any marque or brand of vehicle produced by a company that has discontinued business entirely." The name is often confused with a brand that is terminated while the parent company continues to exist (e.g. Pontiac, Oldsmobile,etc.) True orphan cars are brands like Packard, Cord, Auburn, Pierce-Arrow, Hudson, etc.)

Historians agree that more than 2,000 automotive companies world-wide have gone out of business during the last 120 years. Most of them came and went from 1900-1920. A narrow slice of the B section includes:

  • Blood (1902-1905),
  • Borland Electric (1910-1916), Brew-Hatcher (1904-1905), Brogan (1946-1952),
  • Bryan (1918-1923),
  • Buckmobile (1903-1905), and Burg (1910-1913).

Even successful companies went out of business. Studebaker started production with covered wagons in the 1850’s.  By 1902, the company began to experiment with electric-powered vehicles. They started producing combustion engine cars in 1904 and sold them for more than 60 years. Sadly, the factory closed in 1966.  Studebaker is gone.

Nash started in 1916. It had an excellent reputation for trucks and innovative cars. It no longer exists because of image problems and the fact that it was ahead of its time. It suffered from identity issues through a series of sales.  The path for Nash was: Nash to Nash-Kelvinator, to Nash Rambler, to American Motors Corporation, to AMC/Renault, to Chrysler, to Daimler-Chrysler, to now…Fiat.

There are many reasons car manufacturers fail. The reason may be design flaws, a poor economy, lack of corporate support and vision, and resistance to cultural trends, to name a few.



South Bend, Indiana 

1852  Produces its first vehicle for sale, a horse-drawn farm wagon 

1966  The last Studebaker leaves the factory 

Clement Studebaker started a horse-drawn wagon company. President Lincoln rode in Studebaker carriages, and the Union army used Studebaker wagons during the Civil War. They introduced electric cars in 1902. Gas-powered cars were introduced in 1904. Studebaker continued to produce both wagons and cars until 1920.

In 1928, Studebaker acquired Pierce-Arrow and the lower-priced Erskine was produced. The Depression hit and the company was forced into bankruptcy in 1933. After restructuring the company, Studebaker produced trucks, airplane engines, and personnel carriers for the war effort. The Packard Motor Car Company took over Studebaker in 1954, but Packard was discontinued in 1958. Even the impressive Studebaker Hawks and the classically-designed Avanti could not save the company.

Studebaker was known for building the wrong car at the wrong time. A sequence of poor management and high labor costs forced changes from which the company could not recover. The final collapse was a gradual decline between 1963 – 1966. 


Kaiser-Frazer Corporation 

Willow Run, Michigan 

1945 Joseph W. Frazer and Henry J. Kaiser form the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation 

1953  Name is changed to Kaiser Motors Corporation and merges with Willys-Overland 

The two men who formed this company came from different business backgrounds. Frazer had experience with Chrysler, Willys-Overland, and Graham-Paige. Known during World War II as the "father of American shipbuilding," Kaiser brought his skills to the table to design strong and dependable cars. There were disputes early on between the two men, and Frazer resigned as president in 1948 but remained as a sales consultant until 1953.

Compared to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, Kaiser was a small company. When the bigger companies went to larger engines and sleeker designs, Kaiser relied on its six-cylinder engines and body designs that did not compete. There were various name changes over the years. In 1955, the company was known as Kaiser Industries Corporation.  They merged with Willys-Overland which became Willys Jeep. Willys Jeep became Kaiser Jeep which sold out to American Motors in 1970. American Motors became Chrysler…which is now Fiat. That amazing long line of change ruined the company's identity.

The most lasting legacy created by Mr. Kaiser was the health-managed care system known as Kaiser Permanente which he founded in 1945 to provide medical care for the workers in his shipyards.


DeLorean (DMC-12) 

Dunmurry, Northern Ireland 

1981 – 1982 

The DeLorean Motor Company was the brainchild of John Z. DeLorean, the former head of the Pontiac division at General Motors. Production began in 1979, but cost overruns held back assembly lines until 1981. The workers were poorly trained and for many, it was their first job. 

Public response was poor. The $25,000 price tag (equivalent to almost $60,000 today) was a difficult sell. During the first year of production, quality control was an issue, and there were disputes with the dealer over warranty reimbursement. The V-6 engine did not deliver high performance. DeLorean needed to sell 10,000 – 12,000 units to break even. Actual sales were about 6,000.  

The final blow came from an investigation of DeLorean and his possible involvement with drug trafficking.  He was accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States. He was acquitted, but it was the end of his career as an auto builder.

The DeLorean Motor Company still exists today near Houston, Texas. It is owned by Stephen Wynne, a Liverpool mechanic, who purchased the remaining parts and the logo trademark of DMC. This company is not connected to the original started by John DeLorean.



Carlsbad, California 

2005 – 2011 

In 2005, Steven Frambo and Chris L. Anthony founded Accelerated Composites, a company to manufacture high-efficiency vehicles. The name was later changed to Aptera. The cars were built with ultra-strong composite materials and weighed just 850 pounds. The company produced a one-cylinder and a hybrid, both with a swooping front end and three wheels.

Start up funding from various investors brought in 24 million. From mid 2007 to late 2008, Aptera attracted over 4,000 deposits for the cars, but the financial collapse took a toll. In January of 2010, the company had a peak of 5,000 deposits. By March of that same year, the number dropped to 3,100.

There were production delays with designs. From 2008 – 2010, delivery dates had been pushed back three times.  Buyers were discouraged. An application to the federal government's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Load Program was turned down in 2009 because the Department of Energy stipulated that cars must have four wheels. Wording was changed and a second application was submitted, but a large number of pre-orders disappeared even quicker. By December of 2011, the company was bankrupt.


Auburn Automobile Company 

Auburn, Indiana 

1900 – 1937

Brothers Morris and Frank Eckhart formed the Auburn Automobile Company in 1900 – aptly named after the city of Auburn, Indiana.  Their first cars were one-cylinder, but their engines were quickly designed for more power.  A shortage of materials during WWI caused the factory to close and the brothers sold out to investors from Chicago.  

In 1924, Erret Lobbam Cord was hired to run the new company.  He had been a successful car salesman and knew what consumers needed and wanted.  He orchestrated a buy-out and took over control .  He knew the cars lacked excitement and had many of the unsold cars repainted in bright two-toned colors.  He discounted the cars and displayed them to local dealers who sold the overstock in just a few months.

 In 1926, the Auburn Company formed a partnership with Duesenberg, a company known for building winning racing cars.  Together, they focused on performance luxury cars that were expensive but advanced in technology and design.  In 1932, the Great Depression hit.  The company was not willing to downsize.  Auburn stopped production in 1936 and Cord followed in 1937.  The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company for stock manipulation, and it closed its doors on August 7, 1937.



Chicago, Illinois 

1947 – 1948 

The Tucker '48 was to be a radical advancement of automotive technology after World War II ended. Preston Tucker had experience with marine and aviation engines, but he realized America was ready for a new and innovative automobile. The Tucker '48 was going to make that dream come true. 

Preston Tucker needed to start his business from scratch. Tucker needed to start his business from scratch. The Tucker Corporation was under scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission from the very beginning for what were deemed questionable business practices. The Accessories Program raised funds by selling accessories even before the car was built.  Dealerships were sold before the car was ready for production. Over 2,000 dealerships nationwide were sold at a price from $7,500 to nearly $30,000. Tucker responded by publishing a full-page ad in national newspapers where he hinted that his efforts were hindered by politics and an SEC conspiracy.  Dealers continued to file lawsuits and Tucker's stock plummeted.

On June 10, 1949, Tucker and six of his executives were indicated on 25 counts of mail fraud, five counts of SEC violations, and one count of conspiracy to defraud. The trial began on October 4, 1949, and the Tucker Corporation’s factory closed the very same day. Only 37 cars had been built. Loyal employees returned to the factory and finished another 13 for a total of 50 cars (plus a prototype). On January 22, 1950, a jury delivered a verdict of "not guilty" on all counts. It was too late to save the company.

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