Car Brands of the Past

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April 16, 2021

Toyota, Mercedes, VW and Ford – there are many car brands synonymous with cars today. But that hasn’t always been the case.

Oldsmobile, AMC, Packard and Holden (and others) were once the car brands front and centre of consumer minds.

In this article, we take a look at some defunct car brands. Plus, the stories behind them, the products they were known for – and, why they failed

Firstly, in today’s car world, you may be surprised to learn who controls what.

Top Car Brands in Control





VW Group









Alfa Romeo



































Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group formed the multinational manufacturer this year (2021). Headquartered in Amsterdam, Stellantis has a presence in more than 130 countries and plans to have 39 EVs available this year.

**GROUPE RENAULT Includes the Renault–Nissan–Mitsubishi Alliance which is the world’s biggest seller of light vehicles.

Defunct Car Brands of the Past
AMC – Aged 34

1954 to 1988

Fate: Renamed ‘Jeep-Eagle’ after the Chrysler Corporation took over AMC in 1987 and operated as a sales division until 1997.

About AMC

“The car brand developed the first true crossover vehicle for the US market”

AMC’s lineup included a variety of vehicles; small cars, full-size sedans, wagons and muscle cars. The brand developed the first true crossover vehicle for the US market, the AMC Eagle.

AMC Eagle

(AMC Eagle)

AMC operated in the shadows of the American ‘big three’ (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) and consequently, couldn’t equal the big three’s marketing and vehicle development budgets. But AMC did receive some publicity.

The popular 1992 film, Wayne’s World, featured an AMC Pacer.

Fortunately or not, Australia missed out on some cars. AMC was well known for its car names, some of which are certainly ‘memorable’. Names include;

  • Hornet
  • Gremlin
  • Ambassador
  • Rebel
  • Rambler
  • Matador

AMC Gremlin

(An AMC Gremlin)


Car brand, Renault, had a major stake in AMC. However, Renault themselves experienced financial trouble in the 1980s resulting in cost-cutting which included plant closures and layoffs. To make matters worse, Renault’s chairman, Georges Besse, who had been a supporter of Renault’s influence in the North American market was assassinated.

In the early morning of November 17, 1986, Besse was gunned down in Paris. The militant anarchist organisation, Action Directe, claimed responsibility stating that the assassination was in retaliation to Renault’s layoffs. 

AMC was acquired by Chrysler in the late 1980s.

Oldsmobile – Aged 107

1897 to 2004

Fate: Squeezed out by competition and imported vehicles. GM, which owned Oldsmobile, announced the shutdown of the brand in 2000.

About Oldsmobile

“Oldsmobile sold vehicles in huge numbers in its heyday – or heydays”

Oldsmobile was one of America’s first car brands, even out ‘olding’ Ford which was founded in 1903. Despite its poor sales in the 1990s and collapsed in the early 2000s, Oldsmobile sold vehicles in huge numbers in its heyday – or heydays. The company sold over 1 million vehicles each year from 1983-1986.

Oldsmobile was best known for its luxury cars and standard cars with their groundbreaking technology.

For example, the long-running Oldsmobile Cutlass, which had a futuristic design at the time, and the Oldsmobile Toronado which was the first production vehicle to come with airbags.

Other Oldsmobile firsts include;
  • First car company to use chrome plating
  • First fully automatic transmission
  • First automatic headlight dimming system
  • First production turbocharged car

Oldsmobile Cutlass

(1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Source:


“With a name like ‘Oldsmobile’ and a model name based on a 300+-year-old weapon, appearing ‘new and modern’ is tough for marketing teams.”

Despite the ‘firsts’ in technology and huge sales in the 1970s and 80s, the good times weren’t to last.

From 1985 to 1993, sales plummeted by 62%. The blame was primarily put on high-end imports like Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus and Honda’s Acura. Oldsmobile responded in 1995 with its Aurora aimed at buyers of the same demographic. The brand also redesigned its logo to have a more modern appeal and phased out models with older-sounding names such as the Oldsmobile Cutlass.

A cutlass is a pirate-era sword from the 17th century.

With a name like ‘Oldsmobile’ and a model name based on a 300+-year-old weapon, appearing new and modern is tough for marketing teams.

In April 2004, Oldsmobile ceased operations.

DeLorean Motor Company (DMC) – Aged 7

1975 to 1982

Fate: Cost overruns, a tough exchange rate and general lack of demand in the early 1980s. Production failed to meet the required 10,000 units needed to break even. 

About DMC

DMC only produced one model, the DeLorean. The V6-powered sports car is well-known for its iconic gull-wing doors, and another reason…

“Roads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.”

The above line from 1985’s hit film, Back to the Future, instantly conjures up images of the DeLorean to fans. 

Back to the Future Delorean

(The time machine DeLorean from Back to the Future. Source:

The vehicle is arguably more well-known due to its heavy feature in the Back to the Future movies than its actual driving experience or build quality. Many examples are still on roads today with most being modified to some degree to resemble the time-machine look from the movies.

The vehicle was designed by legendary Italian car designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, who also influenced the BMW M1, Lotus Esprit, Maserati Spyder and Volkswagen Golf Mk1.

The first DeLorean rolled off the assembly line on January 21, 1981, and ceased production in late 1982. Total production reached only 9000 units. 


Sales were initially strong due to hype and excitement for the gull-winged, brushed stainless-steel sports car. Unfortunately, due to a noted lack of power, build quality issues, the early 1980s recession and its relatively high price, sales numbers quickly dropped. 

The result was a backlog of unsold cars. Despite this, founder John DeLorean increased production hoping for more sales which, ultimately, never came. The company dropped prices and even sent messages to dealerships requesting each buy cars to help save the company – none agreed.

In late 1982, when desperate for funds to save the company, DMC founder John DeLorean was charged with narcotics trafficking offenses worth US$24 million. However, as was found in his 1984 trial, John DeLorean had been set up by police which resulted in a not guilty verdict on the grounds of entrapment.

The DeLorean Motor Company filed for bankruptcy in October 1982.

Packard – Aged 57

1899 to 1956 (Final Packard vehicle assembled)

Fate: Merged with Studebaker using outdated facilities, plagued with union strikes and lost sales to Cadillac.

About Packard

The company was a luxury vehicle manufacturer headquartered in Detroit. Prior to World War II, the car brand was considered a premium automaker. Owning a Packard was a status symbol, similar to owning a high-end Porsche or Tesla today.

In 1939, Packard became the first car maker to build a car with air conditioning. A year later, in 1940, the company scored another first, the first car to come with power windows.

In 1942, Packard converted to war production, making engines for the famous P-51 Mustang. 

After the war, Packard reverted back to passenger car production, many of which showcase the ‘classic’ images of 1950s vehicles.

1955 Packard Patrician

(A 1955 Packard Patrician)

Packard had successful sales in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But it wasn’t to last.


In 1953, Ford and GM competed heavily for market share in the US, Europe and other markets – like Australia. In fact, it was in 1953 that GM-owned Holden released its popular FJ model. 

The result was a squeeze on Packard. Motorists opted for more affordable vehicles from Ford and GM. These larger companies also bought out numerous Packard dealerships making the company appear more scattered.

With outdated facilities, few-and-far-between dealerships and competition from cheaper, more modern vehicles, sales declined and money problems increased.

The final nail in the coffin came when Packard failed to secure the funds needed to retool production lines for new models. 

Other Car Brands in the Defunct Yard
Pontiac – Aged 85

1925 to 2010

Fate: GM (which owned Pontiac) announced its closure following GM’s reorganisation after the GFC.

SAAB – Aged 67

1945 to 2012

Fate: Purchased by GM in 2000 which sold SAAB to Dutch-based Spyker Cars N.V. in 2011. SAAB’s financial problems took hold in the same year with Spyker unable to cover losses. SAAB filed for bankruptcy in late 2011.

Plymouth – Aged 73

1928 to 2001

Fate: Known for its muscle cars, Plymouth lost its identity in the late 1990s by only producing four models; a minivan, sedan, compact and one sports car, the Prowler. The muscle car days were over. By 2001, only the compact Neon remained. Owner, DaimlerChrysler, announced the closure of the Plymouth name in 1999.

Plymouth Neon

(Plymouth Neon, sold as a Dodge)

Holden – Aged 112

1908 (when the company shifted into the auto industry) to 2020

Fate: Unable to compete with other brands due to a strong AUD. Furthermore, rising petrol prices didn’t help the brand’s focus on V8 and V8 engines. Competition from other car brands more in tune with consumer trends tools sales away from Holden in the 2010s.

Your next car isn’t defunct

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