A Salute to 10 Independent American Car Brands
Happy 4th of July weekend! The United States of America declared independence from England 234 years ago, not only creating a new country, but inspiring countless innovations based on that same spirit of independence.
About 110 years ago, the seeds of the American auto industry began to sprout. Take a look at a list of defunct American automakers, and you might be surprised by just how many entrepreneurs tried to create new auto brands in the first half of the 20th century.
In honor of their groundbreaking efforts, here are 10 of the most memorable car brands that embodied the American spirit of independence.
Winton Motor Carriage Company
Founded in 1896, Winton became one of the first American companies to build and sell a motor car. The company ceased production in 1924, changed its name to Winton Engine Corporation and then, in 1930, became a subsidiary of General Motors.
Packard Motor Car Company
As the story goes, James Ward Packard was dissatisfied with the Winton car he purchased and wrote a complaint letter. Winton replied by challenging him to build a better car. So he did.
Packard produced luxury automobiles until 1958, when it was purchased by Studebaker.
With roots building stagecoaches going all the way back to the 1850s, Studebaker was active until the 1960s and at one point built over 200,000 cars a year. Studebaker almost turned the Big 3 into the Big 4.
Hudson Motor Car Company
Hudson began in Detroit in 1909 and planned to build a car to sell for under $1,000. Twenty years later, the company was America’s third-largest automaker behind Ford and Chevrolet. In 1954 Hudson became part of American Motors, with the last Hudson rolling off the line in 1957.
DeLorean Motor Company
I admit I’m a little jaded toward DeLorean because of the obsession I developed after watching Michael J. Fox travel through time in one. The short history of the brand is filled with innovation, determination, and controversy, as former GM exec John DeLorean struggled to start and maintain production of the infamous DMC-12 sports car.
What’s more American than allegations of corporate fraud and investigations by the SEC? Preston Tucker dreamed of producing his ’48 Sedan, the “Tucker Torpedo,” but instead was torpedoed by scandal and controversial accusations of stock fraud. Tucker was eventually acquitted, but his dream of a mass-produced car was never realized.
From 1912 to 1918, Willys was the second-largest producer of automobiles in the United States after Ford Motor Company. One of America’s most iconic vehicle brands, Jeep, would have never been developed had it not been for Willys’ military connection in the 1940s.
Pontiac wasn’t an independent company for long, getting swallowed up by the GM empire in 1926. The dream began in 1899, when Albert G. North and Harry G. Hamilton incorporated their Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works. By 1907, they decided to produce an automobile. The rest is a classic example of American automobile history!
It takes serious gusto to take on the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, especially if you’re just one guy in the middle of Washington State farmland. Jerod Shelby has done that, incorporating his company in 1999 and by 2007 laying claim to the world’s fastest production car, the Ultimate Aero. Shelby SuperCars proves that anything is possible in America with a dream fueled by passion.
Tesla earns the final spot on this list because the modern company shares qualities that many auto companies of the past have exhibited. This American automaker is fueled by its determination to change what fuels our planet’s automobiles. Like many American success stories, Tesla’s already features exciting product, financial troubles, tragedy and hope for a better future.
What car company, current or past, do you think best embodies the spirit of American Independence?