As is true of time, it always marches on, day after day, minute by minute, without change, always inevitable, ceaseless. A byproduct of this is that, as time continues forward, many things don't; left behind, at the wayside, to slowly fade away, forgotten, or perhaps remembered by a few, then fewer, then none at all. History remembers much, written down and catalogued in books, online, in many places, but even history falters as time continues endlessly onwards.
So is the way of the world, and it is no different for the motoring industry, as time moves forward, car companies press on for as long as they can, for decades upon decades, but many fail, fall by the wayside, or just close their doors after a long run. The name is soon forgotten, as cars fade away, no longer driven on roads, broken down, left in sheds and barns, or left for scrap.
Many of these companies are fondly remembered, but many fade away quickly, along with all the models of cars that they produced over their years in operation. There are many hidden gems waiting to be discovered in the annals of the motoring history. Some from long ago, some surprisingly recent, already forgotten. Taking a trip down the lanes of nostalgia and memory is often a good thing, for here we find wisdom, stories, and lessons for our time. With that in mind, let's take a look at 25 forgotten cars from companies that have gone extinct.
25 Maybach 62 S Landaulet
We'll start things off with one of the more modern and recognizable car brands that has just recently gone extinct. The Maybach brand in essence was a branch of Mercedes that specialized in crafting super luxury sedans for the richest of clients, introduced as an alternative to the likes of Rolls Royce and similar super luxury.
Many have not heard of Maybach, or perhaps have only seen them in pictures. This is due to the small customer base that comes with such astronomical pricing. This Maybach 62 S Landaulet is designed for the owner to ride in back, not drive, and costs a staggering $1.35 million.
24 Oldsmobile 1954 F-88
Now let's take things back to a retro classic from Oldsmobile, who closed the doors to their factories not too long ago in 2004. Up to that point, according to autowise.com, this was the oldest surviving US car company ever.
Autowise tells us a little bit more about this very special car, too: "This 1954 Motorama Dream Car didn’t get past the concept phase, but despite GM’s policy of destroying their concepts, it actually survived. Harley J. Earl openly opposed this corporate rule and simply gave the F-88 away instead of sending it to a scrapyard." It was designed as a competitor to the Corvette. If only it had been allowed to go into production.
23 AMC AMX 400
The AMC AMX 400 is a highly unique and customized offering from AMC, the kind of car that has become, in many ways, a unique trinket of the past. The history of this car is strangely unique, owing its existence to George Barris.
He made customizing kits for AMC cars that were actually sold officially through AMC dealers, and this was one of them, a kit that shortened the roof and added those unique cross bars from the top of the roof all the way down to the bumper. The three light strips glowed green when accelerating, amber when coasting, and red when stopping.
22 Saab 2012 9-5
Over the course of its life as a company, Saab proved to be one of the greatest and most unique and original European car companies ever. Once acquired by GM, though, the heavy hand and rigidity of the motoring giant sent them in a downward spiral to shut down. The final car ever produced, though, proved to be a pretty decent ode to what Saab stood for.
Cheatsheet.com tells us a little about why: "the second-generation model debuted just weeks before The General unloaded the company, ultimately dooming it. But for two brief years, the handsome, quirky Saab was the best-looking car to come from the brand since Detroit began meddling in things in the early ’90s."
21 AMC CJ-8
The CJ-8 is one of the most legendary Jeeps ever made, a true classic beloved by any and all who love Jeeps, and the kind of car that set a bar that couldn't be and wasn't reached for many years.
The CJ-8 is also one of my personal favorite cars of all time, and one of the best creations to come from AMC. The Scrambler was a pickup truck, in technicality, yet it had the prowess and abilities of any Jeep out there. The timeless styling and off-road ability meant this Jeep would remain a classic well into our day, long after the demise of AMC.
20 Saab 96
The Saab 96 was what many say was the first Saab to make a significant footprint in the worldwide motoring community, one of their first big successes. It was an incredible little car, phenomenally good at rallying, and entirely unique, in a way that fascinated and delighted owners around the globe.
Cheatsheet.com tells us a little more about its quirks: "With its front-wheel drive layout (very uncommon for the era), two-stroke engine, and other curiosities like a radiator mounted behind the engine, free-wheeling clutch, and flat floor, the 96 developed a small but fervent cult following around the world."
19 AMC Eagle
The AMC Eagle is widely regarded and thought of as the first crossover, though at the time of its production it wasn't ever really thought of as that. What AMC did in creating this car was to have a rugged, dependable wagon that could be used by families across the country as a car with enough room for everyone.
It had the four wheel drive system of a Jeep, paired with the body of their car line, making it most assuredly a crossover, and the very first, though many other companies try to lay claim to the title. Indeed, this little car was way ahead of its time.
18 Oldsmobile 1958 Super 88 Fiesta Wagon
The 1958 Super 88 Fiesta Wagon is truly a gem from a golden era for Oldsmobile, a car that both has incredibly unique retro styling and quality to back it all up. It held underneath of its hood a thundering Rocket V8 engine, developing up to 312 horsepower.
Nowadays there are very few around still in good condition, as autowise.com explains: "Fiesta Wagon only stuck for two model years. That’s what makes it extremely rare and basically forgotten by now. Of 8,981 4-door hardtop wagons produced during ’57 and 5,175 of them made for ’58, precious few remain alive and serviceable today." A shame, really.
17 Pontiac Pursuit Concept
Taking a look at forgotten concept cars debuted by extinct companies in times past is a fascinating venture, as they remain perhaps even more forgotten than the cars that made it into production. This Pontiac Pursuit concept is a perfect example, fascinatingly similar to modern concepts.
Road and Track talks a little more about it: "What's especially interesting here is charting Pontiac's trajectory after this concept debuted. Pontiac's 1980s concepts, like the Pursuit, stand in sharp contrast with the cars it built in the 1990s, which weren't technology leaders by any stretch. Were Pontiac's most clever minds hampered by GM's corporate politics, or was the Pursuit simply too far ahead of its time?"
16 Saab 1984 99 Turbo
Perhaps one of the most authentically "Saab" Saabs out there, this is the Saab 99 Turbo, one of the best cars ever made by Saab, and one of the most incredible little cars made in the history of the motoring industry, combining absolute originality with completely palatable modernism.
The car had great success with the "introduction of the 1978 Turbo model, one of the first mass-market cars with a turbocharged engine," cheatsheet.com tells us. "The 2.0-liter made 145 horsepower, and cemented the 99’s status as one of the era’s greatest rally cars. Today, it’s considered a pioneer of affordable, practical, turbocharged performance vehicles."
15 Isuzu Gemini
Many might not really remember much about Isuzu, perhaps even taking a significant length of time to remember that it was even a brand at all. But, it was indeed a brand, and a fairly successful one at that, at least for a time. The Gemini came from the golden era of the company.
The downfall of Isuzu lies almost directly with GM's involvement. After GM sold its 49% share of the company, it wasn't long until Isuzu stopped selling in the US market completely. While the company is not entirely extinct, with operations continuing in Thailand, they are no longer present in the US market.
14 Mercury 1958 Turnpike Cruiser
This car is a virtual boat of luxury, equipped to the teeth with all kinds of high tech gadgets for the time, and it was massive, floating down the roads in outrageous style and size, couching all riding in it in comfort and class.
The car was a pretty special one, especially for the time, as autowise.com tells us: "Although features like air conditioning, memory seats and power windows often go unnoticed on modern cars, they were novelty back when Mercury Turnpike Cruiser debuted. And, of course, Turnpike Cruiser had them all. It was the first Ford model to feature so many high tech features at the time."
13 Mercury 1989 Merkur XR4Ti
This is one of the more fascinatingly unique cars featured in the lineup, and it's a great gem that's been kind of cast to the wayside by most who aren't huge car nuts. It slid under the radar, despite its fascinating history and decision making to be marketed and imported from Europe.
Autowise.com tells us a little bit more about this fascinating little gem: "Although Merkur XR4Ti was more than a capable performer, only 42,464 [US citizens] were convinced to buy one." Seems a bit of a shame, considering the "Merkur XR4Ti was actually hand-assembled in Rheine, Germany by Karmann."
12 Suzuki Kizashi
The Suzuki Kizashi is perhaps what some might consider as the last ditch effort on the part of the brand to become relevant and get some recognition in the US market. Many people have likely heard of the model, too, and it was a remarkably good sports sedan.
For many, it proved to be quite a surprise, given the reputation of Suzuki at the time. While it was a remarkably great little sports sedan, the fact is that it wasn't remarkable enough to save the company, despite, according to Car and Driver, the best Suzuki sedan yet.
11 AMC J-Series Truck
While AMC is not a company that only sold Jeeps, they did acquire the brand and turned it into something of an icon. They made some questionable choices that every die-hard Jeep fan will criticize, but it's easy to forget just what all AMC did for the brand.
They created icons, staples for the motoring industry that forwarded and redefined what an SUV was and could be, or, like this J-Serious truck, what a pickup truck could be. Compared with what Chrysler has done to Jeep, it's safe to say that AMC, while they had the company, did a much finer job.
10 Mercury 1990 Cougar XR-7 V6
This car from 1990 may not look like much more than a rather blandly styled iteration of the many soulless cars to come from this era, but it is so much more than that.
For mysterious reasons, this car never did well in sales. According to autowise.com, "Not only did MN12 Cougar XR-7 pack quite a lot of heat, but it was also heavily equipped. Standard were an electronically adjustable handling suspension, four wheel discs, Mazda-sourced 5-speed manual transmission, and sport seats with lumbar support."
9 Saturn CV1 Concept
To show just what Saturn was capable of, and to help inspire faith in the brand that started its life and premise around being an innovative and new company that could outshine any import, they debuted in 2001 the CV1 concept.
It was surprisingly innovative, too, with the party piece being the bifold doors that allowed simple, entirely unobstructed access to the two rows of back seats, a concept unheard of in any car that was currently produced. It was supposed to be one indication amongst many of an expanding portfolio of groundbreaking cars. Clearly, thanks to GM, this never happened.
8 Oldsmobile 1965 Jetstar I
The Oldsmobile Jetstar I was produced between 1964 and 1965, and it was a pretty spectacular hard bodied classic. Based off of the Starfire, this was more of an entry level vehicle that had a broad appeal and accessible practicality.
Autowise.com tells us a little bit more about the remarkable history of this classic Oldsmobile: "Jetstar I still received Starfire’s potent 394 cu in V8 mill, however. That gave it 345 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Enough to pit it against, at the time very successful Pontiac Grand Prix." Despite its success, sales didn't increase enough in its second model year to continue production.
7 1991 Saturn SC Coupe
Saturn was born from GM, with the aim of creating a car that was entirely different, and entirely unique. They wanted to offer a brand of car that could compete and outperform any import car out there.
That's just what they did, after a few delays debuting their lineup to the motoring world. The Saturn SC Coupe was one of the shining stars that led to Saturn succeeding at what it was they were attempting to do, to build a car that exceeded the quality of any import. Though this accomplishment lasted less than a decade before GM made poor decisions with the brand, rendering it uselessly redundant.
6 Pontiac 1977 LeMans Can Am
This car rushed in to replace the GTO, soon after Pontiac realized discontinuing it was a bit of a bad idea. Fortunately, this car delivered, bringing a lot to the table, enough to please the customers and boost sales.
According to autowise.com, the performance specs were pretty great, too: The "Can Am sported 400 cu in V8 engine with 4-barrel carb setup and healthy (at the time) 180 horsepower. It also added 325 lb-ft of torque to the mix. However, California and high altitude regions received slightly different setup. They were supplied with Oldsmobile 403 cu in 4-barrel V8 producing corresponding horsepower output and 5 lb-ft of torque less than Pontiac’s V8."
5 Pontiac Piranha Concept
Another forgotten concept car from an extinct car company is the Pontiac Piranha, a fascinating two door crossover type design, technically classified as a four door front wheel drive coupe, that was pretty groundbreaking for the time that it came out.
It was an extraordinarily unique car, too, according to Motor 1, it featured things like a fully customizable interior, lightweight removable seats that doubled as beach chairs, a removable rear cooler that when removed became a truck bed, a center CD console that was removable, becoming a CD carrying case, amongst many other innovative designs.
4 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera
While not entirely forgotten, this little model deserves a spot on this list due to the fact that you can still find them on the roads to this day, faithfully driving on, reliable and dependable. Oldsmobile made a great car with the Cutlass Ciera, produced from 1982-1996.
Over the course of its production, it received minor facelifts and changes, but don't fix what isn't broken, as the saying goes. The formula worked, it was a dependable, reliable, and practical car that the people loved. What more could you ask from this kind of car? The Ciera line remained as Oldsmobile's best selling even after discontinuation.
3 Suzuki Equator
Suzuki wasn't exactly known for producing pick up trucks in its time, though that's exactly what this unique little gem is: a pickup truck, and a good one at that. Based off of the Nissan Frontier, this shared almost everything with it, save the different badge.
The Suzuki was available on the market for a total of four years, but almost nobody bought one, which was strange considering it was equatable with the Frontier. Autotrader suggests, if you can't find a Frontier at a good price, try looking for an Equator instead.
2 Saab 1974 Sonett
The Sonett was an interesting decision on the part of Saab, one that lead to a complete stop in production, something pretty rare in the history of Saab. Cheatsheet.com explains a little bit more about the evolution of the Sonett:
"While most of Saab’s history is evolutionary, the Sonett is a fascinating dead end. Based on the 96, the Sonett was a fiberglass-bodied sports car that made a splash with buyers looking for some affordable fun... The Ford V4 replaced the 96’s old two-stroke engine in 1967, and in 1970, the odd, TVR-like design was ditched for a more modern, wedge-shaped look and renamed the Sonett III."
1 Saab 2003 9-3 Viggen
The downfall of Saab can almost directly be attributed to one thing: Being bought out by GM. The company struggled under the motoring giant, and the company began to flounder.
Cheatsheet.com tells us a little bit more about why: "After Saab was taken over by GM in 1990, the brand began to struggle under the rigid structure of its new parent company. A redesigned 900 gave way to the 9-3 in 1998. To die-hard Saab fans, the car was a travesty, sharing its architecture with Opel and Saturn models." What made Saab so special was its extraordinary uniqueness. Despite the heavy hand of GM, the Viggen proved to be a pretty spectacular driver's car.
Sources: Auto Wise, Cheat Sheet, Wheels Age & Mecum Auctions