MARCH 22, 2015: WHERE HAVE ALL THE OLD CAR BRANDS GONE? LONG TIME PASSING

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We have left a lot of bodies strewn along the road to the new automotive age.

 

The automotive industry is now a global enterprise, with major manufacturers pushing out millions of vehicles from all corners of the world.

 

The body count has been particularly high in North America where the Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) have left behind many famous names in a new age of brand compression.

 

 

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The old guard are gone but most certainly not forgotten by old school car guys who remember when the departed brands were familiar and popular car names on the road. In fact many of them have kept the old rides alive and bring them to car shows.

 

General Motors has always been the big dog on the North American production number porch and had many famous monikers on their cars, including Pontiac.

 

The first Poncho hit the streets in 1926 and the last Pontiac headed into the sunset in 2010.

 

In between Pontiac’s rise and fall was a legendary stable of Ponchos that set the automotive world on fire.

 

Names like Bonneville, GTO and Trans Am will always put the Pontiac name in lofty circles when it comes to important automotive brands.

 

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A GM stable mate of Pontiac was Oldsmobile, another legendary name from Detroit’s past. Oldsmobile was a pioneer name in horseless carriages when it made its appearance in 1897 and ran as an independent until it was brought into the GM family in 1908.

 

The Olds name was associated with a more affluent owner, not quite Buick, not quite Cadillac, but comparable to a high end Chevy cousin in the eyes of consumers.

 

An Olds was more luxury than muscle, but the Olds 442 was a high octane departure for this brand in the 60s.

 

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The Olds Cutlass was a strong combination of style and luxury during its 1961-99 run, while the 1966 Olds Toronado broke the mold with its front wheel drive.

 

Oldsmobile headed to the big dealership in the sky in 2004 when an Olds Alero left the factory and the door closed on this famous GM brand.

 

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Ford was home for the famed Mercury brand from 1938 until it was phased out by the Blue Oval boys in 2011. Mercury was Ford’s answer to GM’s Buick and Chrysler’s high end Dodges like the Custom Royal in the 50s.

 

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Mercury was always considered to be a luxury car, although they did venture into the muscle car wars in the late 60s and early 70s.

 

Sometimes the luxury label is hard to shake and may explain why a Cougar never achieved the same level of acceptance as its Mustang cousin in muscle car circles.

 

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Chrysler’s most famous dead brand is its Plymouth model, born in 1928 and dead in 2001.

 

Plymouth was always considered a middle of the road family car until the latter part of the 50s when the Fury hit the streets with some serious horses under the hood.

 

The Plymouth legend grew in the 60s when King Richard Petty unleashed the 426 Elephant Hemi on the NASCAR race circuit.

 

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Street versions of the Hemi-powered Plymouths were available to anybody with a pulse, driver’s license and a good credit rating in the late 60s.

 

Some of the less talented Plymouth owners learned painful lessons about Hemi power and its profound effect on bad drivers.

 

These iconic Plymouths had names like GTX, Roadrunner, Fury and Super Bird, while their smaller Barracuda sibling got plenty of horsepower from the 340 and 383 in the late 60s. A ’70 Plymouth ‘Cuda was promoted to Hemi status and a family rating for Plymouth was in serious jeopardy.

 

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However, Plymouth eventually returned to its family car roots and offered practical solutions for budget-minded buyers until the last Plymouth model, the ultra-practical Neon left the factory with a four cylinder whimper rather than a big block bang.

 

Those of us remember when all of these cars were a familiar part of the daily drive.

 

Now we mourn their ultimate exit, but we celebrate their existence whenever we attend a car show and see them in all of their former glory.

Jim Sutherland

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