Recently I visited the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park to see their latest exhibit, which is called “Orphan Cars: Gone But Not Forgotten.” Before I left they gave me a fascinating Press document that chronicled the rich and somewhat sad history of orphan cars. I’ll share some of that with you now.
They define an orphan car as “any marque or brand of vehicle produced by a company that has discontinued business entirely.” The list of such companies includes such famous and long-gone manufacturers as Packard, Cord, Auburn, Pierce-Arrow and Hudson, but there are many others. They say that over 2,000 automotive companies worldwide have gone out of business in the past 120 years, many of which failed between 1900 and 1920. Have you ever heard of these car companies: Brew-Hatcher (1904-1905), Brogan (1946-1952), Bryan (1918-1923), Buckmobile (1903-1905) or Burg (1910-1913)? Until now I had not. You might be more familiar with Studebaker, Nash and Tucker.
Studebaker began making covered wagons in the 1850’s, experimented with electric vehicles in 1902 and made internal combustion-engined cars starting in 1904. They closed their doors in 1966.
Nash arrived on the automotive scene more recently, in 1916, making cars and trucks that were ahead of their time. Perhaps that is why they are no longer around.
And then there was the Tucker ‘48, another car that was ahead of its time. Unfortunately that alone was not enough. Making cars is very expensive and Tucker started out from scratch. To raise the money to build the car, Preston Tucker got quite creative with his financing, which led to him and six of his executives getting indicted on 15 counts of mail fraud, five counts of SEC violations and one count of conspiracy to defraud. A trial began in October of 1949 and the factory closed after only 37 cars had been built. The jury trial ended with a not guilty verdict in January of 1950, but that was too late to save the company. That did, however, lead to the making of an entertaining feature film about the Tucker many years later.
Other orphan car companies include Kaiser, Duesenberg, DeLorean, Rambler, Overland and Aptera, which began right here in San Diego County in 2005. Despite having as many as 5,000 deposits on its innovative, extremely light-weight and efficient, composite three-wheeled car, the company was bankrupt by December of 2011 – due to an unfortunate combination of our major financial crisis, production issues and a delay in getting qualified for a badly needed government program.
Orphan cars in the exhibit include a stunning 1933 Pierce-Arrow. This Great Depression-era luxury car for the rich and famous cost the then-astronomical sum of $10,000.
Near the other end of the price spectrum, but noteworthy nevertheless, is the 1961 Nash Metropolitan. I remember that back in the day these cars seemed tiny when compared to most other cars on the road, at a time when bigger was considered better. Yet now, when compared to many of today’s small cars, even the Nash Metropolitan seems quite large.