AutoMatters: Orphan Cars & ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’


By Jan Wagner

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.

Then there is the “Back to the Future” car: a 1981 DeLorean DMC-12. This attractive sports car only saw production for two years before the company went bankrupt in 1982.

“Orphan Cars: Gone But Not Forgotten” is scheduled to be at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park through Sept. 26



The latest installment of the Transformers movie franchise takes itself seriously for a change – and that’s a good thing. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has all the elements of a good action-adventure, sci-fi movie: stellar special effects; an intricately woven, fresh new story with major plot twists (recall the story of the Trojan horse); compelling acting; and, to top it all off, good value for money spent. At over 2 ½ hours, this is a very long movie.

Earth is once again a battlefield as Optimus Prime and some badly outnumbered Autobots enlist the help of some unlikely allies as they square off against some truly menacing robotic foes who are, incredibly, aided by agents of our own government! Exciting Red Bull rallycross action is added into the mix, as are some high-end, exotic sports cars that include a Bugatti Veyron. Kids will be clamoring for Transformers merchandise.

There is so much going on in this movie that I could easily see enjoying it a second time. Needless to say, I recommend it.

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Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner –




1956 Studebaker Commander– Orphan Cars at the San Diego Automotive Museum © 2014 Paramount Pictures