Brands that Failed: Luxury and Supercar Edition
For enthusiasts like us, cars were never meant to be “basic transportation,” we know that a car needs to be something more. Whether it’s a luxury car, race car, supercar or something with which to play in the mud with, we're looking for much more than just something to get us from point-a-to-point-b.
Some have gone on to build their version of a dream car more successfully than others. While our first "Brands that Failed" article looked at some of the more unique and notorious failed car brands, in this one we'll revisit luxury and supercar manufacturers who have departed to the history books - some more gracefully than others.
Certainly the most popular, and arguably most successful, manufacturer on this list is the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company. Operating continuously from 1913 to 1937 (albeit with a significant change of ownership), Duesenberg built some of America’s most elegant luxury cars of its era, or any other, for that matter. It almost seems a shame to include the great Dusenberg on this list, but it did come to an untimely demise. If life were fair, the American company founded by August and Frederick Duesenberg would still be running today, competing with Mercedes, Cadillac, Lamborghini and Bugatti for the affections of the super-rich. But the luxury brand that managed to survive most of, couldn’t hang on through the entire Great Depression - of course this wasn't helped by the untimely death of Fred Duesenberg in 1932. Catering exclusively to the one-percenters of its day, the company hand-built each of its vehicles: Model A (1921–1927), Model X (1926–1927) and Model J (1928–1937). The Duesenberg brothers were brilliant engineers, but atrocious businessmen. For all the fame that their beautiful cars and success at racing brought them, they couldn’t keep the company soluble. So, in 1926, E.L. Cord bought the company and the brand name in order to produce luxury cars to sell alongside his Cord and Auburn brands. He challenged Fred Duesenberg to design an automobile that would be the best in the world. Cord wanted the biggest, fastest, and most expensive car ever made to compete with the most luxurious European cars of the era. This new way of thinking led to the brand’s most popular model, the Model J, which was produced for a decade before the company folded. In all its years, the Duesenberg Company never made a production car with anything but a V8. There was one prototype of a V12 made in 1935 and it will be featured in a Driving Line article this summer! Less than 1,200 Doozies were ever made. The fortunate few that owned them knew what true 1930s luxury cars were all about!
The E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company is one of America’s oldest brands, having been around for 212 years. They make automotive paint and a whole lot of other awesomely cool products. Let’s thank them for air conditioning, as they created Freon® R-12 in 1934 and ironically Suva® R-134a two years earlier. They do a lot for cars. They even sponsor Jeff Gordon’s NASCAR racer. But did you know that there was once a duPont Motor company? E. Paul duPont began to produce marine engines for the Allied forces in the First World War. After the war, the duPont Motor Company produced exquisite automobiles from their factory in Wilmington, Delaware (which is the center of the massive duPont universe). Thanks to the backing of his family’s incredibly successful businesses, E. Paul was afforded the luxury of hiring the finest quality engineering and management talent. The company's first product, the Model A, was introduced at the 1919 International Salon at the Commodore Hotel in New York City (an event for the wealthy by invitation only, along with the finest manufacturers and coach builders). The Model G was introduced in 1928 with a 5.3 liter side-valve straight eight engine of 125 hp (93 kW). Between 1919 and 1931, duPont produced only 600 or so automobiles, most of which no longer exist. They were compared to such luxury cars as Packard, Cadillac and even Duesenberg, and were known for their quality and style. In 1932, du Pont went bankrupt as a car company and merged and E. Paul du Pont purchased the Indian Company.
1985 Mosler Consulier GTP
“About as ugly as a car can get.” - Car and Driver Car and Driver never was very kind to Warren Mosler. They even took him up on a $25,000 racing bet that he welched on (but for good reason, as you will see shortly). Mosler is a very successful financier and a gearhead. Unlike most of us gearheads, Mosler has the kind of money that affords you the chance to make your own dream car - so in the early 1980s, he did just that. His biggest mistake he made is that he tried to produce it for others, but anyone else who looked at it had nightmares. Even for the 1980s, where pretty-much everything was tacky, this car was hideous! But, to Mosler's beneift, it was fast. It was very fast. Mosler has always been a stickler for making cars lighter and faster. He just didn’t seem to understand ugly. The Consulier GT used a monocoque fiberglass body and weighed in at a mere 2,200 pounds. It was still ugly; there was no escaping that fact. Yes, “ugly” is normally an opinion, but in the case of the Consulier GT, it is an actual fact. Go ahead, look at the pictures and dispute it. Exactly. Because it was so ugly, Mosler’s marketing focused on the wretch’s speed and he offered a $25,000 bounty to anyone who could take any production car and beat a Consulier GT on any track in America. Car and Driver took him up on his offer using a production Corvette as the competition. The problem was that C&D’s victory was tainted. The Consulier that they used was being used at a driving school and therefore had bad brakes. It also had a significant electrical draw, which was another aid in the Corvette’s victory. Mosler never paid because C&D chose not to wait for him to ship a unit that didn’t have such a disadvantage. Somehow, The Consulier did manage to sell approximately 100 units.
As an encore, Mosler makes this list twice. As a typical gearhead, he never stopped dreaming of building a better, faster, newer and significantly better looking supercar (nor should he) and in 2001, brought forth a new car, the MT900. It wasn’t nearly as ugly as the Consulier and was much faster, too. A quarter century of technological advancements will do that for you. The good news: The MT900 is actually an attractive car. The bad news: In a dozen years on the market, it sold less than 50 units and the company went under (again) last year.
Vector Motors Corporation
Vector was founded in 1971 by Gerald Weigert. Weigert, like so many others on Brands that Failed, was a dreamer. He had many early designs (all using powerplants to be sourced from other high-end manufacturers) but never produced a single vehicle until 1978 (the Vector W1). The Vector was featured on the cover of Motor Trend magazine in 1972. That car’s production ran a few years and in 1978, Weigert released the W2, a vast improvement on the already gorgeous and speedy W1. Motor Trend dedicated more pages to it, as did many other automotive magazines, as well as an upstart British TV show called Top Gear. Something that you don’t hear often about supercars (especially those made in the 1970s) is that the W2 is capable of clocking over 100,000 miles A few years later, the company went under, but not before producing some truly exciting cars; the last of which, was their marquee car, the W8. Nearly all of Weigert’s car models began with a W. We won’t insult your intelligence by explaining why. The Vector cars never lacked horsepower or beauty. Their biggest issue was price. Then when tennis player Andre Agassi’s W8 broke down and was bought back by Vector, the company was unable to weather the storm of bad publicity and eventually shuttered their doors after a total of only 17 of the hand-built cars were sold. We could go on...but we'll stop here for now. But as an added bonus, we couldn't resist just one more intended for the rich and famous.
1934 Arrowplane /1957 Aerobile
This ain’t no luxury car or supercar, but Waldo Waterman deserves a special spot in history, as well as on the pages of Driving Line for his endeavor. And since we have no plans on doing a “Brands that Failed, Look, Up in the Sky” edition, we’re going to recognize this “ahem” right here. Besides, Waterman was the first person to ever receive a license from the FAA to fly a car and that has to make someone special! Waterman spent more than a quarter century perfecting this scary beast, so we have to recognize him as a true gearhead (and probable madman). Of course, pretty-much anything that is part-Studebaker, part-Ford, part-Willys and part-Austin is highly unlikely to fly in the figurative sense (see: American Motors Corp. for reference), but Waterman got this puppy to quite literally fly. He built a total of six vehicles between 1934 and 1957 to get to the point where he could declare his creation complete. It’s probably best that this plane, which could be driven on the highways when the wings were folded back, never became popular and the prototype flies high in the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum, right where it belongs.