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Fantasizing About The Departed Brands

hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
Since so many of the messages on Edmunds Classic Car boards are about brands and models that were once loved, but are no longer in existence, it might be fun to discuss which of these you wish had survived. How would they be positioned to compete in today's marketplace?

For example, I wish Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, Packard, Willys, Croseley, Pirerce-Arrow, Cord and Auburn were still in existence. Kaiser-Frazer, DeSoto, Plymouth, Pontiac, Olds, Edsel, Mercury and most defunct European brands, not so much.

I could envision Studebaker as a style leader, Hudson as the domestic BMW counterpart, Nash as an innovator in comfort and economy, Willys and Croseley as high-tech based urban car brands, and Packard as the American luxury car king.

Your thoughts?


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    I think the future would have belonged to the smaller cars. I mean, looking at how Lincoln is struggling, I couldn't see Packard doing very well today.

    I would have liked to see Crosley survive and especially the Corvair, which could have become the American Porsche.

    Willys does survive in a sense, in the current CJ series. Studebaker could have possibly survived as a "quirky" off-beat brand, like Saab or Subaru, but not as a style leader so much. GM would have slaughtered them. They could be more utilitarian, functional. Maybe they could have pioneered AWD in sedans and wagons.

    I think you have to envision these old marques in terms of what "niche" they could have occupied in modern times, and if there was any room in that niche.

    Hudson I could see as turning into a performance sedan, like the BMW 3-Series.

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  • fintailfintail Posts: 41,885
    Packard could have been an American MB if the evolution would have stayed on the path seen until about 1940. I see it occupying a very similar niche during the 20s and 30s.

    What about odd depression casualties like Cord, Duesie, Auburn, etc?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    not so sure about Packard being like Benz, because Packard was more typical of American "old tech". I don't think Packard would have been encouraged to progress technically any more than Cadillac failed to do. The Europeans and Japanese just blew right by the Americans in the 1970s and 80s, at least in the sexier parts of high-tech---like ohc, fuel injection, 5 speed manual trans and great brakes and handling. Domestic car sales were "good enough" to not encourage much innovation, at least until it became too painful to keep losing market share.

    Duesenberg is an interesting question because they WERE high tech---enormously pricey, though--made a Cadillac look like a Hyundai, at least in the MSRP. A full custom bodied Duesy would cost, in today's money, about 8X the annual income of a medical doctor---so figure in 2012 dollars, maybe 2 million bucks out the door.

    The Cord had a bad case of "GM disease"--they were, at least when first made, problem-ridden. I guess modern collectors have worked out a lot of the bugs.

    Both Cord and Auburn were front-drive specialty cars, and really, large powerful front-drive cars haven't ever done very well in the US.

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  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    edited February 2012
    The reality is that with the huge scale enjoyed by GM and Ford, and their propensity to use pricing to gain market share after WWII, all independents would have had real difficulty staying in business. Heck, even Chrysler had to be bailed out in the late '70s. I think, though, that the brands that would have had the best fighting chance would have been the ones at the extremes of the price spectrum. Those would have been Packard in the luxury segment, and Crosley and Willys in the compact/subcompact segments.

    Let's take Packard first. There's always a market for an outstanding luxury brand. Packard could have been that brand, in what we now call near-luxury, up through premium luxury (above the priciest Cadillacs and Lincolns, and the niche now occupied by the S-Class, 7-Series and A8). Let's remember that American cars enjoyed a world wide reputation for quality in the '20s, '30s and '40s, and Packard could have capitalized on that. As fintail said, Packard could have been the American MB. With some vision, it could have gained some scale by exporting. Not too many people outside North America could have afforded a Packard after WWII, but there are always some rich people, even in poor and war-torn countries, who can afford the very best.

    The low end of the market would have been difficult, largely because Americans assigned a lot of value to size, but maybe, with the right marketing, a well engineered, nicely styled and fun-to-drive American small car could have found a viable niche. Willys had the advantage if the Jeep brand, which gave it some scale. Jeep also enjoyed a reputation for ruggedness and a certain panache, which could have been transferred to compact passenger car models. As for Crosley, it would have had to team up with a European manufacturer (say Fiat or one of the French or British small car companies) to give it scale. The Beetle's success in the U.S. proved that there was a market for economy cars.

    It would have been very difficult for Studebaker, Hudson and Nash to survive, but maybe one or more of them could have found a niche, by focusing like a laser on their strongest attributes. Studebaker could have stressed styling, space efficiency and fuel economy. Hudson could have leveraged its balanced performance image. Nash, comfort, Pinin Farina inspired styling and fuel economy (with the help of Rambler and Metropolitan). Each of these brands would have had to have suburb marketing, along with good-excellent product, to succeed. But, hey, BMW and Volvo proved it could be done.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 41,885
    Packard had a lot of engineering in the earlier days, right? They just kind of derailed, especially after the end of the depression. But maybe had they survived on the earlier path, they could have had some technology too. All of this is a game of "coulda shoulda woulda".

    A Duesy sports bodied car might be the Veyron of it's day - well, I guess that's kind of a Bugatti, but more in name alone than in real heritage. Highest non race style cars today are higher end Rolls at 400-500K and Maybachs that nobody bought.
  • fintailfintail Posts: 41,885
    It's also interesting that the American highlines - Caddy and Packard especially - were exported in significant numbers before and just after the war. The big Germans weren't really known as luxury makes before that. Sadly, everyone got lazy or just couldn't afford to keep going.

    For the small cars, image is everything - they have to appear relevant and "with it" even if they aren't - the Japanese firms used that as much as they did with mechanical reliability, IMO.
  • uplanderguyuplanderguy Kent, OHPosts: 9,652
    edited February 2012
    Studebaker had good success in exporting right up until they shut down. CKD (completely knocked down) units were sent to other countries for assembly by local companies. There is always a large contingent of Australian and New Zealand buffs at the club's national meets, as Studes were used as police cars into the '60's there.

    I guess it's all a function of your age. Of all the independents, Studebaker lasted longer than most (with the exception of AMC). Near the end, they were still producing trucks of all sizes, gas or diesel, and their three lines of cars looked nothing alike even if they were alike underneath. Packard, I could enjoy a '56 Four Hundred, but even though I was born in '58 and our town had a dealer that sold Packards those last few years, I had no idea what a '55 or '56 Packard even was until many years later--into the mid-'70's. I did know what a '48-50 was though, much earlier. Hudsons--cool for being different than the rest, good race history, but not much variety in the later years (I guess there was the Jet, which to me looked like a shrunken '52 Ford). Willys--I like Jeep station wagons of the late '50's and early '60's. Kaiser-Frazer? Not much interest here.

    AMC? Other than a late '60's Ambassador hardtop, first-gen AMX, or '74 Matador coupe, I just thought most looked so darn cheap on the inside. I do think the '63 Ramblers were pretty good-looking. The Pacer was innovative in its own way and I can clearly remember the first new one I saw, prior to introduction day. I was shocked!

    I do miss the independents for the reduced domestic choices we have because of their departure.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    How would you envision the once revered American marques Pierce-Arrow, Cord and Auburn today, if they had survived? I could see Cord as the American Audi, with trend setting exterior and interior styling, and FWD/AWD. However, now that we've got Packard and Hudson back in business on this discussion, as the American MB (or Lexus) and BMW, respectively, I find it difficult to position Pierce-Arrow and Auburn. Any thoughts?
  • lemkolemko Philadelphia, PAPosts: 15,294
    I don't know about Auburn or Pierce-Arrow, but I'd picture a Duesenberg as some kind of exotic now.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    edited February 2012
    I thought about Deusenberg, but I don't think it had a direct counterpart. It was a step above Packard and Cadillac, and not really similar to Rolls Royce or Isotta Fraschini. Bottom line is I don't know how to characterize it because it seemed to be in a class unto itself. Come to think of it, the Isotta Fraschini was probably the Deusy's closest counterpart.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    The Duesenberg would be equivalent today to the Bugatti Veyron or the McLaren F1. It was a supercar in every respect, so you're right, it's way above a Cadillac or Packard or even the fancy coach-built Rolls Royce cars. Maybe a pre-Rolls Blower Bentley would keep up with one, but the Blower Bentleys were crude pieces of work next to a Duesenberg.

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