Auto Makers: US Little Known (Part 4D)

You probably think after writing a post on the big three automakers and three new, start-ups making Electric Vehicles we’d be ready to close out the series with some phased out/defunct car makers, but we have one more post on companies that still make cars–these are the ones you might not of heard of or maybe thought were out of business entirely but they’re not.

DeLorean Motor Company

Vital Stats: 1995-Present, Headquartered in Humble, TX. Founded by Stephen Wynne.

Wait, what? DeLorean still exists? And it started in 1995? What!?! Okay, here’s the story.

As you likely know, if you’ve been around the automotive world for awhile, or if you lived through the 1980’s in the US, DeLorean Motors was started by a man named John DeLorean, an American automobile executive. The company was founded in Detroit, MI, late in 1975. The stainless steal sports car (named after the company owner) featured gull wings and an iconic look, and became the one and only car model for the company.

John DeLorean was already known as an innovator for his work at GM, and raising funds in part through Hollywood connections helped add to the car’s automatic celebrity. The owner ran short on funds and DEA undercover agents offered offered him a quick fix if he’d bankroll a giant drug buy. DeLorean sought to offset the costs of building a factory by government incentives in exchange for locating the factory in a zone of high unemployment.

The UK Government leapt at the chance to build a car factory in Northern Ireland, to the tune of $120 million pounds. They’d easily make their money back on export taxes, a fact they didn’t tell John DeLorean. Upon finding out he’d make $20,000 dollars less per car just to sell it in the US Johnfound himself in a bind. Unfavorable exchange rates didn’t help, nor did the early models terrible reputation for breaking down all the time.

Ultimately, DeLorean was acquitted of drug charges due to entrapment. But the damage to his reputation and by proxy, the highly recognizable car names after him, was too much to overcome. The car went into receivership and bankruptcy in 1982.

In 1985, America was reminded of the iconic car when Universal Studios made a time machine out of it for their blockbuster movie, “Back to the Future.” The car was modified and used twice more in the sequels (1989 & 1990).

Beyond the reliability issues, DeLorean faced a innate problems. The stainless steel body made them all look alike. It was shaped lie a sports car, but didn’t have the speed you’d expect from one (it was a manual transmission), and it cost $25,000 ($70,000 in todays money.) DeLorean seems to have overcome its mechanical issues and found a place in the hearts of Americans which is likely why Stephen Wynne, a mechanic from Liverpool, decided to buy up all the remaining stock, parts and the rights to the name and logo.

Wynne began marketing hats and tee shirts with the logo, and was soon able to distribute parts to existing DeLorean owners. By 2007 you could homebrew your own DeLorean for about $57,000 US by mixing new and factory leftover parts. So the new DeLorean began selling factory “refurbished” models.

When the enterprise became successful, DeLorean’s widow, Sally Baldwin, sued. They originally settle out of court for an undisclosed amount. Her second lawsuit didn’t go anywhere. What made her sue? The new DMC decided to create a brand new model that was all electric. Believe it or not, government red tape has slowed the creation of a DeLorean EV, but the EV climate has massively improved so don’t be too surprised.

Hennessey

Vital Stats: 1991-Present, Headquartered in Sealy, Texas. Founded by John Hennessey…no relation to the cognac.

We’ve included car tuners before when covering UK automakers. So, before we leave the great state of Texas we thought we’d take a look at Hennessey. As a tuning house Hennessey mainly works on sports cars including  FerrariPorscheMcLarenChevroletDodgeCadillacLotusJeepFordGMCLincoln and Lexus. However, they’ve been known to also sup-up pickups and SUV’s, luxury cars and muscle cars…so everything really.

Venom GT by Hennessey, based on a Lotus Exige.

Hennessey is also famous for running a Tuner School where they train mechanics to do what they do. But if you click the tab in the middle you’ll see some of their specialty cars–the venom line. What makes us consider the Venom line it’s own car model as opposed to just a juiced up car is that they use different base cars for different models.

At the Kicker, we’re partial to the Venom GT, built from a Lotus Exige. twin-turbocharged V8 engine that is rated at 1,244 hp in a car that weighs 1244 lbs creates a worlds fastest car three times over. It’s also quite pretty. The original Venom GT came about in 2010, but a 2012 roadster version name the Venom GT Spider was built at the request of Stephen Tyler. Only 6 were made. If we were celebrities we ight steer clear of cars named spider, but Stephan Tyler can make his own decisions.

Commuter Cars

39″ Wide

Vital Stats: 1998-Present, Headquartered in Spokane, WA.

Commuter Cars makes an ultra-narrow electric sports car, the Tango, designed and built by them in their facilities in Spokane, Washington. Well, one of their cars was made in England during an attempt to get manufacturing going, so they’ve only really made a few prototypes, about 20. But they sold them so they are a car maker.

The very 1st Tango was sold to actor George Cluny in August 9th, 2005. The range of the Tango is under 100 miles and it was initially designed to seat only the driver. Car and Driver gave the company a 1.1 out of 10 on survivability. So why are we featuring it. Well this little company did some innovative things. They had some good ideas and are victims of a couple bad bumps of circumstances.

Rick Woodbury and his son Bryan Woodbury founded the company, financed in part by the sale of Ricks yacht. The goal was to produce a vehicle purely for city commuting, with tight, expensive parking. The also banked on continued increased cost of fuel and that the hydrogen fuel cell would be developed by the time they went into production.

Gas prices have climbed, but electricity is also expected to climb in price. The Fuel cell seems to be harder to create than originally estimated and the decision to go ahead an make a standard battery EV meant they entered competition with many other (better funded) startups. Competition is made worse by traditional automakers deciding to also produce EV’s in response to warning signs from the government.

What did they do well? This car is tiny. You can see the specs below, but put it this way–you can split lanes like a motorcycle and park more than one in a standard parking spot. You can also charge it from a standard dryer plug in about an hour. They also put more than one engine in, which is an obvious miss on the parts of almost every major EV maker in the market right now.

Commuter car made sure the heavy batteries are low giving the car stability even at 39 inches wide.

Finally, they got smart and manufactured a separate generator cart that can be drug behind to extend the range. If this seems comical, well it is, but it’s also practical. It allows the owner who lives less than 50 miles from work to drive it normally all week, and still be able to use it to get out of town on the weekend.

Gen Cart (not specifically for a Tango)

Now if the pandemic hadn’t made it so we all work from home…

  • Width: 39 in (990 mm)
  • Length: 101 in (2,600 mm)
  • Weight: 3,000 lb (1,400 kg) (claimed)
  • Batteries: 12 V * 19 Hawker Odysseys or 25 Exide Orbital XCDs or Optima Yellow Tops. Lithium-ion battery options available
  • Nominal voltage: 228 V with 19 Hawkers, 300 V with 25 batteries, 250 V with lithium-ion batteries.
  • Charging: 50 A Manzanita Micro on-board charger with Avcon conductive coupling. 200 A off-board charger under development.
  • Motors: 2 Advanced DC Motors DC FB1-4001 9″,[13] one driving each rear wheel with claimed 1,000 lb⋅ft of combined torque at low rpms. 8,000 rpm redline. or 4 motors, one for each wheel, lithium batteries.

Performance (claimed)

  • 0 to 60 mph (0 to 97 km/h): 3.2 seconds
  • 14 mi (0.40 km): 12.25 seconds @ 106 mph (171 km/h)
  • Top speed: 150 mph (240 km/h)
  • Range: 40–60 miles (96–128 km) with lead-acid batteries. 150 mi (240 km) with lithium-ion batteries.
  • 805 hp claimed.

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