Auto Makers: Italy (Part 5A)

When you think about car makers the US, UK, Germany, Italy, & Japan are the big names that come to mind. Of course the actual manufacturing is done all over the world no matter what parent company name goes on the final product or where it is ultimately sold.

It’s also true that a ton of cars are made by manufacturers other than the big 5 listed above. Many are even sold in large markets like the US but some of them are not sold outside their own borders. This series starts with the big auto countries but it won’t stop until we’ve covered every country that makes a car for sale to the public.

This summer we did a 6 part series on US Auto Makers starting with July 4th. Now that we’ve finished that and fall is upon us, let’s dive into a country that doesn’t export as many cars by volume but makes up for it by what they charge per car. Italy is known for it’s luxury sports cars and super cars, so this should be a fun one.

Pagani

Horacio Pagani founded and is still at the helm of this Pagani in San Cesario sul PanaroMO, Italy, in 1992, only 30 years ago. So why start this post with such a young car maker? Because as of the writing of this post, it’s one of only two Italian car manufacturer that’s not currently part of a giant, car-making conglomeration.

Pagani left Lamborghini Composites division on good terms in 1988 to form his own, Pagani Composites Research. The new company continued to work with Lamborghini on the four editions including the Diablo. By 1991 Pagani established Modena Design to handle his design and prototyping services and went to work on creating his own car, which he intended to name after his friend and dominant F1 Racer, Juan Manuel Fangio.

In 1994, Mercedes-Benz agreed to supply V12 engines and the Zonda C12 began rolling off the line for a couple million dollars a piece. Out of respect the car was renamed when Fangio died in a racing disaster.

In 2005 Pagani announced their decision to increase production and enter the American market.

2014 Pagani Zonda Revolución 

Noteworthy: On 30 June 2010, the Pagani Zonda R completing the Nürburgring in 6:47, a new record for production-based cars (beating the Ferrari 599XX).

Pagani’s first model, the Zonda, featured a unique circular, four pipe exhaust system. It is powered by a mid-mounted Merc DOHC V12. Pagani made 3 varieties of the Zonda (including a roadster and racecar conversion), and three more varieties of Zonda F, the Zonda cinque and the Zonda Tricolore, before peaking with the Zonda HP Barchetta of which there were only 3 ever made. Two of the Barchetta’s were sold for $15 million a piece and one remains in Pagani’s personal collection.

Three things all the Zonda’s have in common: they max out around 215 MPH, they go 0-60 in less than 3.5 seconds, and they all look hot.

In 2011 Pagani released a second model the Huarya (named after an Incan god). Meant to be a successor to the Zonda, Pagani seems to have continued to make their Zonda for several years. The Huayra had a a Merc 6.0-litre twin-turbo M158 V12 engine, and a carbotanium body. (Carbotanium is a carbon fibre / titanium composit.) It’s acceleration remained the same but its top speed grew by 20MPH.

Huarya BC

After making only 100 of the base models, that retailed for 1,000,000 pounds each, they released the Huayra BC, a track focused named for Benny Caiola. Caiola was a car collector and friend of Pagani’s who bought the first Zonda. The Huayra BC has more torque and weighs over 1,000lbs less than the stock version. It’s tires contain12 different rubber compounds, the suspension and wishbones are made of Avional (aeronautical grade aluminum) and a Xtrac 7-speed sequential manual transmission plus an electro-hydraulic actuation system.

In 2017 Pagani made a roadster version with gull wing doors. What really sets it apart from the coupe version is the body composition, a material developed by Pagani that he calls ‘carbon triax.’ It’s allowed the car to be 40% lighter than the coupe. Pagani claims it accelerates so fast a driver experiences 1.8 G.

Pagani also created what are called Bespoke Editions, which are often commissioned by buyers, with other colors or upgrades. Pagani made 15 of them between 2004 and 2018 based on the Zhonda model and 10 on the Huayra.

Ferrari

Farrari is the other independent Italian car maker, but with a longer and very different type of origin story. One thing Ferrari and Pagani have in common is that they had no intention of making a production car. Officially founded by Enzo Ferrari in 1939 and headquartered in Maranello, Italy, but the story goes back further than that.

Born in 1898 Enzo rose to the top of Alfa Romeo’s racing division, which he named formed Scuderia Ferrari in 1929. Scuderia basically means stable and refers to a team. In 1939 Alfa spun Ferrari off and by 1940 they’ produced their own racecar based on a Fiat platform.

The Ferrari factory was bombed in WWII and rebuilt to include a production line of cars. The first Ferrari badged car came out in 1947. In 1969, Fiat took a 50% stake in Ferrari and the infusion of cash was put to good use expanding the factory. Fiat’s stake rose over time to 90% by 1988 the year of Enzo’s death.

As Fiat was acquired by Chrysler, Ferrari became a part of a major conglomerate, but the decision was made in 2015 to restructure Ferrari back to its own independent brand, by offering their stock to the market. The process was complete by January 3rd, 2016.

Ferrari did have enormous success in F1 racing gaining 16 constructors’ championships (the most of anyone) and having produced 15 drivers’ championship wins–again the highest number.

Testarossa

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ferrari allowed clients to personalize their vehicles straight from the factory. This philosophy added to the brand’s mystique. They went through a period of  Carrozzeria Scaglietti programme where customizations were standardized a bit, but the returned to their roots of building every Ferrari to an individual customer’s specification.

Ferrari’s production cars were also consistently successful. They made several popular models for the luxury sports car market, most noteworthy being the Enzo. F-60, or Enzo, came out in 2002. The company made 400 units (sold 399 and donated one to the Vatican.)  

Ferrari has produced 16 concept and special project cars beginning in 2008 and in the early 1980’s they went into supercars. There most iconic and perhaps most popular production car was the  Testarossa which went into production in 1984.

Lamborghini

It seems fitting to cover Lamborghini next, given it’s connection to Pagani. Lambo is currently part of VW group (there is probably an Axis joke in there but we’re too classy to make it.)

Ferruccio Lamborghini, an Italian manufacturing magnate, founded Automobili Ferruccio Lamborghini S.p.A. in 1963 to compete with Ferrari, having previously founded Lamborghini Trattori, in 1948 to make tractors.

The line of 12 cylinder, a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, luxury sports cars, sold well for about ten years, but the financial collapse and high gas prices of the early 70’s took there toll and in 1973 Lamborghini spun off their tractor division which still makes tractors today. The car division went bankrupt, was bought by Chrysler, sold to an Indonesian investment group or two, who ultimately flipped it to Volkswagen Group, who placed it under their Audi Division.

In 2021, the CEO of Lamborghini said that by 2024 all its models will be hybrid.

Lamborghini also makes Marine Engine, Motorcycles, a luxury SUV (the Urus) and racecars, but lets skip down to their iconic, and frankly sexy, luxury sports cars.

The company currently makes two models, the Aventador and the Huracán. The Aventador is a V12-powered sports car available in UltimateSVJ coupés, and roadster version. Lamborghini will phase out making this car by the end of 2022 so they can concentrate on their SUV…which may well be an attempt at suicide.

Murcielago R-GT 

The Huracan, is V10-powered and comes in  all-wheel-drive LP 610-4 coupé and Spyder, or low cost rear-wheel-drive LP 580-2 coupé and Spyder, or the track oriented versions of both.

Lamborghini is heavily involved in racing both GT3 and F1.

Also Lamborghini has created a number of Concept Cars, including Bertone’s 1967 Marzal, 1974 Bravo, and 1980 Athon, Chrysler’s 1987 Portofino, the Italdesign-styled Cala from 1995, the Zagato-built Raptor from 1996, but their very first was the 350GTV in 1963.

Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 Spyder

Bullfighting is a key part of Lamborghini’s identity, beginning with Ferruccio visiting a Spanish fighting bull breeder in 1962 about a year before he founded his company with it’s raging bull emblem. The nomenclature of bullfighting is most seen in their naming conventions.

Lambo did name a couple cars alphanumerically, but grabbed three in a row from bullfighting:  Islero after a bull killed in the ring, Espada (and Estoc) are Spanish for the sword used to end a bull, and Jarama which is a region of Spain, famous for bull fighting (and car racing).

The Countach (/ˈkuːntɑːʃ/) is perhaps the most iconic of all Lambo’s and while it ironically doesn’t tie directly to bull fighting, it does come from a Piedmontese expletive roughly translating to “Holy Cow.”

Jalpa was named for a bull breed, and Diablo which means Devil is in reference to a famous fighting bull. And there are at least four other Lambo models that can be tied to bull fighting.

Two more noteworthy things about Lamborghini before we end: first, while the company was owned by Indonesian investors the name and IP were licensed to Mexican businessman Jorge Antonio Fernandez Garcia, which gives him the exclusive right to sell Lambos in Latin America, and to sell merch, and to manufacture certain models of Lamborghini locally. (Garcia means horse, which is Ferrari’s emblem, and that’s a joke we aren’t too classy to make.)

Second, there are two museums in BolognaEmilia-Romagna centered around the brand. One is Museo Lamborghini which targets the cars and company and Museo Ferruccio Lamborghini which targets the man, his houses and personal car collection.

Coming later this month we’ll cover Italian car makers that belong to the new mega, car-conglomerate Stellantis.

Auto Makers: US Defunct (Part 4E)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. We started with the big three, and now let’s get to three noteworthy US Auto Makers that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Hupp

Vital Stats: 1909-1939, Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan.

The short 20 year run of Hupp motors has some unexpected twists. It started with a design and prototype by Bobby Hupp, financed in large part by his first partner Charles Hastings ($8,500). Hupp would later become the VP and general manager of his own company and Hastings would sink to assistant general manager. How?

The prototype went to the1909 automobile show where it won a modest $25,000 ($753,981 today’s money) from investors like J. Walter Drake, Joseph Drake, John Baker, and Edwin Denby. Drake became President using his experience running Oldsmobile before it sold, and he brought from Oldsmobile Emil Nelson as chief engineer.

This total $33,000 startup gave Hupp the 8th position out of the eight big Detroit automakers. But thei Hupp Model 20 was a marvelous car, and that still matters for something in the car biz.

Well, it was under-powered and the gear ratio was whacky, but selling for $900 with a manufacturers guarantee to replace damaged material except for tires struck a chord with buyers. The car also featured an innovative oil system.

1909 Model Roundabout

In 1911 Hupp decided to be the first American Automaker to feature an all steel body (Only BSA in the Uk was doing it.)  Hale & Kilburn Company in Philadelphia had been replacing cast iron in train cars with a pressed metal which saved a ton of weight and therefore gas. The success of an all-steel body came as a result of the work of three men, Nelson (Chief Engineer of Hupp), Edward Budd and Joseph Ledwinka were General Manager and Budd Chief Engineer of Hale & Kilburn. They worked tirelessly to design and fabricate the system in a way that could be taken apart, shipped and then reassembled…but never thought to patent it. The Hupp 32 was born.

Bud and Ledwinka left to form their own company. Ledwinka later tried to patent the tech but a judge ruled against him by reason that it was now in the public domain.

Nelson resigned as Chief Engineer in 1912 ending the companies desire to be edgy and innovative. They returned to traditional body parts.

Noteworthy: Hupp innovated both the Freewheeling Transmission and a filtered air heater called  the Evanair-Conditioner.

Hupp had been fortifying his business by vertical integration–buying up parts manufacturers. In 1913 Hupp decided to leave Hupp Motors, and despite his promise to continue to supply parts, Hupp Motors decided to build a plant to make parts for themselves.

1933 Model K, Cycle Fenders
Noteworthy: Minnesota Car dealership owner, Carl Wickman, turned a 7 passenger Hupp mobile into the first Greyhound Passenger Bus.

Sales grew and peaked at  over 65,000 units by 1928 but began to slump even before the stock market crash and great depression. Why? Beginning in 1925 Hupp started courting a luxury market, something most car makers were attempting to do around that time. The difference is that larger companies could afford to continue producing their mid-priced cars while growing their new market. Hupp struggled to find a design that would take off with luxury buyers, and while they experimented they turned their back on their existing customer base. They also failed to stick with any one design long enough to achieve economy of scale. Add to that the fact that they were moving the wrong direction (toward more expensive cars) when the depression hit…by 1935 stockholders were angry and they company was nearly taken over.

1925 Model R Touring Car

During their rise, Hupp had acquired additional manufacturing facilities, which they began to sell off in 1936. They managed to develop a new line of six and eight cylinder cars but their number of dealerships had shrunk along with their manufacturing, they just couldn’t battle their way back, which lead them to the joint venture below.

The joint venture was the end of Hupp Motors. They fulfilled their orders and closed up for good.

Graham-Paige

Vital Stats: 1927-1962, Headquartered in Evansville, Indiana.

Three Graham brother founded the company, Joseph, Robert and Ray. Technically the 1962 end date above refers to the end of the corporate identity, the original company was bought out by Kaiser-Frazer in 1947.

The Graham Brothers got their start in glass then moved into modifying Model T’s into trucks. They sold off the glass company began branding their creations under their own name. Eventually Dodge became their engine of choice and their relationship with dodge grew such that dodge dealerships were selling their trucks and a dodge plant in Canada was making their trucks to supply the Canadian market.

So, as with so many car companies these were successful business men who moved into car building a step at a time, and as with so many car makers they were swallowed up by a larger company–in this case Dodge in 1925. All three Graham brothers accepted leadership positions with Dodge as part of the deal.

Then in 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge and the Graham brother brand was dead a year later. The brothers saw these challenges coming, so a year earlier, in 1927 they bought the  Paige-Detroit Motor Company, for $3.5 million. They also bought the Wayne Body Company which resolved the main reason Paige had struggled to become profitable–they couldn’t get bodies. Graham-Paige sourced engines from Continental part of the time, and parts to their specs for their own engines most of the time. The result was a successful line of cars with six and eight cylinder engines, which didn’t technically compete with Dodge, which would have violated their sale. Paige already made a line of trucks which the brothers got around to closing down when Dodge complained.

Graham-Paige succeeded as a car company even despite the great depression which wiped out so many car makers. Their secret was a winning design from Amos Northup. This 1932 model featured an 8-cylinder engine dubbed the “Blue Streak” and the car would become the most influential design in automotive history. Innovations included moving the radiator cap inside the hood and changes to the grill and bumper in a way that prevented mud and road debris from collecting in the engine. They also moved the drive train and mounted the rear springs outside the chassis, lowering and widening the car. In 1934 they added a crankshaft driven supercharger and went on to make more supercharged cars than anyone until Buick in the 1990’s.

Graham-Paige built a solid reputation for making reliable automobiles but by 1938 the brothers were desperate for a second hit design. They rehired Northrup but he died part way into the design. They managed to finish the redesign and include a few more innovations that won them races in France, but ruined the look and killing off sales.

This lead to a desperate joint venture with Hupp, to be detailed below. Post WWII, Graham-Paige brought out a new model under their new president, Joseph Frazer. Financing came from none other than shipbuilder and industrialist Henry J. Kaiser. Graham-Paige tried to rally their success into a new line under their name, but stock holders intervened placing the companies assets at the disposal of Frazer and Kaiser, who diversified to make all sorts of things including farm equipment.

Ultimately, Graham-Paige dropped motors from their name and went into commercial real estate, acquiring Madison-Square Gardens which was later acquired twice more.

Cord

Vital Stats: 1929 to 1932 and again in 1936 and 1937, Headquartered in Connersville, Indiana. Founded by E. L. Cord.

Cord is interesting for several reasons but the first is that it existed for two short 3-year spurts. Cord is a luxury brand name for a line of cars manufactured by Auburn Automobile Company. The brainchild of E.L. Cord who was also the force behind Auburn Auto, Cord is most famed for its innovations and streamlined design.

L-29

The Cord L-29 for instance was the first car offered to the public with front wheel drive. To be fair Ruxton was only months behind. The L-29 was also the first production car to use CV-joints. By not having a rear drive train the L-29 was lower to the ground than other cars of the era, giving it a sleek look. It also came with full instrumentation: temperature gauge, oil pressure and oil level gauge, speedometer, gas gauge, and Ammeter.

Cord also pioneered hidden headlamps 4 decades before they would return on other luxury models. Their second model the 810 featured independent suspension. Cord could have been iconic but they were plagued with reliability issues (common among the first years of automobile startups), and there was pretty stiff competition. Dealerships abandoned Cord for more lucrative models and soon investors started suing, alleging fraud .E.L. Cord abandoned the company and moved to Arizona where he made his next fortune in real estate.

812 Phaeton

In 1940 Hupmobile saw an opportunity to develop a cheap car using an existing body and frame design but couldn’t really afford to produce them. Graham-Paige offered to help and the Hupmobile Skylark and Graham Hollywood were born. Naturally Hupmobile wasn’t interested in creating a luxury car, so the hidden lights and front wheel drive were scrapped in favor of cheaper, standard options. The total number of cars made by this collaboration is believed to be 1850 units, mostly Graham Hollywoods. By 1941 the deal fell apart.

Noteworthy: Cord’s have been drafted no less than 6 times by Hollywood, notably for the movie “Live and Let Die,” (to be driven by a bad guy) and for basis of the original Batmobile as creator Bob Cane felt it had the right look for a millionaire vigilante. Also, Puzzle maker “bePUZZLED” turned a creme colored 1936 810 Cord into a feature of their murder mystery. PlayStation has tapped a Cord twice for their video games. Jay Leno owns a Cord 812 making it a car worth taking not of.

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.

Auto Makers: US Startups (Part 4F)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. Let’s start with the big three, and within those we’ll take on one parent company per post. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Tesla

Vital Stats: 2004–present, Headquartered in Austin, TX, USA (on Tesla Road, BTW).

The above statement is a tad misleading. Tesla Motors Inc. was born in July 1, 2003 in San Carlos, CA. The Tesla Motors Part lasted until February 2017 when the company was reborn as a Texan.

Noteworthy: Tesla was named after Nicola Tesla, the Romanian super genius who immigrated to America and invented the US invented the Induction Engine and A/C Generator, which were stolen from him by American Industrialist Thomas Edison. You’d think they’d make Tesla cars with 4 Induction Engines (1 per tire) wired in series, giving it 4 wheel drive, four wheel steering and auto power regeneration–but Elon doesn’t consult the Kicker before designing his cars.

Best know as a car maker, Tesla also manufactures related products like home batteries, and solar panels as well as charging stations for their vehicles. The drive behind Tesla is clean energy. While electric vehicles currently use whatever power their local grid provides–by and large fossil fuels–they have created a mode of transportation that doesn’t create emissions in and of itself, which can honestly claim to be doing a big part toward an environmentally friendly future. (If you ignore how much pollution is created mining and making batteries.)

Prototype Roadster

The world’s most valuable automaker with a market capitalization of more than US$760 billion, Tesla owns about 23% and 16% of the full EV and plug-in world market respectively.

Contrary to popular belief Tesla is not the brain child of Billionaire Elon Musk. It was actually incorporated by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, then essentially taken over by a $6.5 million investment by Musk in 2004. Musk’s true objective was to raise capital for a private space company, but Tesla is definitely the smartest $6 million he’s spent so far.

Musk, CEO since 2008, is not without controversy, wracking up lawsuits for creative accounting, workers rights violations, and technical issues in their autopilot. Still, with global sales of 936,222 cars in 2021, a 87% increase over the previous year, total Tesla’s sold tops 2.3 million. Tesla is one of the most successful car companies in the world, becoming the sixth US company history to reach a market capitalization over a trillion dollars in October of 2021.

Tesla Models began with a roadster, then the Model S (Sedan), the Model X (SUV), the Model 3 (first EV to sell a million units), and the Model Y (Crossover). Then of course the Cybertruck. An observant reader might notice that subtle name game–S.3.X.Y.

Tesla’s plans for the future? Cheaper cars for the less affluent in society. A Tesla motorcycle seems unlikely based on Musk’s 2018 statement, “we’re not going to do motorcycles.”

Lucid Motors

Vital Stats: 2007–present, Headquartered in Newark, CA. Founded by Bernard Tse and Sam Weng.

Following a model piloted by Elon Musk, Lucid heavily marketed their design ideas and financed part of their start up by selling slots on their waiting list before they even had a product. The first 20 got their cars the day before Halloween, 2021.

In the tradition Dodge and other American Car makers, Lucid first existed to make parts for other EV makers, as a company called Atieva. CEO Peter Rawlinson of Tesla, and Derek Jenkins formerly of Mazda, rebranded the company when they decided to make their own vehicles in 2016, with some investment from  Tsing CapitalMitsuiVenrockJAFCO, among others.

The Lucid Air

Lucid picked Casa Grande, AZ, as their US manufacturing base, and built a plant projected to make a maximum capacity of 380,000 cars per year. It opened 2 years late, but that’s not too bad considering red tape, pandemics and the like. Lucid was acquired by a Saudi Investment fund and has since merged with  Churchill Capital Corp IV, a publicly traded investment fund. The resulting nearly $12 billion investment will complete the factory through phase 4 and allow them to develop their Project Gravity SUV by 2023, then try to start competing with Tesla’s Model 3.

If you feel like $12 billion is a big investment for a company that’s only sold a few hundred cars, you may want to ask your financial advisor where your 401K is. In the mean time, it’ hard to get a feel for how successful this company will be, but it’s poised to make the next few billionaires.

Rivian

Vital Stats: 2009–present, Headquartered in Irvine, CA. because apparently California is the new Michigan.

Rivian’s an EV automaker with a slightly different approach. Rather than starting with a traditional modern unibody car, Rivian has gone straight to the skateboard model, which allows them to make a standardized powertrain platform, upon which they can build an SUV or a Pickup Truck.

This allows them to develop other types of vehicle in the future, or make that platform for other car makers–existing or yet to come. Given the number of semi-manufacturers out of the UK, the Kicker staff wouldn’t be surprised if a company like Caterham or David Brown Automotive, doesn’t grab an investor and build a plant somewhere in the US Land is cheap and business friendly like Texas or North Dakota, then create a Line of EV sports cars based on Rivian’s skateboard.

Rivian raised money via going IPO. Based on Tesla’s performance as a company, investors leapt at the chance to get in on the ground floor of a similar company–they raised $13.5 billion (153 million shares sold).

Rivian manufactures in 5 locations inside the US, with plans to build another factory in Georgia, as well as Canada and the UK.

Robert “RJ” Scaringe, is an American Engineer, Entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of what’s now Rivian. It started as Mainstream Motors and got renamed Avera Motors on it’s way to it’s modern incarnation. The original idea was to make a sports car, but that dream grew as investment dollars came in.

Another early stroke of luck was their purchase of the Normal, Illinois Mitsubishi plant for $16 million dollars, including everything inside it. A ready to make facility can accelerate your plans. In 2017, Rivian revealed its first two products: an electric five-passenger pickup truck (A1T) and an electric seven-passenger SUV (A1C), which it renamed in 2018 R1T and R1S, respectively.

Rivian RT1

Rivian employed 250 people in 2018 and by 2021 it employs 9,000. Although they’ve since announced a 6% reduction in workforce, siting economic downturn.

Despite a few delays, the R1T began shipping out in October 2021, making Rivian the first car company to bring an all electric truck to the US market–not GM, not Ford, not even Tesla (although Tesla has since caught up). Ford was counting on a partnership in Rivian to bring an all EV truck to market, but Rivian backed out leaving Ford with a 12% stake in the company worth around $10 billion.

Rivian made news in March of 2022 announcing a retroactive price increase of 17% for the R1T and 20% for the R1S vehicles not yet delivered, citing increased cost of goods to manufacture. Due to backlash, the company recanted their decision for folks waitlisted prior to March 1. (Only reasonable since locking in a price is one of the big advantages to ordering a new car before it even exists.)

The most recent news, aside from their new COO starting early last month, is that Time Magazine added Rivian to their List of 100 Most Influential Companies (2022).

Auto Makers: US Stelantis (Part 4C) 2nd half

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. We started with Ford and GM earlier this month. Now it’s time for the “parent company” car maker you’ve probably never heard of even though they are currently responsible for many long standing and household recognized brands.

Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

StelantisRecap from 1st Half

Vital Stats: 2021-Present, Headquartered in Amsterdam.

Ever heard of Stellantis? You’ve probably heard of Chrysler and assumed that was the third spoke in the US automotive “Big Three.” Stellantis formed in 2021 as a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation. In order to understand this merger you must first know what happened to Chrysler, detailed below, but in short it became the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

FCA joined in a 50-50 cross-border merger with the French PSA Group. Upon forming Stellantis became the fifth largest automaker in the world, behind ToyotaVolkswagenHyundai, and General Motors. At the time of the merger, Stellantis had approximately 300,000 employees, and manufactured in 30 countries. Sales are worldwide in 130 countries.

Major brands include  AbarthAlfa RomeoChryslerCitroënDodgeDSFiatFiat ProfessionalJeepLanciaMaseratiMoparOpelPeugeotRam and Vauxhall. This article will focus on the US concerns since this is a US Automaker post. Other car makers will be covered with the respective countries where the brand is most commonly associated. For example, while Vauxhall has long been thought of as Chrysler of the UK most Americans are unfamiliar and unaware the brand even exists.

The deal is estimated to save the companies $4.22 billion. While the merger is thought of as 50-50 PSA got six out of the 11 board members and retained their CEO at the helm of the newly formed company. PSA shareholders paid a fee to acquire their shares in the new company which went to FTA shareholders to compensate them for differences in valuations. It looks to us like a David ate Goliath situation purely for the glory of becoming the #4 car maker in the world.

Jeep

Vital Stats: 1941-Present, Headquartered in Toledo, OH.
Formed by Willys-Overland in 1941.
Merged with Kaiser Motors in 1953.
Acquired by AMC in 1970.
Acquired by Chrysler in 1987.

This history of jeep is fascinating. The jeep is just different from the ground up from most other passenger vehicles. Unusual for a US maker–it’s headquartered outside Michigan. It’s an iconic shape that many automobile manufacturers around the globe feel free to replicate in some fashion. There is also military use which has come back in a manor of speaking.

During the 80 years since the first jeep was built their have been luxury versions, vans and even a truck. With roughly 2400 dealerships holding franchise rights to sell Jeep-branded vehicles if Jeep were spun off into a separate company, it would be a skosh bigger than Chrysler is without it (estimated value $22 to $33 billion). Let’s clear this up some.

The origin of the name is very fitting. You may be familiar with US military terms like FUBAR and SNAFU which go all the way back to WWI. Jeep was, prior to US entering WWII a slang term referencing something General Issue like soldiers and rifles. The term General Purpose got shortened to GP to Jee-P. The vehicle itself was a work horse and quickly became associated with the European view of American Soldiers–reliable, rugged, hard working, lacking refinement but able to get the job done when all means have failed. Jeeps quickly became the light military vehicle of choice for the allies and their military use spread around the globe over the next few decades.

Ford Pygmy

Jeep is not patented and trademarked as design or a term. Therefore jeep without a capitol “J” is the name of sports utility vehicles around the globe if they look like a Jeep. During WWII, a jeep was abandoned on a Japanese Island and the Japanese car maker Toyota created their own version, which explains the Landcruiser and FJ series from them. How in the heck does that happen? Prototypes are closely held secrets, what made Jeep a type of vehicle like pickup or sedan, instead of an exclusive model from one car company?

1940’s Willys Jeep

The origin of the design is found WWII. The US government saw a need for a lightweight 4×4 vehicle that could navigate bombed out roads and ford bridgeless streams. This would be a scout vehicle, capable of shuttling brass to strategic positions, or taking secret messages to command across apocalyptic terrain. They contacted 135 auto makers to compete for a contract. Their specs were so tough and the timeline, 49 days, so tight only two companies seized the chance to go after a lucrative military contract–American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland.

Bantam’s BRC 40

American Bantam recruited a designer, Karl Probst, who turned them down, but the government was able to twist his arm. He produced the design in two days using parts that were already manufactured so factories wouldn’t have to be retooled in order to begin production. The exception was the 4-whee drive drain which could be sourced by Spicer. `With plans submitted in 5 days, including blueprints and cost sheets, Bantam built their prototype by September 1940. It was perfect, except under powered. The other problem was that the Government doubted Bantam could make enough of the vehicles fast enough.

So the government essentially handed everything of to Willy’s who were already working on a prototype and Ford. Each produced independent prototypes and ultimately Willys married a “Go Devil” engine with the Bantam Design. It was heavier than initial specs but the government was happy with the final version. Willys granted the Government nonexclusive use of the design and the Government ordered 1500 vehicles from each of the three companies (Bantam, Willys, and Ford). After making 2600 jeeps Bantam switched to making trailers for the rest of the war.

Ford began stamping the F into many parts on the jeeps they made, so Willys-Overland followed suit. The Government eventually put an end to it, which likely lead to eventually creating a vehicle under the name Jeep in 1945–the Willys CJ-2A.

2022 Wrangler

640,000 Jeeps were produced for the war effort, and distributed to every branch of the US military, as well as the Great Britain and Russian allies.

Jeep imitations around the world include Delahaye and Hotchkiss et Cie, in France,  Mitsubishi Motors and Toyota in Japan, as well as pretty much every original Land Rover in the UK. In the Philippines abandoned jeeps were turned into taxis, often expanded to hold more passengers and later decorated with wild colors. These Jeepneys are part of the culture in the Philippines. In Iceland, the word Jeppi (derived from Jeep) is the general term for an SUV.

Eugene The Jeep

Surplus jeeps sold well in the US after WWII and Willys-Overland tried to grab the Jeep name touting their contribution to the original design and project. The Federal Trade Commission wasn’t buying it. So Willys staked their claim by being the first to market a Civilian Version, their CJ in 1945.

In the end, we can’t even be sure that the term jeep comes from GP as often claimed, as early as 1936 a comic book publisher named Popeyes pet “Eugene the Jeep” created by E. C. Segar.

Ram Trucks

Vital Stats: 2012-Present, Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, slogan “Guts. Glory. Ram.”

If the Ram story seems suspiciously short at 12 years, it’s because Ram was a brand under the Dodge marque prior to being spun off. Ram “Classic” trucks are made at the Warren Truck Plant in Warren, Michigan and at the Saltillo plant in Saltillo, Mexico. New series Ram pickups are made at Sterling Heights Assembly in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

In 2009 Chrysler emerged from chapter 11 a restructured company with Ram, Jeep, Dodge, SRT and Chrysler divisions under their own brand identities and management.

Traditionally, Dodge kept their light truck and other vehicle divisions somewhat separately branded from their cars. For example outside the US they used “Fargo Trucks.” So the idea of individual branding for Ram trucks isn’t a new concept to the company. In this case, it reflects certain opportunities that came with Fiat’s involvement and the departure of Diamler’s involvement.

2022 Ram 2500

Specifically, Dodge car division wants to go after hip, cool, and trendy buyers, while Ram Truck is targeting “Real Truck” customers. Ram is well aware of people who by a truck for the look with functionality an after thought. Given that Fiat owns Iveco who makes powerful commercial hauling vehicles, Ram is able to cozy up to a buyer seeking a functional pickup that looks cool as a happy side effect.

Noteworthy: The 1996 film Twister used a red 1995 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck as the storm-chasing vehicle. 

The long history of Dodge and trucks is spoken to in our post on Dodge. The first-generation “Ram trucks” were introduced in October 1980 and featured a Ram hood ornament first used on Dodge vehicles from 1932 until 1954.

Cummins B Series engine added to the engine lineup in 1989 gave Dodge their first big commercial success as their direct fuel injection didn’t require “glow plugs” like the Ford and GM Diesel trucks did.

Ram got some bad press from their  Super Bowl LII commercial featuring a speech from MLK Jr. in which he actually disapproves of advertisers. One of many examples of marketers attempting to be edgy only to dive headlong across the line of good taste.

Dodge Ram went through 4 generations of development dabbling in a modular design, but mainly optimizing engine, axels, drive trains, transmissions and ultimately giving the entire division a facelift for a consistent and cool new look. In a way, Dodge positioned Ram for success through decades of experimenting and the only thing Dodge couldn’t do for the Ram Truck has now been done by Stelantis through some savvy cross pollinating with other existing brands under their new umbrella.

Ram Trucks likely have a bright future in a competitive US Truck market.

 

Auto Makers: US Stelantis (Part 4C) 1st half

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. We started with Ford and GM earlier this month. Now it’s time for the “parent company” car maker you’ve probably never heard of even though they are currently responsible for many long standing and household recognized brands. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Stelantis

Vital Stats: 2021-Present, Headquartered in Amsterdam.

Ever heard of Stellantis? You’ve probably heard of Chrysler and assumed that was the third spoke in the US automotive “Big Three.” Stellantis formed in 2021 as a multinational automotive manufacturing corporation. In order to understand this merger you must first know what happened to Chrysler, detailed below, but in short it became the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).

FCA joined in a 50-50 cross-border merger with the French PSA Group. Upon forming Stellantis became the fifth largest automaker in the world, behind ToyotaVolkswagenHyundai, and General Motors. At the time of the merger, Stellantis had approximately 300,000 employees, and manufactured in 30 countries. Sales are worldwide in 130 countries.

Major brands include  AbarthAlfa RomeoChryslerCitroënDodgeDSFiatFiat ProfessionalJeepLanciaMaseratiMoparOpelPeugeotRam and Vauxhall. This article will focus on the US concerns since this is a US Automaker post. Other car makers will be covered with the respective countries where the brand is most commonly associated. For example, while Vauxhall has long been thought of as Chrysler of the UK most Americans are unfamiliar and unaware the brand even exists.

The deal is estimated to save the companies $4.22 billion. While the merger is thought of as 50-50 PSA got six out of the 11 board members and retained their CEO at the helm of the newly formed company. PSA shareholders paid a fee to acquire their shares in the new company which went to FTA shareholders to compensate them for differences in valuations. It looks to us like a David ate Goliath situation purely for the glory of becoming the #4 car maker in the world.

Chrysler

Vital Stats: 1925-Present, headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan as the flagship of the Chrysler Corporation.

Walter Chrysler founded the company from the remains of the Maxwell Motor Company. In fact it’s a little hard to sort Chryslers motor companies success from what was happening at Maxwell and at Willys-Overland before that. (Our post on Willy’s is coming). Walter was hired to help reorganize Maxwell like he had done for Willy’s, which promptly went out of business. Willies contributed a several parts from their prototype to the original 1924 Chrysler model, while Maxwell contributed it’s factory and employees.

The key to Chryslers success was targeting the budget conscious buyer with a reliable car. Early innovations like the first practical mass-produced four-wheel hydraulic brakes, and rubber engine mounts to reduce vibration helped Chrysler win the #2 slot in sales from 1936 to 1949. Chrysler also developed a ridged rim for their wheel (to keep a deflated tire from flying off) which became industry standard.

Classic Desoto

In 1928, the Chrysler Corporation began stratifying it’s vehicle offerings by price/class and function–an idea Walter stole, we mean, observed while working at GM, Buick division. At the low end they introduced a rebadged version of their 4-cylandar car under the name Plymouth. The midrange they called DeSoto. 1928 was the year Chrysler bought-out the Dodge brothers and initially put them at their high end. With that acquisition Chrysler also picked up Fargo Trucks which became their truck brand. Though in the mid-30’s Chrysler swapped Dodge with DeSoto in price point classification these remained the brands most associated with Chrysler during their run as one of the “Big Three” as an entirely US based auto-maker.

Chrysler Corp. has expanded and thrived in fits and spurts throughout it’s history. Often failing to adapt to new market condition. Starting in post war when Chrysler lost market share to both Ford and GM, having to borrow from $250 million in 1954 from Prudential Insurance to pay for expansion and updated car designs.

Chrysler World Headquarters

Chrysler Europe was born in the 1960s by taking control of French, British, and Spanish auto companies, which Chrysler later sold to PSA Peugeot Citroën for $1 in 1978. Struggling again with changing markets, increased U.S. import competition, and safety and environmental regulation in the 1970s Chrysler resorted to selling Mitsubishi vehicles branded as Dodge and Plymouth in North America.

New CEO Lee Iacocca was credited with returning the company to profitability in the 1980s which had resorted to $1.5 billion in loan guarantees from the U.S. government in the 1970’s. 1985 saw further expanding the Chrysler-Mitsubishi partnership in the creation of Diamond-Star Motors. Then in 1987, Chrysler acquired American Motors Corporation (AMC), along with it the Jeep brand which had been propping up it’s sales.

Evolution of Chrysler Logos

Recent Chrysler mergers and acquisitions:.
1998 acquired by Daimler-Benz, renamed DaimlerChrysler
2007 Daimler divested Chrysler, operated as Chrysler LLC (07–09), Chrysler Group LLC (09–2014)
2014 acquired by Fiat S.p.A. and becoming subsidiary of newly formed Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (“FCA”)

2021 Chrysler 300

What the above succession doesn’t explain is how Chrysler and Diamler didn’t get along, which caused Cerberus Investment group to broker the separation to keep investors from taking a bath. This isn’t the last time investors would get the short end of the stick. When the 2008 economy crashed and virtually killed every US auto maker (except Ford), Chryslers spiraled and June 10, 2009, Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy owned by the United Auto Workers pension fund, Fiat S.p.A., and the U.S. and Canadian governments as principal owners–defaulting on $4 Billion of investor money.

Fiat waited while Chrysler paid off the fed five years early, costing US taxpayers $1.3 Billion, then started buying out other investors. The merger became formal January 21, 2014, and became complete December 15, 2014, when it was renamed FCA US LLC, to reflect Fiat-Chrysler.

Dodge

Vital Stats: 1900-Present, Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Founded by John F. and Horace E Dodge (aka The Dodge Brothers.) Acquired by Chrysler in 1928.

The Dodge story isn’t one of corporate raiding or rampant capitalisms on the part of some disgruntled executive. Horace and John started their company to supply precision parts and chassis to the nearby automotive factories–mainly Oldsmobile and Ford. In fact, they dropped Olds and made so many parts of the Model A that Ford offered them 10% of the company in exchange for work Dodge had already done. By 1914 the Dodge brothers introduced there first complete car, a four-cylinder touring car called the  Dodge Model 30-35.

The goal of the Model 30-35 was to be slightly upscale from Ford’s Model T. So they forwent the wood frame for all metal, 12-volt electrical systems, 35 horsepower engines, and a sliding gear transmission–all features that would later become standard for all cars. It marketed well and Dodge Brothers cars were ranked second in U.S. sales as early as 1916.

’89 Dodge Ram

It’s unclear if the Dodge brothers predicted that Ford would take over making their own parts entirely or if their decision was a fortunate side effect of already wanting to build their own car, but had they not made the leap they’d have likely had to pivot hard. Instead, Ford cashed the Brothers out of their original $10,000 investment for $25 million. Adding that to the almost $10 million they’d already made in dividends, the brothers were set for life.

Noteworthy: Gen. “BlackJack” Pershing bought a couple hundred vehicles from Dodge for the Mexican boarder dispute with Mexico (technically we weren’t fighting Mexico, we were fighting Poncho Villa).  Lt. George S. Patton led ten soldiers and two civilian guides in three Dodge Model 30 touring cars to conduct America’s first motorized military raid at a ranch house in San Miguelito, Sonora. You’ll be happy to note that we won. Dodge continued to supply vehicles to the US Military through WWI.

Since Dodge was already making cars (1914) before Chrysler came into existence (1925), how did Chrysler end up owning them? The sad answer is that the Dodge brother died. John of pneumonia/flu in 1920, and Horace in his grief over John’s death and a lifetime of hard drinking, died of cirrhosis in December of the same year. John was 55 years old and Horace was 52.Their widows promoted long-time employee Frederick Haynes to the presidency and the company lost market share steadily from 2nd to 7th over the rest of the decade.

Evolution of Dodge Logo

Dodge is as known for their trucks as for cars. Not long after taking control of the company Haynes signed a deal with  Graham Brothers of Evansville, Indiana. This lead to an era of “Graham” Trucks with Dodge-built chassis. Ultimately, when the widows sold the company to an investment group (Dillon, Read & Co.) Dodge took control of Graham trucks. When Dodge sold to Chrysler the three Graham brothers took their profits and started another car company (the Graham-Paige company).

Coming in the second half…Jeep and Ram Trucks. Look for it 7/25/22

Auto Makers: US Ford (Part 4b)

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. Let’s start with the big three, and within those we’ll take on one parent company per post. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

Ford Motor Company Parent

Vital Stats: 1903-Present, Headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan. June 16, 1903; 119 years ago, by Henry Ford.

The company sells automobiles and commercial vehicles under the Ford brand, and luxury cars under its Lincoln luxury brand. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is controlled by the Ford family; they have minority ownership but the majority of the voting power.

Ford also owns Brazilian SUV manufacturer Troller, an 8% stake in Aston Martin of the United Kingdom and a 32% stake in China’s Jiangling Motors. It also has joint ventures in China (Changan Ford), Taiwan (Ford Lio Ho), Thailand (AutoAlliance Thailand), Turkey (Ford Otosan), and Russia (Ford Sollers). Ford’s former UK subsidiaries Jaguar and Land Rover, acquired in 1989 and 2000 respectively, were sold to the Indian automaker Tata Motors in March 2008. Ford owned the Swedish automaker Volvo from 1999 to 2010. In 2011, Ford discontinued the Mercury brand, under which it had marketed entry-level luxury cars in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Middle East since 1938.

Founder Henry Ford is best known for creating the assembly line, but that particular innovation represents a series of innovative ideas Ford had that enabled large-scale manufacturing of cars and large-scale management of an industrial workforce using elaborately engineered manufacturing sequences. Among Henry Ford’s other industrialist ideas were paying workers more so they could potentially afford to buy his cars. Another such idea was requiring his transmission supplier to ship transmissions in a longer than needed crate so that his workers could take the crates apart and use them to build the floors of his cars.

During the financial crisis of 2007–08 the company struggled but did not accept federal bailout money, like the other two major US automakers. Ford Motors has since returned to profitability, and was the eleventh-ranked overall American-based company in the 2018 Fortune 500 list, based on global revenues in 2017 of $156.7 billion. 

Ford is the second-largest U.S.-based automaker (behind General Motors) and the fifth-largest in the world (behind ToyotaVolkswagenHyundai and General Motors) based on 2015 vehicle production. At the end of 2010, Ford was the fifth-largest automaker in Europe. In 2008, Ford produced 5.532 million automobiles and employed about 213,000 employees at around 90 plants and facilities worldwide.

Ford Motor Company

As we mentioned in our previous post on GM, Henry Ford’s first attempt at creating a car company ended up becoming Cadillac and was acquired by GM. Ford’s second car company,t he Ford Motor Company was launched in a converted factory in 1903 with $28,000 (equivalent to $844,000 in 2021) in cash from twelve investors, like John and Horace Dodge (who would later found Dodge).

Local banker, John S. Gray, was chosen over Ford as the first president since investors were concerned about the way Ford left his first company. During its early years, the company produced just a few cars a day, and assembled them from parts made mostly by supplier companies. Within a decade the company led the world in production and Ford soon brought much of the part production in-house.

Noteworthy: Fords Model A released in 1927, was the first car with a safety glass windshield. Ford offered the Lifeguard safety package from 1956, which included such innovations as a standard deep-dish steering wheel, optional front, AND rear seatbelts, and an optional padded dash. Ford also introduced child-proof door locks into its products in 1957.

In an attempt to compete with General Motors’ mid-priced Pontiac, Oldsmobile, and Buick, Ford created the Mercury in 1939 as a higher-priced companion car to Ford. Henry Ford purchased the Lincoln Motor Company in 1922, in order to compete with luxury brands like Cadillac and Packard.

Also noteworthy: In 1929 Ford worked with the Soviet Union to set up their Gorky Automobile Plant which brought modern industrial technology to Russia.

WWII

Ford has gotten a lot of criticism for its operations during the second world war. Hitler looked like an industrialist early on, and Ford had a lot of production in Germany. Ford, along with many other industrialists, lobbied for US non-intervention until Peral Harbor made America’s path unavoidable.

Faced with the choice of losing their German factories entirely, Ford continued to operate them, making war machines for the Nazis, and employing slave labor. They also received the US military contract to manufacture the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber at their Willow Run assembly plant. Leading many historians to speculate about why and how Ford plants weren’t heavily targeted for bombing during the war.

Modern Ford

The car industry, like many industries had changed without anyone noticing around 2005, and their stocks were downgraded to junk status (as were GMs). U.S. health care costs for an aging workforce, soaring gasoline prices, eroding market share, and an overdependence on declining SUV sales. Ford created a plan called “The Way Forward” which included resizing the company to match market realities, dropping some unprofitable and inefficient models, consolidating production lines, closing 14 factories and cutting 30,000 jobs. As a result Ford declined a bridge loan, like their US competitors took in 2008.

They also renegotiated their contract with the United Auto Workers Union allowing them to shift healthcare costs to a separate fund. They made quite a number of other tweaks to how they did business but the next significant move was selling Jaguar and Land Rover operations to Tata Motors for $2.3 billion in 2008. They also restructured Volvo, as part of the plan, which ultimately cost them billions of dollars a year until 2009. However, they’ve returned to profitability, stocks have been upgraded to investor status and Ford is building a new state of the art plant in Corktown Michigan. Partly they’ll be moving existing employees there (about 2,500), but the factory should create an additional 700 jobs by canceling plans to expand their plant in Mexico in 2017.

Noteworthy: In February 2017, Ford Motor Co. acquired majority ownership of Argo AI, a self-driving car startup.

Lincoln

Vital Stats: 1903-Present, Headquartered in Dearborn Michigan. Lincoln was founded in 1917 and acquired by Ford Motor Company in 1922.

Officially called the Lincoln Motor Company, this division is Ford’s deliberate attempt to deal with GM’s Cadillac. Lincoln helped Ford to establish the personal luxury car segment with the 1940 Lincoln Continental.

Noteworthy: Henry M. Leland, named his car company after President Abraham Lincoln.

Continental was originally founded as a freestanding division above Lincoln and integrated within Lincoln in 1959. The Continental-branded Mark series was marketed through Lincoln starting in 1969 and was adopted fully by Lincoln in 1986. In fact, the Lincoln four-point star emblem is derived from a badge introduced on the 1956 Continental Mark II. (The current adaptation came about in 1980.)

1926 Lincoln Model L town car

Following World War II, Ford paired Lincoln with its mid-range Mercury brand, forming the Lincoln-Mercury Division. This lasted until 2010 when the Mercury brand closed. By the end of 2012, Lincoln reverted to its original name, Lincoln Motor Company. We mentioned Ford taking drastic steps from 2005 to 2009–basically they divested themselves of Premier Automotive Group (JaguarLand RoverAston Martin, and Volvo) and the closed Mercury, leaving Lincoln the sole luxury nameplate of Ford Motor Company.

Noteworthy: Lincoln has always produced vehicles for limousine and livery use; several became official state limousines for POTUS. In fact, 1924, a Lincoln Model L became the first state limousine used by a U.S. President on an official basis, supplied for Calvin Coolidge. The current 1st car is nicknamed “the Beast” but historically its been called Cadillac One, when GM makes them and many other names when Lincoln makes them.

The current product range of Lincoln consists of luxury crossovers and sport-utility vehicles. Throughout its entire existence. In 2017, Lincoln sold 188,383 vehicles globally. Outside of North America, Lincoln vehicles are officially sold in the Middle East (except Iran and Syria), China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau), and South Korea.

If Henry Leland sounds familiar, he should. We’ve seen Leland as a founder of Cadillac and often battler of the infamous William Durant (to be fair Durant seemed to fight with everyone.)

While Leland and his son Wilfred, built a final assembly plant in Detroit they sourced components all over the place–cylinders by Ford and other parts sourced from BuickCadillacMarmon, and Packard. Originally, Lincoln made v-12 plane engines for WWI, but transitioned to cars at the end of the war. They weren’t able to produce cars to keep up with demand, went into receivership and Edsel Ford picked the company up for 8 million, about half it’s estimated value.

So if you are following this series for the soap opera, Leland helped show Henry Ford the door to “The Henry Ford Company” which he ran for a bit and sold as Cadillac to GM. Then Leland founded Lincoln which he ran poorly and had to sell to Henry Ford’s grandson. Leland and son stayed on for a bit and ran Lincoln for Ford, which we bet was not a fun experience.

Auto Makers: US GM (Part 4A)

When you think about car makers the US, UK, Germany, Italy, & Japan are the big names that come to mind. Of course the actual manufacturing is done all over the world no matter what parent company name goes on the final product or where it is ultimately sold.

It’s also true that a ton of cars are made by manufacturers other than the big 5 listed above. Many are even sold in large markets like the US but some of them are not sold outside there own borders. This series starts with the big auto countries but it won’t stop until we’ve covered every country that makes a car for sale to the public.

The best way to tackle Car Manufacturers in the US is to break them up by category. Let’s start with the big three, and within those we’ll take on one parent company per post. Later in this series we’ll get to some of the the start ups and those that have been phased out or gone out of business.

General Motors Parent Company

Vital Stats: 1908-Present, Headquartered in Detroit Michigan, manufacturing in 8 countries.

GM is the largest car maker in the US and was biggest in the world until recently losing that title to Toyota. GM is ranked 22nd on the Fortune 500 rankings of the largest United States corporations by total revenue however they went bankrupt in 2009 and were restructured.

While GM stands for General Motors, it’s critics often say it refers to government motors as there is a long-standing relationship between GM and the US government. In addition to the 2009 bailout, during WWII GM was the largest federal defense contractor and even now builds military vehicles under their GM Defense  division.

In addition to their well known consumer brands GM maintains divisions like BrightDrop for delivery-focused service, OnStar for vehicle safety, security and information services. ACDelco for auto parts and so on. The company provides financing via GM Financial, and is developing self-driving cars through its majority ownership in Cruise LLC.

Through joint ventures GM has invested in Chinese brands Wuling Motors and Baojun as well as DMAX.

GM Intends to phase out internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2035 including hybrids. This move is controversial as many experts doubt the infrastructure will exist to maintain that many EV’s. Still others doubt that EV’s are that much better than ICE cars since “green energy” generation is still very inadequate to the demands of current power usage in the US.

The largest source of revenue a the moment is GMs four vehicle brands available to the general public–Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC.

Buick Motors

Vital Stats: 1899-Present, Headquartered in Detroit, Michigan.
Founded in 1899 as ‘Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company’ by automotive pioneer David Dunbar Buick.
GM founder William C. Durant had served as Buick’s general manager and major investor before ultimately forming General Motors in 1908 and placing Buick under that marque as a luxury brand.

Buick is the oldest current brand in the US. Autocar, founded in 1897, is the oldest vehicle maker in the western hemisphere; though they currently build heavy trucks. Oldsmobile, is also older–founded in 1897–but is now defunct. Studebaker was founded in 1852, but did not make automobiles until 1902. Conversely, Henry Ford produced his first car in 1896 but did not start the Ford Motor Co. until 1903.

In 2017, Buick sold a record 1.4 million vehicles worldwide–mainly in now China, (where 80% of Buicks are sold). This could be because buick is positioned as a quality luxury brand compared to most GM cars, although not as luxury as Cadillac. The near-enough-to-top luxury appeals to a buyer of quality items, but the not-quite-the-top luxury status makes them seem like a value. In other words the existence of Cadillac might actually boost sales among Chinese business executives. Buicks are also sold in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Cadillac Motors

Vital Stats: 1903-Present, Headquartered in Detroit, MI. Founded as Henry Ford Company in 1901. Renamed to Cadillac in 1902. Acquired by General Motors in 1909.

The Cadillac Motor Car Division builds GM’s luxury car models. Major markets include the United States, Canada, and China but they distribute in 34 other markets worldwide. In 2019, Cadillac sold a record setting 390,458 vehicles worldwide. The name is honor of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who founded DetroitMichigan and crest emblem is based on his coat of arms.

Cadillac is the fourth oldest car brand to originate in the US, but unlike other GM models Cadillac has origins in Henry Ford. Technically Henry Ford Company was Ford’s first car company. After a dispute with his investors Ford left in 1902 taking several key players with him. William Murphy and Lemuel Bowen called in engineer Henry M. Leland of Leland to appraise the plant and equipment for liquidation. Instead they convinced the financial backers to keep making cars. They rebranded and restarted and it worked.

This will upset many GM fans, but you can really see Ford’s brilliance in Cadillac’s success. The complete interchangeability of its precision parts had allowed it to lay the foundation for the modern mass production of automobiles. The forefront of technological advances, Cadillac introduced full electrical systems, the clashless manual transmission and the steel roof. The brand went on to develop three engines setting the standard for the American automotive industry.

Noteworthy: many car companies had a policy that discouraged sales to African Americans. The great depression was a hard time for automakers around the world, with Luxury brands taking the biggest hit. Many European Luxury makers went out of business at that time. Cadillac’s national head of service was a mechanic names Nick Dreystadt, who convinced the board of GM to reverse their policies on race which increased sales by 70% in 1934. Dreystadt was promoted and GM has enjoyed a better reputation among people of color than Ford. (To learn of Ford’s challenges around race see the next post in this series.)

Chevrolet Motors

Vital Stats: 1911-Present, Headquartered in Detroit Michigan. A private company for the first 5 years, acquired by General Motors in 1918 and a division of GM ever since.
Formally the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors Company, less formally and more commonly known as Chevy. Chevrolet brand became the volume leader in the General Motors family, selling mainstream vehicles to compete with Henry Ford‘s Model T in 1919 and overtaking Ford as the best-selling car in the United States by 1929.

It would take an entire post to catalogue the story of Chevy as a brand around the world, with GM acquiring local companies like Daewoo of Korea, Holden Special Vehicles of Oceana, Vauxhall in the UK, and Opel of Germany, then going into competition with itself, trying to raise or lower brand perceptions and ultimately keeping a mix of brands depending on which cars sold well in which market. Just know that top selling brands like Silverado, Camaro and Corvette can be found in many places around the world where other GM cars at the value cars level will have another brand on them entirely.

This isn’t to say that the name Chevy has low recognition outside the US. Chevy is actually what GM is known as outside the US, the way the English call it Hoovering instead of Vacuuming or the way we call it Clean-x instead of facial tissue. Inside the US Chevy sells all sorts of models from subcompact to SUV.

The companies founding is a soap opera so let’s dive into that craziness, because it’s a foreshadow of why so may around the world are more aware of Chevy than they are of GM. On November 3, 1911, Swiss race car driver and automotive engineer Louis Chevrolet co-founded the “Chevrolet Motor Company” in Detroit with his brother Arthur ChevroletWilliam C. Durant and investment partners William Little (maker of the Little automobile), former Buick owner James H. Whiting,[6] Dr. Edwin R. Campbell (son-in-law of Durant) and in 1912 R. S. McLaughlin CEO of General Motors in Canada.

The thing is Durant was a founding member of GM back in 1908, but by 1910 he’d been fired. His involvement in Chevy was a direct attempt to get his position back at GM. Durant used the Chevrolet Motor Car Company to acquire a controlling stake in General Motors with a reverse merger occurring on May 2, 1918, and propelled himself back to the GM presidency. Then got himself fired again in 1919.

Chevy benefitted a lot from the merger though, from a technology standpoint. Buick had patented the overhead valve and cross-flow cylinder design which was more efficient than the flathead design Chevy had started with.

GMC Motors

Vital Stats: 1903-Present, Headquartered in Detriot, MI. Formed as General Motors Truck Company (GMTC) in 1912 after merging Rapid Motor Vehicle co. and Reliance Motor Truck co.

Based on the name you’d think GMC would be flagship of GM divisions (which is actually Chevrolet), but in fact the division is primarily focused on trucks and utility vehicles. GMC currently makes SUVspickup trucks, vans, and light-duty trucks. In the past, they also produced fire trucksambulances, heavy-duty trucks, military vehiclesmotorhomes, transit buses, and medium duty trucks.

GMC Sierra
Chevy Silverado

To distinguish GMC from Chevy, who also makes trucks (like the Silverado), think in terms of a multi-brand dealership, where you’d see GMC vehicles (like the Denali series and the electric, off-road Hummer EV series) next to Buicks on a premium/luxury lot.

GMC was founded in 1900 as Grabowsky Motor Company[2] by brothers Max (1874-1946) and Morris Grabowsky,[3] in Detroit, and renamed Rapid Motor Vehicle Company in 1902 when the brothers moved operations to Pontiac, Michigan. In 1909 William C. Durant gained control of Rapid Motor Vehicle Company and made it a subsidiary of his General Motors Company. In 1908 Durant gained control of Reliance Motor Car Company, another early commercial vehicle manufacturer. In 1911 General Motors formed the General Motors Truck Company and folded Rapid and Reliance into it. In 1912 the Rapid and Reliance names were dropped in favor of “GMC.” So, yeah, more Durant shenanigans.

GMC is where Pontiac Comes into and out of the picture. GMC essentially took over Pontiac, continued to manufacture their vehicles for a time and then took over their plants to make GMC products. GMC also made busses for quite a time, but ultimately spun off and sold bus operations as part of a general effort to reinforce their brand as rugged utility vehicles.

GMC is another GM division that is heavily involved in making military vehicles.  During the First World War, the company provided the Model 16 3/4-ton truck, and modified its production to provide 1-ton troop carriers and aviation support vehicles, and by 1918, more than 90 percent of GMC truck production was for military use earning a Distinguished Service Award. During the Second World War, GMC Truck produced 600,000 trucks for use by the United States Armed Forces.

Defunct UK Auto Makers (Part 3D)

Some of the most interesting UK Auto Makers have come and gone. We’ve covered a number of them that still exist in some form, but here are some you may not recognize.

We Confess, We Missed a Few…

Let’s start with 5 small UK Makers that are still in business but we couldn’t fit them in before. No great history or detail on these because as much as they are deserving, we’ve really covered their story repeatedly when writing about custom ultra/hyper/luxury sports and race cars. So we’ll just mention them and then get to the stories of defunct UK Auto Makers.

Hawk HF3000

Hawk – British automobile company Hawk Cars Ltd. makes the Hawk HF3000, a kit car based on the Lancia Stratos AKA a continuation car or replica car.

JZR Trikes – A UK producer of traditionally-styled trikes in kit form. John Ziemba Restorations began to market the JZR in 1990, paused in 1998 and resumed in year 2,000.

Ultima Sports Ltd. – a sports car manufacturer based in HinckleyLeicestershireEngland, founded in 1992 by Ted Marlow and Richard Marlow. They make and distribute the Ultima Evolution car in coupe and convertible styles. Worth noting: they keep getting near the Guinness book of world records for 0 to 100 back to 0 speed (with street legal tires) currently 9.4 seconds. Their Ultima GTR720 also recorded an even quicker Top Gear Test Track lap time of 1 min 9.9 secs than Michael Schumacher in his $1.8 million Ferrari FXX track car.

Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited, – currently makes F1 Cars. Long history but not a car you can buy. We mention them here because their cars have won 100 races. The only other companies to do so are household names like Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes.

Zenos Cars – British automotive company that makes high-performance, light-weight sports cars. They are technically being reconstructed and not making cars. There assets were purchased so we may soon see them return to the scene. Founded 22 May 2012; 10 years ago, by  Ansar Ali and Mark Edwards, who worked together at Lotus Cars and later at Caterham Cars. The name Zenos is said to be a combination of ‘zen’, representing purity, and ‘os’, for spine. We don’t quite see it, but…there you have it.

Now to the Defunct Makers of the UK

Okay, the truth is that they’re are way too many car makers that came and went in the GB. Seriously, like 80 that start with an ‘A’. Most of them existed for only a year or two, many of the rest have been reborn as another company which we’ve already covered in the other posts in this series. So we’re going to cover a sampling of them that we found entertaining.

Marlin is a British sports car manufacturer founded in 1979 in Plymouth as Marlin Engineering and now located in Crediton, Devon, England. Founder Paul Moorhouse, built a series of one-off cars for his own use decided to put one into production as a kit car. The company created 6 cars, traded hands 3 times and now awaits a new vision/direction…but doesn’t produce cars.

Marlin Roadster

Alldays & Onions was an English engineering business[1] and an early automobile manufacture.  Alldays also built an early British built tractor.  It manufactured cars from 1898 to 1918, ceased selling cars in 1920 but continued to make many other items.

The Baby Blake was unusual in being powered by two separate stroke engines driving friction discs. A third disc running between these and moveable backwards and forwards gave an infinitely variable drive to the rear axle.

The Concept Centaur GT was a kit car first built by Concept Cars Ltd of Middleton, Leicestershire, in 1973 and marketed from 1974 to 1977. Famous for possibly being the lowest car ever made being only 94 cm (37 in) high, the body was a GRP-and-plywood monocoque with box section and steel tube reinforcement. Not sure how many ever sold, between 23 and 56. The Durango 95 in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange was probably a Probe 16. (Only 3 made) and was sold to finance the movie into America.

The Bug

Meadows Frisky made a series of small cars at a factory of Henry Meadows Ltd at Fallings Park in Wolverhampton between 1958 and 1961. Around July 1956, in a back room at the Meadows factory, Frisky made a prototype vehicle, nicknamed The Bug. This tiny, four-wheeler, utilized a molded fibreglass shell with gull-wing doors and an air-cooled 250 cc (15 cu in) engine fitted to a brazed ladder-type chassis.  This car was heavily modified and renames before it went into production.

The Vulcan Motor and Engineering Company Limited, of SouthportEngland, made cars from 1902 until 1928 before switching entirely to commercial vehicles (1914 – 1953). Brothers Thomas and Joseph Hampson had built an experimental car in 1899. They steadily grew there engine size until world war 1 broke out. In 1919, Harper Bean acquired 75% of the company with the intention of taking the company toward commercial vehicles.

Turner Sports Car Company Limited First Turner models were produced between 1951 and 1966 by Turner Sports Car Company Limited, established by Jack Turner near Wolverhampton, England. In early 1962, a completely new, larger, fixed-head Turner GT had been introduced, at the London Racing Car Show. It had a glass fibre monocoque centre section and could be had only nine of which model were produced, all with Ford Ford 1,500 cc engines. The Turner models were snazzy looking, unfortunately they didn’t sell well.

Zolfe Orange is a car announced at the Autosport show in January 2006. Built by Zolfe, the car has a spaceframe chassis and composite body, with rear-drive. The car was originally shown with Suzuki motor cycle engine, which was replaced by a Mazda engine or a 2.3-litre Ford Duratec engine. The name was changed to the Zolfe GTC4 for production. It’s unclear if Zolfe will continue in the car business since the car hasn’t been made since 2016.

Rare Auto Makers of the UK: (part 3C)

Caterham

The story of Caterham is the story of Lotus. Founded in 1973 as a car company, Caterham was originally top seller of the Lotus series 7. Series 1 Lotus Seven began production in 1957. The car is a great “club-style” racer which produces speed via it’s light weight more than it’s powerful engine. Lotus went on to create a Series 2 (1960), Series 3 (1968) and Series 4 (1970) versions of their seven, before discontinuing production in 1973.

That’s when Caterham stepped in and bought the rights to continue manufacturing the Seven. They continue to make their Caterham 7, a direct evolution of the Series 3 Lotus Seven designed by Colin Chapman. More recently Caterha did start making the Caterham 21, (based on the Lotus Elise) and  the SP/300.R, a track only car co-developed with Lola.

The seven reduces weight by chucking every creature comfort and safety feature they can. Its not a practical modern transportation vehicle, without air-conditioning, airbags, traction/stability control, ABS, satellite navigation or cruise control. Lovers of this car would argue that this car exists as a celebration of the pure driving experience. If you have driven one, please let us know.

David Brown

David Brown believes the car is created for the soul. The well known businessman and car enthusiast put his first car forward in 2014 a year after they founded in in Coventry. In 2017 they moved their headquarters to their brand new manufacturing facilities in Silverstone Park in April 2017.

Their first car was the Speedback GT, which does not have any relationship to the Aston Martin version of the car. Their second car was the Mini Remastered in 2018, which is pretty closely related to the Mini Coup.

Using 5.0-litre Jaguar AJ-V8 engine as a powerplant the fastback gets 565 lb⋅ft of torque. It’s inspired by 960s racing grand tourers and British jet aircraft of the same era.

The Mini Remastered powerplant is the basic Mini engine delivering up to 83 bhp. They basically strip a brand new mini “donor” car and redesign the body by all-new steel body shell is bespoke-made by British Motor Heritage, which is then coach built and refined by David Brown Automotive–painstakingly creating something that looks just like it did before they touched it. They also make some improvements to the interior adding a air conditioning, electric start/stop button, remote central locking, full LED lighting and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple® CarPlay®, satellite navigation3G4GBluetooth® and DAB connectivity, and electric power assist steering. Just in case you weren’t paying enough for your mini.

MG

MG not only makes smaller sports cars they would appear to hold the record for the smallest Web Address. mg.co.uk, really? It’s taking economy a bit seriously. MG belongs to to Chinese corporation, SAIC Auto Group, via their merger with Nanjing Automobile Group, who originally acquired MG. SAIC now manufactures all cars in its plant in China, continuing all MG lines although they’ve continued to modernize the design a bit.

As a British Car Company with its own Marque, M.G. Car Co. Ltd, only existed from 1930 to 1972, though it was founded by Cecil Kimber sometime around 1924. How is a car company founded 6 years before it incorporates? Cecil Worked for William Morris of Morris Garages a retail sales and service garage in Oxford. Cecil was a sales manager for Morris who came up with the idea of building a line of sports cars and put MG Super Sports on the front plate. William Morris kept the project under his own name until he sold it to his own company, which merged with Austin to become BMC (British Motor Company), which absorbed Leyland Motor Company becoming BLMC. It got passed around as BLMC bought Rover, at one point being MG Rover Group before Nanjing bought them and later merged with SAIC. Dizzy yet? Us too!

Fun Fact: No one can decide when they started making MGs. We picked 1924 because that’s when they registered their trademark, but full disclosure, they were already putting the MG plate on cars before then. It’s important you know these things in case someone bets you they have an MG built in 1923 and you say, “Impossible!” It’s totally possible.

If you think the company rebranding is hard to follow the MG model line itself is more of a pretzel still. What began as a new sporting body on a Morris Oxford chassis, became a purpose designed vehicle in 1928 (the M type), which spawned a T-Series of Midgets, and later Y-type Saloons (Sedans), and a host of race cars of course. There are some major models that lasted quite a while, like the MGB, but there are many more short runs of re-badged cars like the MG Midget in 1961, really a restyled Austin-Healey Sprite.

There is not room in this post to cover the litany of models, some of which were only popular in certain countries, but what’s amazing is the level of design consistency. No matter who makes them or owned them at the time, an MG always looks like a relative it’s cousins.

Morgan

Founded in 1910, by Henry Frederic Stanley Morgan, Morgan Motor Company is a English motor car manufacturer currently owned by Italian investment group Investindustrial. Based in Worcestershire, Morgan employs approximately 220 people, who hand make 850 cars per year.

All Morgan cars are made of wood, frame and exterior, and have always been made of wood. H.F.S. Morgan quit the Great Western Railway in 1904 to open a garage, develop independent front suspension, and design a cool-looking three wheel round about car. The company began making four wheel cars in 1935 and phased out three-wheelers in 1952. HMS helmed the company until his death in 1959.

Interesting facts: The Morgan became the only car ever to appear in a shop window at Harrods for sale at 63 pounds sterling. They had racing success with three wheels in in 1913 winning the Cyclecar Grand Prix at Amiens in France. Racing success drove sales until  E. B. Ware’s rolled his racer at Brooklands in 1924, which lead to three wheeled cars being banned from racing.

The company produced roadsters, coupes and super-sports. All were original looking and worth staring at if you get a chance.

You can check them out for yourself at their museum and see examples of every model they’ve made. If you’d like to order one, be prepared to wait on the list between 6 months and 10 years.

Noble

Chief designer and founder, Lee Noble, started Noble as a make of express sports cars in 1999. He was also the manager until 2009 and though he sold his part of the company in 2006. Based in Leicester, England, bodyworks and chassis are manufactured in South Africa (Port Elizabeth), and assembled in the Noble plant.

M400

The company makes low quantities of their lines, including the M12 GTO, M12 GTO-3, M12 GTO-3R and Noble M400. In 2009 Noble released a Hypercar, the M600, capable of 650 bhp via a 4.4-litre V8 Volvo, twin-turbocharged engine, with a Graziano 6 speed manual gearbox.

If you’re American and want to buy a GTO-3Rs or M400, only about 200 were imported, combined. You can get your hands on one from 1G Racing out of Ohio under the name Rossion Q1. The 3R and M400 are essentially the same car with minor differences in engines and suspensions. Essentially the M400 is the track variant which was the reason 1G bought the exclusive rights to American Distribution in 2007.

TVR

Created in 1947 by English engineers Trevor Wilkinson and Jack Pickard, TVR makes lightweight sports cars with powerful engines, offering a diverse range of coupés and convertibles.

At one point, TVR was the third-largest specialized sports car manufacturer in the world at present the American market is the focus of their efforts to grow.

In December 2006, the company was divided into several small firms. Which makes sense when you consider how much this company has changed over a series of eras–based often on the vision of the new owner. Trevor Wilkinson was born in Blackpool, May 14th, 1923, and left school at 14 to start an engineering apprenticeship at a local garage. His general engineering and car sup-up shop, named Trevcar took off when partner Jack Pickard joined the company in 1947. The new TVR Engineering focused on cars and thrived, eventually making their own one-offs called TVR One, Two, and Three between 1949 and 1953.

Trevor left TVR in 1962 and eventually died in 2008. Between 63 and 65 the company almost died–literally announcing they wouldn’t make any more cars. They weren’t able to pay Ford for powertrains anymore is the biggest reason. In 1965 Martin Lilley took over the vision of TVR, which was now famous for their racers and for unreliability in their street cars (engines too big for the brakes and chassis design.

The Lilly era brought the Vixen series one model. He moved production from Hoo Hill to Bristol Avenue and hired model Helen Jones to pose nude on the TVR stand at the British International Motor Show at Earls Court in 1970. It was hugely controversial, so they did it again in 1971.

TVR No. 2

In the 1980s, under the ownership of Peter Wheeler took over, grew engine capacity from 3.5 to 5 liters, and re-introduced the traditional design elements from the M-series. This finally worked to bring the company from financial disaster to the black. The company finally designed their own engine, the AJP8, a V-8 engine named after consultants Al Melling, John Ravenscroft and Peter Wheeler. The engine was modified to a straight-six before being widely used in their models, because it was cheaper to make and maintain than the eight.

In July 2004, Russian Nikolay Smolensky bought the company. His leadership saw the near death of the brand and his attempts to make it profitable lead to laying off so many workers that car owners paraded their cars through London, creating the single biggest one-marque convoy November 26, 2006, Dubbed “London Thunder.”

The company was restructured auctioned back to Smolensky and is now owned by a group of investors including the Government of Wales. They’ve been developing a new car design since June of 2015, the TVR Griffith, whose production might save the company. The company was owed more than £8.23 million from debtors, and has net assets slightly exceeding £2.1 million, but must pay off £2 million loan from the Welsh government and a £3 million loan from financial firm Fiduciam.

Westfield

Westfield is an English make of cars founded in the beginning of the 82. They currently offer both factory built and kit versions of several two-seater, open top sportscars based on the Lotus 7. You read that right, Collin Chapman’s Lotus Seven strikes again.

Caterham Cars bought the rights from Lotus, but Chris Smith from Westfield went into direct competition with his own kit. Did Caterham threaten to sue? YES. Westfield settled out of court and then improved the design of their cars. While the surface appearance of the cars remains similar you’ll know a Westfield by it’s fiberglass body, which is ironically more like the original lotus.

Westfield Sport

When Chris Smith became the director of Westfield he didn’t dream of creating a factory built car, but the car continues to sell well and maintains a great reputation for craftsmanship. The model range of Westfield is not often replenished by new cars, BUT see special facts section below to know why Westfield is probably going to be around for awhile.

Special Notes: Total Kit Car, Westfield produces about 450 SEi and XTR chassis per year.
Top Gear, a Westfield XTR2 set a faster lap time than the reigning record holder of that series, the Pagani Zonda.
June 2009 Westfield became the first Niche Vehicle Manufacturer to be awarded European Small Series Production Status.