The lost marques of General Motors

The General has a more colorful and complicated brand history than folks might realize. Mac’s Motor City Garage takes a look back at some GM divisions that have been forgotten along the way. 

 

With the auto industry collapse of 2009, GM was forced to kill off four of the eight brands it was then marketing in North America. Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, and Saab were all thrown over the side—the better to allow GM to compete with oh, say, Toyota, which sells roughly the same number of cars with only three brands. Today, GM thrives with four division badges in the USA: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick, and GMC (and Opel, Vauxhall, and Holden overseas).

Seeing all these familiar brands disappear overnight was a shock to the psyche for many car enthusiasts, as was the loss of Oldsmobile a few years earlier. We want to believe that GM divisions are forever, it seems. But if we look a little closer at the automaker’s long history, we find car brands regularly coming and going through the years. Here are just a few.

 

When Billy Durant originally assembled General Motors in 1909, one of the carmakers he brought into the conglomeration was Elmore of Clyde, Ohio, the leading manufacturer of two-stroke automobiles in the United States. Durant would later say that in acquiring Elmore, he was simply hedging his bets on engine types. Though the cars were soundly engineered, two-strokes were not the future, and GM folded the operation in 1912.

The Elmore plant in Clyde was then used to assemble Clydesdale trucks, and now the site is part of a Whirlpool appliance plant. Shown above are the company’s co-founders, brothers James and Burton Becker, in a chauffeured 1909 Elmore 30 hp Laundaulet. In the background is Clyde’s brand new Carnegie library, still in use today.

 

With greater geographic area and much lower population density than the USA, Canada has always presented a challenge to American carmakers—hence the shuffling of dealer networks and the creation of Canada-exclusive nameplates with broader market coverage. One such realignment was the Asüna brand, marketed through Buick, Pontiac, and GMC dealers in Canada for only two years, 1993-94.

Three vehicles wore the Asüna emblem: the Sunrunner, a rebadged Chevy Tracker; the SE/GT, a variant of the Daewoo LeMans; and shown here, the stylish Asuna Sunfire. Americans will know it as the second-generation Isuzu Impulse/Piazza. Or maybe as the Geo Storm. In the years 1988-91, GM Canada operated a similar division called Passport that sold a Daewoo-built Opel Kadett E as the Optima.

 

In the late ’20s, GM launched its companion brand strategy, designed to plug the gaps, real or imagined, between the existing GM market segments. Oakland received a Pontiac companion, Oldsmobile the Viking, Buick the Marquette, and Cadillac the LaSalle. Each companion brand slotted in beneath its parent in price, with the LaSalle positioned as a younger, sportier version of the Cadillac.

In response to the Depression, the 1934 LaSalle (shown here) borrowed Oldsmobile’s engine and body shell. Since the brand mainly served to cannibalize senior Cadillac sales but at lower margins, LaSalle was discontinued in 1940. The Marquette brand lasted only two years (1929-30) while the Viking hung on for three (1929-31). However, Pontiac (born 1926) was so successful that it killed its parent brand, and Oakland folded in 1932.

 

Sheridan was the first GM division conceived from within the corporation, all the other brands up to that point being outside acquisitions. Two models were planned, a four (above) and a V8. But in 1920, just as the vehicle was nearing production, chairman Billy Durant, the champion of the project, was ousted from the company for the second time. GM management saw no potential in Sheridan and was pleased to sell off both the car and its Muncie, Indiana plant to Durant’s new enterprise, Durant Motors.

Durant’s plans for Sheridan included installing his son Cliff Durant as president and WWI flying ace and Indy 500 veteran Eddie Rickenbacker as sales manager. Cliff, a wannabe race driver, was by all accounts a drunk and a rake, and Durant senior hoped the war hero might serve as a driving instructor and life coach. However, the relationship soured as quickly as Sheridan sales. The brand was discontinued in September 1921 and Rickenbacker departed. But not empty handed. The beautiful Adelaide Frost Durant, Cliff’s ex-wife, became Mrs. Eddie Rickenbacker.

 

Beginning in 1968, General Motors South Africa could boast its very own car brand, the Ranger. Assembled in Port Elizabeth, the Ranger was marketed behind the slogan, “South Africa’s own car” and sported a springbok (a local gazelle that can run 60 mph) as its mascot.

Based on the Opel Rekord with a medley of Opel, Vauxhall, and Holden components, the Ranger was available in sedan, wagon, and coupe versions. The 1971 SS shown here used a 153 CID pushrod four from the American Chevy II—the engine that later became known as the Iron Duke. From 1970 to 1975, an Opel Rekord with Ranger badging was also built in Belgium and sold in selected European markets.

 

Cartercar was another charter member of the GM product line in 1909, reportedly obtained for the rights to its novel friction-drive transmission. As illustrated above, torque was transmitted through a pair of discs at 90 degrees to each other, with the driven disc sliding radially on the drive disc to alter the effective ratio. Sure. The company’s unintentionally wry slogan was “It’s hard to improve a Cartercar.” GM threw in the towel in 1915 and the Flint factory was converted to Oakland production.

Cartercar is most remembered today for its founder-namesake, Byron Carter, who died in April 1908 from injuries sustained while attempting to hand-crank an automobile. In GM folklore, it was his death that motivated the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering at the behest of Cadillac manager Henry Leland.

 

In 1971, Holden and GM Australia launched the luxury Statesman marque as a separate, stand-alone division, but using Holden components and sharing the Holden dealer network. The setup was similar to that employed by Ford with the Lincoln and Continental divisions in the 1950s, or Chrysler and Imperial at around the same time.

Statesman remained a separate but parallel division through five design generations, including the 1980-84 WB series shown here, which sports a stretched Holden platform with a 114-inch wheelbase and Holden’s own 308 CID V8. The Statesman label was dropped after 1984, but reappeared as a Holden model designation in 1990. In 2010 the Statesman name was retired, and Holden’s luxury models now wear Caprice badges.

 Click here for More Lost Marques of General Motors

 

1930 Viking Touring Sedan 

 

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29 thoughts on “The lost marques of General Motors

  1. Thanks for the great article. There was also GM Canada’s marque, Acadian, during the 1960s and into the ’70s. Also I believe there was a MacLaughlin-Buick vehicle back in the Dirty Thirties too.

    • Yes indeed. Col. Sam McLaughlin has been seriously underrepresented in GM history. As founder of McLaughlin-Buick he was one of GM’s earliest investors and was a key advisor to Alfred P. Sloan and a member of the GM board from 1910 until the late ’60s. We hope to do a story or two on him soon.

  2. Chrysler would be impossible if you included all of the antecedents like Jeffrey, Hudson, and Willys. Even Studebaker has a link through Kaiser. You could hit fifty marques just in the US without effort. I think every car company that was not Ford or General Motors has a connection to Chrysler.

    And Renault was part of the family for a while, which draws in nearly every French auto company. They had Maserati too, didn’t they?

    • Andy, you are so right. It would take a book to do the complete Chrysler family tree, and a fat one at that. I would just try to hit a few of the obscure and interesting brands, as with this story.

    • Actually, Citroen who owned Maserati in the late 1960s-early 1970s which gived the Citroen SM who later was forced to sell Maserati due to financial problems and got acquired by Peugeot (who later acquired Chrysler-Europe which was Rootes and Simca). Then Chrysler had a stake in Maserati in the late 1980s.

      The family tree got even bigger with Jeep. The old Jeep CJ-3B was built under licence in various countries in Brazil where Willys do Brasil was acquired by the Brazilian subsdiary of Ford in 1967. http://www.film.queensu.ca/cj3b/World/Brasil.html as well as in Argentina by IKA (Industrias Kaiser Argentina) and acquired by Renault in the mid-1970s. http://www.film.queensu.ca/cj3b/World/Argentina.html

  3. You can buy a new Statesman, as well as its more expensive brother the Caprice today. The ‘Stato’ has been available since 5/71. Some body changes have left it behind for a few years though. Really only 86-88 though. After 84 the engine was destroked to 304 which was current until 2000 when replaced with gen3 and its variants. Base models [pov packs] used 6 cylinders except for HZ-WB which only had the 308/304.
    In the last decades GM US had too many brands, and since they were rebadged Isuzu [ok] or Daewoo [rubbish] or Vauxhall/Opel [poor] they were a joke anyway.
    In Oz we have the ‘Australian’ Holden Cruze which is less than 30% Australian. A better finished Daewoo though is all it is. An average car and I believe marketed in the US too.
    Ford will cease manufacture here in a couple of years, they are the manufacturer with by far the highest local content, 65% plus. The luxury long wheelbase Fairlane disappeared around 08 whith the current shape Falcon

      • Correct. Caprice & the Caprice V are the “replacements”/”survivors” & the Statesman nameplate has been retired – Almost literally, as the statesman had become an old man’s car. The former is the V6 and the latter (the V) is a V8 and more lux. Most end up as limos & taxis which is a shame as they’re then belted for 300k+ miles and knackered as a result.

      • Statesman was never a separate stand alone brand.
        It was separate model and was always marketed as the Holden Statesman or the Holden Caprice. As for the claim these cars were mostly used as taxis or limos, again untrue The Statesman was too expensive to purchase as a taxi and unlike its Ford Falcon competitor were never offered with a special Taxi pack. 90% of Taxis have by long standing practice and tradition, been Fords. And physically, the Statesman and Caprice, whilst built on the Holden wagon’s longer wheel base, offered no greater interior space than the lesser model Holdens.

    • Sorry, incorrect about the Cruze.
      The current model Cruze is now 100% manufactured and built in Australia

      Holden’s stated plan as at 2013 is to phase out the Cruze and entirely produce the Malibu in its place. Holden’s plan is for it to build two model lines only locally – the Mallibu and the Comodore. with the Commodore being phased out in four years time and replaced with locally adapted American GM design. A risky plan given that the demise of Ford in Australia has mainly come about because of the rapid decline in sales of Falcon and Commodore sized cars and that to date the Mallibu hasn’t exactly been setting the sales chart on fire either. Although styling isn’t anything to get excited about, there’s nothing much wrong with the car itself, it’s major impediment is its name And if Holden doesn’t pull its collective finger out soon and change the name, the Mallibu is going to fail to find buyers.

  4. Allpar has an updated version of the Chrysler family tree, based on an original drawing from the 60s. The U.S. Motors branch, which descended through Maxwell, is a real gem – a mix of Gems like Stoddard-Dayton and oddballs like Alden Sampson.

    • Look for a similar piece on Chrysler soon. As noted earlier, we won’t attempt to make it complete, only interesting — which, as you say, shouldn’t be too difficult.

  5. The 140 CID 4 cylinder Chevy engine was the 250 inline 6 Chevy with 2 cylinders less, the Iron Duke was half of a 389 Pontiac, built for the early Le Mans. Other than that it is a great article.

  6. As I understand it, the half-a-389-V8 Pontiac slant-four engine was known as the Tempest 4 and the Trophy 4 and was used only in the 1961-63 Pontiac Tempest. The Chevy II four-cylinder (essentially a 4-cyl. version of the Chevy 6) is the engine that was later known as the Iron Duke and 4 Tech. Was also a very popular Mercury Marine engine.

  7. As with many subjects there is much misinformation on the net. I gather from a little more research that the Iron Duke of the ’70s is the older Chevy II with a cross flow head and was produced in response to the initial problems with the aluminium Vega engine. I thought it odd that the wiki page referred to the Pontiac 301 because that is basically the same lump as the 389. Maybe someone knowledgable needs to correct the wiki page and include the reasons for the correction.

  8. Just found a good detailed explanation here – http://www.s10forum.com/forum/f104/2-5l-myths-and-differences-392998/ – look for post #42 – which explains the confusion re the Pontiac 301. In effect there is partial truth in all of the info. Seems that there were so many changes and upgrades that, in simple terms, there is little in common between the early Chevy II and the final Iron Duke except that they are both ohv fours of around 2.5 litres. Probably a more correct version of what was initially written on this page would have been to say that the Chevy II engine was the engine from which the later Iron Duke was developed.

  9. I wrote that the Chevy II L4 eventually became the Iron Duke aka Tech 4, and I stick with that. I have an advantage over the internet experts: I’ve taken hundreds of these engines apart with my own hands. When you have the VIN R/U engine apart, it is unmistakably four cylinders of a Chevy Six — timing gears etc. interchange. On the longitudinal versions (S10 etc) water pump etc interchange. I owned a Chevy II with the 153-4. Then I saw the engine resurrected as a substitute for the 140 Vega and I saw this same engine evolve a crossflow head. It’s not faraway ancient history to me. On transverse versions, the distributor is in the most bizarre location possible: back (firewall) side, under the intake manifold. What’s it doing there? That’s where it was born in 1962, before anyone ever dreamed of a transverse application. By the way, this engine family is still in production today as the Vortec 3.0L marine engine.

    http://www.macsmotorcitygarage.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Duke-and-Six.jpg

  10. There must be some interesting stories behind some of the other engines that have been evolved into a gazillion different variations – other than just the bare facts.

  11. The South African Ranger vehicles DID NOT use any Holden components
    As mentioned, the Ranger car range were nothing more than South African assembled, NOT MANUFACTURED, Vauxhalls and Opels. The only ranger bits made in South Africa were the Grills, badgeing and trim. This was similar to the way the first Holden was marketed as Australia’s OWN car when in fact that first Holden was essentially a reworked GM prototype that had been built during and then abandoned by GM in the 1930s.

    Rangers might have been marketed as South Africa’s OWN car but in reality they were pure Vauxhall or Opels. The reason the Ranger name came about was because GM had, due to the prevailing political and racial situation in South Africa had decided to divest itself of its South African operation. The operation was bought by a consortium of former South African GM managers who promptly renamed the company and negotiated with the American GM Management to assemble and sell vehicles sourced from GM’s Vauxhall and Opel divisions This being the cheapest option available at the time as South Africa was being prevented by the international community from obtaining hard currency from other countries.

    When the political situation in South Africa later changed and apartheid was lifted, GM America returned to the South African market, establishing a new division which eventually adsorbed the Ranger operation.

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