The Gone Ones

54
7681
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Tempus does fugit.

I’ve been test driving new cars long enough that the first new cars I test drove are now Antique cars, literally. I recently found myself behind a ’95 Mustang GT and was astonished to see the black and white “Antique” tag it wore – which reminded me that I am, too.

When I began writing about cars back in the mid-1990s, there were at least six brands that no longer exist, today. I thought it might be fun to reminisce about some of these Gone Ones.

Saturn (1990-2010) –

This was GM’s second attempt to resuscitate its small-car image, after Geo (about which more later). It was marketed as a “different kind of car company” and was in that it served its cars price fixe – i.e., you didn’t haggle; you paid what the sticker said, with the idea being to make the buying process less harrowing for people who didn’t like to haggle. Of course, no-haggle meant you paid what the sticker said – which meant you couldn’t haggle the price down.

The cars were different, too – at least initially. They featured flexible plastic exterior body panels that covered up the underlying structure of the car. This largely eliminated the door dings that every new car owner dreads and also reduced repair costs as the plastic panels were easy to remove and replace with new ones if they were damaged. They were also something else unusual – for an American car:

Light.

The curb weight of the first Saturns, the SL series, was only about 2,300 lbs.  They also sat low to the ground and came standard with five speed manual transmissions. They came close to 40 MPG on the highway without CVTs, turbos, stop/start “technology” and were fun to Frogger through traffic in.

GM eventually badge-engineered the brand into duplicative irrelevance. Saturns were resold as Pontiacs (another Goner) and Chevys and lost their composite exterior panels, became heavier and bigger and soon the only thing that was meaningfully different about a Saturn was not being able to haggle over the price.

Mercury (1938-2011) –

This was Ford’s Oldsmobile, with some Pontiac seasoning. Meaning, a Mercury was a cut above your basic Ford in terms of trim and amenities but not lacking in the performance department, which it sometimes offered more of.

One of the last of these that I got to drive as a brand-new press car was the resurrected 2003-2004 Marauder, which was a hopped-up version of the Ford Crown Vic, which Ford sold fleets of to cop shops all around the country in the ’90s and early 2000s. But not even the Police Interceptor versions of the Vic had what the Marauder had – which was a 302 horsepower version of Ford’s 4.6 liter DOHC V8 paired up with a tire-chirping four speed automatic feeding an aluminum driveshaft spinning 3.55 rear gears. In black (other colors were available but black fit) this thing made you feel like a Fed, without the ugly connotations associated with that office today.

It was the last rear-drive, V8-powered Mercury and – as it turned out – one of the last Mercs, period. By the time the brand died, it wasn’t selling much anyhow. But at least it went out in style and will be remembered for that.

Plymouth (1928-2001) –

This was the budget brand of the Mopar conglomerate and – in its heyday (and before my day) sold lower-cost versions of high-performance Dodge and Chrysler models, like the GTX (1966-1971) which was basically a repackaged Charger. There were also glorious nine-passenger wagons like the Fury, which survived into the mid-’70s and some of which came with the mighty 440 V8, too.

By the time I was eligible for press cars, all that remained of Plymouth was the Execrable Neon and its derivatives, including the Chrysler-badged PT Cruiser. Both sold in legions but ended up much like the legions of Publius Varus in the Teutoburg forest in AD 9. They were many – and then there were none. This being the result not of treachery by Arminius but shoddy workmanship, by Plymouth. But I have one fun memory of the brand, which involved another brand.

I was driving a press car PT Cruiser home one day. I came upon some traffic and left-righted through the blockage and proceeded on my way. In my rearview, I caught sight of a Mercedes E-Class that had been riding my ass and was trying to follow my line but unable to – its driver annoyed by this. As the gap opened up, I glanced in the rearview and saw the Benz pass the blockade on the shoulder. And began to close the gap. He had the speed advantage and was soon on my ass again. I was in the right lane now – and the left was clear – so why he didn’t just pass is something I’ll never know but probably due to some ape-like dominance ritual. Anyhow, I was close to home and the turn off – a deceptively languid sweeper that tightens up suddenly in the middle – was just ahead.

I increased my speed to as Ludicrous as a PT Cruiser was capable of and entered the turn, which I knew like my own smell since I practiced on it practically every day. The Benz driver did not have that advantage. I kept on the gas – and off the brakes. As the turn tightened up, the Benz driver hit his, over-corrected and understeered himself right into the guardrail. Later, I returned to the scene and picked up a piece of body-cladding remains (which Benzes of this era had) and mounted it on my garage wall.

The PT Cruiser and Plymouth are gone. But I still have “war booty” on my garage wall.

Hummer (1999-2010) – 

The war-boner that engorged the nation’s pants back in the early 2000s led to GM buying the rights to produce a civilian-ized version of the AM General HUMVEE, which featured prominently in broadcast coverage of the then-new Warnn Terrr. It was a hugely capable, preposterous vehicle almost impossible to get into and akward to maneuver anywhere except the deserts of Iraq. But it was also a thumb-in-the-eye to the then-still backwater cult of Climate Change, which was then marketed as “global warming” and the H1 contributed mightily to it – if you believed in it – which enraged those who did believe in it.

Until the Orange Man, nothing annoyed a liberal as much as a Hummer.

In ’02 GM sent me an H1 Alpha – the most obnoxious of all Hummers – in a most obnoxious fly yellow. I gathered up my friends and we headed for the dirt baths not far from Dulles Airport, one of the few remaining open places in Loudoun County, Virginia. After covering the Hummer in mud like a pig in a waller, I used my finger to write, “I (heart symbol) Global Warming” on the rear and sides. We then rode around rolling coal in the thing (it was diesel powered) whenever in the vicinity of a Prius.

Back in those days, GM approved – sotto voce – such shenanigans. This being the pre-Barra GM, which was run by guys who liked cars (and monster trucks) as opposed to a woman who loves to signal her virtue.

Hummer, of course, took a dirt bath not long thereafter – along with most of the rest of GM, the remainder hooked to a government IV bottle and – no surprises – the quasi-corpse no longer interested in selling much of interest at all.

GM will probably not let me anywhere near the new – electric Hummer – which is fine by me, because a monster truck without an engine is like a gorgeous woman without her working parts.

I’ll have more fun with my memories.

. . . 

Got a question about cars, Libertarian politics – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

If you like what you’ve found here please consider supporting EPautos. 

We depend on you to keep the wheels turning! 

Our donate button is here.

 If you prefer not to use PayPal, our mailing address is:

EPautos
721 Hummingbird Lane SE
Copper Hill, VA 24079

PS: Get an EPautos magnet or sticker or coaster in return for a $20 or more one-time donation or a $10 or more monthly recurring donation. (Please be sure to tell us you want a magnet or sticker or coaster – and also, provide an address, so we know where to mail the thing!)

My eBook about car buying (new and used) is also available for your favorite price – free! Click here.  If that fails, email me at EPeters952@yahoo.com and I will send you a copy directly!

Share Button

54 COMMENTS

  1. Eric doesn’t seem to notice that his duel with the Benz was actually a duel between two Daimlers. PTCs are durable and are great battlers in contests with larger cars in traffic or on winding roads; fun rides for driving slow cars fast.

    A 5 speed PT doesn’t need a lot of tweaking to become fun daily drivers, replacing the shifter bushings with Booger brand solid poly bushings and aftermarket rotors to replace the thin factory versions installed to save weight. Aftermarket engine mounts are low priced and improve driveability remarkably, as well.

    PTCs are actually small trucks and are great little trucks for people who have the good sense to modify them with inexpensive aftermarket upgrades. Eric doesn’t like them much, but plenty of enthusiasts of the little truck are still driving them for 300k+ on the odometers.

  2. Saturn was dead the minute Brad Paisley coiffed “she’s a Saturn with a sunroof…” What self-respecting woman wants to be compared to a Saturn???

  3. Under “not quite gone,” you might classify Buick, which, back in the day, was a quintessential “banker’s car,” i.e. a large luxury sedan with distinctive styling. I have vivid memories of my granddad’s 1950 something *BIG* *black* Buick with the round vents on the front fenders, similar to modern day BMW Z3.

    It looked something like this:
    https://metalworksclassics.com/portfolio-page/1952-buick-roadmaster/

    Now, I see there are presently Buick SUVs only, which I suspect are just re-badged Chevys.
    Can you confirm or correct, Eric?

  4. I remember riding in the back of my uncle’s 1960 blue Corvair station wagon…sitting on top of the engine. Somehow we crammed 4 adults, 4 kids and two babies into that car. It was in 1961 or 62 heading to the Detroit Race Course to watch the fireworks.

  5. Speaking of Gone Ones – Donald Rumsfeld is gone…. Recalled to hell by his master I suspect !! The hummer and “Warnn Terrr” just reminded me of that good news…

    • I’ll always have deep respect for the sacrifice John McCains eye cancer made to make our world just a little better. A true unsung hero.

        • Though it is strange – I noticed something on Twitter. All my left and right wing friends are united in their hatred for this basterd. I guess the biggest service he did for humanity is dying and briefly uniting people!!

  6. While the badge still exists, Chrysler is a shell of its former glory. Even in the 00’s they had the Crossfire, the rebranded Mercedes vans and the 300. But of course prior to Lee Iacocca they had some really interesting engineering and before the 70s the Imperial was every bit as good as a Cadillac or Lincoln.

    • Indeed, RK –

      I expect Chrysler to cease to exist, soon. There is no replacement in the hopper for the 300 sedan and when that’s gone all that will be left is a minivan. A brand cannot survive selling a single model – and certainly not that model. Dodge is in trouble, too.Not because it hasn’t got an excellent lineup of hot-selling models but because all of these models are racist… well, they are politically incorrect, at the least.

  7. I own 2 Saturn SL-2 twin cam sedans w/5 spd (’98 and ’01) used hard on local gravel and
    CO Interstates. Both get 40mpg if held to 75 mph. A full IRS corners very well plus unique back then a sturdy steel timing chain vs rubber.
    Enroute to Sunday worship recently this caravan scorched by me on I-25 a yellow Corvette leading
    followed by several Ricers. On inexplicable impulse (age 85!) I put down hammer reaching 110 4th gear 6500rpm apparent fuel shutoff and 5th same result and that group still pulling away. WebSaturn fan club cites low volume coupes were set fuel shutoff at 122mph having higher spd tires not speced for sedans.
    And yes the single cam SL-1 Saturns were indeed slugs.
    GM management pulled Saturn out of Tennessee to build bigger cars that were never as good.

    • Good stuff, Bob!

      I enjoyed driving these little buzzbombs when they were new. Not especially quick, but agile and that makes up for a lot, especially if you’re faster on the trigger (and in the curves) than the typical Americano – who is only fast in a straight line… if he’s even that!

  8. Eric – you caveman – running that Mercedes off the road and into the guardrail. Sounds like a duel between two baboons to see which gets the lady.
    Must have humiliated the Mercedes driver a bit. Well, ok, maybe the Mercedes driver ran himself into the guardrail, but it was like the Indy 500 on the freeway between you two. Hopefully, your caveman days are behind you, or were you the guy I was racing with the other day? I sure showed him!

    • Hi Frank,

      All I did was drive; I didn’t try to ride his ass or even follow him. He could have just passed me. It’s not my fault he couldn’t handle the speed he chose to drive!

  9. Another unfortunate loss for the american market is Suzuki. I’d love to get my hands on a modern jimny or swift. Their vehicles were simple, fuel efficient, cheap and easy to work on. The new jimny is a terrific sales success worldwide but thanks to uncles regulations we miss out again.

  10. My low-mileage 2011 CRV will likely (I hope) be my last personal motor vehicle. I wish that I could confidently say that I will need no newer model.

  11. Oh man, what a trip down memory lane. Call me the king of Vanished Cars. The first car I ever drove was a ’53 or ’54 Mercury. I owned two Oldsmobiles sequentially, a ’62 and a ’63 (the latter a Super 88 that had the “Ultra High Compression Skyrocket” 394 cubic inch engine). There’s a Plymouth Volare parked in my garage. Three Geo Metros have adorned my life, two of them still in the backyard. Wonderful cars.

    I got the knack from my dad who owned a variety of Edsels and the prince of the tanks, a nine-passenger 1971 Tor Red Plymouth station wagon with a 440. Such, such were the days.

  12. Also gone are the Oldsmobiles. My dad owned two, gave one to my neocon brother who also happens to be part of the safety cult. Mom had a 69 Vista Cruiser with the 400 engineand Dad gave my brother a 69 Cutlass $ as a pre graduation present. It had the 400 engine, I think. Lucky bastard. Two years later, he traded it for, get this, a 71 Celica. I was only 8, but I shook my head when I saw the Celica. Something wasn’t right in paradise.

    • Hi Swamp!

      One of my earliest car memories is of my parents’ green 1974 Oldsmobile 98 sedan. It was a true road-going battleship, with armored skirts (well, guards) for the rear wheels and a Rocket 455 under the hood, the sight of which awed my child’s eyes. I can remember my mom hauling the mail in that thing on the Long Island Expressway – me watching the needle bunch up at 50, 60, 70 and then head south toward 80, 90, 100…

  13. Honestly, the “housing crash” helped clean a lot of corpses off the road.
    Many had become clones of each with no soul in the 80s.

    And Hummer, what a disappointment. Finally became a suburban instead of the behemoth it was in all it’s H1 glory. It deserved to die.

    Soon we will reminisce about our mustangs, challengers & camaros of today when we are all riding our Biden electric scooters to the mass transit stop.

    I thought the future was supposed to be better.

  14. When I was quite young, my stepfather had both a VW Bus and a VW Thing! I actually loved the Thing but he got rid of it quickly. He also had a ’50-something Corvette in mint condition and sold it to a collector. He had a ’68 Mustang Fastback that the dealer told him Frank Sinatra had ordered but later refused to take — not sure if I believe *the dealer* about that one. We did live nearby the Sinatra residence in Palm Springs, but in any case, that car was bad ass! I was too young to remember the specs unfortunately. He also had a ’70-something Ford LTD convertible! That was super awesome as well.

    My parents at that time gave me my first car. A ’58 Ranchero! I was too young to drive and snuck it out a couple times but right after they divorced, they sold the car before I was licensed to drive.

    Later in life, new stepdad (yeah, I know…), he had one of those Cadillac Seville’s with the Opera Windows and that angle trunk. Don’t remember the year but you had one in an article of yours that I saw not too long ago! Fond memories of being taken to high school in that! He also had a Mercury Cougar that my mother hit a dear with and totalled! It was an old one, don’t remember the year but the hugest boat you could imagine. Had to be ’70-something… looking at Internet pics… probably a ’72. Interestingly enough they also had an ’80-something El Camino!

    Then, when I was a sophomore in high school, they gave me a ’78 (pretty sure) Datsun 510 wagon! That was after my mother drove it into a wash right after a flash flood and the insurance company totalled it! Still worked fine until Datsun did a botched job on a radiator replacement and I seized the engine! My parents actually got the engine fixed and then gave it to my then-stepdad’s daughter!

    I’m one of those people that likes *something* about almost any car. I do love my Audis the best (now that I can afford ’em) but I just love what cars used to be. Golf carts… not so much. Not only did we live on a golf course for a while but I also worked in a caddy shack and had my fill of them. Fun for a golf course on a nice day but that’s about it.

    Now… sadly… they’re turning all cars into fancy golf carts. It’s just not the same. The thrill is gone. I think I was born about 10 – 20 years too late!

  15. Eric, I am glad you put the PT Cruiser in the Plymouth article. The badge may have said “Chrysler”, but the car was designed as a Plymouth, back when car guys ran Ma MoPar. It may have been less than a Charger in performance, but it was certainly unique in the market at the time.

    MoPar too went through a ritual emasculation in the 2000’s, resulting in the Neon not really being a successor to the P-Body or L-Body platforms as it should have been. A Shelbyized Neon would have been a real ringtailed tooter. Instead, MoPar got Bob Eaton and his pennypinching on head gaskets, water pumps, etc. killing what was good and leaving a gasping, panting almost corpse for Daimler to pick clean.

    • I have a 2010 PT, Crusty, and they’ve been great performers for me. Not particularly sophisticated, but good solid cars, reasonably priced at the time, with a great seating arrangement, parts are common, engine compartment is tight, but oh well. Pop the seats out and haul some plywood, very versatile. One thing that DOES irritate me is the poor design of the control arm bushings. But the car is paid for, and continues to get me from a to b reliably.

    • My PT experience was moaning when my friend rented one for a skiing trip. My friend said it standed for Party Time. Not very bright obviously. Going up the rockies was not much different than the scooter in dumb and dumber. The thing felt like it was literally held together by glue. The biggest piece of sh– I can remember.

      • I really liked the look when they came to market. Then I rented one while away at a trade school. It was a doggy, gutless, low/average mpg thing. Since then I’ve watched and seen that they all seem to die early. Shame, because I like the look and the seating position, but not enough to buy one.

  16. I like that you had fun writing this article, Eric. The nostalgic joy is salient.

    Also, who says the Humvee necessarily contributes to global warming? Now, if we all drove more vehicles like that, how much time, money, energy and CO2 emissions could be saved by no longer having to maintain roads?!

  17. While I have no trophies, I’ve had a multitude of similar experience. Almost every time I drive the two lane blacktop, with which I was as familiar with as I was to my wife’s physical contours, to the not quite local college town, which isn’t often anymore. I would come upon a driver who would drive 60-65 on the straight but slow down to near the “suggested” speed limit on the yellow curve sign. Upon passing them on the straight, they quite often got upon my ass. Until we came to a curve. At which time I non-vocally explained why I passed them. Driving an MX5, I didn’t, and had no need to slow down for the next curve, while still maintaining enough steerage to avoid unexpected events. Which means they disappeared from my rear view mirror. Some may have indeed become bent or broken, but I was well out of sight if they did.

  18. My sister had a saturn back in college in the late 90’s, decent car back then, sporty looking little 2 door, but God it had no power at all. You could time that thing 0-60 with an hour glass.

    When we just started out with a family back in 08 I leased my wife a Mercury Mariner, decent small sized suv back before the crossover craze began in earnest. Actually had to put the suv in 4 wheel as apposed to the electronic awd that has followed. That was still a true suv with plenty of space for a, at the time, family 0f 3. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not buying that out, I should have kept that suv for us until she was ready for the larger crossovers/suvs.

    • A thing I keep forgetting, which is applicable in regards this article, about extinct SUVs. Guess who invented them in the US. International Harvester. By means of the Scout. Which was an awesome vehicle. Just too far ahead of its time. All were constructed on short ladder frames. Which means all were off road capable, and very capable at that. They all came with an Orscheln parking brake. Which design has never been improved upon. The tension was adjustable, by screwing in or out the handle on the brake. A friend had one, and being off road, attempted to take of in 4 wheel low, while forgetting to release the brake, and twisted the driveshaft off. I even witnessed a 2WD pick up version out climbing 4WD Jeeps on a a local off road trail.

      • Actually there are other contenders for first SUV such as the 1949 Willys Jeep 4×4 station wagon.

        One of the interesting things about the Scout is that it could be had with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the 1960s. (The 4-cylinder engine was one bank of an IH V8.)

        • Hi Jason,

          There were many 4x4s – as they were called – before there were “SUVs,” which is a marketing term invented I think by Ford and first applied to the ’90s-era Explorer.

  19. ‘the rest of GM, the remainder hooked to a government IV bottle’ — EP

    Does anyone still remember what happened before GM cracked up … around 2006? It rhymed with this:

    ‘Phoenix, San Diego, and Seattle reported the highest year-over-year gains among the 20 cities in April. Phoenix led the way with a 22.3% year-over-year price increase, followed by San Diego with a 21.6% increase and Seattle with a 20.2% increase. All 20 cities reported higher price increases in the year ending April 2021 versus the year ending March 2021.’

    https://tinyurl.com/pj82spfz

    Doubtless my modest cabin has gone up too, as denizens of those metro areas flee to the mountains and pay any price asked, or higher.

    But is it worth destabilizing and impoverishing (via gross malinvestment) an entire country to feed property speculation?

    Last time turned out quite poorly indeed — banks puked; leveraged speculators plunged deep underwater; shit companies like GM and AIG and Fannie Mae smacked the wall with a godawful bang, leaving an ugly brown stain.

    AND, the United States was put on a permanent Federal Reserve IV drip called quantitative easing to make it all happen again on purpose.

    CUCKOO … CUCKOO … CUCKOO

    • Things are about to boomerang a bit. Buddy works in nyc, he said the company want everyone back in the office come the fall, not every day, about 3 days a week and he no longer will have his own personal desk. Anyone of his coworkers who escaped ny, ala snake pliskin, at least at his company, is now going to face moving back to the cesspool, losing their job or finding a new job on their own where they currently live.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here