The end of the road. It comes for all of us, and it has come for many automobile brands. The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805–1942 lists 141 brands as having operated just in Connecticut, historically not exactly a hotbed of the automobile industry. Locomobile you may have heard of, but probably not Swan, which hailed from Middletown, or Clapp, the pride of New Haven. The early days of the auto industry were littered with failed brands, and more than a few have expired in more recent years, too. Some went out in a blaze of glory, others skulked off into history in ignominious defeat. Mostly it’s the latter, as we will see in this examination of the very final cars ever built by now-dead automobile brands.
It’s a long, long way from the pavement-scorching GTO and the swaggering Grand Prixs and Bonnevilles of Pontiac’s 1960s heyday to the soulless appliance that was the G6, the final product of the division that once boasted “We Build Excitement.” Characteristically, the last G6 was a white sedan and it was part of a fleet order. It rolled off the line in April 2009. If you count foreign markets, however, the last Pontiac built was a G3 Wave—a subcompact never sold in the U.S. That model was made in Mexico until December 2009, although that isn’t really a happier ending.
There was no Rocket V-8 engine in the last Oldsmobile made, nor was there a “Cutlass” nameplate anywhere on the body. The last car from a brand that once defined middle-class aspiration was an Alero, a far from aspirational and totally forgettable compact. GM didn’t want to forget it, though, so the Dark Cherry Metallic four-door went to the GM Heritage Collection. Thinking better of it later, GM sold off the car in December 2017, and it fetched an entirely un-Alerolike $42K.
The original, ex-military Hummer H1 is the model that captivated Arnold Schwarzenegger and many others, but that ultra-Hummer was long gone from the lineup when the brand was retired during the GM bankruptcy. The last Hummer built is believed to be a black H3T, the pickup version of the smaller, Chevy Colorado–based H3. Its trip down the assembly line was broadcast on the Today Show, in a segment that should have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, so he could have delivered his signature line as a hopeful message for the brand’s devotees: “I’ll be back.”
The final Mercury produced was a Grand Marquis in 2011—fitting, since that was the last new car for so many of the brand’s customers. Sadly, it was part of a fleet order. The final models of the Grand Marquis got an “Ultimate Edition” badge and were commemorated with special plaque.
The Neon, a car that introduced itself with “Hi.” ended up being the last Plymouth to say “Bye.” The final Plymouth ever built was a silver 2001 Neon LX with a five-speed manual, and it sold to a Chrysler VP with a collection of vintage cars.
It could be argued that AMC went out on a high note. Its all-wheel-drive Eagle coupes, sedans, hatchbacks, and wagons—adapted from the humble Concord and Spirit—are seen by many as pioneering crossover vehicles. The last-ever AMC was an ’88 Eagle wagon in dark blue with woodgrain, built on December 11, 1987. An AMC enthusiast, Alan Strang, seeking to buy the last Eagle built, states that he called the assembly plant, tracked to car to a dealer in Oklahoma City, and brought that Eagle home to California.
Tremendous fanfare greeted Saturn’s debut—GM chairman Roger Smith’s grand experiment that was supposed to change both the auto-buying experience as well as the worker/management relationship. But when the end came for the brand, GM brought the curtain down hard. After a proposal to hand off the Saturn brand to Roger Penske fell apart, GM shut down production the next day, October 1, 2009. There was no time for any Final Edition or Collectors’ Series models, and no wistful Hal Raney and Partners TV footage of the final Saturn rolling off the line. What that car was exactly, we do not know, but it’s possible that you’ve driven it. All 2010-model-year Saturns were sold to rental-car companies.
Much like the brand itself, Saab’s demise was a little weird. A white 9-3 sedan is recognized as the last Saab ever built, and that car is enshrined in a museum in Sweden. Production of the 9-3 was later restarted, however, although those cars were EVs and badged as NEVS not Saab. Then there were the handful 9-3 convertibles that were unfinished when the line shut down but were completed later, two months after the factory closed. One of those 47 convertibles likely is the actual last Saab built. At least until some other auto-industry hopeful applies the paddles to Saab’s moribund corpse.
Eagle, the brand—as opposed to Eagle, the model—spent almost the entirety of its forgettable existence as a nameplate stuck onto someone else’s cars, eithers Renaults or Mitsubishis. The most successful of those rebadging attempts was the Talon sports coupe, a version of the Mitsubishi Eclipse that was available with all-wheel drive. It’s fitting, then, that the last Eagle built was a second-generation, 1998-model-year Talon.
Ford wanted in on the Yuppie-fueled import boom of the mid-1980s, so it imported two European Fords, giving them the vaguely German-sounding nameplate, Merkur. The Merkur XR4Ti, née Ford Sierra, was a sporty two-door hatchback. It was joined in 1988 by the larger four-door Scorpio, also a hatch. Neither was terribly effective at enticing suspenders-wearing strivers away from the Saabs, Bimmers, and Benzes of the day. The XR4Ti lasted through 1989, while the Scorpio limped into 1990.
A Rover-built variant of the Acura Legend, the Sterling sedans (and later hatchbacks) might have combined British luxury with Japanese reliability. They might have, but didn’t. Launched in 1987, Sterling almost immediately earned a reputation for poor quality, which torpedoed sales. 1991 was the final model year. The sedans were the 827S and 827SL; the hatchbacks were the 827Si and 827SLi. The British announced their departure in August of 1991, but they did so with a stiff upper lip, running a print ad that equated the Sterling with “some things America was not ready for,” such as King George and a punk rocker with a rainbow mohawk.
“Hope I die before I get old” could have been the motto for Scion, Toyota’s obsessively youth-focused division that didn’t live to see its 20th birthday. The brand was born in 2003, and the last new model Scion introduced was the 2016 tC Release Series 10.0, unveiled at the 2016 New York auto show. It’s not known whether the tC ended being the last car built to wear a Scion badge, however. It could have been a Scion iA, iM, or an FR-S coupe. The tC died with Scion, however, while the other three morphed into Toyotas.
Could import intenders be enticed into a Chevrolet dealership if the small cars they were shopping had a globe logo rather than a Chevrolet badge? That seemed to be the thinking behind Geo. The brand introduced itself in the 1980s with the tagline, “Get to know Geo,” but after 1997, the brand’s final model year, the thinking seemed to be, “Forget you know Geo.” The Metro, Prizm, and Tracker all became Chevrolets for 1998. The Metro lived on until 2000, the Prizm through 2002, the Tracker survived until 2004.