Luxury cars have always been a status symbol for wealthy individuals who wanted only the best. Today these cars come in the form of a Rolls Royce, or Maybach, but back in the day there were far more luxury car manufacturers than you know. Most of them died out for one reason or another, and we are left with relics of past times that serve as a remainder of just how great the automotive industry was at one point. Check out these 30 luxury car brands that no longer exist.
Horch is a perfect story of a student outperforming his master. August Horch was a skilled engineer who started his career working for Karl Benz, only to take his own path and make Horch. Not too long after, Horch managed to beat his former boss at the 1906 endurance race with his Horch 11/22 PS. Unfortunately, August Horch was ousted from the company. Even though their founder was gone, Horch continued to make excellent cars and by 1940s they’ve become more expensive and desired than the best Mercedes-Benz at the time. Story about this luxurious car manufacturer ended with the start of WWII.
The company was created in 1924 by Carl F. W. Borgward, with his first model being a small van. That was not what Carl has imagined for himself, and he was soon focusing his attention on building luxurious cars that would compete with the biggest players in the industry. It wasn’t until after WWII had ended that Borgward produced their first luxury car. The Hansa 1500 was one of the most advanced cars of it’s time. Bogward’s future was bright, and his company soon grew into a serious car manufacturer. He always implemented new and advanced technologies in his cars, which ultimately led to his demise. The company went bankrupt in 1960. Bogward’s work and dedication to detail gave us some of the most luxurious and innovative cars. It was great while it lasted.
What started off as a Chrysler subdivision, turned out to be one of the best luxury car manufacturers in the history of the U.S. automotive industry. During the 50s, Imperial delivered some of the most prestigious and luxurious models on the market. However, the fuel crisis that ensued only 20 years later put a halt to this brand, making them too thirsty for newly formed oil prices. Imperial struggled to stay afloat, but was pushed out of for good in 1975.
Those familiar with the history of British automotive industry probably know about Daimler. It all began when Goettlieb Daimler sold a license for his engines to a British automotive concern that later became Daimler Motor Company. A decade and a half after they were formed, DMC was acquired by Birmingham Small Arms company, and it represented an important part of the British war effort both in the Great War and WWII. During this time they were still building cars, but they were also tasked with producing aircraft engines, ammunition, and similar wartime supplies. Just how prestigious this company was, you can understand from the fact that Daimler provided the royal family with vehicles for decades. Even though it managed to survive both wars relatively undamaged, Daimler met their end when they were sold to Jaguar in 1960.
Back at the turn of the century, there was one car manufacturer whose cars were considered to be the most prestigious status symbol one could own. Isotta-Fraschini was an Italian car manufacturer that completely won over the richest echelons of American society. Everybody wanted to own one, and they had to pay a decent amount of money for that privilege. Isotta-Fraschini were luxurious vehicles with incredible build quality and attention to detail. Looking at one of these will quickly explain why it used to be so popular, and why their price was so high. Everything was looking great for Isotta-Fraschini, until the Depression set in the 1920s. Demand for these exquisite vehicles declined, and Isotta-Fraschini simply couldn’t handle it. There were some attempts to restart production, but by 1948 the company was officially shut down.
Cord was a division of Auburn Automobile Company that produced some of the nicest cars at the time. This manufacturer is the first to produce a front wheel drive car in America, and their business was blooming. Cord pushed through the depression with reduced production, but even so they were one of the better standing car manufacturers after the economy stabilized. Their cars were always made with incredible attention to detail, and were full of innovative concepts. Even though they were well off, Cord went out of business when the whole Auburn Automobile Company shut down in 1937.
The story of Napier started when Montague Napier inherited his grandfather’s engineering company in 1895, and turned it into a very successful car manufacturer by 1900. Four years later, Napier was already producing luxurious cars so good that they contested some of the biggest names in the business at the time. When the Great War started, Napier began producing aircraft engines. This became their primary business and their last car rolled out of the plant in 1924.
Harry Clayton Stutz was a talented engineer who was eager to try his luck in the automotive business. He was already known for designing and manufacturing quality automotive parts, but that was not enough for Stutz. In 1911 he designed and produced his first car which went on to race in Indianapolis 500. Interested mainly in performance cars, Stutz left the company. The new management decided to shift their efforts and focus on building luxury cars. Stutz cars quickly became popular with wealthier customers thanks to their innovative features and pure quality. Unfortunately, just like with numerous manufacturers of that time period, Stutz barely survived the Great Depression but never really managed to recover. Stutz ceased all of their operations in 1937.
Continental was William Clay Ford’s pet project that was supposed to become Ford’s luxury car division. It was formed in 1956, and its first and only model was the Continental Mark II. Mark II was a luxurious coupe that came with a lot of equipment that was anything but standard at the time. It was one of the most expensive American production cars, and one could be found in garages of many famous celebrities and even heads of states. Unfortunately, Continental managed to survive for only two years as it wasn’t profitable. In 1957, Continental was disbanded.
Once General Motors realized that their more luxurious models were selling so well, they decided to create several new brands that would inherit these models, and continue to produce luxury cars. LaSalle was one of those brands. It was formed in 1927, and their cars quickly became some of the best designed and most luxurious you could buy at the time. Aside from Pontiac, LaSalle was the only new GM brand that lasted more than several years. Their last model was launched in 1940, and that year signifies the end of LaSalle.
Established in 1902, Minerva was the best and the most luxurious Belgian car manufacturer. Often referred to as the “Belgian Rolls Royce” it was the most expensive and technologically advanced car produced in that country. As many other car companies from the period, Minerva started as a bicycle manufacturer but soon turned to luxury cars. The best period for this legendary name was during the ’20s and early ’30s when Minerva produced a line of models powered by smooth and powerful six and eight cylinder engines. Models called AK, AP and AL were the perfect limousines of the period with fantastic mechanics and glorious coach-built bodies. Unfortunately, the recession of late ’20s affected the market and Minerva was losing money, despite producing great and prestigious automobiles. The company stopped producing cars under the Minerva name in 1938, but stayed in car business until 1956.
Emile Delahaye was a French car enthusiast and entrepreneur who started a car company under his own name in 1894. The factory soon became known for reliability and quality, producing four-cylinder cars and having respectable racing success. By the First World War, Delahaye was one of the most popular car companies in France. However, after the war, Delahaye moved to truck manufacturing and commercial vehicles, soon conquering that market. The ambitions of the brand were bigger, so in 1933, Delahaye introduced a brand new line of luxury models with newly developed and highly advanced six-cylinder engines. The new model was called Delahaye 135 and it could be ordered with various different bodies from different coachbuilders. The market was stunned by the new Delahaye 135 luxury model and the company entered many prestigious races and won. The Second World War stopped Delahaye’s ambition and even though production resumed after the war, the market was gone and the company closed its doors in 1954.
This obscure luxury brand was the first and only car manufacturer in imperial Russia, established in 1894. The factory produced not only cars, but also airplanes, and it was also successful in building military vehicles. The cars were produced between 1909 and 1915, and they were upscale models with 6-cylinder engines and luxury open or closed bodies intended for the Russian royal family. After the revolution in 1917, the production was transferred to St Petersburg and eventually stopped in 1923. Today, only a handful of original Russo-Baltique models survived and most car enthusiasts don’t even know about the brand.
The Alvis car company was established in Coventry, England in 1919 and it first produced engines and spare parts. In the early ’20s, the company started producing cars and very soon it became renowned for fast, good looking and luxurious automobiles. The power and displacement grew, and Alvis also produced a line of successful racing cars. Since the company were also involved in the production of airplanes, when the Second World War broke out, car production stopped and Alvis turned to the military market. However, after the war, car production resumed and Alvis introduced a line of elegant limousines and coupes with smooth and powerful six cylinder engines. Unfortunately, sales were slow despite the beauty and appeal of the cars, so the company was closed in 1967.
Iso was a brainchild of Italian industrialist Renzo Rivolta who became known for producing the Isetta micro car. Renzo wanted to enter the luxury car market and started the Iso car company which produced some of the most elegant and powerful Italian GT models of the ’60s like Rivolta and Iso Grifo. In the late ’60s, Iso entered the luxury sedan market with the fantastic Iso Fidia, a big four-door sedan with Chevrolet’s V8 engine and luxurious interior. Despite decent sales number, bad management and Renzo`s death forced the company to declare bankruptcy in 1974.
Prince Motor Company
Established in 1952, Prince Motor Company was the first Japan`s luxury car brand. Of course, term “luxury” should be taken with some reserve since Japan was devastated by the Second World War and car market was almost non-existent. However, Prince produced some advanced automobiles like Gloria or beautiful Skyline Coupe, and a very advanced Prince R380 race car. Unfortunately, Japan’s market was not ready for a luxurious domestic brand, and despite the quality and design of Prince models, the sales were slow and the company was losing money. In 1966, Prince became a part of Nissan, and long before Lexus or Infinity, Prince Motor Company was Japanese luxury car pioneer.
Packard was one of the best known and globally popular luxury car companies in the period up to the Second World War. Established in 1899 in Detroit, Packard was aiming for the luxury market right from the start. The company first became popular thanks to its perfect engineering, powerful and smooth engines and overall quality. Soon, Packard became one of top-ranking US car brands with great export sales results. Packards were always more elegant than Cadillacs or Lincolns of the era, and they were preferred choice of presidents and ambassadors. After the Second World War, Packard, as an independent company, struggled to find customers in post-war economy and rapidly lost ground against Cadillac and Lincoln. The company was closed in 1959 and the automotive world lost one of its greatest names.
Tatra car company is a Czech manufacturer that started producing cars in 1897. In pre-communist Czechoslovakia, the car industry was pretty strong and Tatra was one of the upscale manufacturers with very interesting models and engineering. In fact, Ferdinand Porsche reportedly stole one of Tatra’s concepts and developed the famous VW Beetle. However, Tatra produced a line of very advanced streamlined limousines powered by water cooled V8 engines starting with the pre-war T77 model. After the war, Tatra concentrated on building some of the fastest and most luxurious cars of the communist Eastern Block with an unusual rear engine layout. Very rare in the West, Tatra models were always very respected by the enthusiasts for their specific design and engineering. The production of passenger vehicles stopped in 1999, but Tatra remains active as a truck manufacturer.
Behind this interesting name lies a Spanish luxury brand, established in 1904 by a Spanish entrepreneur and a Swiss engineer. The factory was built in Barcelona and soon started producing electric cars and airplane engines. In fact, Hispano-Suiza first became known as an airplane manufacturer and moved to full-time luxury car production after the First World War. The aircraft production standards, perfect engines, and dedication to details separated Hispano-Suiza from the rest of the premium car companies from the era. During the ’20s and the ’30s, beautiful bodies and powerful engines made Hispano-Suiza popular with the wealthy European customers. However, the outbreak of Spanish Civil War in 1936 stopped the passenger vehicle production and Hispano dissolved into smaller companies dedicated to the military market. Today, every Hispano-Suiza model is very sought after by collectors.
One of best known French luxury car brands was Delage, formed in 1905 in Paris. From the very beginnings of this brand, Delage concentrated on producing prestigious road cars and successful racing models. In the first period, Delage produced many four-cylinder models which became popular due to powerful engines and quality manufacturing. In 1930, the company introduced the D6 model with a newly designed six-cylinder engine and soon after, an even more powerful D8 model with a straight eight-cylinder unit. Delage cars were very expensive and were sold with bodies by top coachbuilders of the era. Despite the relative popularity of the brand and racing success, Delage was in financial trouble and was bought by Delahaye in 1935. Production stopped during the war and resumed afterwards, but very few cars were built. The factory closed in 1953 and Delage cars, especially D6 and D8 are now regarded as one of the most beautiful models produced in the ’30s.
Peter Monteverdi was a Swiss car dealer and enthusiast with a dream of building luxury GT cars and sedans, and in 1967 he started a company in Basel. The idea behind Monteverdi cars was to make prestigious models with German quality, Italian design, and American engines. They did just that, producing expensive automobiles powered by Chrysler’s V8 engines. Monteverdi made mostly luxurious Gran Turismo coupes but in 1970 the company introduced a sublime model called High Speed which was a fast and elegant four-door limousine. In the late ’70s, the company produced various models based on Range Rover and Mercedes S Class W126 but in 1984, Monteverdi eventually closed.
Gräf & Stift
Austrian luxury brand Gräf & Stift started as a bicycle repair shop in Vienna and in late 19th century, it turned to car manufacturing. The first models were interesting and advanced with the engine powering the front wheels. Among other car companies in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Gräf & Stift soon became the most famous due to advanced design and quality. This company would certainly be forgotten if it weren’t for one important historical moment. The 1911 Gräf & Stift Double Phaeton was the car of choice of Archduke Franz Ferdinand during his visit to Sarajevo in 1914, when he and his wife were assassinated. The event led to the First World War and the dark gray Gräf & Stift open car entered many history books as the silent witness to the assassination.
One of the most interesting French luxury brands was Avions Voisin which was founded in 1919 by Gabriel Voisin, aircraft engineer, pilot, and designer. Voisin made his fortune producing airplanes for the French army and after the First World War, and he later started producing very sophisticated and luxurious automobiles. His creations were very stylish with art deco details and components, and with very advanced features like automatic gearbox or monocoque chassis construction. Unfortunately, Voisin cars were also very expensive and not many customers decided to purchase Gabriele’s fantastic creations. That is why, in 1939, Avions Voisin closed its doors. Today, Voisin cars, especially the C25 Aerodyne, are landmark examples of `30s design, luxury and automotive art deco styling.
Brothers Fred and August Duesenberg were self-thought engineers and car enthusiasts who started the Duesenberg car company in Auburn, Indiana in 1913. The primary goal was to produce engines and race cars, but soon brothers started making luxury cars. In contrast to other American prestigious brands of the period, Duesenbergs were much faster, more powerful and crazy expensive. The attention to details and quality control were legendary, and every Duesenberg was thoroughly tested before it was delivered to the customer. The milestone of the company was in the early ’30s when the Model SJ was introduced. This car could be ordered as a sedan or a convertible, and it had a rare supercharged option which boosted the power to 320 hp! Try to imagine how unreal 320 hp sounded in 1933 when an average car had around 20 horses. Unfortunately, the price of Duesenberg cars was just too high and buyers were harder and harder to find. That is why the company folded in 1937 leaving some of the best and most luxurious cars America and the world has ever seen.
As we have already mentioned, all French luxury car manufacturers were extinct after the Second World War, but in 1954, a rich industrialist Jean Daninos decided to reintroduce luxury models to the market. With the experience in car business producing bodies for Ford and Simca, Daninos formed Facel Vega, the new luxury brand. Since the Facel Vega was a small company without resources for producing its own engines, Daninos used Chrysler V8 units which were relatively cheap and very powerful. With interesting styling, great driving dynamics and formidable speed, Facel Vega soon proved to be very popular with rich and famous individuals. Actress Ava Garner had three Facel Vegas and Dean Martin said it was his favorite car. Jean Daninos even produced a fantastic four-door version called Excellence but in the early ’60s troubles started. The smaller and cheaper model Facellia proved very unreliable and ruined reputation of the company which closed in 1964.
Even though you don’t associate luxurious cars with communist Russia, Soviet car industry had its share of prestigious machines. The most famous is ZIL (Zavod imeni Likhachova) a factory established in 1931. In the beginning, ZIL produced copies of Packard and Cadillac models but after the war, the company started working on its own designs. Over the years it produced many models and most popular were ZIL 114 and ZIL 4104, all powered by mighty V8 engines. The design of ZIL limousines was obviously inspired by American luxury sedans of the period, and the build quality was outstanding. However, if you lived in Soviet Union you couldn’t buy a ZIL since it wasn’t available to general public. Only the highest ranking party officials could get one, along with the driver. The company stopped producing cars in mid-90s but some sources stated that the production will resume in near future.
French company Hotchkiss was founded in late 19th century by American Benjamin Hotchkiss, and started as gun manufacturer. In 1903, Hotchkiss produced its first car which was well received by the market. The production of arms and military contracts were the main occupation, but in ’20s and ’30s, car market in France and in Europe grew and Hotchkiss produced more and more cars, entering the luxury market. Hotchkiss models weren`t extravagant roadsters or superb limousines characteristic for the period, but sleek and elegant sedans with lots of power and comfort. Models like Gregoire, 686, or Anjou were praised for their quality and durability. Unfortunately, that didn`t help, and car production ceased in 1955, like for many other French luxury car companies.
The Bristol car company was a British high end manufacturer which was established in 1945. Both founders were involved with the aircraft business at the moment, and Bristol used a lot of technology and details from the airplane industry. In the beginning, it used BMW 328 engines and after they became unavailable, Bristol turned to other sources, mainly to Chrysler and its big V8 units. During the years, Bristol produces several series of hand-built and bespoke Grand Turismo coupes and a handful of sedans like the Bristol 405. The company was famous for producing outdated luxury coupes and selling one or two cars per year to extravagant and wealthy customers. But, despite having a loyal customer base, the end was inevitable and Bristol folded in 2011.
One of the most famous and long-gone American luxury brands is Pierce-Arrow. Started as truck and engine manufacturer in Buffalo, New York in 1901, Pierce-Arrow soon moved to luxury models with great success. Right from the start, the company developed a specific style of its cars with flowing lines, headlights incorporated into front fenders and wild color choices. Along with Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard and Duesenberg, Pierce-Arrow was representing American industry in the best possible way. The style of Pierce-Arrow was always somewhat different than the competitors and more artistic so the cars were favorites of the musicians and movie stars of the era. But, the Great Depression of the late ’20s and early ’30s killed the brand, and this legendary company ceased to exist in 1938.
Started in 1934 as a sports car and commercial vehicle manufacturer, Jensen soon proved itself by producing interesting and capable coupes and sedans. After the war, it concentrated on making sports cars, but used components and engines from other manufacturers to reduce the costs. Seeking recognition and customers, Jensen revolutionized the luxury sports car market in 1966 with the introduction of the Interceptor, a high-end coupe with beautiful styling and a powerful Chrysler engine. Even more interesting was the Interceptor FF which featured all-wheel drive and ABS system, both for the first time in the automotive industry. Unfortunately, technical innovations and great looks weren`t enough and Jensen closed its doors in 1976.