18 artifacts in this set
Brewster was synonymous with luxury long before the automobile age. Founded by James Brewster in 1810, the company built some of America's finest horse-drawn carriages. Brewster built automobile bodies from the late 1890s into the mid-1930s, and produced its own line of cars from 1915 to 1925. Brewster fell victim to the Great Depression in 1937.
Packard, founded by James Ward Packard in 1899, long stood near the top of American automotive prestige. Its elegant slogan, "Ask the man who owns one," was a masterpiece of understated confidence. Packard survived the Great Depression only to fall from favor in the 1950s. The company perished following the 1958 model year -- and an ill-fated merger with Studebaker.
Established in Cleveland in 1900, Peerless was an early adopter of technologies like shaft drive, drum brakes, and electric lights. The company added mid-priced cars to its luxury models in the mid-1920s, but it could not endure the Great Depression. Peerless built its last car in 1931 and then went into a recession-proof business: brewing beer.
Building its first cars in 1902, Pierce-Arrow was the last of American luxury's "Three Ps" -- after Packard and Peerless -- to get into the automobile business. President William Howard Taft was an early customer, ordering two Pierce-Arrows in 1909. Hurt by the Great Depression, the company introduced the beautifully-streamlined Silver Arrow in 1933. It wasn't enough. Pierce-Arrow closed in 1938.
Henry Leland established Cadillac in 1902 and sold it to Billy Durant's General Motors seven years later. The marque advertised itself as the "Standard of the World," and it introduced important innovations like the electric starter and the first high-production V-8 engine. Cadillac survives today, still at the peak of the GM brand pyramid.
Charles Rolls and Henry Royce partnered to form Britain's Rolls-Royce in 1904. When Autocar magazine named the firm's Silver Ghost the "best car in the world" in 1907, it set the standard for all Rolls-Royce models to come. The original company fell into receivership in 1971, but the Rolls-Royce brand survives today as a subsidiary of BMW.
Ettore Bugatti formed his automotive company in 1909. His French-built cars were renowned for their exquisite design and exceptional performance -- especially in motor racing. According to lore, Monsieur Bugatti was at a dinner party when a woman compared his cars unfavorably with those of Rolls-Royce. In response, he designed the incomparable Royale. Volkswagen owns the Bugatti brand today.
Brothers August and Frederick Duesenberg founded their company in 1913 and sold it to E.L. Cord in 1925. Cord challenged Fred to create a car to rival Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce. He responded with the magnificent Model J, a 265-horsepower machine capable of 116 miles per hour. The J became a Hollywood status symbol, but production ended with Cord's financial collapse in 1937.
Germany's Bavarian Motor Works was founded in 1916 to build aircraft engines. It built its first motorcycles in 1923 and its first automobiles in 1928. The company found a successful formula in the 1960s with sporty sedans. By the 1980s, BMW's luxury models were a quintessential status symbol among upwardly-mobile Americans.
Eighteen years after founding Cadillac, Henry Leland built the first cars under his Lincoln brand. Though superbly engineered, Leland's Lincolns had a dull, old-fashioned appearance that hurt sales. After Ford Motor Company purchased Lincoln in 1922, Edsel Ford revitalized the marque with elegant new designs. Lincoln survives today as Ford Motor Company's premier brand.
"Mercedes-Benz" first appeared on automobiles in 1926, but the company's roots date to Karl Benz's pioneering 1886 Patent-Motorwagen. The German company survived World War II and began importing cars to the U.S. soon after. Its mid-1950s gullwing 300 SL still ranks among the most beautiful production cars. Today Mercedes-Benz is one of the largest sellers of luxury vehicles.
Chrysler first used the "Imperial" name on its top-of-the-line model in 1926. In subsequent years, Imperial shifted between being a Chrysler model name and a separate make unto itself. However it was used, the Imperial name always designated a premium automobile featuring the best in Chrysler engineering and design.
GM introduced LaSalle for 1927 as a "companion car" to Cadillac. The first LaSalles were manufactured by Cadillac and built to its high standards. But, as the Great Depression cut into sales, GM began to source LaSalle components from Oldsmobile instead. Sales continued to fall and LaSalle was discontinued after the 1940 model year.
E.L. Cord's cars were distinguished by their low bodies -- a design feature made possible by front-wheel drive. The original L-29 of 1929-1932 was followed by the 810 and 812 models, styled by Gordon Buehrig and introduced for 1936. Production delays and poor reliability dampened initial excitement for the new Cords. The company ceased production in 1937.
William Clay Ford championed the Continental Mark II as a tribute to his father, Edsel Ford. Continental initially operated as a separate division at the top of Ford's brand hierarchy. But, at $10,000 versus $4,750 for a Lincoln, Continental cars didn't find enough buyers. The "Continental" name continued, but as a series of models built by Lincoln.
The 1955 Ford Thunderbird introduced the concept of a "personal luxury" car. Though sporty in appearance, these personal cars placed more emphasis on comfort than did traditional sports cars. Buick successfully followed the Thunderbird formula with its striking Riviera model introduced for 1963. Other personal luxury cars included Pontiac's Grand Prix, Chrysler's Cordoba, and Oldsmobile's Toronado.
Germany's Audi has corporate roots dating to 1910, but the current brand emerged from a revival of the "Audi" name in 1965. Imports to the U.S. started five years later. Audi built its reputation on technical innovation, notably in its all-wheel drive "Quattro" cars. Alongside BMW and Mercedes-Benz, Audi forms a modern German triumvirate that recalls America’s "Three Ps" of yesterday.
Americans had long associated Japanese automakers with cheap -- though well-made -- cars. That attitude was changing in 1989 when Toyota introduced Lexus and Nissan unveiled Infiniti. Over time, Infiniti models featured the same dependable performance as the down-market Nissans, but with full-size comfort and technical advancements like all-wheel steering and active suspension systems.