For Americans cars are a big part of who we are and how the country was shaped. They’re the backgrounds of our lives and it really only takes a glance at the cars in a picture or a movie to tell what era it is set in. Almost everyone has a fond memory of a first car or going on road trips in the family sedan. But what you might have grown up with might be gone now. There’s a bunch of car companies for whatever reason have disappeared since the 1990s, so let’s take a look at which brands you won’t find in a dealership today.
Eagle was a Chrysler brand from 1988 to 1999. They’re most notable for having cars that looked exactly like Chrysler and Mitsubishi cars… because they were. They were just re-branded as Eagle products. You can probably guess why they didn’t last long. The two most notable cars from Eagle’s line up were the Talon and the Laser, which both have amazing names.
Famous Eagles: A Talon is used in Blade Trinity in a car chase and another was featured in an episode on the show Viper which featured a heavily modified Dodge Viper as its star car.
A couple of bad guys in Road House are seen exiting an Eagle Premier. It’s a really minor role, but it’s in Road House, the best movie of all time, so it’s worth noting.
Geo also lived a short life from 1987 to 1997. Geo is one of those car brands that almost nobody respected. They were tiny and slow, but they were affordable. In my high school two of the guys bought brand new Geo Metros, because they were that cheap. Geo also made a sports car of sorts, the Geo Storm, that was basically a Isuzu Impulse.
Famous Geos: The most famous Geo was the Metro that was almost always the butt of jokes. It featured prominently in the films One Night at McCool’s, Big Trouble, and Blast from the Past. Other than that you can catch them in the backgrounds of some movies and TV shows of that time period.
Saab was a Swedish car company that was formed in 1945 that lasted until 2012 when they declared bankruptcy. The company reformed as National Electric Vehicle Sweden, but you will be hard pressed to find a dealership in the U.S.
Famous Saabs: The most famous Saab undoubtedly is Jerry Seinfeld’s Saab 900S. There was a whole episode dedicated to his mechanic stealing it, then another where he hung out in a Saab dealership for the entire episode hoping to get a deal on a Saab convertible.
Saturn began production in 1990 and went defunct in 2009. Their commercials were catchy and they emphasized how they were a different kind of car company. In the 1990s it seemed like everyone knew someone who had a Saturn. Then like that they were gone. What happened? Well, it was a lot to do with politics at GM.
Famous Saturns: There’s not any “star car” Saturns. However, put on any movie with a contemporary setting in the 1990s and you’re bound to see at least one Saturn, probably more.
Plymouth started all the way back in 1928 and ended in 2001. The end of Plymouth is best summarized in Norm MacDonald’s joke during an SNL Weekend Update at the time, which went something like, “Plymouth has announced bankruptcy. They’re the maker of popular…”
This was an ignominious end for the brand that brought us the classic Barracuda muscle car. By the end they had only four models, the most common being the Voyager minivan and the Neon compact car. Both were very common, but not common enough to save the company.
Famous Plymouths: A 1979 ‘Cuda appeared in the horror film Phantasm and a 73 Plymouth Duster named “The Grey Ghost” was featured in Dazed and Confused.
One thing I’ve tried to do with this list is not to include companies that simply left the U.S., but are still making vehicles (that’s why you see mostly American companies here). However, Isuzu is an exception. Isuzu formed in 1916. Yes, you read that right. They peaked in the U.S. in the 1990s and were done in 2009.
Famous Izusus: Now the biggest reason Isuzu made the list was for the super popular “Joe Isuzu” commercials which featured actor David Leisure in comedic commercials touting the benefits of Isuzu vehicles. These ads aired from 1986 to 1990 and they were impossible to ignore if you had a TV then. The name “Joe Isuzu” became a pop culture reference that applied to slick liar types, like politicians.
As for a background car, you’ll see them more in Asian movies, but you can pick out a Isuzu Trooper here and there in western films.
Mercury was founded in 1939 by none other than Edsel Ford who was the son of Henry Ford (and whom the Edsel car was named after). Mercury’s were “entry-level” luxury cars so in the scheme of things from lowest to highest it went: Ford, Mercury, Lincoln. Mercury was donezo in 2011 after extremely poor sales. Perhaps the coolest Mercury was the 1960s Cougar, a muscle car.
Famous Mercuries: The Mercury is another car that’s more famous as a background car, but Mercury is the star of a song, “Mercury Blues.”
AMC (American Motors Corporation)
It doesn’t get much more American than having it in your name! AMC was a car company that formed out of a merger between Nash and Hudson. In 1985 they began working with Chrysler. Eventually, they were absorbed by Chrysler in 1987.
In the 60s they made the super cool looking Javelin and the two seater muscle car (which isn’t common at all) AMX. Unfortunately, the most memorable car in the general public’s mind that AMC made is regarded as one of the ugliest of all time, the aptly named Gremlin.
Famous AMCs: There was a song starring the Nash Rambler that I strongly associate with Doctor Demento.
There’s an AMX in an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with guest Jon Stewart (which also features a Gremlin). Gremlins have appeared in a ton of movies and shows like True Blood, mostly as a joke car.
Arguably, the most famous AMC star car is Garth’s Garthmobile from Wayne’s World and that was an AMC Pacer, not a Gremlin like many believe.
Pontiac was a brand that lasted from 1926 to 2010 when GM decided to nix it in order to focus on their “core” brands. Out of all of the car manufacturers to go on this list, this one hurts the most. Why? Pontiac invented the muscle car with the GTO. They also made the super cool Firebird (and its Trans Am varient). Since Pontiac is gone that means we don’t get any new GTOs, Trans Ams, or Firebirds.
It should also be noted that the Fiero was a Pontiac invention, while it has a controversial place in the minds of gearheads, it is one of those cars that screams 1980s.
Other notable Pontiacs include the Grand Am and Grand Prix, both were staples of American roads throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. And lets not forget the Sunfire which was a compact and sporty car for those with lower budgets.
Famous Pontiacs: Where to begin? How about with Burt Reynolds and his Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.
Or how about Kitt from Knight Rider? Yes, it’s a heavily modified car, but it’s still a Ponitac Trans Am at its heart.
Dwight from The Office had a 1987 Trans Am that appeared in several episodes.
As far as GTOs go you’ve got the Monkeemobile, the chosen transport of the band The Monkees, though it was heavily modified. Also, one appeared in Dazed and Confused, George drove his Dad’s on Seinfeld in an episode, and there are many, many smaller roles for the first muscle car. And you can’t forget the song, “Little GTO”.