Saab has a relatively short automotive history. The company was founded in Trolhattan as Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolaget to manufacture high-performance aircraft before World War 2. Only after the war would the company make its first foray into automobile manufacture. The first prototype vehicle, the 92001, would be hand built by 17 aeronautical engineers – amazingly only one having a driver’s license. As you would expect, the lessons learned from aircraft manufacture were applied to the car; the first Saab boasted clean, aerodynamic lines while maintaining the typical Swedish traits of being both efficient and functional.
In 1949 came the Saab 92, a car that would prove immensely popular and remain in production until 1956, with some 20,000 being manufactured. In 1955 came the radically different Saab 93, which used a 3 cylinder engine, new transmission and tubeless tyres. The Sonett followed in 1956, the first sports car manufactured by Saab and capable of an impressive 160 km/h. Arguably too advanced, and certainly too expensive, only six would be produced. In 1962 came the Saab sport, a car that would help Erik Carlsson win many major rally victories; in recognition of Carlsson’s achievements, the car would be renamed the Monte Carlo 850. Always at the forefront of safety innovation, every Saab manufactured from 1962 onward came fitted with seat belts as standard equipment.
As time marched on, the Saab’s would continue to grow in size, and by 1968 the company had manufactured their first large car, the Saab 99. The new Saab featured the now signature wraparound windscreen, and would provide the basis for much technological innovation over the ensuing years, although the car was actually so good the engineers were hard pressed to find ways of improving it. In 1970 came self cleaning headlamps, in ’71 came self-repairing bumpers, and 1972 would see the introduction of side-impact door beams. But it was in 1976 that the engineers really went to town on the 99, fitting a turbocharger and making the 99 one of the first ever “everyday” cars to offer this kind of technology. From 1990 Saab became part of the GM global empire.
Founded by Eric Salmson, the company was originally concerned with the manufacture of aero engines. Upon Salmson’s death at the end of World War 1, the company was taken over by M. Heinrich who quickly diversified into automobile manufacture. The first iterations were GN’s built under licence, but then came the Salmson AL – a car that would go on to take out a string of racing wins throughout the 1920’s, including the Targa Florio and Brooklands 200 Mile.
In 1927 designer Emile Petit helped create a 67.1ci 1.1 litre straight eight engine complete with twin superchargers, making an incredible 104+ kW. Throughout the 1930’s the company manufactured more touring minded models than sports cars, however after the war the cars began to look and feel rather dated, and production actually ceased for a time in 1952.
Undeterred, the company forged ahead with the planned release of the 2300 GT Coupé, it going on to receive much critical acclaim at the 1953 Paris Salon, then winning the 1954 Tulip Rally. Despite the success, and the cars undoubted good looks and performance, it failed to gain adequate market share, and by 1957 only 230 cars had been built.
The company quietly closed its doors.
The Sociedad Española de Automóviles de Turismo (Spanish Corporation of Private Cars), or SEAT, is a relative newcomer to the automotive industry. Founded in 1950 as a subsidiary of Fiat, a significant share of the company was owned by the Spanish government under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The first iterations were almost identical copies of the Fiat models, such as the SEAT Panda and SEAT 600 being more a badge re-engineered Fiat Panda and Fiat 600.
Fiat withdrew from the partnership in 1981, paving the way for SEAT’s first true model to be released; after Fiat saw the new SEAT Ronda a lawsuit ensued, it being painfully obvious that the Ronda was very similar to Fiat’s Ritmo. Then president of SEAT Juan Miguel Antoñanzas showed a Ronda to the press with all the parts different from the Fiat Ritmo painted in bright yellow to highlight the differences.
This may have ended the dispute, but Fiat choose to scrap their own planned re-style of the Ritmo, deeming it to be too similar to the SEAT. In 1986 Volkswagen became a major shareholder, and by 1990 that share had grown to 100%.
Frenchman Henri-Theodore Pigozzi had been importing Fiat’s for a time, and realised it would be even more lucrative to produce the Italian cars under license for the French market, thus in 1934 La Société Industrielle de Mécanique et de Carrosserie Automobile, or simply Simca for short. It would become an overnight success by building the Fiat 500 Topolino and 508 as the Cinq and Huit respectively.
By 1938 the Nanterre facility (on the Seine) was building some 20,000 cars per year. Following the war the company would resume production of the Cinq and Huit, then in 1951 the company would manufacture their very own iteration, the Aronde. The new car would become an overnight success, it soon being exported and garnering a stellar reputation for quality and reliability. Following the success of the Aronde, the company set about designing and manufacturing other genuine French iterations, while also expanding its operations.
Unic was bought in 1951, then Ford’s French operation was purchased three years later, greatly adding to the production capacity. In 1959 Simca acquired Talbot, but by then Chrysler had obtained a 15% stake in Simca as it grew its European manufacturing base (the British Rootes concern was also in Chrysler’s sights).
By 1963 Chrysler held a majority share, at a time when their small 1000 and more modern 1100 and 1301/1501 models would ride the crest of unappalled popularity. By the early 1970’s Chrysler owned 100% of the company, but financial difficulties in the US would see the company sell of its foreign subsidiaries, Simca being sold to Peugeot-Citroen in 1978. Simca would be renamed Talbot, but even that name would be dropped a few years later.
There were quite a few auto manufacturers trading under the name Simplex, however the US design was without doubt the most historically important. Being put into production in 1904, the Simplex was inspired by the contemporary Mercedes, and was actually built by Smith & Mabley, the US Mercedes importer (although the Simplex iteration was designed by Edward Franquist). The company would go bankrupt in 1907, however car manufacture would continue when textile importer Herman Broesel took control.
A new range of vehicles was introduced, including a 598ci 9.8 litre version, along with a wide range of body styles from Quimby, Demarest, Brewster and Holbrook. By 1912 the Simplex was still driven by a chain, the only US based car manufacturer still doing so. Simplex was subsequently sold to Goodrich, Lockhart & Smith in 1913, then to the Crane Motor Company who released the car as the Crane-Simplex Model 5; production only
lasted a few more years, coming to an end in 1917.
Founded by George Singer who began manufacturing cars under licence from Lea-Francis, namely the 8 and 12 hp underfloor engined models. The company would soon lose direction upon the death of Singer, finding itself at the mercy of receivers. But remarkably the company survived, and began the manufacture of small but high quality cars such as the three-cylinder Ten.
In 1926 the Ten was renamed the “Senior”, so that an even smaller iteration could join the model line-up – it was naturally enough named the “Junior”. Both were successful, allowing Singer to acquire both the Calcott and Coventry Premier concerns, the added capacity allowing Singer to reach an all time high of 11,000 cars manufactured in a single year for 1927.
In 1932 the Junior was replaced by the Nine, this model proving to be very popular, particularly in sports car form. Continued financial difficulty would see the company embark on a rationalisation program that would see two factories close, and the bigger six cylinder cars dropped from the line-up. Following World War 2 Singer release the SM1500 saloon, however it never achieved sales expectations.
In 1955 the company was taken over by the Rootes Group, not surprisingly since Willian Rootes had served his apprenticeship with Singer many years before. After the takeover the marque was simply used as a marketing exercise, the “Singer” badge affixed to Hillman’s to denote their more up-market status. The Singer Gazelle was simply a Minx with better trim, but as the years went on the Singer name only served to confuse the purchaser – and so the name was dropped altogether in 1970.
Started out in 1895 as Laurin and Klement, then manufacturing bicycles. In 1899 they began the manufacture of motorcycles, following in 1905 with the manufacture of the Voiturette automobile. After World War 1 the company concentrated on the manufacture of trucks, but fell on hard times in 1924 following a large fire that all but destroyed their manufacturing facility. Was able to avoid bankruptcy by partnering with Škoda Works, the biggest industrial enterprise in Austria-Hungary and then Czechoslovakia, then building Hispano-Suiza designs under licence at Plzen, Czechoslovakia.
Manufacturing under the Škoda name, the company weathered the depression and emerged with the aptly named “Popular”, which was indeed very popular. During World War 2 the company was turned into part of Hermann Göring Werke, serving the German war effort. Found itself on the wrong side of the iron curtain following the war, and despite being starved of technical innovation from Western marques, continued to manufacture solid and reliable cars, such as the Skoda 440 Spartak, 445 Octavia, Felicia and 1000 MB. In the late 1980s Škoda (or Automobilové Závody, Národní Podnik, Mladá Boleslav to be precise) was still manufacturing cars conceptually from the 1960s.
Rear-engined models such as the Škoda 105/120, Estelle and Rapid sold steadily in many countries and even managed to put in solid performances against more modern marques in races such as the RAC Rallies of the 1970's and 1980's. The turning point came in 1987 with the Favorit model; designed by Bertone and, with some modern engine technology obtained under license from west European manufacturers, the Škoda engineers succeeded in designing a car every bit the match of its Western contemporaries.
Extremely popular in Czechoslovakia and other East European countries, the Favorit also sold fairly well in Western Europe, particularly in the UK where they were regarded as good value, solid and reliable. During the 1990’s the Czechoslovakian government brought in foreign partner Volkswagen, the cars quickly catching up with competition in terms of quality, innovation and design.
The only Dutch automobile manufacturer before World War 1, brothers Jacobus and (younger) Hendrik Spijker realised that they should rename their company to the easier to pronounce 'Spyker' to make the brand more appealing in export markets. The UK quickly warmed to the brand, the entire output from the factory being exported there between 1904 and 1906. Despite its success, was plagued by financial problems - a meeting conveined between the UK importer and Hendrik to discuss the issues would end it tradgedy with both men being killed in a storm in transit.
In an attempt to gain prestige, built a special in 1907 for Charles Godard to enter the Peking-Paris race. Things were going well, and the Spyker may have won, but Godard would be arrested before the end of the race amid accusations of illegal sponsorship dealings. The shareholders blamed Jacobus and sacked him, the company would go bankrupt in 1908, but would be revived to produce a series of 4 cylinder cars until 1916. An attempt was made to market Mathis cars under the Spyker name for a time, but the compay would eventually cease altogther in 1927.
(1934 - 1936)
Founded by Adrian Squire, it proved to be a very short lived marque; Squire developed an advanced sports car featuring a pre-selector gearbox and hydraulic brakes – a very good car for the day, but ultimately too expensive to assure commercial success. Adrian Squire had for a time worked at both Bentley and MG, so he was with good pedigree. Encouraged by the announcement of a new engine from British Anzani, a twin overhead cam 91.3ci 1.5 litre unit featuring twin Solex carburettors and provision for a supercharger, Squire felt he could fashion a body that would be able to extract the best performance from it.
By 1934 he had created a prototype, the open or closed bodywork by Vanden Plas creating great interest. But when the price was announced, nearly everyone thought it too expensive and interest quickly subsided. Squire obtained cheaper bodywork from Markham of Reading, but this was not enough to make the Squire affordable, and only a dozen cars would be made before the liquidators took control in July 1936. Three more would be manufactured by Val Zethrin who purchased the concern.
Started out manufacturing a Jeep under licence in 1954, which was renamed the Korando. Mercedes-Benz became involved when, in 1992, they purchased 5% of the concern. The company was then contracted to manufacture 50,000 Mercedes-Benz trucks and 80,000 diesel engines in 1995, some of which were to find their way under the bonnet of the Musso 4x4. The Musso was actually designed by a UK based firm, the design somewhat refreshing from the bricks-on-wheels approach used by many 4x4 manufacturers until that time.
It’s reputation was also enhanced by the fact that it used the Mercedes engine, and given the luxury nature of the big off-roader it came with a relatively low price tag. From a production total of 6000 in 1986, with the help of Mercedes production had increased to 46,000 by 1994. In 1998 the company was taken over by Daewoo, themselves teetering on bankruptcy. It has managed to survive, but despite the growing reputation for quality its designs are usually controversial. Some love the way they look, or at least they mustn’t care.
Standard would start out in 1903 producing single cylinder cars, and like most other manufacturers these would quickly evolve into two, three and four cylinder iterations. During World War 1 the company would manufacture a variety of planes, including the much lauded Sopwith Pup and Bristol F.2-B. After the war the company started the manufacture of small domestic cars, for a time locked in combat with Austin; by 1924 Standard had manufactured over 10,000 automobiles. Its fortunes would take a turn for the worse when, after committing significant investment into increasing their production capacity, the expected export contract would not eventuate.
Captain John Black joined the board from Hillman, he encouraging the supply of Standard chassis to other manufacturers such as Jensen, Avon and Swallow (later Jaguar). Better times would come in the 1930’s with the Standard Nine and Standard Ten models, and the 1935 Flying Standards with their semi-streamlined bodies were somewhat of a sensation. During World War 2 the company would again turn to aircraft manufacture, this time producing the Mosquito, Bristol Mercury VIII engines and Bristol Beaufighter fuselages. Following the war Standard resumed production of the Eight and Twelve models, and acquired the Triumph Motor Company.
The car for which the company is best known in Australia, the Vanguard, was the result of a “one model policy” adopted in 1948. Standard’s global production facilities would not only include Australia, but Canada, India and South Africa. Standard was taken over by Leyland Motors in 1960, the last UK Standard being manufactured in 1963.
Studebaker established a manufacturing facility in South Bend, Indiana (USA) to manufacture wagons. Incorporated in 1868 as the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company by the 5 Studebaker brothers, it would enter the automotive business in 1897, then to manufacture electric vehicles. The first gasoline Studebakers would not be manufactured until 1913, although it was the 1929-1932 Studebaker President, along with the 1939 Studebaker Champion that really established the marque and its enviable reputation.
During World War 2 the company manufactured countless Studebaker US6 trucks, along with the very unique M29 Weasel cargo and personnel carrier. After the war the company again turned its attention to the manufacture of automobiles. The price-cutting war between Ford and General Motors took a heavy toll on the smaller US car manufacturers during the 1950’s, many knowing that survival depended on their finding other suitable auto manufacturers with which to merge. In 1954 the company was acquired by Packard Motors of Detroit, Michigan, becoming a division of the Studebaker Packard Corporation from 1954 until 1962, it then reverting back to its previous name. It would struggle on until 1966.
Today models such as the Commander Starliner, Avanti, Hawk, Wagonaire and Lark based Cruisers, along with Commander and Daytona convertibles are all highly prized by collectors. It was the Lark that helped stave off the receivers for a time, however the inevitability of the dominance of the “Big Three” would eventually take its course.
The archetypal early American sportscar, or roadster as it was then known, was unquestionably the Stutz Bearcat. Harry C Stutz had worked for J N Willys at Marion, and for other motor car manufacturers, before leaving to produce combined gearbox/final drive transaxles, which were bought by several concerns. The progress from component manufacturer to automobile manufacturer was set in motion in 1911 when Harry’s company built a successful Indianapolis race car as a publicity exercise.
The success would gain investors, and so Harry set about the manufacture of his own “complete” passenger car. But it was the “Bearcat” model that would gain the marque notoriety and fame. Originally announced in 1914, the new car competed directly with the Mercer Race-about. The firm's peak year came in 1919 when 8500 cars were built, and a year later C W Schwab (president of Bethlehem Steel) bought the business. The Stutz Motor Car Co. of America, building cars at Indianapolis, continued to prosper. One of the first changes they carried out following the departure of Harry Stutz was to revise the rear-mounted gearbox configuration, opting for a more conventional arrangement located close to the engine. Stutz's own design of engine - in four-cylinder or six-cylinder guises, had already been made available from 1918.
The 'four' was a 360cu./5.9 litre side valve unit, good for 88bhp, while the 'six' had overhead valves, and a similar power output, but was much smaller that the 4 being only 268cu./4.4 litres. The Bearcat name was retained for short wheelbase versions of subsequent luxury models, but all car production ended in 1935. Many years later, in 1970, a new Stutz company offered GM-based replicas from New York, these cars retaining the Bearcat or Black Hawk titles.
Started as a small concern for the giant Fuji Heavy Industries, manufacturing a moped named the 'Rabbit' in 1956, followed by its first real car, the 360, a few years later. During the 1960's manufactured the full-sized FE saloon followed by the updated FF Leone coupe. Entered the performance car segment in the 1980's with the turbocharged XT coupe. The 'Legacy' was released in 1989, Subaru once again raising the bar in terms of quality and performance.
Most noted for the famed 'Boxer' engine, which found success in World Rally competition, went on to release the immensely popular 'Impreza' range in 1992 - although these first cars were simply a Legacy with a shortened floorpan. The iconic 'Impreza WRX' became an instant hero-car, bringing an aura to the marque that remains to this day.
The history of Sunbeam goes back as far as 1887 when a Wolverhampton metal worker by the name of John Marston, set up a company producing high quality bicycles. Marston achieved great success with this business and in 1899 he started development of his own motor cars with another cycle engineer Henry Dinsdale. The first Sunbeam car to go on sale was the Sunbeam-Mabley designed by Maxwell Maberly-Smith in 1901. The company expanded during the next few years and in 1905 The Sunbeam Motor Company Ltd was formed.
Throughout the next decade Sunbeam was to do very well with the sale of its cars (and motorcycles) and was building a reputation as a manufacturer of quality motor vehicles. Many victories were also achieved in motor sport, giving the company recognition throughout the world as a leading car manufacturer. During the First World War Sunbeam's main work was in building aeroplane engines for the military, and car production, (apart from those produced for use by the British and Australian armed forces) took a back seat until after the war had ended. In 1920 Sunbeam merged with the French manufacturer Darracq, who a year earlier had bought the British car importer and manufacturer Clement Talbot, creating the parent company STD Motors Ltd. Motor sport was to return to Sunbeam's agenda and one of Its greatest moments was in 1927 when Sir Henry Segrave broke the land speed record by topping 200 mph in a 1000hp car.
Unfortunately during the 1930's - a troubled period for many motor manufacturers due to the economic situation of the time - STD (Sunbeam Talbot Darracq) suffered financial difficulties and fell into receivership. The company was broken up and sold off, with Sunbeam being eventually bought by the Rootes Group who also by now owned Hillman, Humber and Talbot. Although the construction of a new Sunbeam model was started, Rootes soon dropped it due to design problems, and the Sunbeam name was put to one side until Rootes created the new marque of Sunbeam-Talbot in 1938. War was to stop the production of the Sunbeam-Talbot cars in 1939, and it did not resume in the London factory until late in 1945. 1946 saw the move to Ryton near Coventry, and it was not until 1948 that a new range of Sunbeam-Talbot's arrived.
There were two models, the 80 and the 90, with the 80 using a 1185cc engine and the 90 a 2 litre unit. Both cars were available in saloon and drophead coupe form. The Sunbeam-Talbot 90, was to do very well in rallying. Sales were better for the 90 model and this resulted in the 80 being dropped from production in 1950. A new model, the Alpine, which had been developed from the 90, was added to the range in 1953 and was also to excel in rallying but production of this car ended in 1955 with the introduction of the new Rapier model. In 1954 all cars were to be badged Sunbeam, with the Talbot part of the name being dropped, and it was in 1955 that Sunbeam enjoyed an outright victory in the Monte Carlo rally with a Mk III 90.
1959 saw the launch of a new 2-door 2-seater sports car that was to revive the Alpine name. Improvements followed to all models in the Sunbeam range, and in 1964 the legendary Sunbeam Tiger was launched. This was essentially an Alpine with a Ford V8 4.2 litre engine shoehorned into its engine bay giving the car awesome performance.The next year Rootes sold part of its share holding to the Chrysler Motor Company.
New Sunbeam models were soon to be launched and these included the Sunbeam Imp Sport of 1966, which was based on the Hillman Imp, and in 1967, when Chrysler took complete control of Rootes, the new fastback Rapier. In 1969 the Fastback Alpine which was basically a lower spec version of the Rapier was introduced. The Sunbeam marque really died out with the end of production of both Alpine and Rapier in 1976, although the name Sunbeam continued to be used on some of Chrysler's export models. Peugeot was to later buy out Chrysler's European operations and launched a Talbot range of cars, and the Sunbeam name was to be used for one last time on models such as the Talbot Sunbeam and Talbot Sunbeam Lotus until 1981.
Founded in 1955, Suzuki is better known for the manufacture of motorcycles, although there have been some worthy four-wheeled versions to come from the Japanese manufacturer. Their first iteration was the tiny Suzulite; designed to benefit from Japanese tax laws with its little 21.97ci 360cc engine, it would pave the way for larger, albeit still very small versions. The most significant of the early exports was the 4 stroke LJ80, later renamed Jimny.
A treasure off road with exceptional economy to boot, its reputation in the bush would see it garner an allegiance of fans across Australia, although those that chose to use it as a cheap form of urban run-about were in for considerable disappointment. The LJ80 would morph into the much more sophisticated Vitara, while small sedans would help fill out the Suzuki product line. The Swift was anything but, although the latest version has received considerable praise and is a much superior car. Suzuki’s are not collectable, but they have been a popular part of the Australian motoring landscape since the early 1970’s.
Simple well made cars that never were, as their name implied, swift. The company started out manufacturing sewing machines and bicycles before introducing their first automobile, the single cylinder voiturette in 1900. The unusual transmission consisted of a twin-pinion and double-geared crown wheel, however this only lasted a few years before a more conventional transmission was adopted. Then came a series of small cars, and for a time following the Great War the company was successful, however it quickly found it increasingly difficult to match it with the larger manufacturers, production finally coming to an end in 1931.