10 Modern Rarities

There are cars that are rare, obviously. Sometimes it is intentional – Lamborghini and Ferrari want to sell a lot of cars and make a lot of money, but they have to balance that with exclusivity. If everyone drove a Ferrari, they wouldn’t be as special (but we’d be a lot happier, I would guess). Anyway, we are going to celebrate 10 cars (or trucks or SUVs) produced since the year 2000 by major manufacturers that just didn’t sell. Some were flops. Others were doomed from the start.

A few cars just missed the cut. Apologies to the final generation Saab 9-5, Lincoln Mark LT pickup, those two new Scions (the 2016-only iA and iM), Pontiac G5, PT Cruiser Convertible, and (at some point in the future) the Chevrolet SS. Here we go:

10. 2005-2009 Mitsubishi Raider


A number of Mitsubishi’s could’ve made this list. A few years ago they sold 50,000 cars in the U.S. and Ford sold half a million F-150s in the same time span. But the Dodge Dakota-based Raider is pretty rare on our roads. Over six years, they sold only 28,334 of these.

9. 2004-2005 Saab 9-2x


The Saab 9-2x was a badge-engineered version of the Subaru Impreza hatchback. The “Saabaru” was only sold for two years and only 10,346 were built. While the Subaru version is pretty common, you almost never see the Saab. Or maybe you do – they are identical other than the grille area. It’s the fancy-man’s Impreza.

8. 2002 Lincoln Blackwood


Have you ever actually seen one of these? I haven’t seen one in years. This was Ford’s fancy F-150 Crew Cab and it only lasted in the U.S. for one model year (Mexico got a second year). In total, only 3,356 were built. I guess people weren’t ready for a $52,000 pickup truck from a “soft” brand. My favorite Blackwood story is that, at the end of the 2002 model year, there was a dealership somewhere that had a deal: buy a Lincoln Blackwood, get a brand new Mercury Cougar… free. Talk about saddling dealers with some dead weight.

7. 2005-2008 Isuzu i-Series


This was basically just a copy of the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon that was already on sale in the U.S. The picture above shows a four-door version, even rarer than the heavily-discounted two-door base model (I once saw a brand new one on a dealer lot for about $8,000 back in its day). It was a slow-seller… in the first year there were only 1,377 takers. Isuzu left the U.S. shortly after.

6. 2010-2013 Acura ZDX


Uh, what is this? The shaving razor grille of Acura is on some sort of… SUV? Crossover? Tall car? Does it have four doors or two? I’ve only ever actually seen one of these… and they are relatively recent. Only 7,191 were built and sold (they sold 18,000+ NSXs). So you’re twice as likely to see an NSX than a ZDX. Think about that.

5. 2008-2012 Suzuki Equator


The pickup market is a tough nut to crack. The Equator was a Nissan Frontier-based pickup offered by Suzuki. It’s actually a decent-looking truck – better than the Nissan anyway. Canadian sales ceased in 2010 but U.S. sales soldiered on until 2012 (and Suzuki left the U.S. market not long after). Since 2009, they sold only 5,808 of these. Pretty rare.

4. 2002-2005 Lexus IS300 SportCross


Yes, I know the photo above is of the Japanese Toyota variant, but Lexus sold it as the IS300 SportCross between 2002 and 2005. While the IS300 is one of the best (the best?) car Lexus has ever built, the SportCross was a dud. Only 3,078 were built. Bentley Continental GTs are more common on our roads.

3. 2009-2010 Hummer H3T


The Hummer H3 was an SUV built between 2006 and 2010 by Hummer. The H3T was a pickup variant only available for two of those years. It was a popular concept a few years before it ever went on sale – but by the time it did the market didn’t care. Only 5,680 were made and I have never seen a single one.

2. 2011-2014 Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet


I think this easily qualifies as the most bizarre vehicle on this list. It’s probably the most bizarre vehicle produced by a major automobile manufacturer in quite some time. I’m not sure how many of these were built but I’ve only ever seen two: both driven by women in their mid-50s.

1. 2011 Saab 9-4x


Here’s the unicorn. Before General Motors kicked Saab to its knees and shot it point blank in the head, they introduced the 9-4x. It’s basically a Cadillac SRX that was produced in Mexico for its Swedish cousin. It went on sale literally right before the brand was shuttered. Only about 500 of these were made. I’ve actually seen one in my tiny hometown. But it’s easily the rarest car on here, and thus why it is #1.

Hidden Treasure

I was recently invited into an old garage that the new owner has been cleaning up for some time. The story is a couple of guys bought it in the late 1950s and began just piling old cars (sometimes in pieces) in a two-level garage near Cincinnati. It was one of many properties they had. When the owner of this place passed, a car guy from a new generation bought it and everything in it. He’s been clearing it out, selling some stuff but keeping the interesting bits.

The former owner once worked at a Packard dealership and when it closed he ended up with the leftover stock. One of the most interesting finds in the basement of the garage were these NOS Packard bits:


The boxes might look worn, but this stuff was never used.

There were shelves and shelves of parts including even more Packard parts that may have been 60+ years old but had never been used:


This was one of a few shelves of newly organized parts

There was actually an entire pre-war Lincoln chassis hanging from the ceiling and a bunch of Lincoln parts in the basement:


That’s a big Lincoln chassis… strapped to the ceiling. There’s some nice Pierce-Arrow fenders and doors up there too.


Pictured: pre-war Lincoln. Some assembly required.

There was an old box in the basement full of papers and some digging returned cool finds:


Checks going back to the late 1920s. This one is from 1932.


A small advertisement on the back of an order sheet for radiator repairs in the 1930s.


This thick leather-bound book featured some Pontiac sales literature that appeared to be from around 1940.

What’s fascinating about this sort of place is that they are becoming harder and harder to find. It’s not often you unearth a treasure trove of old car stuff. And even though this one has been cleaned and straightened, it’s still really interesting.

And check this out, hanging on the wall is the body (body number attached) from a Maxwell. The Selden tag is still affixed, dating it to pre-1911.


It doesn’t look like much, but that’s a piece of history.

The new owner is a lucky guy and for those of us that share the interest in the history of the automobile, it’s an interesting place. I was lucky enough to be invited in and I thank him for his hospitality. This just goes to show you never know what is hiding in that nondescript building down the street and that there is hidden treasure all around you. I’m going to try and seek out more. And hopefully someday, someone will rescue that Lincoln chassis and the rest of the parts and get it back on the road.

The Tale of George B. Selden

George B. Selden is one of the most interesting men in the early days of the automobile. He was an inventor and lawyer and he made one the the most fantastic business moves in history. And it didn’t work out.

George Selden driving an automobile in 1905

George Selden driving an automobile in 1905

Selden was born in Clarkson, New York in 1846, so by the time automobiles came around, he was a seasoned lawyer and Civil War veteran. Selden saw his first internal combustion engine in 1876. It wasn’t a practical machine and was quite large. So he went to work making a smaller, more usable version – and did, in 1878 – eight years before Karl Benz introduced his Patent Motorwagen.

He applied for a patent in 1879 but not just for his useful internal combustion engine, but also for its use in a four-wheeled car. The patent was finally granted in 1895 – about the time America’s auto industry began to take off.

Selden sold his patent to the Electric Vehicle Company (who were building electric vehicles and therefore exempt from any patent-infringement on Selden’s internal combustion engine but who could, with the patent in hand, theoretically exclude other gasoline-powered manufacturers from springing up) for a royalty of $15 per car and a minimum annual payment of $5,000.

But there were already other car manufacturers building cars. Some of them came together and formed the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM) in 1902. The group was headed by Alexander Winton, owner of the largest internal combustion-producing automobile company in the United States at the time. The Electric Vehicle Company was suing a number of companies for patent-infringement, so Winton joined with Cadillac, Packard, Locomobile, Knox, Peerless, and others to fight the lawsuits.

And it worked. In exchange for fighting the suits, Selden granted those companies favorable rates – a 1.25% royalty on all cars produced. And they became his enforcers. In order to get a Selden license, you had to get into the ALAM. And ALAM members wanted to protect their business, so they weren’t very welcoming. In fact, when Henry Ford applied to a license, he was denied at the request of Oldsmobile’s member to the organization.

But we all know Henry Ford was never to be denied. So he built his cars anyway. ALAM threatened Ford’s buyers with lawsuits. Selden filed suit against Ford. Ford said, essentially, “Screw you” to everybody and went about his day.

Selden didn’t actually start building his own cars until 1906, in the midst of the legal battle with Ford. Ford argued that his engine was based on the Otto engine (which it was) and not the Brayton engine, of which Selden based his patent on. The court eventually sided with Ford and ruled that the patent was unenforceable. So the automobile industry exploded and Selden was no longer earning a cent. His funds dried up and so did his company. He died in 1922.

Imagine for a second if the court had ruled differently. The Ford name would probably still be well known, but the Selden fortune would be one of the largest in the U.S. Yes, his patent would have expired eventually (but with enough money and influence, there are all sorts of dubious channels that can be gone down to extend a patent), but for a long while, George Selden would have been making good money on every car sold in the U.S. But instead, it is just an interesting footnote in the history of the automobile. So it goes.

For a very in-depth version of this story, check out this awesome site.

Car Guy History – 1940 Census Pt III

Barney Oldfield

Barney Oldfield Census

“Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?” is an expression that isn’t used too often these days as many people really don’t know who Barney Oldfield is/was. He was one of America’s first truly awesome race cars drivers. He got his start in 1902 with Henry Ford and later set records on the beach in Daytona. He raced in the early days of the Indy 500, becoming the first person to run a 100+mph lap.

Sometime prior to 1930 he moved to Beverly Hills and lived at 1721 Chevy Chase Drive. Here’s what it looks like today courtesy of Google Earth:

Barney Oldfield House

Oldfield owned the $47,500 house (now valued at almost $2 million). He lived there with his wife and a 27-year-old Filipino “houseboy.” At this point in time his racing career had ended and he is listed as an “Owner/Manager” of a club. He died in 1946 at age 68.

Car Guy History – 1940 Census Pt II

Edsel Ford

ford census

Here’s another census sheet. This one featuring the son of Henry Ford, Edsel.

The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House is open to the public today after being placed into a trust by Eleanor in the 1970s. It was built in 1927 and in 1940 it was worth $1,339,830 – not bad for the “President” of an “Automobile Factory.” The census data shows 45-year-old Edsel lived with his wife Eleanor, son Henry II, son Benson, daughter Josephine, and son  – the recently deceased William Clay (the owner of the Detroit Lions). There were also seven servants.

Here is what the house at 1100 Lake Shore Drive in Grosse Pointe Shores looks like today:

Edsel Ford House

Visiting this historic mansion is definitely worth it. I highly recommend it if you’re in the greater Detroit area.

Car Guy History – The 1940 Census

The government was nice enough to put the 1940 Census online. Well I had some free time at work (sshhh! don’t tell anyone!) and spent some time paging through various areas (after finding my relatives), mainly in and around L.A. to find how much money some movie stars’ homes were worth during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I found about 60 interesting people.

Well I came across some interesting folks along the way – many movie stars and directors and producers and writers. But also some people from the world of cars. I’ve been meaning to share this for well over a year now, so here we go. Also, because these photos are so big, loading them all in one post keeps crashing the site, so I’ll do one person per post.

E.L. Cord

Cord census

Errett Lobban Cord was born in 1894 and became an automotive titan around 1930. But the Depression took his empire away and so he moved to California where he made his second fortune in radio and television. On the census he lists himself as an investor in real estate.

The address is 500a Doheny Rd, Beverly Hills, California. The house he lived in (valued at $200,000 in 1940) no longer stands as a $5 million home was built there in 1985. Cord resided there with his wife and two daughters. He also had a servant and a parlor maid. Cord relocated to Nevada in the 1940s and died there in 1974.

Car Guy History: Henry Leland

If I’m posting this, it’s probably because auction houses haven’t gotten their most current upcoming auction catalogs online – that or I decided to feature this for the fun of it. I thought I’d dig back into the history of the automobile – a topic I really love – and find some interesting tales to tell. This is the first of those…

Henry Leland

Henry Leland

Henry Martyn Leland, born February 16, 1843, is best known for founding both Cadillac and Lincoln. But before we get to how he made a career off of Henry Ford (and became one of his main antagonists), we’ll throw in a little back story. In 1870, he opened a machine shop that would later supply engines to Oldsmobile (his first taste of the automobile industry). He had previously worked for Colt (firearms) – both of these gave him insight into the use of interchangeable parts – something successful early automotive pioneers championed heavily.

Trivia tidbit: he also invented electric barber clippers.

So here’s part one of how Henry Leland made a career off of Henry Ford: Cadillac. What does Henry Ford have to do with Cadillac? Well, he inadvertently founded it. Backtrack: in 1899, Henry Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company with the backing of the mayor of Detroit, a senator, and William Murphy – father of Walter M. Murphy, who would later be a successful coachbuilder in Pasadena, California.

The Detroit Automobile Company built about 20 cars and went bankrupt and was dissolved in January 1901. In November of that same year, after Henry Ford had some minor racing success, he was able to convince some men (including William Murphy, again) to back him. Thus, from the remnants of the Detroit Automobile Company, the Henry Ford Company was founded. The following spring, Ford got into an argument with his backers. They gave him $900, the rights to his name, and showed him the door.

1900 Detroit Delivery Truck

1900 Detroit Delivery Truck. the first car built by a henry ford-owned company.

Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903 and we all know how that went. But the Henry Ford Company still had to be dissolved. Henry Leland was brought in to appraise the tooling and factory so it could be liquidated. Leland appraised everything and then offered his unsolicited advice: don’t liquidate – start a new company. He then offered them the idea to build a car using an engine he had developed for Oldsmobile. William Murphy said “Okay!” and quickly renamed the Henry Ford Company “Cadillac.”

1903 Cadillac Model A

1903 Cadillac Model A. built by leland-owned cadillac using the leland-desgned single-cylinder engine he developed for oldsmobile.

Cadillac was building cars by the end of 1902, before Henry Ford got his “Third Time’s A Charm” thing going. In 1905, Leland merged his machine shop into Cadillac. He also introduced interchangeable parts. In 1909, Leland sold Cadillac to General Motors for $4.5 million and remained a GM executive until 1917. That’s how Leland made his first fortune off of Henry Ford.

Now for Round 2: In 1917, World War I was in full swing. GM was still in the control of its founder, William Durant (who deserves his own Fun History Lesson). Durant was a pacifist and did not want to make anything for the military. Cadillac had been asked by the government to build Liberty aircraft engines. Durant refused. So Leland walked out.

And what did he do? He took the $10 million contract from the government and founded the Lincoln Motor Company with his son. He named it “Lincoln” after his hero, Abraham Lincoln – the man he voted for in 1864 (okay, so Leland made his second fortune off of the government, and not necessarily Henry Ford). When the war ended, Leland retooled the factory to build luxury cars. By 1922, the retooling had taken its toll and Lincoln was out of money – but their factory was worth about $16 million.

1922 Lincoln L-Series Touring

1922 Lincoln L-Series Touring. The L-Series was designed by lincoln under Leland ownership and remained in production long after he left.

Henry Ford sent in a bid of $5 million to buy Lincoln, which was rejected by a judge. He upped it to $8 million – the only bidder on the insolvent company. Ford was still bitter at Leland for his success with Cadillac and wanted to pay as little as possible for Lincoln – just to demoralize the Lelands. The $8 million mostly went to pay of creditors, but Leland (and his son, Wilfred) remained as employees – not to run the company as originally promised by Ford, but to get it to a point where it wouldn’t go bankrupt again – i.e. throw quality out the door to save costs, which was, quite possibly, Leland’s most-loathed thing about the then-current automobile industry. A couple months later, an executive acting on Henry Ford’s authority, showed up to force Wilfred to resign. When Henry Leland realized Henry Ford was directly responsible for this, he, again, walked out as well.

Remarkably, both companies founded by Henry Leland still survive 100 years later – and I’m pretty sure he’s the only person to hold that distinction. Sure, he didn’t make a fortune from Henry Ford the second time around, but he did force Ford (out of spite) to spend $12 million (there was additional $4 million tax bill tacked on). Henry Leland had to be one of Henry Ford’s biggest adversaries for a majority of his career. And for that, he should be considered an automotive hero (let’s be honest, for all of Ford’s successes, he wasn’t exactly a saint).

In any case, Henry Leland (and his son, Wilfred) were engineers. They held quality above all things. And they were among the last of their kind. The companies they founded were transferred into the hands of penny-pinchers who wanted to build the most for the least. During Leland’s reign, Cadillac become known as “The Standard of the World” and there was a reason for that. Henry Leland is one of my automotive heroes – if for nothing else, than being a thorn in Henry Ford’s side for over 20 years.