In 1896, the automobile was such a curiosity the Barnum & Bailey Circus gave a Duryea Motor Wagon top billing over the albino and the fat lady. Ten years later automobile manufacturing in the United States was an industry with revenues exceeding ten million dollars. Not since the Klondike gold rush were so many men, as well as women, compelled to abandon everything including common sense in the hope of striking it rich.
As early as 1907 the easy money had become a distant memory as a glut of manufacturers and a very limited market dramatically decreased profits for the companies that remained. In difficult times such as these, the fearless visionary, the swashbuckling entrepreneur is often the one that charts a new course.
In this instance, it was Detroit sheet metal tycoon, Benjamin Briscoe. His initial endeavors in the realm of automobile manufacturing had been as the moneyman behind David Buick. By 1907, he was full partner in a company, Maxwell-Briscoe that was garnering a lion’s share of the market.
In spite of this success, or perhaps as a result, Briscoe devised a concept in which an automobile manufacturer would be multi-dimensional, a tiered approach with a vehicle for each budget and every rung on the ladder of success. As he saw it such a company would reap a dramatically larger share of the market as well as neutralize much of the competition.
The idea eventually resulted in actual meetings between carefully selected manufacturers with the goal being a tight confederation of partnerships that would dominate the American automobile industry. Ego, money, and pride brought the idea of combining the talents of Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, Jonathan Maxwell, David Buick, and Benjamin Briscoe to a quick end. However, another attendee, William Durant, at that meeting saw great merit in the concept and quickly set it into motion with the result being the formation of new company, one that would transform the world – General Motors.
General Motors and USA Motor Company, the version established by Benjamin Briscoe established a new direction for the American auto industry. Soon even the most stalwart manufacturer, in an effort to compete, was forced into offering companion models above or below their standard offerings.
For the vintage auto enthusiast or trivia buff the result is a virtual cornucopia of “companion” car orphans such as Plymouth, Desoto, Oakland, or LaSalle. Some of the most fascinating orphaned companion cars are those built by companies whose main line of vehicles are now orphans themselves.

In 1927, the pioneering manufacturer Studebaker unveiled a new line of vehicles with a European flair named after the companies’ current president, Albert Erskine. Billed as the little aristocrat the Erskine provided dealers with a vehicle for the consumer shopping in the upper end of the low priced field.
Initially it appeared the Erskine was going to be a profitable entity for the company both in the United States as well as in Europe. However, the introduction of the all new Model A Ford, with a list price $400 less than the Erskine and the all new six cylinder Chevrolet for just a bit more doomed it to failure and in mid year 1930 it was absorbed into the regular Studebaker line with little notice.
The Essex by Hudson, though forgotten today, was a huge success. Introduced in late 1918 as a low priced companion car for the Hudson the Essex soon threatened to usurp the companies’ namesake.
Initial sales skyrocketed when publicity touting AAA conducted performance tests were released; 3037 miles in 50 hours, and a transcontinental trek of just four days, twenty-one hours and thirty two minutes. However, the cars real contribution was in setting industry standards such as being the first mid price range vehicle made available in closed sedan configuration.
General Motors took the concept even further and offered companion cars for its companion cars. Oakland had Pontiac. Buick had Marquette; Oldsmobile had Viking and Cadillac the LaSalle.
For a short period Lafayette, the luxury car offered by Nash, was in actuality a separate company, but was sold through Nash dealers. The companies’ low-end offering, the Ajax, was marketed in a similar manner.
A number of the smaller manufacturers pooled resources to create companion lines for their vehicles that were different in name only. From 1936 to 1938, REO built and marketed the Speedwagon series of light trucks. On the same assembly line Mack Jr., light duty trucks were manufactured for Mack.
Then there are those fascinating orphans produced as a partnership by several orphan companies from the remains of another orphaned company. The Hupmobile Skylark of 1939 was derived from the body dies of the defunct Cord. Graham-Paige manufactured the vehicles in exchange for allowance to use the dies to produce the Graham Hollywood.
On occasion, these endeavors became international in scope. Such was the case when cash strapped American Bantam provided technical assistance and sold dies as well as presses and other equipment to a consortium of Japanese businessmen who had formed that countries first automobile manufacturer – Datsun.
If your taste in automobiles leans towards the different consider a model sold as a companion car. If your tastes lean towards the truly different consider an orphan that was sold as a companion to an orphan.

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