Automotive History: The Last Ones (Part 2: 1970-present)

Welcome to part two – let’s skip the preliminaries and get right to the meat of the subject, starting with the ‘70s. When we’re talking “last ever made,” sometimes things are not quite what they seem. Especially when dealing with carmakers, such as Citroën in the mid-‘70s, who were in the midst of considerable difficulties.

These pictures were taken at the old Quai de Javel works in Paris on 24 April 1975. The car, a Citroën DS 23 IE with a 5-speed manual and “bleu Delta” paint, was probably not the last DS ever made, nor is the number on the windshield accurate, according to many DS fanatics.

It seems a few more saloons were made over the next few months, and the wagons seem to have continued into 1976 (perhaps). Coachbuilder Chapron, who made the DS cabriolet and their own line of specials, delivered the last DS drop-top in 1978, though there are rumours that some cars were made even after that date. Some say the total number of DSs made between 1955 and 1975 is closer to 1,145,000 – series production is not an exact science, sometimes.

This one is perhaps a little more clear-cut. The very last Cadillac Eldorado convertible is duly feted as it rolls off the line and into the history books. As with all the final Eldos, this one was a Bicentennial Edition triple-white, built on 21 April 1976. GM offered it to the Smithsonian, who said “Nah, we’re good.” So it went into GM’s private stash. The other 199 Bicentennial Eldorados were sold during the summer of 1976 at crazy prices – the MRSP was US$ 11,049, but some dealers jacked it up to the US$ 20,000 mark. When Cadillac re-introduced a drop-top in the range in 1983, some of the folks who had bought ’76 Eldorados slapped GM with a class action suit for “false advertising,” which was thrown out of court. Caveat emptor.

OK, this is not the last Beetle ever made, but it’s a pretty nice photo. And there’s all the info on it one might require, except the precise location, which is Uitenhage – Africa’s largest car manufacturing plant, located in the Eastern Cape province. However, this was not the last Beetle made on the continent: Nigerian production, using CKD kits from Brazil, continued until 1989. And of course the old VW Typ 1 was made in Mexico until 2003…

There are a few parallels between the Beetle above and the Saab 96: both were derived from their makers’ first model and both ended their production life abroad. In the case of the Saab, the place was the Valmet factory in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Not a million miles from Sweden, but still. This picture was taken on 8 January 1980, according to the Saabplanet website. Saab shifted the 96 / 95 assembly line to Valmet in 1969 to focus on the new 99. It is said that the 65,000-odd Suomi-made Saabs were even better than the Swedish-built ones, in terms of fit and Finnish (ha ha).

Abingdon, Oxfordshire, is the birthplace of the MG marque. But on this day in October 1980, the axe fell on one of MG’s best-sellers, the legendary B, after 19 years of service and with no successor in sight. Quintessentially British roadsters were no longer a priority for the moribund conglomerate that was making them. British Leyland terminated the Midget in 1979, the MG B in 1980 and the Triumph TR7 in 1981, abandoning a niche they had dominated for decades, in favour of putting MG badges on the Metro and Triumph ones on Honda saloons. Though factually and grammatically correct, that last sentence has so many things wrong with it.

The reverberations of Peugeot’s takeover of Chrysler Europe were considerable – and almost sank Peugeot themselves. Here is one of the big tremors of this troubled time: the closure of the ex-Rootes plant at Linwood, near Glasgow, in May 1981. On top of the last car, a Talbot Sunbeam, was a cardboard coffin. The Linwood plant, which had opened in 1963 and was a major source of employment in that part of Scotland, left a big gap when it was shut down. Over 60% of Linwood’s workforce were still unemployed 12 months after this photo was taken.

A few months later on the other side of the planet, Mitsubishi, who had bought Chrysler’s Australian operation, were terminating the Valiant CM, after that nameplate had taken root and gone native, not unlike the Ford Falcon, in the antipodean market.

But unlike the Falcon, which outlived its American cousin by several decades, the Aussie Valiant’s life was cut short pretty soon after it disappeared in its country of origin. After leaving the Tonsley Park plant, this 565,338th and final Valiant was preserved by a Sydney Chrysler dealer and not registered until it was sold at auction in 2003, with only 26 km on the clock, to a Chrysler collector from Victoria.

Some of these pictures can seem pretty depressing, depending on the context and the history of the model that is being commemorated. In this instance, however, we can see how a retirement can be a cause for celebration for a job well done. This July 1982 picture is a proper send-off, not a wake. The Cortina was a certified hit for Dagenham for two decades and five generations, being Ford UK’s bread-and-butter RWD saloon and the top seller on its home market for most of its tenure. Even in its final model year, it was still clinging on to the #2 spot. The Sierra that followed it also sold well, but never had the same magnetic appeal. Ford for the win!

From Dagenham, we go to Kōln, keeping it in the blue oval family. The Capri was launched in January 1969, but production had started in late 1968, both in England and West Germany. The second generation Capri (1974-78) was the first Ford to feature a hatchback. The last generation lasted all the way to 19 December 1986, when this photo was taken. Ford made close to 1.9 million Capris; most were sold in Europe and North America, but some Mk 1 models were assembled in Australia and South Africa.

The Capri’s arch-rival on the European market was the Opel Manta, made from 1970 to 1988. This picture was taken at the GM plant in Antwerp, where most of the 2nd generation (1975-88) Mantas were built – including this final one, surrounded by a 1st gen Manta A and an Irmscher rally-spec 400. Unlike Ford, GM already had a successor planned to take over from the Manta, in the form of the FWD Calibra. But with a 14-year production run, the Manta B was the longest-lived Opel model ever made.

A slight jump back in time here, as we gaze at the last AMC ever made (according to this web page, anyway), a 1988 Eagle wagon that came out of the Brompton, Ontario factory on 15 December 1987 and arrived at the Oklahoma City AMC dealer by New Year’s Eve. The guy who bought it, Alan Strang, drove all the way from California to collect it on 19 January 1988.

If I understand correctly, the 2300-odd 1988 Eagle wagons that were made were not technically called AMC, but just plain Eagle. Chrysler had taken over and just couldn’t wait a few months until they stopped production – they needed the AMC name dead as soon as possible. Doesn’t make much difference, but it does look a bit petty.

The Citroën 2CV had a whopping 42-year run, debuting in October 1948. The flat-twin tin snail buried the Renault 4CV, the Fiat 500, the Morris Minor and countless other rivals, including Citroën’s own replacement for it, the Dyane. But nothing lasts forever – in 1988, the Levallois factory stopped production, which was moved to Mangualde, Portugal.

The last 2CV was made on 27 July 1990, quite literally with fanfare. Over 3.8 million saloons had been made and it spawned an additional 5 million derivatives (2CV van, Ami 6 / 8, Dyane, Méhari, FAF, etc.) made in over a dozen countries. This car was sold new to a private owner in Alsace and is still in good condition.

As the winds of change were blowing across Europe in the late ‘80s, the DDR caught a nasty cold. The collapse of the Berlin Wall led to German reunification, but also to a difficult readjustment process in East Germany. The car industry, more or less stuck in the ‘60s, was a prime example and the Trabant, a real symbol of a calcified economy, was necessarily on borrowed time.

Of course, that meant that a lot of folks would lose their jobs, but the former Auto Union works at Zwickau, by then called Sachsenring Automobilwerke GmbH, were especially vulnerable, due to the plummeting sales of their wares. Despite its new Volkswagen-derived 1.1 litre 4-stroke engine, on 10 April 1991, the Trabi was put out of its misery in the form of a pink Universal wagon. Sachsenring still exists as a part manufacturer for VW, but the historic Zwickau plant is a shadow of its former self.

The same happened over at Automobilwerke Eisenach, the ex-BMW works that produced the Wartburg. The AWE folks had been a little more ahead of the game than their counterparts in Zwickau. In 1988, the Wartburg switched from a longitudinal 1-litre 3-cyl. two-stroker to a VW-sourced 1.3 litre 4-cyl. mounted transversally. The car was essentially all new underneath, and it had cost AWZ a pretty pfennig, but it was all for naught: despite a mild facelift, the Wartburg’s ‘60s designed body still looked too old-fashioned. April 1991 also signaled the end of the line for Eisenach. The firm was liquidated and the factory demolished, though a new Opel plant opened in the city in 1992.

Try as I might, I cannot come up with a segue to jump from Wartburg to the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI. So here we are, abruptly thrust from the gloom of the DDR to the glamour of the last separate chassis Roller. This is an unusual final car in many ways, of course. It’s a four-door cabriolet, which is uncommon. It was designed by Pietro Frua, but he never managed to get it finished in his lifetime, so the half-done Phantom lingered for many years, from one coachbuilder to the next. The work was finally finalized in mid-1992 – the chassis was over 20 years old, by then.

Frua designed and built another (and pretty similar, especially the rear, which also used Citroën SM taillights) Phantom VI special, a two-door convertible, but that one he managed to see through to completion in 1973. The four-door changed hands even as it was being made, which did not help. Since nobody at Rolls-Royce spoke Italian and Frua understood very little English, things took a lot of time. The 374th and last “standard” Rolls-Royce Phantom VI chassis was bodied by Mulliner-Park Ward (as a laundaulette, I believe) and delivered to Brunei (where else?) in January 1992, so this 1971/1992 Frua special is really the last of the breed to have hit the pavement.

Let’s keep the British coachbuilt limo thing going as we glance at the Daimler DS420. Only 22 Daimler limos were bodied in 1992 (and 14 chassis made), the final year of production. Here, we have the penultimate car, bought by Buckingham Palace for the Queen Mother’s use. Like all DS420s, this car has a 4.2 litre 6-cyl. “XK” engine – a 40-plus year old design, at that point.

And here’s the last one made in November 1992. This Daimler is kept by the Jaguar Heritage Trust, who rent it out for special occasions. It was only registered for road use in 1994, but it still works for a living, as any limousine worth its salt should.

The last classic Mini came off the line at Longbridge on 4 October 2000 and was driven off by ‘60s icon Lulu (not pictured… I think). It must have been an emotional moment for many folks in Britain and the world – few cars had such a positive image as the old Mini. After all, 5.4 million loyal customers can’t all be wrong…

Here’s the red Cooper as part of the British Motor Museum in Gaydon, Warwickshire. The same museum also has the first production Mini.

Lansing, Michigan, 29 April 2004: Oldsmobile takes a bow with the last Alero. This was not unexpected – GM had put the marque on death row back in late 2000, and many saw it circling the drain since the late ‘80s. Oldsmobile’s agony was perhaps longer than it should have been, in retrospect. Not unlike Plymouth’s. The Big Three were in a bad place, at the start of the new millennium. There would be more victims soon after – Mercury, Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer, as well as the sale of Opel and Isuzu, the sad nixing of Saab and the closure of Ford and GM’s Australian operations. Too many “last evers” to contemplate – but some have been the subject of CC posts already…

But I wanted to end this series on a quirky note. And what could be quirkier than the last VW T2 “Kombi,” made on 18 December 2013 at São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil? Sure, the Beetle was the original VW, but this was the last direct derivative of the Beetle to kick the bucket.

The Typ 2 had changed quite a bit since its inception in 1949. The Brazilian version was based on the 2nd generation that had debuted in late 1967. VW’s air-cooled flat-4s breathed their last in 2005, so the Brazilian T2 was adapted to use the Gol’s water-cooled 1.4 straight-4, which entailed a fairly disastrous rhinoplasty. Still, it bought the old van a few additional years of production life.

That’s it for this little trip down memory lane. Of course, this was just a little peek at this extremely wide subject. There are so many more pictures of “last-evers” potentially that I ‘m sure a few more posts could be made. If you happen to have a photo of one, feel free to share in the Comments below.


Related posts:


CC Twofer: 1970 Citroën DS 21 & 1974 Citroën DS 23 – The Goddess Is In The Details, by T87

Car Lot Classic: 1976 Cadillac Eldorado – RENT!!!, by PN

CC Global: 1970 Saab 96 in Stockholm, by Robert Kim

Curbside Classic: 1978 MGB – Determined To Survive, by Eric703

Automotive History – The Valiant in Australia, Part Two, by JohnH875

Curbside Classic: 1986 AMC Eagle Wagon – Ahead Of Its Time, And Behind The Times, by Eric703

Curbside Classic: 1969 Citroen 2CV – The Most Original Car Ever, by PN

Carshow Classic: 1984 Trabant 601-S – The Other People’s Car From The Other Germany, by Roger Carr

Curbside Classic: 1988-1991 Wartburg 353 1.3 – The East German Audi, In More Ways Than One, by PN

Beaten By Hand, But Not A Beater: 1973 Rolls Royce Phantom VI Drophead by Frua – The End Of An Era Of Custom Coachbuilt Rollers, by PN

Curbside Classic: Daimler DS420 Limousine – Forgotten Lesser Royalty, by Robert Kim

Curbside Classic: Austin Mini – Yesterday’s Mini; Today’s Micro, by PN

Curbside Classic: 2001 Oldsmobile Alero GLS – Going Out in Style, by Brendan Saur

Automotive History Capsule: The Last Oldsmobiles – Falling With Style, by Dan Cluley

The End Of The Road For The Last Classic VW Bus: Brazilian VW Kombi Production Wraps Up, by PN