Great car companies are like great artists, when they die, they leave behind a body of work that just becomes more valuable.
We feel sad for a while then we look at our collection, if any, and smile a quiet and happy smile that we had the foresight to gather a collection of their works.
The thing about the most fantastic cars ever made is that they usually lose their money for the manufacturer or are so stupendously expensive that only 10 or 20 were ever built and that is no way to run a successful business.
When we look at the Bugatti Royale and learn that the exquisite front axle is forged from a single round of steel and that includes the square-section leaf spring holders then we understand that they used craftsman even for the most robust of components.
That can’t be cheap. What’s the rejection rate like? Each piece may have taken days or weeks to forge and shape. It’s pure madness that only worthy of the most beautiful works of art.
Even today, we are reminded how Bugatti loses money for every Veyron that it sold and is probably doing okay for every Chiron that it sells because the development costs have all been absorbed by the Veyron.
Although the Chiron will sell, the numbers are small and without the financial might and boardroom commitment in Wolfsburg, the Veyron and Chiron would never have seen the light of day.
Therefore, it is inevitable for companies that create only great cars would end up in the shutters sooner rather than later.
Companies that thrive are those that sell mass-produced cars in huge volumes and then give their engineers time off to have fun and build whatever they think would keep their fires lighted.
Bugatti, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Hispano-Suiza, Delahaye, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, and Saab even made mostly good and interesting cars, but as the years rolled in and sales volumes began increasing they needed to build cars that made financial sense. But really, they don’t know how to and so they end up insolvent.
Lucky ones are rescued by mass-market manufacturer, or some say premium mass market brands and they live on in some fashion.
Others fall into the fold of some conglomerate and suffer a long and painful decline with no apparent end in sight. Lancia is now reduced to building small city cars. They are reduced to calling it, fashion city cars.
Alfa Romeo is sort of thriving these days with a few interesting cars, but at one point they were building the 146 and 147. Remember those?
Bentley is building super fancy Volkswagens dressed in wool hunting jackets, while Rolls Royce seems content to pack Munich V8 and suicide doors to remain authentic.
British brands Jaguar and Land Rover are lucky that their Indian owner Tata gives them independence to design totally English cars and the same can be said of Volvo and its Chinese owner Geely.
But, to be truly remembered, a car company needs to close shop for good. But one car company simply refuses to play by the rules, and continues to thrive even though it builds only wonderfully beautiful cars.
Ferrari is doing better than ever and it’s hard to find an ugly Ferrari. Well the 246 Dino is plain, but it’s not ugly.
Ferrari is so successful that it even has influence over Fiat.
Enzo’s company is successful because they go racing and win on Sundays and sell cars for the rest of the week.
I would like to plonk Porsche in the same breath as Ferrari, but its cars are not really pretty. Purposeful, certainly but pretty they are not. Well, the latest version is starting to look sleek, despite keeping the frog profile.
Plus, Porsche is a company that is successful by making their own Plain Jane, the sports utility vehicle, Cayenne.
Without the Cayenne and Macan, Porsche would still be a small-time car manufacturer. Now they are selling in numbers that would make Opel proud.
So, if you want to be a successful car company, make boring cars so you can make cool cars on weekends.
But, if you want your cars to be remembered, make great cars, financial success be damned.