American Automotive Industry During World War Two
Article by Mark Trotta
The Second World-War was a major event that defined global history. Through a combination of it's people and natural resources, the United States banded together and helped push the Allies to victory. A large part of that came from America's automotive industry, which produced the tanks, guns, aircraft, and much more for the war effort.
England had declared war on Germany in September 1939. Canada followed suit one week later, and stopped their automotive production soon after. The U.S. would stay out of the war for two more years, largely due to popular sentiment.
The potential of the American automotive industry was first seen during World-War I. During that time, manufacturers developed ways to convert their facilities toward making military equipment.
Although not in the war yet, the U.S. government began allocating money to upgrade parts of their military. One of these upgrades was reconnaissance vehicles, which were once motorcycles and sidecars, now to be updated as light-duty trucks. Ongoing disputes and internal Army politics delayed the decision of who would be awarded the contract until 1941.
The government contract to make the new light-duty vehicle ultimately went to Willys-Overland, a small company based in Toledo, Ohio.
The Willys MB (Military "B" model) began rolling off the Ohio assembly plant in mid 1941. Many of these early WW2 Jeeps ended up being shipped to England, Russia, and other Allied Countries under the Lend Lease bill.
America Joins WW2
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, a lagoon harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The U.S. declared war on Japan the following day.
American Automotive Industry - 1942
Within several weeks, all production and sales of passenger cars were frozen by the U.S. government. Vehicles that had previously been bought, but not yet delivered, were also frozen. Several more weeks saw all civilian car and truck production in America stopped and quickly converted to the wartime effort.
Last Pontiac Built Before Shutdown
According to Charles Coker, a Pontiac tech advisor, the last Pontiac built before the war was on Feb. 10th, 1942.
In April 1942, automotive industry representatives formed the "Automotive Council for War Production". This was in part to oversee the sharing of resources and manpower to aid in defense production.
New Vehicles Put In Reserve
With no new cars being produced for an indefinite amount of time, the government held in reserve an estimated 532,000 new vehicles. These cars and trucks would be held and sold only to people critical to keeping the war effort going and maintaining public safety. This list included police departments, fire departments, doctors, surgeons, mobile nurses, veterinarians, and mail transportation.
There is a never-ending stream of rumors about American cars "recently discovered" that were built during the War Years. Most of these are false, no doubt started by classic car collectors looking to increase value on certain vehicles. Other than for military use, no passenger cars were made from February 1942 to October 1945.
Any American-made car sold to civilians during 1943-1944 were left-over cars built before production was stopped in February of 1942. Since the assembly lines were converted over to tanks, airplanes, and other military goods, these cars would have to have been hand-assembled.
Willow Run Plant
Constructed by the Ford Motor Company during 1940-1942, the Willow Run plant was built on 975 acres of Michigan farmland. At its peak in 1944, it employed 42,000 people and produced a B-24 bomber every hour.
Ford GPW Jeep Production
With all U.S. military phases ramped up, the Army needed more Jeeps than Willys-Overland could produce. Because of their huge production capacity, Ford was granted a non-exclusive license to manufacture Jeeps to Willys' specifications. The Ford version of the Jeep is known as the GPW (General Passenger Willys).
Read: Jeeps In World War Two
The U.S. government authorized limited automotive production for military use only. Ford Motor Company built a limited number of cars and pickup trucks in 1943, 1944 and 1945. These were for official use by military or other government agencies, or sold to certain individuals whose job was considered vital to the war effort such as doctors and veterinarians.
The A.M.A. describes the several hundred cars (make unknown) sold during 1943 and 1944, respectively, as cars held in factory storage, and not actually built then.
Chevrolet Wartime Production
General Motors' top division Chevrolet started production of 14-cylinder airplane engines in December 1942. Between 1942 and 1945, Chevrolet produced 60,000 Pratt and Whitney airplane engines, 500,000 military trucks, and 3,800 T-17 Staghound armored scout cars.
Crosley Cars During WW2
Reportedly, Crosley Motors was the last company to cease production of civilian vehicles. This is attributed to the War Production Board being unsure how to best use Crosley's small-car factories. Not surprisingly, during the War, Crosley's existing microcars became more popular than ever, simply because of gasoline rationing.
Many of the 1941 and 1942 models left over before the car sale freeze became staff cars, and were registered as 1943-1944-1945 models.
To insure that American consumers would not forget them, automobile and oil companies continued advertising their brands throughout the war. This was usually done with ads displaying the trucks, aircraft, and munitions they were providing for the war effort.
Dodge Truck Wartime Production
The government allowed production of small numbers of medium- and heavy-duty truck platforms that were important to the home front. About 10% of Dodge's truck output during the war was for civilian use.
For the War effort, the Dodge Company produced a series of 3/4 ton vehicles, including ambulances, command cars, telephone installation trucks, and weapons carriers. The post-war Dodge Power Wagon is a direct descendant of these military vehicles.
Dodge also produced several heavy-duty military vehicles during WW2, including the 3-ton, two-wheel-drive VK62B.
Studebaker Wartime Production
During the war years, Studebaker produced military trucks and aircraft engines. They also manufactured a tracked personnel and cargo carrier called the "Weasel" which was designed to operate in snow. An amphibious version of the Weasel was also produced.
Divco Truck Wartime Production
Like other commercial vehicle manufacturers, all Divco truck production was suspended in 1942. For the next three years, factory output was comprised strictly of wartime materials, including airplane sub-assemblies for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Production of civilian Divco trucks would commence in 1945.
Packard During World War II
During the war years, Packard ranked fourth, right behind GM, Ford, and Chrysler in terms of military production output by an automaker. Between 1942-1945, they produced over 55,000 combat engines for Allied ships and planes.
Read: Packard History (Post WW2)
Under license from Rolls-Royce, Packard produced British-designed Merlin aircraft engines. Early examples powered P-40F Kittyhawk fighters and the Canadian-built Hawker Hurricanes. Later V-1650 Merlin engines powered the infamous P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Packard also built V-12 marine engines for American PT boats (each boat used three).
Pontiac ambulances were produced in limited numbers during 1943 and 1944.
WW2 Total Production
During the war period, automobile manufacturers mass-produced 2,600,000 military trucks and 660,000 jeeps. Factory output went well beyond motor vehicles. Automobile manufacturers also produced:
- 100% of all armoured cars
- 85% of military helmets
- 85% of aerial bombs
- 60% of tanks
- 50% of carbine rifles
- 50% of machine guns
U.S. Gross National Product
Between 1940 and 1945, automotive manufacturers produced nearly $29 billion worth of military materials, about a fifth of America's entire output.
End Of WW2
More than a 300 million soldiers worldwide took part in World War Two, and estimates show between 60 to 80 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. The unprecedented mass production that the American automotive industry provided was a major reason for the Allies success.
Civilian Car And Truck Production Resumes
In May of 1947, Chevrolet's new Advance Design truck series were the first new post-war vehicles to be produced.
Read: Classic American Trucks