Cars of the Fascinating '40s
Cars of the Fascinating ’40s: A Decade of Challenges and Changes is a lively, full-colour celebration of mainstream marques like Chevrolet and Lincoln; eccentric, homebuilt oddities like the Hoppenstand and the lmp; and fabulous enterprises like Derham coach- built and the Tucker Torpedo. Special coverage of the war years details the aircraft, guns, tanks, and other materiel the auto industry turned out to help the Allies defeat the Axis. More than 1400 images—black and white factory photos, full-colour shots of restored cars, original artwork, and period advertisements—are accompanied by authoritative specifications, production figures, and other details of the decade’s automobiles. All this, plus insights into the engineering, design, and manufacture of these timeless machines combine for a memorable look back at a decade that sums up much that is exciting about the American spirit. In 1940, much of the United States was agrarian and relatively unsophisticated. Some regions of the country had enjoyed electricity and phone service for only a few years. isolationist political sentiment was strong. Half the nation was ruled by segregationist Jim Crow laws. It was not the America we know today. And yet, due to the country’s vastness, and because Americans are by nature and tradition of traveling animals, we had cars. Even as America continued its struggle to extricate itself from the Great Depression, Americans bought automobiles because they needed them and, often, because they loved them. Choice—that most American of economic phenomena-—was boggling. Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Crosley, DeSoto, Ford, Graham, Hudson, Hupmobile, LaSalle, Mercury, Packard, Pontiac, Studebaker, Willys . . . the list seemed endless. By the summer of 1945, the U.S. had prevailed in a world war that interrupted auto- mobile production for the better part of four calendar years. The nation emerged from the conflict politically and economically powerful. Ordinary Americans, thousands of whom had found lucrative employment at auto plants converted for production of war materiel, had money, and it was burning holes in their pockets because relatively few goods had been available to spend it on during the war. But by 1945-46, Americans were spending on homes, appliances, and convenience items of all sorts. However, the glamour items that they really craved were new cars. Automakers tooled up to resume production as quickly as they could. Secure in a seller ‘market, the Big Three (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) offered warmed-over prewar models. Independent automakers who realized they had a rare opportunity to get a leg up on their leviathan competition labored to establish themselves as postwar players in a hurry. Some of them, such as Kaiser-Frazer (twin makes that had not existed in 1940) and Studebaker, beat the Big Three to the punch with all-new models as early as 1946 (for the 1947 model year). At decade’s end, the sellers’ market had peaked and diminished. Car buyers once again had plenty of choices and were considerably more selective than just a few years before. All-new styling was one-way manufacturers lured shoppers to showrooms. Other buyers were excited by refinements of the decade’s technological and styling advances, such as Oldsmobile’s Hydra-Matic Drive and Buick’s Dynaflow automatic trans- missions; sealed-beam headlights; unitized construction; sophisticated suspension systems; aerodynamic body design; wraparound glass; a plethora of muscular eights (notably GM’s powerful ohv V-8s) and some surprisingly robust sixes; disc brakes; key-actuated starting; and pillarless hardtop coupes. Worrisome economic inflation marked the decade’s final years, and automakers were hung further by strikes mounted by their own workers and by walkouts suffered by key suppliers. Sheet steel, copper, and other materials were in perilously short supply. A coal strike threatened to disrupt freight-train service and automakers’ means of getting their cars from the factories to dealers. In the end, though, the 1940s brought U.S. automakers back to full prosperity—and then some. For model-year 1940, the industry produced 3,692,328 automobiles. By 1949, that figure had swelled to 6,253,651. The story of why those figures rose, the companies that built the cars, the automakers’ efforts to help win a war, and how automobiles evolved unfolds in Cars of the Fascinating ’40s: A Decade of Challenges and Changes.