The History of 1940s Cars and How the War Impeded Their Development

    Pre War 1940s cars

    US car production was dealt a setback because of World War II. In 1940 pre World War II the US produced 4,680,000 cars. Although each decade in history is different the decade of the 1940's is by far the most unusual in U.S. automobile history. This was the only period of time when automobile production stopped for a period of 3-4 years. No cars were manufactured after 1942 due to the advent of World War II. Production for civilians did not resume until 1946 . Early 1940's saw the first time luxury cars started rolling off a production line. A car showed the wealth and status of its owner. Cars like the Delahaye 135 convertible whose top speeds reached 95 mph, the Delahaye was the ultimate 1940 luxury car.

    Delahaye 135 Convertible

    The department of war came up with a one-quarter ton four wheel drive military vehicle called the Jeep. WWII saw the conversion of many U.S. automotive plants to military production. Chrysler meanwhile introduced a safety rim wheel that kept the tire on the rim in case of a blowout. Chrysler also offered two-speed electric windshield wipers.

    The new 1940s cars had a lower, longer, broader, and more massive look. Hudson offered a combination automatic clutch with a semi-automatic transmission. The driver could select either the manual or semi-automatic shift with buttons on the dash.

    1946 Hudson

    1940 Packard 140

    The 1941-42 Packard Clipper was another luxury car produced before the war.

    1948 DelaHaye Berline

Interesting Trivia About 1940s Cars

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    A new car back in 1940s was about $800 and for 18 cents, you could buy a gallon of gas. On average most 1940s cars got about 15 to 20 miles per gallon.

    In 1941 the Chrysler Company started production of the luxury oriented Town & Country wagon. These cars of the 1940s was the forerunner to the modern-day mini van. The Town & Country Wagon like the Mini Van featured an optional 9 passenger seating, a rear hatch,and was the first to include genuine wood exterior panels. The Town & Country Wagon was the original "woody". This car made a huge splash with the public especially during the postwar era. The popular convertible version hit the highways in 1949 with a starting price of $3,970.

    The 1940 Chrysler Saratoga along with other Chrysler cars, adopted the new sealed beam headlights which gave over 50% more light in high beam. During the middle of the 1940, a special model called the Highlander was introduced as a closed coupe and convertible. It had authentic Scotch plaid and moleskin leather upholstery. The Saratoga was introduced as a performance version of the New Yorker.

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    1941 Chrysler Saratoga

    Walter P. Chrysler died on August 18, 1940, after two years of illness, just as preparations were underway for the 1941 model year. A new semiautomatic transmission called Vacamatic was made available as an extra cost option.

    In 1940, all Imperial 1940s cars were now consolidated under a single banner--the Crown Imperial. Fluid Drive, Over ­drive, and power brakes continued to be offered as standard equipment. The new Crown had three body styles: the six­ and the eight-passenger sedans, and the sedan limousine with glass partition.

    The 1940 Plymouth was a great car. It had engineering far and above anything else offered in the low priced field. It also had styling which is still evident today. It was a solidly built and smooth handling car. It achieved what it was advertised for: "The Low Priced Beauty With the Luxury Ride."

    1940 Plymouth

    A major improvement in the 1940 Plymouth was the new All Weather Air Control System. As an option it was offered on both the Roadking and Deluxe models. The combined heating and ventilation system provided fresh air, circulated to all parts of the 1940s cars in summer and winter even with the windows tightly closed.

    Sealed-beam headlights became standard equipment on De Soto as well as all other Chrysler Corporation 1940s cars. Also new to De Soto was the optional All-Weather Air Control system with dual blower and heater units.

    1940 DeSoto Custom

    1941 Dodge Luxury Liner Custom

    The 1941 Dodge Luxury Liner Custom as pioneered earlier by Chrysler, was made available to a lower priced car for the first time in the 1941 Dodge. Power was transferred from the engine to the transmission by fluids with no metal connection. Also introduced on Dodge were safety rim wheels.

    The '40s also saw the rise of the glamorous 1942 Lincoln Continental. The vehicle's development was overseen by Edsel Ford, son of Ford's founder Henry Ford. After World War II, Lincoln maintained its top status with 1940s vehicles like the Mark II and the '60s-era Continentals, which gained fame through their "suicide-style" rear doors and use as U.S. presidential limousines.

    In the 1930s, Edsel Ford, Henry Ford's son, saw an opportunity to create an additional brand within the Ford hierarchy, one that would be an intermediary -- between the everyman Ford Deluxes and premium Lincoln Zephyrs. To achieve this, Edsel felt the vehicles of this new brand should offer distinctive styling along with innovative features and better capabilities. He named the new division "Mercury". Unfortunately, production stopped during World War II;

    The Ford Motor Company produced a number of 1940s cars like the v-8 deluxe coupe that went for the price of about $650 . The ford V8 deluxe four door Sedan which went for around $750 , included and were fitted with sealed beam head lights on the deluxe models, and had chrome headlight trim rings, and parking lights. Before the US entered the war the automobile capital was St Louis MO. Later Detroit MI became the leader in the automotive industry and remains so in the present time.

1940s Cars Narrative Continues...


    1940 The Second World War caused Volvo's sales to fall from 7,306 vehicles to 5,900. 1941 The successor to the PV5356 was to have been the PV60, a larger car in the American style. Deliveries, which were due to begin in May 1940, had to be postponed. Even so, Volvo built a number of prototypes in which the bodywork was developed in different ways. On September 6th Volvo delivered the 50,000th vehicle. Considering the situation in the world at that time, it is perhaps hardly surprising that the jubilee vehicle this time was a truck.

    The 1940s saw the opening of Rolls-Royce's celebrated Crewe factory.

    1949 BMW

    BMW's best-known pre-World War II vehicle was the Type 328 Roadster,

    Type 328 Roadster

    a supple two-seater that racked up over 120 victories on the motorsport circuit between 1936 and 1940.

    The 1941 Nash was the first English car mass produced with unibody construction.


    All auto companies halted production of civilian passenger cars on Feb, 9, 1942. Now commenced production of war products including anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, aircraft engines, tanks, Jeeps, combat cars, shells, helmets, and many other products that would ultimately helped the US and its Allies win the war.

    Until the war ended in 1945 Chrysler factories & employees made everything from engines for b29 Super fortress to Pershing tanks,and 40mm trailer mounted anti aircraft guns. The projects completed by Chrysler for the military valued more than $3.4 billion between 1940-1949.

    Finally in 1945 the war production board announced that the re conversion of civilian motor vehicles could begin on July 1st. After the war, reverting to peacetime production took a while: American factories produced fewer cars in 1945 (dealers sold just under 70,000 cars) than they had in 1909, before the advent of mass production. Pent-up demand and short supply caused consumers to buy any and all varieties of automobile—even the offering from the Kaiser-Frazer Company, which was a new entry into the automobile market at war’s end. In the fluid years after the war, independent car makers like Nash and Studebaker grabbed a bigger market share than they had before the war.

    But as output soared—in 1950, car companies sold six million cars—competition heated up. During this period U.S. manufacturers did continue to design 1940s cars with new styling for introduction when the war would end. Substantial alterations in fender and roof lines were made in the late 1940's. There is no question the production of war machinery (including the Jeep) lead to a healthy post-war economy.

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    After 1946, people had several years' worth of savings to spend. The two auto giants, GM and Ford, began to offer their own auto financing programs, making it easier to acquire dependable transportation. Moreover, as more people acquired cars, they demanded better roads, which state governments started to provide; and as more roads were laid, reaching more towns and cities, more people wanted cars.

    1946-1948 Plymouth In the rush to build post war 1940s cars, few exterior changes were made from the 1942 models. Engineering improvements were: a new gasoline pump eliminating the glass sediment bowl, and a long-life gasoline filter that was placed in the fuel tank. New, low-pressure super-cushion tires, introduced in 1948, gave Plymouth a comfortable ride. 1949 Plymouth again offered a 9-passenger car called the Special Deluxe Station Wagon. It had exterior wood trim and removable second and third seats. A new introduction -- the 6-passenger Deluxe Suburban--had a folding second seat ahead of a 42-inch flat floor, and became known as the first all-steel body station wagon. Automatic "turn-the-key" ignition was born to a low-priced car.

    After the war, the Mercury brand was realigned more closely with Lincoln. The company grew stronger in the '50s, establishing itself as a home of cars offering style, performance and cutting-edge technology. Films like "Rebel Without A Cause" added glamour to Mercury as movie audiences saw James Dean in one.

    Models such as the Estate Wagon and the ever popular Roadmaster kept Buicks 1940s cars a big part of the American family.

    1949 Cadillac Coupe de Ville

    Postwar Cadillac saw its tailfinned and chrome-laden 1940s cars becoming the epitome of American automotive style. Cadillac's tailfin were designed from Lockheed's P38 Lightning Aircraft, and was the brainchild of designer Frank Hershey. 1940s cars like the Coupe de Ville and Fleetwood El Dorado made Cadillac a must-have for affluent Americans as well as the Hollywood jet set.

    1946-48 1948 Chrysler Town and Country: Many car lovers still fondly recall this splendid motor car. One of the five original body styles which had a short-lived production of seven 1940s cars later became known as the first hardtop. Super cushion tires became standard in 1948.

    1949 Chrysler Royal: The nine passenger station wagon was revived from pre-World War II days and given a Town and Country look with modifications; the mahogany panels were eliminated and the sheet metal covered by a special photographic transfer process which simulated a highly polished mahogany. The 1949 Chrysler was the first completely new Chrysler built since World War II.

    1948 DeSoto Deluxe Postwar DeSoto 1940s cars were ushered in with an improved Gyrol Fluid Drive and Tip-Toe Hydraulic Shift to take the work out of shifting. A much discussed new body style was a 9-passenger Suburban that looked like an elongated sedan. It had folding third seat, roof luggage rack, and two-tone paint. 1949 DeSoto Custom De Soto joined other Chrysler 1940s cars to introduce a new first — a key-operated ignition/ starter switch. A versatile new 4-door sedan called the Carry All was introduced. It had a fold-down rear seat which could provide open luggage space from the back of the front seat to the end of the trunk.

    In 1949 Dodge introduced new improvements like the combination starter-ignition switch, sea-leg shock absorbers, and Gyro­Matic semiautomatic transmission.

    The 1946 - 1948 Crown Imperial like all first postwar 1940s cars reflected the same basic appearance that it had during the short-lived 1942 production year. A new grille and body ornamentation, however, provided immediate recognition to its two body styles: the limousine and the 8-passenger sedan.

    A unique hydraulic disc brake was introduced as standard equipment on all 1949 Imperials. It had two flat pressure plates on which segments of brake lining were bonded. Braking action was obtained when the pressure plates were forced outward into contact with rotating brake housings.

    In 1948, Buick introduced Dynaflow, the first torque converter-type automatic transmission offered in U.S. passenger 1940s cars.

    The postwar era saw the introduction of the legendary Ford Thunderbird. Offering performance plus luxury features like power windows, the Thunderbird was a tremendous hit. Another model of that decade, the Edsel, failed to ignite the interest of car buyers and folded a few months into its third year of production.

    By 1946 the first radio telephones were used in 1940s cars, and the first power operated windows were introduced. For the first time drivers education was being offered at the many high schools. In 1948 Chrysler adopted the new method of starting the engine with an ignition key. At the end of the 1940s a gallon of gas cost 26 cents. And after the end of World War II the auto industry was soaring as more and more people wanted to own 1940s cars. Turn Signals started to appear on 1940s cars.

    1948 Goodrich introduced tubeless tires.

    Throughout the 1930s and '40s Pontiac made coupes, sedans and wagons in the low-to-mid price ranges. A unique styling cue of Pontiac 1940s cars from the mid-'30s to the mid-'50s was known as "Silver Streak".

1949 Pontiac Silver screen

1947 Lincoln Continental 12 Cylinder Convertible

1948 DelaHayes Sport Berline

1949 2.5 Riley Special

RC Buggy

Great-Looking 1940s Cars

1946 Rover 12 HP Saloon

1948 Alvis TA 14

    1948 Daimler Limo


    While foreign auto-makers were as rare in the U.S. in the 1940s, there was, in fact, a tremendous diversity in American auto manufacturing during the same decade. American auto buyers could choose from all the current reigning American champions, plus a variety of soon-to-be-dead challengers, including Crosley, De Soto, (a Chrysler Motors line), Nash, Packard, La Salle, Kaiser-Frazer, Hudson, Studebaker and many others.

    Crosley was probably the most unique of those doomed-to-failure 1940s cars that rolled off the assembly line in the 40's. Introduced in 1939 as America's lowest priced car, selling for as little as $210, the Crosley was a spin-off of the successful Crosley radio and refrigerator corporation.

    The Crosley was strangely, at first, sold out of hardware and appliance stores. These first Crosleys, weighing only 925 pounds, gave way in 1942 to a 1,550 pound model that could generate 26 horse power and sold for $905.

    After the late 1942 ban on domestic auto manufacture was lifted in 1946, Crosley moved beyond its air-cooled 12 horse engine to an overhead cam 26.5 horsepower motor that had been used successfully during WWII to power truck refrigerators and a tiny experimental airplane. The copper-steel block was subject to electrolysis, resulting in holes in the cylinders. Despite that, as the car became slightly larger and more powerful, Crosley sales reached its height in 1948, with sales of 29,000 1940s cars. However, a growing reputation for engine problems developed, and sales plummeted in 1949 to 7,341 and Crosley was doomed.

    Nash, was another doomed vehicle. This line of 1940s autos, first manufactured in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1917 in a converted bicycle factory, was soon bought out by Charles Nash, a former president of Buick.

    Number 7 in sales in the 1920's, by the 1940s Nash was suffering financially, and by 1954 would be forced to merge with Hudson, another soon-to-be-extinct automobile line.

    At the beginning of the 40's, the huge, stately Packard outsold luxury competitors Cadillac and LaSalle combined, but when the war stopped car production, Packard turned to aircraft engines.The post-war Packard, wider than it was tall, was a gadget freak's delight with a gas tank that whistled when full, and a one-piece hood that could be raised from either side of the car. However, sales of this expensive 1940s cars slowed and in 1952 Packard would merge with another doomed giant, Studebaker.

    Kaiser-Frazer, the brainchild of industrial magnate Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of Kaiser shipbuilding, Kaiser aluminum, and a dozen other successful ventures, was designed to appeal to an auto-starved nation emerging from the war.

    These sleek offering were however ruined by lackluster advertising themes: "You Should Drive One," "Unquestioned Style Leadership," and finally, the lame boast of a "handcrafted body," sales of the Kaiser-Frazer went downhill, from nearly 117,000 sales in 1947-1948 to 7,000 in 1950. Doom was only staved off temporarily by the mini-variant Henry J. that enjoyed modest success in the early 50s.

    Perhaps, though, the strangest offering of all was the brainchild of Preston Tucker, a builder of Indy race 1940s cars. With a gifted engineer in his staff, who eventually was one of the designers and engineers of the space shuttle, Tucker's dream or the "Torpedo," as it was called, was a four-door sedan with a rear mounted flat-six engine, weighing only 300 pounds. Capable of generating 166 horse power, the futuristic Tucker had a fully-sealed water-cooled engine, could do 0-60 in 10 seconds, and could gain a top speed of 120 miles per hour, not bad even today. Only 60 inches high, this sleek muscular car had a third headlight or "Cyclops' eye" and could get a then healthy 20 miles per gallon.

    Despite the great promise of the Tucker, only 51 ever rolled off the assembly line as Preston Tucker was hounded by an alleged insider trading charges that dragged on for years, but were never proved. As a result of the legal debacle, this futuristic sedan suffered an early death. Today, many of the original Tuckers, as well as many of the other 1940s cars mentioned here, have been preserved in museums, and have generated loyal bands of followers of these unusual 1940s cars.

More 1940s Cars

    1940 Hudson Immaculate 2-dr Sedan

    1940 Packard 140

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