Sunday, January 29, 2006
Chevrolet Ends Civilian Auto Production, January 30, 1942
Today in 1942, Chevrolet produced its last automobile for the US civilian market. From this day until the summer of 1945, every Chevy plant in the United States produced war materials in the form of planes, tanks, and various sub-assemblies.
After the German war machine overran almost all of mainland Europe in the spring of 1940, it became a foregone conclusion to those in power that the United States would, eventually enter the war on the side of the Allies. However, there was very little retooling and planning done by corporations eager to sell goods to a populace still recovering from the depression of the 1930’s. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December, 1941 to make the US enter the war. Automobile manufacturers scrambled to meet the demands placed on them by the government.
The conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy was a monstrous undertaking, especially in the auto industry. But the big three US auto manufacturers and the smaller brands had tremendous resources at their disposal in the form of infrastructure and workforce. Automobile factories turned out one-fifth of the total war production of the United States.
Almost overnight, it became impossible to buy a new car in the US. The Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies cut off the major supplier of rubber to the western hemisphere, so tires quickly become a hot commodity, so much so that laws were passed to bar their hoarding. Gasoline rationing began on a nationwide basis on December 1, 1942 and all speed limits were reduced to 35 MPH. In 1943, when supplies of rubber and oil were at critical levels, pleasure driving became illegal, although it’s hard to imagine how that law was enforced.
When the war ended in 1945, millions of servicemen returned home. Many of those who had never owned a car or truck learned how to drive in the military and were eager to get their hands on a post-war design. When the new models began appearing in 1946 and ’47, sales took off. This boom in car sales would last well into the 50’s and would spur some of the greatest car designs of all time.