U.S. prepares for 1940 “Arsenal of Democracy”

A Veterans Day tribute in vintage photography of General Motors’ support for “The great arsenal of democracy”

Tanks being assembled in a GM factory to support the U.S. war effort

During WWII, G.M. converted all of its plant facilities to support the “Arsenal of Democracy.” (Photos courtesy of GM)

BY MARK MAYNARD

It was Dec. 29, 1940, when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned of the impending wartime threat to national security. In a radio broadcast, he galvanized the country when he used the term “Arsenal of Democracy” and urged preparations.

According to Wikipedia, it was nearly a year before the United States would enter the Second World War (1939-1945.) Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s address was a call to arms for supporting the Allies in Europe in total war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

The Allied War Effort

“The great arsenal of democracy” came to specifically refer to the industry of the U.S. as the primary supplier of material for the Allied war effort.

A 1943 photo of a GMC Duck used in WWII

GMC delivered its first “Ducks” to the U.S. Army in 1943. A unique central tire inflation system allowed the driver to adjust tire pressure from inside the cab.

Roosevelt promised help to the United Kingdom to fight Nazi Germany. The U.S. would sell the U.K. military supplies while the United States stayed out of the actual fighting. The president announced that intent a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941), when Germany had occupied much of Europe and threatened Britain.

A vast parking area of completed GMC Ducks

Completed military “Ducks” and trucks built by GMC await deployment. In 1944, GMC received the Army-Navy “E” Award for Excellence in the war effort. The U.S. Army considered the GMC 2½-ton 6x6s the best trucks in service, and the GMC Duck the most outstanding of new ordnance weapons.

GMC Ducks on the assembly line in 1943

GMC built these military “Ducks” at its Truck & Coach Division plant in Pontiac, Mich. After the war, surviving vehicles were used for military training and others landed in the tourism industry.

The arsenal for support came from more than 40 U.S. industries. Among the transportation manufacturers were:

  • General Motors: trucks, tanks, and aircraft parts
  • Ford Motor Co.: trucks and aircraft
  • Chrysler: tanks, electronics, and trucks
  • Packard: aircraft engines
  • Nash-Kelvinator: parts
  • Studebaker: trucks
  • Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.: tires
  • International Harvester: trucks
  • Convair (San Diego-based): aircraft
  • Caterpillar Inc.: tanks
  • Allis-Chalmers: parts
A GMC magazine ad showcased its amphibious military “Ducks”

During WWII, GMC showcased its amphibious military “Ducks” in popular magazines of the day. The campaign encouraged patriotic readers to “invest in victory” and buy war bonds and stamps. From 1942 to 1945, sales of vehicles to civilians all but ended as manufacturing was redirected toward the war effort.

GM Wartime Support

On this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2021, I found these General Motors’ wartime photos.

GM has supported the U.S. military since 1917 when 90 percent of its truck production went toward WWI manufacturing. During WWII, GM converted all of its plant facilities to support the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

GM claims to have produced more U.S. military vehicles than any manufacturer in history.

Between 1942 and 1945, GM’s Chevrolet division manufactured:

  • 60,000 Pratt & Whitney bomber and cargo plane engines;
  • 500,000 trucks;
  • 8 million artillery shells;
  • 3,000 90mm cannon barrels;
  • 1 million tons of aluminum forgings;
  • 1 million tons of gray-iron castings;
  • 2,850 tons of magnesium forgings, and;
  • 3,800 T-17 Staghound armored scout cars.
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1959 Chevrolet El Camino

The 1959 Chevrolet El Camino  combined dramatically finned styling with half-ton pickup utility

A pastoral photo of a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino on a stone bridge in the countryside

Unlike a standard pickup truck, the El Camino was adapted from the two-door Chevrolet Brookwood two-door wagon. (Photos courtesy of GM archives)

BY MARK MAYNARD

The original Chevrolet El Camino introduced for 1959 combined the dramatically finned styling of that period’s Chevrolet cars with half-ton pickup utility.

The El Camino as a passenger-car pickup was intended to answer the success of the Ford Ranchero coupé utility. The Chevrolet variant was based on the B-body Biscayne wagon but lasted only two years.

Production resumed for the 1964-1977 model years based on the Chevelle platform. Then, it continued for the 1978-1987 model years based on the GM G-body platform for midsized, long-wheelbase rear-wheel-drive cars. Examples of G-body cars are the 1969-1972 Pontiac Grand Prix and 1970-1972 Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

The Personal-Car Pickup

Unlike a standard pickup truck, the El Camino was adapted from the two-door Chevrolet station wagon platform and integrated the cab and cargo bed into the body, according to its page in Wikipedia.

The excitement of the El Camino’s debut was short-lived. After 1960, the passenger-car pickup went on a three-year hiatus.

Chevrolet revived the “personal pickup” concept for 1964, with a new version based on that year’s new midsize Chevrolet Chevelle.

During the ‘muscle car’ era that followed, El Camino buyers could order their truck with a Chevrolet high-performance big-block V-8 powertrain, creating a sport pickup that could “haul” in more ways than one. By 1968, a complete Super Sport package was available.

The Chevelle El Camino was produced through two more styling generations (1968-1972 and 1973-1977).

For 1978, the El Camino was moved to that year’s new, smaller Malibu platform. The final El Caminos were 1987 models.

The GMC truck division also had its badge-engineered El Camino variant, called the Sprint. It was introduced for the 1971 model year. Renamed Caballero in 1978, it was also produced through the 1987 model year.

A vintage image from Chevrolet PR photo archives of a red 1959 El Camino

The 1959 El Camino was aimed at the success of the Ford Ranchero, introduced in 1957.

Origin

The concept of a two-door pickup-like vehicle based on a passenger car began in the United States in the 1920s. The body style was known as a roadster utility, roadster pickup or a light delivery model.

Ford Australia was the first company to produce a coupé utility. The idea for such a vehicle came from a 1932 letter from a farmer’s wife in Victoria, Australia. She asked for “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays.”

Ford designer Lew Bandt developed a suitable solution, and the first coupé utility model was released in 1934.

General Motors’ Australian subsidiary Holden also produced a Chevrolet coupé utility in 1935. And Studebaker produced the Coupé Express from 1937 to 1939.

The body style did not reappear in the U.S. until the release of the 1957 Ford Ranchero.

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Alfa Romeo 900 Print Advertisement

The 1947 Alfa Romeo 900 commercial truck

The new Alfa Romeo 900 had a 9,500cc, 128-hp six-cylinder diesel engine and four-speed transmission. (Stellantis)

BY MARK MAYNARD

The Alfa Romeo 900 commercial truck was produced from 1947 to 1954. As a line, the model was virtually identical to its successor, the Alfa Romeo 800, according to its page in Wikipedia.

The new truck had a 9,500cc, 128-hp six-cylinder diesel engine and four-speed transmission. In addition, the loading capacity was increased to 9 tons, and a three-axle version was also available.

By the mid-1950s, the Model 900 was updated and became known as the Model 950. The main difference between the two models is the small windows behind the front doors of the cab.

The 950 was in production until 1958. The 950 was replaced that year by the new Mille model.

Alfa Romeo 800

The Alfa Romeo 800 heavy truck was in production between 1940 and 1947. According to its Wikipedia military page, the Model 800 was first produced as a military version 800RE and after the war as a civilian version.

The military Model 800 was initially used only in the Italian Army (“Regio Esercito”). It was used mainly in North Africa, Russia and occupied France.

The 800 was equipped with a fuel-injected 8.7-liter diesel engine and could reach a top speed of 31 mph (50 kmh).  There also were gas generator and gasoline models produced.

A half-track prototype version called the CSEM 800RE was made for the Italian army. The Centro Studi ed Esperienze della Motorizzazione was the Italian Army’s vehicle research and development organization.

Some of the 800RE models were also converted to the German Army as half-track Maultier trucks.

The 800 was replaced by the model 900.

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1960 GMC 1000

The 1960 model year was pivotal for General Motors’ light trucks

A 1960 GMC pickup in two-tone red and white.

The first GMC pickup with a full-width hood debuted in 1960. (GM media archives)

The debut of Jet Age styling

 

The market for pickups was booming in 1960 and the emphasis on styling, comfort, and power was stronger than ever. “All major manufacturers vied for a piece of this expanding pie,” said Mike McNessor in a Jan. 2021 report in Hemmings Classic Car.

The evolution of the Chevrolet Task Force and GMC Blue Chip trucks during the 1950s helped popularize many features that are commonplace today, McNessor said. Among the new features were fleetside boxes, V-8 engines, automatic transmissions and comfortable interiors.

“But, for 1960, GM upped the ante even further, implementing radical new Jet Age styling with full-width hoods accented by jet engine-inspired front air intakes,” McNessor said.

Styling of the 1960 GMC pickup

The curves of the previous generation trucks were gone, replaced with sharper angles and creases accenting boxy cabs.

Under the skin, the 1960 GMC pickup had double-wall roof construction that included insulation between the sheet-metal layers. There were new front inner fender skirts, safety-catch door latches, sturdier hinges, and rubber insulated cab mounts. A full-length rocker panel, tied to front and rear cab supports, replaced the old-timey interior step that previous GM trucks incorporated into their floors.

GMC truck engine for 1960

For the 1960 model year, GMC was the first brand to introduce V-6 engines in pickup trucks. There was also a V-12, known as the Twin Six. (GM media archives)

1960 GMC pickup Interior redesign

“Inside the cockpit for ’60, there were suspended clutch and brake pedals that eliminated difficult-to-seal holes in the floor. A 26-percent increase in windshield area gave operators a better view of the road, while longer wiper blades kept more of that glass clear in stormy weather. There was nearly 6 inches more hip room, plus more shoulder room, headroom, and legroom over previous GM trucks, all in the name of driver comfort.”

Beginning in 1920, GMC and Chevrolet trucks became largely similar, according to the page in Wikipedia. Built as variants of the same platform, the two brands shared much of the same body sheetwork, except for nameplates and grilles — though their differences, especially engines, have varied over the years,

A print ad for the 1960 GMC truck line

GMC boasted in print ads a “breakthrough” in truck engines “to give triple the life” without a major overhaul. (GM media archives)

“GMC advertising marketed its trucks to commercial buyers and businesses, whereas Chevrolet’s advertising was directed toward private owners. Beginning in 1928, GMCs used Pontiac’s 186-cubic-inch six-cylinder engines in their lighter trucks. Medium-duty trucks relied on Oldsmobile straight-6 engines, while the heaviest trucks used GMC’s own “Standard Big Brute” engine.

“From 1939 to 1974 GMC had its own line of six-cylinder engines, first the inline sixes known as “Jimmys” from 1939 to 1959, and then their own V-6 from 1960 until 1974, of which a V-8 and a V-12 version also existed.

“Additionally, from 1955 through 1959, the less than 2-ton, domestic GMC gasoline trucks were equipped with Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile V-8s —whereas the Canadian models used Chevrolet engines.”

See more vintage car photos here.

Mark Maynard

 

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1948 Willys-Overland Jeepster

The Civilian Jeep

The 1948 Jeep Jeepster PR image.The 1948 Jeep Jeepster. (Photos courtesy Stellantis PR archives)

BY MARK MAYNARD

The Willys-Overland Jeepster was a clever business plan and an early example of a crossover SUV with carlike features.

Introduced in April 1948 and produced through 1950, the Jeepster was conceived as a sporty two-door, convertible sports car for veterans of World War II, according to its page in Wikipedia.

The basic Jeepster (“VJ” internally) included numerous deluxe features and a high level of standard equipment. Among its carlike extras were whitewall tires, hubcaps with chrome trim rings, sun visors, deluxe steering wheel, wind wings, locking glovebox, cigar lighter, and continental tire with fabric cover.

Slab-Sided Design

Willys-Overland lacked the machinery to form deep-drawn fenders or complicated shapes, according to the Wiki report, so the vehicle line had to use a simple and slab-sided design.

“Industrial designer Brooks Stevens styled a line of postwar vehicles for Willys using a common platform that included the Jeep pickup and station wagon, as well as a sporty two-door open car that he envisioned as a sports car for veterans of World War II.

“After World War II, Jeep trademark owner, Willys (originally pronounced WILL-is), began producing and marketing the “CJ” (for Civilian Jeep) to farmers, foresters, and others with similar utilitarian needs. It also began producing the Jeep wagon, panel utility and pickup in 1946 and the Jeep truck in 1947.

The majority of the Jeepster’s hardware carried over from the Willys station wagon, including the entire drivetrain, front end, rear suspension, steering and four-wheel drum brakes. Its flat-topped rear fenders were taken from the Jeep truck line.

The drivetrain was Willys’ World War II-proven, 63-horsepower, 2.2-liter inline-4 “Go Devil” engine. The three-speed manual transmission had standard overdrive.

The Jeepster was only offered with rear-wheel drive, which limited its appeal with other Jeep customers. With plastic side curtains, its $1,765 price was about the same as a Ford Super DeLuxe Club convertible. But the Ford had roll-down windows, fancier styling and a V-8 engine.

Jeepster Not Popular

Limited by sparse advertising and an insufficient dealer network, the Jeepster did not catch on with the intended market segment. Still, a total of almost 20,000 were manufactured through 1950, with some leftover models sold in the 1951 model year.

The Jeepster name was revived in 1966 on a new model, the C-101 Jeepster Commando. American Motors Corp., Willys-Overland’s successor, removed Jeepster from the name for 1972, and production ended after 1973.

The 1967 Jeepster Commando.

The 1967 Jeepster Commando.

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1961 Corvair Pickup

The 1961 Corvair 95 Rampside.

The 1961 Corvair 95 Rampside. (Chevrolet archives)

 

BY MARK MAYNARD

Although there had been a number of small pickups prior to the 1960s, the compact car boom that kicked off the decade brought with it a new crop of the so-called “forward control” body style.

Among the offerings was the Corvair 95. With its unitized body structure and rear-mounted engine, the 95 offered a lot of cargo space in a compact maneuverable package.

The Rampside model offered a side gate on the right side of the vehicle. The placement allowed easy access to the low load floor at the front of the bed.

According to the Corvair enthusiast site Corvair.org, Corvair 95s were named for their 95-inch wheelbase. GM  referred to the body style as “Light Duty-Forward Control (L.D.F.C.)” vehicles.

Marketed from 1961 to 1965, The line consisted initially of two vans and two pickups:

  • Corvan panel delivery, model R-1205
  • Greenbrier station wagon, model R-1206
  • Loadside pickup, model R-1244
  • Rampside pickup, model R-1254

Forward control referred to the positioning of the steering mechanism forward of the front axle and engendered the “Corvair FC” moniker for the line.

Although clever in design, the Corvair 95 never caught on in the showroom, and in the final model year of 1964, only 851 were sold.

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