Q: Greg I enjoy your nostalgia auto columns and want to know if you could tell us about the WWII years when the car manufacturers did not build cars. I know they built many war needs as you mentioned in your past columns, but maybe you could explain a little more this time when it came to car manufacturers.
My dad had a new design 1949 Dodge that I know was all new, although he bought it used in 1952. Also, can you tell us about those Hemi Air raid sirens the government built in the early 1950s? Thanks much, Glenn L., New Jersey.
A: Glenn, I’d be happy to help.
First and foremost, let’s start with World War II (WWII) and how the conflict impacted the car manufacturers. Specifically, the major and independent manufacturers did not build consumer available cars for three years in 1943, 1944 and 1945. When the war came to an end, the 1946 models were “unveiled,” but were identical to the 1942 vehicles because all manufacturing went into the wartime effort. Of all the manufacturers, Kaiser-Frazer became the first to introduce an “all-new” post war design in 1947. Some builders, like Dodge, utilized the 1942 design right on through 1949 even though their new Dodge also appeared that year.
More so, all vehicle manufacturers, from Checker to Ford, helped build the needed equipment to win the war. The government ban on certain items began in January of 1942 with a mandate that all chrome bumpers and trim be discontinued due to the need of chrome materials elsewhere. Instead, manufacturers utilized a coated plastic for chrome and these cars were called “blackout” units as nothing would shine under lighting.
By February of 1942, car production was completely halted and companies like Chrysler, for example, started building Wright Cyclone airplane engines, anti-aircraft guns, earth moving dozers, radar units, mine detectors, tanks, tugboats and track personnel carriers. Ford built airplanes, Willys built Jeeps, and so on. Weather male or female, everyone chipped in and it was an amazing time when it came to everyone pulling together.
Concerning your father’s new design Dodge, it arrived mid-year 1949 and also came with new model names, ala Meadowbrook, Coronet and Wayfarer. I recommend you visit one of the best sites for MOPAR fans called Allpar, (Allpar.com) which explains the new Dodge this way.
“For 1949, Dodge cars were given modern model names for the first time, rather than letter and number codes, or generic Standard, Deluxe, and similar corporate-shared labels; this was to celebrate new bodies, for the first time since 1945, sharing a long and low look but retaining the conservative general look of the postwar cars. The fenders had a larger peak in the center, and parking lights were placed under the headlights. All Dodges were powered by a flat-head six cylinder, with 103 gross horsepower at 3,600 rpm, solid lifters, and a Stromberg single-barrel carburetor (it would continue to have this setup and the same horsepower rating through 1953). Fluid Drive transmission was standard, and a new optional transmission, Gyro-Matic, was now sold. Other options included an electric clock, radio (consider the year!), heater, whitewalls, and turn signals.”
Thank you Allpar for this information on the new 1949 Dodge.
As for those Hemi Air Raid sirens, Chrysler still worked in defense manufacturing after the war and built many Hemi air raid sirens. Using the 331-inch, 180-horse 1951 Hemi V8, these air raid sirens were some of the loudest ever produced and were said to travel a minimum of four to five miles guaranteed and up to 25 miles or more when conditions were right. I’m sure most baby boomers remember the air raid tests, and “getting under our desks” at school as a way to protect us in case of an attack.
By 1958, the sirens were out of production and the hot rodders gobbled up all those 331-inch Hemi engines, utilizing them for all types of racecars.
Now speaking of hot rods and race cars, if you would like to hear one of these Hemi air raid sirens in action owned by none other than drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, go to YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEfYnByuTQ0 so you can hear the siren known as “Big Red.”
Garlits owns this air raid siren, which is featured at his Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing near Ocala, Florida. The video is just a little more than three minutes, but I think you’ll enjoy it immensely. Notable is that the Garlits owned air raid siren is now fully reconditioned (see photo) and used regularly at Garlits Museum events.
Thanks for your letter and have a nice upcoming holiday season. Hope this all helped answer your questions.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist and welcomes reader questions on auto nostalgia at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org).