Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab history

Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab historyDuring World War II, Henry Ford II employees were able to build a complete B-24 Bomber airplane in less than an hour thanks to a workforce that included many females. With most of the able-bodied men off to war, the females assumed the slack at Ford’s Willow Run plant, and every 55-minutes a new bomber rolled off the assembly line. In total, over 9,000 bombers were built at Willow Run in Michigan. (Ford)

How Ford’s female workforce helped win WWII 

Q: Greg, I was at the recent Guthrie Clinic and Robert Packer Hospital veterans dedication event that you attended on Nov. 10. I overheard you discussing with our County Commissioners the Ford-assembled B-24 Bombers, the female workforce, and especially that you said they were built in less than an hour. As a veteran, I would like to know more about it. I’m an old timer with little computer knowledge and I enjoyed having a coffee with you at the cafeteria that day. Thank you in advance. Signed John, an Army vet living in Athens, Pa.

A: John, no problem, and I’m glad we both got to attend the Guthrie Clinic Veterans event and share time reminiscing while enjoying a coffee. As I promised to answer your question in my column, we’ll start here.

Domestic passenger automobile production was halted by a government mandate in February of 1942. The manufacturers were to concentrate fully on war needs production as the car companies received over $10 billion in war-related orders. This mandate took place after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7 of 1941.  

During this time, all manufacturers either enlarged and/or converted their factories to address our wartime needs, resulting in better-built military equipment. To this day, in my opinion, it was Henry Ford II that made the biggest and most amazing contribution to the war effort. Specifically, he built a brand new gigantic airplane assembly plant in Willow Run, Michigan, where his workers, many of them female, were able to assemble a complete B-24 bomber in just 55-minutes using his assembly line ideology.

Yes, an entire and ready to fly B-24 bomber airplane in just 55-minutes.   

In total, all car manufacturer plants produced 5.9 million weapons, 2.8 million tanks and trucks, and 27,000 aircraft, of which Ford accounted for near 9,000 of the B-24 bombers. Notable is that between 1944 and 1945, when needed most, the Willow Run plant accounted for nearly a third of the entire wartime aircraft production.

Although you say you’re not a wiz with the computer, I’m sure someone will help get you on YouTube where you can watch the many Ford-built bomber videos about this amazing accomplishment. Here’s my three recommendations: for a 7-minute version, or the Periscope Films 33-minute featurette of the B-24 bomber “less than an hour” miracle at

However, most interesting and explaining best the impact of the female workforce is this 10-minute 1943 Ford Motor Company video at Women On The Warpath (1943) – Inside The Willow Run B-24 Plant.

In summary, Ford stunned everyone in the military with its B-24 Bomber assembly line. Check it out and have a happy holiday season John. It was good meeting you at the Guthrie Clinic.  

Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab history

This advertisement promotes Kaiser Frazer’s “1947 Kaiser Special” as the first all new post World War II American made automobile to hit the market. It was built at the former and “bomber famous” Willow Run plant that Kaiser purchased from Ford following the war. (Kaiser Frazer)

First post war ‘new’ car 

Q: I enjoy reading the nostalgia car articles and want to know which manufacturer truly had the first post war new car? I read different accounts of which manufacturer it was. Thank you, Sonny Lang, Detroit, Michigan.

A: Sonny, I would think Henry Kaiser and Joseph Frazer, the duo behind the Kaiser-Frazer automobiles in 1947, would receive the “first new post war car” award. However, since it was the duo’s first ever car launch, well, it had to be all new.

Kaiser was the noted shipbuilder and health care HMO founder (the HMO is still active today), who partnered with former Graham-Paige CEO Frazer in 1946 to build the first ever Kaiser-Frazer models.

Correctly anticipating a post war auto bull market, the duo leased a former Ford production facility in your home state at Willow Run (yes, of bomber B-24 fame) and quickly built 11,000 cars in 1946 as 1947 models. Granted, this was the first ever Kaiser-Frazer to hit the market, but they were ahead of all the manufacturers in America by a good 24 months. In 1947, 100,000 Kaiser – Frazer’s were built, and the company turned a near $20-million profit. The 1947 model was dubbed the Kaiser Special.

We’ve written before about Henry Kaiser, and had he not been a bit over enthusiastic in hoping to upset the Chrysler – Ford – GM big three domination, he may have succeeded. However, going against the advice of Frazer, who left the company in 1948, Kaiser over-built and over-invested in the company, which he then called Kaiser Motors. Kaiser missed his sales goals and was negatively impacted by the many new models from GM, Ford, and Chrysler.

Still, the 1947 Kaiser Special looks to be the first post-World War II new car, regardless of the “well it had to be all-new” circumstances. Kaiser continued to build cars at Willow Run through 1953 when it merged with Willys-Overland to form Willys Motors. Thanks for your question.

Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab history

This 1961 Saab was taking hold in America as a popular foreign car import following its 1956 debut at the New York Car Show. The Swedish built car advertisement shared the popularity with the Saab-built aircraft. (Saab)

Saab’s USA heritage dates to the 1956 New York Car Show 
Q: Greg I used to love the Saab cars and am not sure what ever happened to them. When did the Saab come to America? How did they get here? I know the other Swedish model, the Volvo, is still going strong. John May, Spokane, Washington.

A: John, Saab built its first automobile back in 1949 as the company had made a big name for itself as a Swedish aircraft company. Today, Saab is a favorite of car collectors, especially for its unique “humpback” sedans and coupes that roamed the roadways starting in 1956 here in America. Unfortunately, Saab cars haven’t been built since 2014 following much ownership turmoil, including General Motors building Saabs from 1989 through 2010.  

Thanks to information provided to me by Saab, it was noted that in late 1955, Tryggve Holm, Saab’s Chairman, came to the U.S. to meet with Saab’s USA aircraft parts-buying agent Ralph Millet, an ex-pilot and aeronautical engineer and a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Millet’s company, called Independent Aeronautical, was based in New York, and represented Saab aircraft parts in America.

During business discussions, Chairman Holm asked Millet his opinion of importing the new Saab 93 model. Millet was pessimistic about the idea and skeptical of American consumers’ acceptance of a two-stroke-powered car, as it was necessary to mix oil into the gas tank, like a motorcycle or lawn mower engine.

Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab history

Saab built its first automobile in 1949 after establishing itself as a top aircraft manufacturer. This advertisement for a 2009 Saab accentuates both its auto and aircraft manufacturing abilities ala the “Born From Jets” trademark lingo. (Saab)

Two days after meeting with Holm, Millet drove Holm to the airport at which time Millet confessed that, frankly, he knew nothing about the car business. In response, Holm insisted that he send a few Saabs to be displayed at the upcoming New York Auto Show to judge public reaction. Without delay, three Saab cars were shipped, and Millet dutifully booked an exhibit space at the 1956 New York Auto Show. The cars shown were two Saab 93 models and a Sonett Super Sport. By the end of the car show, Millet was in the car business with Saab.

Thus, Saab’s first major model to appear in the U.S. was the ’56 Saab 93, featuring front-drive, a 33-horsepower, three-cylinder, two-stroke engine and a four speed on the column. Saab’s two-stroke engine was well suited for winter operation, and owners enjoyed the fact that it always seemed to start even on the coldest of days.

In 1957, the first full year of U.S. sales, 1,410 Saab 93s were sold, approximately 14-percent of total output. By the end of 1959, some 12,000 Saab 93s had been shipped to the U.S., making the USA Saab’s largest export market.

I hope this helped answer your question, John.    

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions at
303 Roosevelt St., Sayre Pa., 18840 or email him at

Be the first to comment on "Collector Car / Cars We Remember; Females at Willow Run, Kaiser-Frazer ‘all-new’ car and Saab history"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.