With the global market for private cars all but halted and manufacturing techniques and capacity revolutionised by developments in warplane and military vehicle production, the effects of World War II on automaking were immense. Luckily, we’ve got Peter Wherett’s Marque special on the subject to fill in the details.
In this full episode of Marque from 1979, Peter hits a number of more straightforward points about the impact of World War II on cars and carmaking, from the development and proliferation of 4×4 vehicles in the wake of the Jeep’s success in nearly all theatres of the war to the little city cars like the Renault 4CV, Citroën 2CV and the Morris Minor that took Europe by storm as it dug out from the ravages of war.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the post-war car market that Wherrett spends considerable time breaking down is the slow return to car manufacturing after years of wartime production that hampered American manufacturers. Driving a Dodge from immediately after car production restarted in Chrysler’s plants, Wherrett tempers his criticism of the crudeness and weight of the car, which largely was designed nearly ten years before it was built, with praise for its comfort and handling. Long appreciative of predictability and comfort over speed and excitement, Wherrett actually sees a lot to like in the old Dodge despite the obvious drawbacks.
Peter goes on to talk about how the sportscars of the immediate post-war period provided disappointments but also a lot of fun. The Jaguar XK120, long a favourite of Wherrett’s, didn’t measure up to the fantasies he had of the car back when it came out. With an excellent motor stuck to a clunky gearbox in a long but narrow body, the car looked great but wasn’t the sportscar he had always imagined it to be. The contemporary MG compared favourably in Wherrett’s eyes but remained difficult to drive.
Wherrett predictably ends his film discussing the state of the Australian automotive industry after the war. It was during this period that General Motos launched the first Holdens, cars designed along American lines but adapted for the Australian market. Wherrett makes the point that the strategy of cultivating a new market in Australia at the time made sense, seeing as Australia was largely untouched by the war and the market was ready to support the growth of domestic manufacturing. Despite that, he concludes that the effort was ultimately flawed, much like the post-war Dodge he drove earlier in the episode. Being based on GM’s American models, the first Holden was crude compared to contemporary European models and could have been a bit more refined.
All told, Wherrett’s breakdown of the impact of the war on the car market immediately following is pretty interesting in that it gives a lot more attention to the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, a period that I certainly knew less about before watching, especially compared to the fin-tail craze of the late ‘50s and everything that would follow.