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Business as usual
I am sure we all like a good motoring anniversary story, but looking 80 years back from 2021 appears to be problematic. Don’t you know there was a war on?
Well, yes, there was, but in 1941 not everyone had joined in, and some countries which had been involved right from the start were able to continue producing cars for what now seems like a surprisingly long time.
In fact, you might be surprised to learn that it’s a relatively simple task to come up with a list of 25 cars which you could buy new two years into the Second World War. And here it is.
1. Austin 8
Like the larger 10 and 12, the Austin 8 went on the market in 1939.
Although it was a thoroughly British car, the 8 looked astonishingly like a condensed 1937 Buick Roadmaster, complete with its side-slatted radiator grille.
Its engine, however, was less than a fifth of the size of the one in the Buick, measuring just 900cc.
Production, in both the UK and Australia, continued until 1942, when WW2 finally brought it to an end.
2. BMW 335
The 335 was a longer and somewhat restyled version of the 326 launched in 1936.
It was powered by a 3.5-litre straight-six which produced nearly 90bhp – a very substantial output for the time.
It was just about possible to buy a new BMW 335 in 1941. Production stopped in that year after only a few dozen examples had been built.
3. Buick Century
Since the US did not enter the Second World War until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, North American car production was not seriously affected that year.
There was therefore plenty of choice for motorists in search of a new model during ’41.
One example was the Buick Century, another car which seems to have had a strong influence on the Austin 8.
Offered in several body styles, but always with a 5.2-litre straight-eight Fireball engine, it was introduced in 1936, and remained in production into 1942.
4. Buick Roadmaster
As with many American cars, two generations of Buick Roadmaster were available in 1941.
The first (pictured in coupe form, though other body styles were available) was a slightly redesigned version of the car introduced for the 1940 model year.
The second was a few inches longer and wider, though it shared the previous Roadmaster’s Fireball engine.
It was introduced for the 1942 model year (therefore going on sale in 1941) and went out of production almost immediately due to WW2 issues before reappearing in 1946.
5. Buick Super
Like the Roadmaster, the Buick Super was sold in two forms in 1941.
The 1941 model year car was a mildly restyled take on 1940’s, and also featured significant modifications to the 4.1-litre version of the Fireball straight-eight engine.
The 1942 vehicle, introduced in 1941, had dramatically different styling which seemed to be almost the product of a different decade.
As with the Roadmaster, production of this model stopped in 1942, but restarted after the war.
6. Cadillac Series 62
The Series 62 made its debut in 1940, and was transformed over the next two model years.
All versions used the same 5.7-litre V8 Monobloc engine, but for 1941 the previously separate headlights were incorporated into the front wings.
During 1941, the next-generation car (pictured) was introduced. Changes included a new ‘egg crate’ radiator grille, which made the Series 62 look considerably more aggressive than before.
7. Cadillac Series 67
1941 was the only full calendar year in which it was possible to buy a new Series 67.
It was a variant of Cadillac’s Series 70 with an extra three inches in the wheelbase (139 inches in total) and a body manufactured by the Fisher Body Corporation, which had been fully absorbed into General Motors in 1926.
Production of the Series 70 range as a whole was restarted after the war, but the Series 67 was no longer part of it.
8. Cadillac Sixty Special
With only two interruptions, Cadillac used the Sixty Special name from 1938 to 1993.
The 1941 model year version appeared at the end of the first generation, and already looked very different from the original thanks partly to its integrated headlights.
Later in the year, the ’42 model (whose production was brought to a temporary halt when the US entered the war) went on sale with the same 5.7-litre V8 Monobloc engine.
Longer than lower than its immediate predecessor, it nevertheless looked very similar on the whole, though Cadillac added extra roundness to the design wherever it could.
9. Chevrolet Deluxe
The Deluxe was a successful attempt by GM’s traditionally budget brand to move slightly upmarket.
There were two models: the range-topping Special Deluxe and the Master Deluxe, the latter aimed at customers “willing to dispense with the more unessential items of luxury equipment and ornamentation” offered in the more expensive version.
Buyers also had a choice of saloon, coupe, cabriolet, estate and commercial body styles. All versions had a 3.5-litre straight-six engine and a type of trailing arm independent front suspension which General Motors referred to as Knee Action.
Post-war, the Special Deluxe and Master Deluxe were renamed Fleetmaster and Stylemaster respectively.
10. Chevrolet Fleetline
The Fleetline was a derivative of the Chevrolet Deluxe.
It was offered at first only as a four-door saloon, but a two-door coupe body was introduced before the end of 1941.
Known as the Aerosedan (pictured), the coupe had an extraordinarily curvy rear end, no doubt partly inspired by an increasing interest in aerodynamic styling.
11. Chrysler Town & Country
The 1941 Town & Country was the first in a series of Chryslers of that name lasting three-quarters of a century.
It was notable partly because several of its body panels were made of wood, and partly because it offered seating for up to nine people, depending on exactly which model the customer chose.
For the 1942 model year, Chrysler made it look even more dramatic than it already was. The horizontal bars which ran the length of the radiator in the ’41 car (pictured) now extended right round to the front wheelarches.
12. Datsun 17T
The 17T was the last in a line of pre-war Datsun trucks.
It was very similar to both the slightly earlier 15T truck and the Type 17 car, which was available with several body styles. All shared a 722cc four-cylinder engine, whose maximum output was 16bhp.
Introduced in 1938, the 17T remained in production until 1944. In later years it was mostly bought for military use.
13. DKW F8
DKW manufactured two-stroke cars and motorcycles with such success that it was able to buy fellow German manufacturers Audi, Horch and Wanderer in a very short period (the last two at the request of the State Bank of Saxony).
Referred to in publicity material as the Front-Wagen because it had front-wheel drive, the F8 made its debut in 1938, and could be ordered with saloon, cabriolet or van bodies.
The engines offered were a 590cc two-cylinder producing 18bhp and a 690cc unit of the same type producing 20bhp.
The range became more limited after war was declared, but the Meisterklasse saloon, with the larger and more powerful engine, was still being built as late as 1942.
14. Fiat 2800
The 2800 was a luxury car of the late 1930s, and a tremendous contrast from the contemporary 500 Topolino.
While the Topolino had a 569cc four-cylinder engine, the 2800 was powered by a 2.8-litre straight-six producing 85bhp.
Despite the car’s cost and rarity, and the fact that Italy had entered the war the previous year, it was still possible to buy a 2800 in 1941. The Torpedo-bodied version (pictured) was still in production as late as 1944.
The Special, De Luxe and Super De Luxe, collectively known as the 1941 Fords, were the seventh of 15 generations of cars known as full-size Fords, the first being the Model T.
Like the 1935 and 1937 Fords, they were usually powered by the company’s flathead V8 engine, but in this case a more economical straight-six was also available.
Late in 1941, the design was gently restyled. Changes included a slightly less involved front grille arrangement than that of the ’41 model year car (pictured). This lasted for the remaining four months of production.
The cars were relaunched in 1946 with yet another grille design, and remained in production until 1948. They were therefore the last in the series to be built during the lifetimes of company founder Henry Ford and his son Edsel, who died in 1947 and 1943 respectively.
16. Ford Prefect
Ford of Britain used the Prefect name for several models up to 1961.
The first, codenamed E93A, was launched in 1938. By comparison with the contemporary – and very adventurous – Vauxhall 10-4, it was a simple car, fitted with the larger, 1172cc version of the famous Ford sidevalve engine.
Production continued until 1942, though by that time most examples were used by the military. The Prefect was then built as a civilian model once again from 1945 to 1949.
17. Nash Ambassador
In September 1941, Nash Motors announced a new series of cars, all of them named Ambassador.
There were 15 models in all, divided equally among the Ambassador Six (pictured), Ambassador Eight and Ambassador 600. The Six and Eight referred to the cylinders in those cars’ engines, while 600 was the reputed possible mileage of the third model, based on fuel economy of 30mpg and a 20-gallon tank.
Although the Ambassador 600 was the cheapest of the three, it was also the most significant. It was an extremely early example of a mass-produced American car with unibody construction, rather than a chassis frame with a body bolted on top.
Production stopped, for the usual reason, in early 1942. When it resumed for the 1946 model year, only the Six and 600 remained.
18. Oldsmobile 98
Former GM brand Oldsmobile produced luxury cars called 98, or Ninety-Eight, or Ninety Eight until very late in the 20th century.
It all started in the 1941 model year. The car got its name from the fact that it was, strictly speaking, a Series 90 with an eight-cylinder engine. There was also a 96 (so named for reasons which requires no explanation), but it didn't find many customers and was quickly dropped.
During 1941, the 98 entered its second generation, now powered only by the 4.2-litre straight-eight. After a four-year gap it was reintroduced for the ’46 and ’47 model years.
19. Packard Clipper
The Clipper was luxury brand Packard’s new model for 1941.
It was available only as a saloon, and with a 4.7-litre straight-eight engine producing 125hp.
Launched in the same year as the attack on Pearl Harbor, it had a very short career as a civilian model, but was used widely as a staff car by the US Army.
20. Packard Custom Super Eight One-Eighty
This was the most luxurious and expensive Packard you could buy in 1941.
It replaced the company’s recently discontinued Twelve. Instead of the previous model’s enormous V12 engine, the One-Eighty was fitted with a smaller straight-eight, which was only slightly less powerful at 160hp.
The car survived for only three model years before the US entered the war, and was not reintroduced in peacetime.
21. Packard One-Twenty
Packard built the One-Twenty in two slightly separated generations from 1935 to 1941.
Named after the length of its wheelbase in inches, the car was Packard’s attempt to move into a more affordable sector of the market, though by most standards it was still a luxury model.
Several body styles were available, the most expensive being the ‘woodie’ station wagon pictured above.
22. Peugeot VLV
In the 21st century, many manufacturers have moved from diesel engines to electric motors. Peugeot did it the other way round.
The first diesel Peugeot went on sale in 1958. 17 years earlier, the company created the VLV (Véhicule Léger de Ville, or light city car), a battery-powered cabriolet with two offset seats.
It was designed to provide urban transport in France at a time when petrol was heavily rationed and very expensive; 377 examples were built between 1941 and 1943.
Peugeot’s next electric car, a version of the 106 hatchback, was introduced half a century later in 1993.
23. Pontiac Torpedo
Pontiac used the Torpedo name for a bewildering variety of models with many body styles from 1940 to 1948, with the usual interruption during the war years.
1941 was the crossover year between the first (pictured) and second generations. The later models were replaced by Pontiac’s first post-war cars, the new Chieftain and second-generation Streamliner.
24. Toyota Model AA
Launched just under a year after the G1 truck, the mechanically similar Model AA was Toyota’s first passenger car.
Fitted with a 3.4-litre straight-six engine producing 65bhp, it was launched in 1936 and remained in production until 1942.
While it would certainly have been possible to buy a new Model AA saloon in 1941, the same could not be said for the convertible version.
The Model AB was discontinued in 1938 after only 353 examples had been built, compared with 1404 of the AA.
25. Toyota Model AE
The Model AE was a smaller car than the Model AA, and was powered by a 48bhp 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine.
Test rides were available as early as January 1940, but full-scale production did not begin until February 1941, after Toyota received a ration of raw materials on the understanding that it would build military vehicles.
Just 76 examples were built before production came to an end in July 1943.