When “the war” ended and after the wild celebrations ended, Americans released the breath they had been holding for four long years with an almost audible sigh. Peace, prosperity, and an end to rationing came almost immediately. No more denial. Consumers were like sharks circling a chumming boat waiting for factories to start producing stoves, refrigerators, cars and all the other consumer goods that had been cut off by the war.
The day after “Pearl Harbor” General Motors, Ford, and their competitors had “gone to war”. Within a week the last of their 1941 model cars rolled off the assembly line. Very soon tanks, bombers, fighter planes, and military trucks came off those assembly lines much faster than the cars had ever done. Our old cars had to be kept running so long as the war lasted, although spare parts, even tires, disappeared or were severely rationed. Dad solved his tire problem by putting a pair of tires made for the front wheels of a tractor on his Ford. Spark plugs were cleaned and gapped, fuel pumps, carburetors, generators, and starters were rebuilt.
But while the ink was still drying on the surrender papers that had been signed on the deck of the USS Missouri, all of "Detroit" sent workers to find and bring the tools and dies they had put away in 1941. Those tools and dies were designed to make the clunky-looking, high-off-the-ground cars of the `30’s, but “the boys” were coming home. Their hunger for a car was surpassed only by their desire to have a girl sitting alongside them in the front seat. So “clunkiness” was ignored for the time being. The first new cars after the war were warmed-over 1941 models with a splash of new chrome here and a little different curve to a fender there. Clunky or not the only way to get a new car in first couple of years after the war was to put your name on the waiting list and take whatever color the factory sent. Then the frenzy slowed down. Buyers became customers rather than beggars. Salesmen had to learn how to troll and hook customers. Clunkiness was no longer catching anyone’s eye. Something new and different was needed. “Give us some sizzle, never mind the steak”, the sales managers screamed to Detroit.
1948 Ford Club Coupe'
The sizzle came. Ford and GMC went head-to-head while Chrysler, like an old man sitting quietly in his rocker, watched the world go by. Toners Ford Agency put out the word. “The `49 Ford is coming. It’s so new we won’t just take it off the truck and put into our showroom. It will arrive under a canvas cover and be stored until “The Big Day” when it will be unveiled”. The arrival of the Pieta could not have attracted more attention. T
Our little town was aflame with curiosity. Suspense sent minds a'tingle whenever the coming Ford was mentioned. Word leaked out that the “New Ford” was here. It had been sneaked in during the night and was parked in the garage behind Bill Toner’s house. Sam, Fred, and I sneaked down the alley behind Bill’s house. The windows were covered but through cracks in the siding, we got a glimpse of the fabled car before Bill chased us away.
The big unveiling came. Anyone who has seen a `48 Ford setting alongside a `49 Ford can imagine the excitement and hunger this car created. It was as low-slung and sassy looking as a tomcat. And it had no running boards! No fenders! Until now car hoods had always sloped down over the side of the engine and blended into the curve of the front fenders. Not anymore. The driver looked out the windshield across an expanse of gracefully curving, sheet metal. Beneath the hood, Ford’s V-8 engine promised speed and acceleration. It was designed for one purpose, to create an incurable case of car-fever, and it did. Once again, Ford dealers couldn’t get enough cars.
The Belle of the Ball - The Luscious 1949 Ford
Chevy was close behind. Within weeks an all-new Chevy was in Daryl Pendleton’s showroom and although you can still get an argument as to which is more beautiful car, Henry Ford had won the “hype” battle. The `49 Chevy came to town the “wicked sister”. Cinderella had already stolen the show.
Too Little - Too Late
The 1949 Chevrolet
What an education!! I never realized they weren't making cars during the war. I knew they mostly made war machines instead but thought they made at least some cars. None? Amazing! Your description of and the reasons for the '48 and '49 Ford is something few people today would ever have known, except for car enthusiasts of course. Outstanding!!
In the first couple of years after "The War" (to a person my age and older "The War" is ALWAYS WWII) you could hardly drive ten miles down any highway without seeing one of the "car hauler" 18 wheelers. Ol' Henry Ford not only gets credit for "putting America on wheels" (with the Model T); he also gets credit for creating the streamlined, no-fenders look that all cars have now had for scores of years. Ford was first.