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Monday, March 29, 2010

1942 Ford

Introduction of the 1942 automobiles in the Dominion was almost an afterthought in light of the fact that Canada had been at war for three long years. News of the global conflict was broadcast daily over the CBC and most of it was grim. The Germans marched relentlessly into the Soviet Union. Kiev fell and Wermacht circled Moscow to launch one of the most horrific sieges in history.  With frightening regularity, U-boats continued to torpedo and sink convoys filled with urgently needed supplies, bound for Britain and the USSR.  Once in a while there was encouraging news, too. Allied air raids over Hamburg, Stuttgart and other German cities were beginning to cripple the Nazi supply lines. The first of the American-built Liberty ships were released to Britain.

War or not, the traditional national unveiling of the latest crop of automobiles took place in October 1941, in the Automotive Building on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. The CNE had been requisitioned in 1940 by the government to serve as a major recruitment and training centre.  In order for the annual automotive unveiling event to take place, the army moved most of the soldiers from the 192-acre fairground.

Huppmobile and Graham had ceased auto manufacture permanently. Their absence was noted. Hudson was imported for the second year in a row, the Tilbury, Ontario plant now given over completely to war work. Present and accounted for, the automakers displayed their contributions to the war effort. The Ford Motor Company of Canada, Limited featured one of the largest exhibits. Ford showcased the weapons of war that 10,000 workers were churning out around the clock in its vast Windsor, Ontario complex.

Car manufacture never ceased at Ford Canada, but they were built on a very limited basis; eleven percent of the factory in Windsor was set aside for auto assembly. Rationing had begun in 1941. Completed automobiles for eventual civilian use went directly into a national pool where they were doled out. Only citizens who could show proof that a new car was vital to home front or Empire needs could requisition one. Filling out the paperwork was most daunting.

The lucky consumer who was actually qualified for a new Ford got quite a stylish ride. The envelope, new in 1941, had been streamlined and tested in Ford’s Weather Tunnel by engineers. This year, a massive grille was affixed to the 1942 models. The instrument panel was revised, now it boasted a new clock-like speedometer. Oval taillights were prominent on the car’s backside.

Among the very few permitted to buy new Fords, records show that five vehicles were exported to Newfoundland under the Empire Emergency Civilian Defense Programme. The YMCA in St. John’s was permitted to purchase three Panel Delivery pickups and a Station Wagon. The Knights of Columbus in St. John’s were granted permission to acquire a Ford Super Station Wagon.

War severely reduced the availability of many consumer items. Ford colour choices were limited to five:  Moselle Maroon, Yosemite Green, Fathom Blue, Newcastle Grey and Black. All paint was of an enduring baked enamel finish and the fenders were specially treated to be rust resistant.

Advertising was hyped as high as Mt. Logan in an attempt to stress Ford’s economy. The tried and true 90-horsepower V-8 engine had been around for a good decade. It promised outstanding and unusual gas mileage and low oil consumption. “This year Canadian motorists will dig deeper into the facts about motor car performance. When thrift is vital to every individual, as well as to the nation and the Empire, motor car buyers have a right to demand proven facts and figures out operating costs.”

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Only three of the automobiles depicted in the 1942 sales brochure featured Fords dressed up with whitewall tires. A black box notice in the pamphlet advised, “White sidewall tires, illustrated in this folder as extra equipment, are no longer available due to war-time restrictions.” Surprisingly, among the standard equipment items listed was a spare tire, something GM Canada cars had done without since 1940.

In addition to the three Ford De Luxe models, a wartime Special series was introduced. Touted as having “Features that stand out in a car that stands up!” the virtually stripped Fordor, Tudor and Coupe made up a lower-priced line of offerings. Created for victory, the trio carried virtually no chrome garnish and did without many other niceties motorists were used to. Despite the modest appointments, the cars promised to deliver the same room and riding comfort as its more expensive cousins.

A wide range of extra-cost equipment was available through dealers. Two of the most popular options were the Adjust-O-Matic radio with the Foot Control and Touch-Bar Tuning and the ever-so-necessary Improved Hot-Water Heater-Defroster.

Ford’s assembly plant in Toronto closed in February of 1942. It would never reopen. Parliament ordered the cessation of civilian automobile manufacture take place on March 31. At minutes to midnight, the last Ford product rolled out the doors in Windsor-a four-door 1942 Mercury. Emblazoned on its doors in tall letters was a defiant notice to Hitler and Tojo that this was, “The last car for the duration.”

The war impacted people on the home front in a thousand very real ways in 1942.  Parliament ordered conscription of all able-bodied men between the ages of 19 and 35. Coffee, tea and butter were added to the rationed good list. The Imperial Japanese Army’s invasion of Alaska prompted emergency construction of the Al-Can Highway. A Japanese submarine shelled the coast of Vancouver Island. German Prisoner of War camps opened in Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. Nazi spies landed on the Gaspe coast of Quebec by submarine were ferreted out by a suspicious hotel owner and promptly arrested by the RCMP. A German U-boat sank two freighters in the St. Lawrence River. Another U-boat sank the Newfoundland ferry. Bound for North Sydney, Nova Scotia, the “Caribou” went down with a loss of 137 lives, including 31 crew members.

Millions of folks would do without cars and much, much more until Victory came in August 1945. With few complaints, they would tighten the belt and make do with what they had. They would sacrifice for King and Country, for the right to fly the Red Ensign and the Union Jack over a land free of Nazi tyranny and Japanese Imperial rule.


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Copyright James C. Mays 2004 All rights reserved.

Friday, March 26, 2010

1937 McLaughlin-Buick

If there ever were hard times for General Motors of Canada Limited, the 1930s certainly stretched the company’s resources to the very limit. Production and sales were miserable for all of the GM brands throughout the Dirty Thirties. From a high water mark of 104,198 vehicles produced in 1928, the Oshawa, Ontario-based automaker hit rock bottom in 1932 when only 19,565 cars and trucks were shipped from the factory. Among that pittance were 2,026 McLaughlin-Buick passenger cars.

McLaughlin-Buick production inched upward in 1933 to 2,382 units and up again to 4,091 units in 1934. The increases were small but they did give hope that the worst of the Great Depression might be over. That was not to be the case and the final production figure for 1935 skidded to a dismal 2,272 units. A sleek new Art Deco design helped spur sales in 1936 as 4,722 McLaughlin-Buicks were rolled out the factory doors. Among that number was one built for His Majesty, King Edward VIII.

Despite being all new last year, the cars were revamped in a big way for the 1937 model year. The grille was split, allowing the Buick coat of arms to be mounted front and centre on a slender river of chrome flanked with fine horizontal chrome ribs. New, more graceful, teardrop headlights were mounted on either side of the grille for a stately look. Wipers were no longer mounted from above the windshield, but from the cowl. The radio aerial disappeared, discretely embedded in the running board. Body height was lowered by 1.5 inches and a corresponding 2.5-inch drop in the floor meant the cavernous interior was maintained. 

The public met the 1937 McLaughlin-Buicks in November of 1936. In a bid to impress potential buyers, sales personnel were trained to discuss the current crop of automobiles from the ground up. Starting with the famous sealed chassis, they moved on to point out the quieter valve-in-head straight-eight engine, the five-point soft rubber engine mountings, the centre-point controlled steering, the tip-toe hydraulic brakes, knee action wheels, torque-tube drive and ride stabilizers located fore and aft. The car was mighty and magnificent. It came with an impeccable pedigree that reached back to horse and buggy days. It was easy to sing the praises of such a fine motorcar.

Salesmen were instructed to draw attention to the all steel-welded-to-steel body construction that boasted the safety of a solid steel Turret Top on the Special models. “McLaughlin-Buick bodies have in 1937 the same master craftsmanship in their coachwork which they have had for years.” For good measure, folks looking at the gleaming beauties in showrooms were reminded that safety glass was used all around.

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As important as any feature built into the vehicle was the possibility of buying a new McLaughlin-Buick through the General Motors Installment Plan. With “payments to suit your purse,” the scheme claimed to have already advanced more than 11 million purchases in North America. In addition, GM had its own insurance company. General Exchange Insurance Corporation, a.k.a.  GEIC, offered insurance protection and the capacity to “render claims and make adjustments throughout Canada.”

The McLaughlin-Buick was an upscale offering in the world of automobiles, carefully positioned between the mid-range, mid-priced Oldsmobile and just below the luxurious LaSalle by Cadillac. With inspired whispers of elegance, distinction and class, McLaughlin-Buick came in four distinct series for 1937: Special, Century, Roadmaster and the Limited. 

 The 122-inch wheelbased Special was the entry level car, ideal for the family ready to move into the pampered world of McLaughlin-Buick. A Sport Coupe with “ingeniously positioned” folding opera seats was the lowest priced in the stable with a starting price of $1,055. A five-passenger Coach with trunk, a five-passenger Sedan with trunk and a four-passenger convertible with rumble seat were all equally modestly priced. The Special got around town and country with a 248-cubic inch straight eight that generated 100 horsepower.
Century was bigger and better appointed than the Special. Its engine generated 130 horsepower and its displacement was 320 cubic inches. Four inches longer in the wheelbase than last year, Century now rode a 126-inch wheelbase and could be had as a five-passenger Coach or a five-passenger Sedan, both came with trunk. The four-passenger Convertible Coupe boasted a rumble seat. A great deal of attention was drawn to the generously proportioned trunks. “Why embarrass yourself with a trailer for your valises when the jumbo baggage compartment can serve you?”

The spare tire rode in a special space below the trunk floor, making tire changing less of a hassle. Having stated that, these dignified land yachts also could be ordered with optional cost, side-mounted tires, neatly tucked into gracefully elongated front fenders. The classic feature was standard equipment on the Roadmaster four-door convertible and the two Limited models.

Further up the scale was the impressive Roadmaster. This grand automobile stretched lazily over a 131-inch wheelbase and seated six in full comfort. It shared an engine with the Century. The Formal Sedan could be ordered with optional movable glass partition to set passengers apart from the chauffeur. A four-door convertible carried a price tag of $2,050.

Gliding majestically on a 138-inch wheelbase, the Limited was the penultimate McLaughlin-Buick. Seating eight passengers, it was offered as a Sedan with trunk or as the Imperial Sedan with trunk. It loafed along the highways and byways of the Dominion with the same engine as Century and Roadmaster. These distinguished vehicles were rarely seen. Shunning Cadillac as ostentatious, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King made use of a McLaughlin-Buick as his official car.

Options were few and far between on a car as magnificent as a McLaughlin-Buick. There were a few and in keeping with the McLaughlin-Buick tradition they were the epitome of tastefulness. They included white sidewall tires, an in-dash radio with a speaker. A heater—with or without the new windshield defroster—fog lights and the dual sidemount fenders were on the short list.

Production continued to improve as workers at General Motors built 6,880 McLaughlin-Buicks for the 1937 calendar year. The gains would not be continued in 1938 as the economy faltered and sales plunged.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2006 All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

1959 DeSoto

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Named for Spanish explorer Coronado DeSoto, Chrysler Canada’s mid-priced marque celebrated its 30th anniversary with the debut of its 1959 models. Despite the annual update, there was little that was new about this year’s crop; the shell was on the third year of the body cycle.

The DeSoto styling team had worked hard to create a fresh look for the marque, perfuming the pig--they called it.  This year they incorporated a pair of massive, dual jet-look air intakes into the top of the front bumper. Side trim was reworked, chrome was more lavish and tail fins grew larger than last year.

For its big birthday bash, a sumptuous new top-of-the-line Adventurer series was crowned king at DeSoto. A mighty 383-cubic inch Turboflash V-8 with four carbs was installed to make sure that these two-ton vehicles would breeze down the pike. The update was pleasant and the posh Adventurer absolutely stunning, but sales were far and few between.
Consumers could choose DeSotos in three series. The aristocratic Adventurer was billed as “pure gold in ride, pride and pleasure: and “a thoroughbred in every line and every luxury.”  Only a two-door hardtop and a ragtop were offered, each laden with anodized gold colour-sweep trim to set it apart from lesser DeSoto kin. Interiors were finished in white and gold textured Nylon Casino Corde accompanied by handsome vinyl. Folks who purchased the Adventurer were promised they would “ride as softly as passing summer clouds.” 

Below the Adventurer line came the Fireflite family with two- and four-door hardtops, a convertible and a four-door sedan. It also added a six-passenger, four-door station wagon called the Shopper and a four-door, nine-passenger version that went by the name Explorer. “Touch the button and feel luxury come to life,” advertising whispered. Cabins were dressed in Parisian Tweed nylon metallic fibres in blue, green tan or grey, harmonized with durable metallic vinyl bolsters. The Torsion-AIRE all-steel suspension system promised a velvety ride. Fireflites were given the 305-horsepower Turboflash engine with a four-carb setup.

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The least expensive DeSoto in the lineup; the Firedome family promised value and prestige far above its price. It shared an engine with Fireflite but only came with a two-barrel carb. It also had no wagons but offered hardtops, a convertible and a sedan, decked in modest trimmings. Interiors were finished in strictly modern Mayfair Dobby weave fabrics set off with blue, green beige or grey vinyls in co-ordinating hues. All DeSotos were blessed with the TorqueFlite automatic pushbutton transmission as standard equipment.

Americans could purchase DeSotos in a very inexpensive Firesweep series. Because it overlapped Dodge territory, it was not offered here.

Adding some pizzazz to the 30th anniversary bash, designers trotted out the Cella 1, a DeSoto concept car in 3:8 scale. Powered by a chemical fuel system supplemented with electric motors driving each wheel, the breathtaking convertible-coupe featured novel heating elements in the greenhouse. Seating four passengers, two faced rearward and were spoiled with such amenities as a refrigerator, TV, stereo tape deck and a beverage dispenser.

There were about as many options for the production DeSoto as there were snowflakes in a good winter’s gale. A Sports Swivel Seat angled outward by 40 degrees for passenger convenience of exit and entry. Safety padded dash, dual antenna, electric clock an automatic headlight beam changer, Dual-Jet windshield wipers, solar tint glass, the Mirro-Matic rearview mirror that set itself to reduce glare from the headlights of cars approaching from behind, a new outside remote-control mirror, an electric clock, the Touch-Tuner or Station Seeker transistorized Radio, a rear window defroster and a pushbutton heater were add-ons that made the drive more enjoyable.

Then there were the extra-cost power assist options: Constant-Control power steering, Safe-Stop power brakes, Six-Way power seats, power windows all around--including the Vista-Vu power tailgate window for six-passenger wagons.

Officials secretly planned to phase out doomed DeSoto. They would do it without missing a single sale. Chrysler’s inexpensive Windsor series was expanded. The price tags on those entry-level Windsors were substantially lower than those of many DeSotos, causing consumers to bypass the marque altogether and move right on up the corporate ladder to the more prestigious Chrysler nameplate.

Despite the unforgettable advertising campaign, “It’s delightful, it’s de-lovely, it’s DeSoto!” sales were only 1,404 units for the calendar year. Little captive import Simca had outstripped it four times over, finding 4,051 buyers. The dismally selling DeSoto would return for a final season in 1960.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2005 All rights reserved