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Sunday, July 1, 2012

1941 Pontiac Torpedo Fleetleader

At war with the Germany since September 10, 1939, all 11 million Canadians quickly became aware of the sacrifices that would be required of them if they were not going to live in an Occupied Canada and speak German to their conquerors. 

Tens of thousands flocked to recruiting stations, signing up to serve King and Country. Six months into the war, rationing took effect in April of 1940. Automobiles, butter and typewriters were just a few of the consumer goods that Canadians would stand in line for or do without altogether during the next six years for the sake of victory.

Almost immediately tires and inner tubes were rationed. The armed forces needed them desperately. Drives to collect them took place in every part of the country from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island. General Motors did its part by deleting spare tires and tubes from all of its new vehicles and reducing the retail price of its passenger cars by $5.

It was a time of rumour and dread. The government hurriedly threw up defense installations along the coastline of British Columbia in preparation of what it feared would be an imminent invasion by Imperial Japan. Mussolini pledged Italy’s resources to the Third Reich early in 1940. The Royal Canadian Army announced that June that it would recruit 21,000 women to serve King and Country. The RCAF and the Royal Canadian Navy followed shortly with similar announcements of their own. News from the war came in loud and clear as the CBC launched its first news department and hired reporters. Parliament ordered that pro-German or anti-war magazines and newspapers and magazines be banned.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King and American President Roosevelt signed a mutual defense treaty on August 18, 1940. Virtually all of Europe was draped in swastikas and the Luftwaffe was attempting to bomb Britain into surrender. Thousands of Canadians who were born in Germany and Italy and had been naturalized after 1923 were stripped of their citizenship on August 23 and required to register with the police as enemy aliens.
The 1941 Auto Show at the CNE.

The 1941 National Automobile Show took place in October of 1940, in the Automotive Building, on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, as usual. What was different this year was that the automakers’ displays were centred on military vehicles and war materiel being produced for the Canadian and various Empire governments. The RCAF took over the entire northern section of the building and showed off six kinds of aircraft, several different types of guns, as well as Rolls-Royce and Pratt and Whitney engines.

Domestic automakers were ordered to reduce their 1941 manufacturing output to 80 percent of their 1940 output in order to make room on the factory floors for the fabrication of war machines. Rumours spread like wildfire throughout the country that any civilian production of automobiles was hampering the war effort. The myth was so widely believed that the Honourable C.D. Howe, Minister of Munitions and Supply addressed the rumour publicly and gave assurances that it was definitely not true. He pointed out that the manufacture and sale of automobiles to civilians-even on a restricted basis-was helping to finance the war.

The Minister of War appointed a national Vehicle Controller on February 18, 1941. Regulations for the purchase of new cars grew even tighter. Only citizens who could prove that the purchase of a new vehicle gave “essentiality” to the war effort could requisition one from the federal government pool. The Vehicle Controller had the final say on each request.

The lowest priced Pontiac in 1941 was this Fleetleader Business Coupe, listing for $1,306.
In Oshawa and Regina, Pontiac production was limited to the 2 946-millimetre (116-inch) wheelbase Fleetleader Torpedo Special, Torpedo and the 3 022-millimetre (119-inch) wheelbase Deluxe Torpedo. That accounted for an even dozen models. A handful of Deluxe Torpedo models, Streamliners and Super Streamliners-the latter two on their (3 098-millimetre )122-inch wheelbase-were imported from the United States. They accounted for another nine Pontiac models.

In March of 1941, GM Canada issued a new full-colour line folder featuring the Fleetleader family. Dealers mailed them out to prospective customers. The theme reflected the war, now in progress for nearly eighteen months. The cover of the sales brochure did not even show automobiles, rather a convoy of ships, presumably filled with soldiers and supplies for Britain was featured. Inside its pages, one found drawings of young women, dressed in sailor-like outfits alongside the new Pontiacs.

The 1941 Pontiac DeLuxe Torpedo Four-door Sedan rode on a trim 3 022-millimetre (119-inch) wheelbase.
The brochure was nautical. “Ahoy there! The Fleet’s in—and you’re in luck for 1941. We’ve hoisted a signal that means real money for you. Get the inside story—come to see the sensation new Fleetleader-cross the gangplank to new cruising satisfaction and great new values.”

Billed as “the Aristocrat of the Road” and “a Symphony in Steel,” the Pontiac was a looker with a quintet of silver streaks running down the hood of the Torpedo body. New for this year from the styling department were concealed running boards. Hiding the running boards brought a promise of safety. The “safety steps” would “not collect mud that will be tracked into the car. Nor can ice or snow freeze on them to cause a bad fall.”

Opening the hood alligator style, one found Pontiac’s famous L-head motor. Advertising bragged that the new, permanent, built-in oil filter was three times more efficient than ordinary cleaners and that one never had to buy a filter cartridge. Attention was drawn to the fact that the battery was located in the engine compartment as well.

Interiors were vast and upholstered “with the elegance of a fine living room and appointments are in perfect harmony.” Carpets and head linings formed a “pleasant contrast with the upholstery and side wall trim.”
Pontiac’s instrument panel carried simulated woodgrain on more luxurious models.

While 7,747 Pontiacs were built domestically during the year, only 3,372 of the new vehicles were sold in Quebec, Ontario and the Maritime Provinces in 1941. Officials estimated that an additional 843 new Pontiacs were sold on the Prairies and in British Columbia. The balance of Pontiac production went into government-designated storage, as part of the pool of vehicles designated for “essential home front and Empire needs.”

There were 1,277,608 passenger cars registered throughout the Dominion at the end of 1941. That was a decrease of nearly three percent from the previous year. More than 30,000 unroadworthy vehicles had been scrapped. Many patriotic citizens, like GM President Colonel Sam McLaughlin, withdrew their cars from the road until victory came.

The Pontiac engine was the 3.9-litre (239.2-cubic inch), L-head, six-cylinder engine with a 90-horsepower rating. 

There were options to be had. An under-seat heater added an additional $13.86 to the final bill. A heater was doubtless far more practical than the 58 x72-inch “distinctive all-wool, plaid motor rugs” that GM offered for warmth at $8 each as an alternative. A pair of fog lamps cost the owner an additional $9.90. A pair of armrests sold for $3.60.

  1. A centre-mounted ashtray was standard on all Pontiacs for 1941. Every lady smokes while wearing gloves, eh?
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Copyright James C. Mays 2004
 All rights reserved.

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