I came across a 1942 Buick Super in the woods of Northern Michigan recently. While I am fascinated by any old car I find in the woods, this particular car represented something quite important. It was one of the last cars built by the American auto industry before we tooled up for war – an event that inspired Preston Tucker to start his own car company.
Leading up to the war, seven million Americans worked producing vehicles in one capacity or another. Then, in early 1942, a government department known as the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board ordered the auto industry to stop making cars. The government told auto manufacturers to devote their entire resources to the needs of defense. Car companies ran the last civilian cars off their assembly lines on February 10, 1942.
The Buick Super in the woods? It had to have been built prior to February 4, 1942, the last day Buick built cars before the call to arms.
By the time the war ended a little over three years later, the auto industry accounted for 20 percent of all US war production, including half the airplane engines, a third of all machine guns, and every truck the military used. It also manufactured $11 billion in airplanes and related aircraft parts. But no cars had been built for the civilian market.
During the war, Americans were forced to make do with whatever cars they had before the factories were commandeered. By 1945, America’s car population was tired and ragged. Experts counted twenty-four million cars on the road, a third of them worth no more than a hundred dollars. If not for the lack of new cars, most would have been sold for scrap. Automakers realized that this created a vast market for new cars, believing ten million Americans were primed to buy them once they became available.
It was this American thirst for cars which lured Preston Tucker into the automobile manufacturing business. But what about the Buick in the woods?
This particular Buick Super was most likely cherished in the war years and the years that followed. Cars were so valuable during and after the war that it certainly had many good years before it found itself in the woods. This Super carried a $1,381 price tag when new and was one of 16,000 or so produced. Its sibling – the Roadmaster – looks quite similar with the primary difference under the hood. The Super was driven by a 248 cubic-inch straight-eight engine while the Roadmaster carried a 320 cubic-inch straight-eight. The Super weighed 3,863 pounds and seated six quite comfortably.
After a few decades on the road, this Buick Super was unceremoniously pushed into the woods. Its wheels and engine were removed. Badges and ornamentation were pried off. Windows were broken out and now plants grow through the dashboard. Some months, it is not even visible from the road just 20 feet away. But the few people who see it should know that it symbolizes something important. The time when the entire American auto industry came together for the war effort.
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Steve Lehto has been practicing law for 25 years, almost exclusively in consumer protection and Michigan lemon law. He wrote The Lemon Law Bible and Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow.
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