What happened to World War II?

The Vinson Collection is not only a great resource for studying the marketing and manufacturing of automobiles but also for examining major historical events of the 20th century. One such event is World War II. It stands out so pointedly in the collection because it is missing. Many American and European companies with histories tracing back before 1939, did not produce marketing literature between the years 1939 and 1945. Because there was no material produced during this time, it can be assumed that no passenger automobiles were being produced.

Many automobile companies turned over their manufacturing facilities to wartime production. However, some European automobile companies didn’t produce anything due to destruction. Peugeot in France and Rover in England had their manufacturing complexes partially or completely destroyed within a matter of minutes during WWII. Though damaged during the war, these two companies in particular were determined to rebuild and rebrand after the war.

Click to view the 1946 Peugeot catalog in the Hagley Digital Archives.

The French automobile manufacturer, Peugeot was determined to stay afloat. Headquartered in Sochaux, near the western border of France, Peugeot’s factories were severely damaged or utterly destroyed by German bombs. One trade catalog dated 1946, shows the damage done. However, this catalog is also a celebratory piece of rebuilding efforts. Titled, Salon 1946 Renaissance de L’Automobile, Peugeot announced its return to the automobile manufacturing world. With support from American and British suppliers, Peugeot went from producing no cars in 1944, to producing 110 cars a day by the end of 1946! These included 2-door, 4-door, and even commercial truck models.

Rover, a British company, also published material on the effects of the war on its company. Rover’s facilities at Coventry were completely annihilated during German air raids in 1940 and 1941. After the war, the British government turned over unused facilities at Solihull to Rover, so that they could rebuild their automobile production lines. Published in 1948, The New Home of the Rover Company, trade catalog describes the effects of the war, and the efforts that Rover took to rebuild and rebrand their company after they moved to Solihull. Showing photographs of mostly how Rover cars are built, the catalog also contains a two-page spread on the damage done at its Coventry plant (one of these pages is shown below).

A page from the 1948 Rover publication. Click to view the complete publication in the Hagley Digital Archives.

Automobile companies often rallied around their home country and became symbols of economic prosperity. Both Peugeot and Rover are great examples of how automobiles can define a country’s pride and economic resolve.

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

One thought on “What happened to World War II?

  1. Automobile manufacture in Europe had essentially ended by 1940. In the United States, however, it continued, with increasing regulation, until early February 1942. Taylor Vinson wrote an article about this in the Winter 1993-94 issue of Automotive History Review, the magazine of the Society of Automotive Historians.

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