There was a time when automobiles were considered rolling
works of art.
Packards, Duesenbergs and McLaughlin-Buicks were dressed
to the nines in chrome, nickel, stainless steel and even 'skirts'.
every car worth its salt found its bonnet draped with sensuous
flying goddesses or aerodynamic 'rockets' masquerading as hood
ornaments. The Edwardian era and into the early days of The Great
War was known as 'The Brass Era' because of the liberal amounts
of that alloy splashed over those nascent automobiles, regardless
By the late 1980s, chrome was largely confined to the bumpers
on Grandpa's car and the local vintage car cruise. With few exceptions,
only Jaguar and Rolls Royce still adorned their chariots with
hood ornaments. A silver lining was all that remained of the
golden age of the automobile.
So you may be mistaken in believing such unadorned cars is
a recent phenomenon. And, for the most part, you would be right,
but with two notable exceptions. In the very early '50s, when
the Korean war was raging, sorry, 'police action', chrome began
disappearing from cars due to war-time material shortages. The
best example of this is seen on the 1951 Studebaker, whose 'bullet
nose' only sported half the chrome found on the previous year's
Yet, much more dramatically, are the little known and now
extremely rare 1942 calendar year cars many in the vintage car
hobby have never known 75 years later.
By September 1941, Canada had been at war for two years and
during that time the nation had begun to wind down civilian automobile
manufacturing so her factories could concentrate on war production.
And while the Americans remained officially neutral, their factories
had also begun to reduce domestic automobile production in favour
of the war effort. With the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor
that year, 1942 model year production would end very differently
from previous years.
Beginning New Year's
Day 1942, both the Canadian and American federal governments
mandated the automobile industry greatly restrict the amount
of chromium alloy (partially made from copper and nickel), aluminum
and rubber used in cars, so these vital materials could be diverted
to the war effort.
(Furthermore, according to author Charles Hyde, in spring
1941 and long before the Hawaiian attack, The Big Three had even
run U.S. announcements there would be no 1943 models.)
Due to these restrictions, the auto industry was forced to
build automobiles sans brightwork, including most exterior trim.
The resulting cars were called 'blackouts', whose most prominent
feature were their large, painted grilles. Also painted were
their headlight rims, door and trunk handles, stainless steel
window trim and all exterior side mouldings. Some interior trim
was painted too.
The only notable exceptions to this edict were chrome bumpers,
door and trunk locks, wiper arms and the radio aerial. In the
U.S., cutbacks were even more severe, as only bumpers, bumper
guards and wiper arms could be chromed. There was even one rumour
that Chevrolet had been reduced to building cars with wooden
The remaining trim was to be painted even if finished chrome
and stainless steel stock was available. This latter requirement
was enforced to ensure no one automaker had any unfair competitive
Although 1941 model
year Chevrolet production had exceeded 930,000 vehicles south
of the border, they only built 45,472 vehicles for 1942 of which
a paltry 2,350 were 'blackout specials' or 'Victory Cars' as
Americans sometimes called them. In Canada, it was a similar
story. The 1941 McLaughlin-Buick saw 3,098 examples built, but
'42 production plunged to approximately 1,000, with 211 built
as blackouts in that truncated year.
Canadian civilian car production came to an end on February
9 that year, the U.S. followed suit just one day later. Peace-time
car production would not resume for over three and a half years
when the first '46s rolled off the assembly line as essentially
warmed over '42s for most manufacturers. The McLaughlin name
would be dropped when Buick finally came back to domestic production
with the 1951 models.
As a result of these and other home-front shortages, bald
tires became common, inner tubes were repeatedly patched and
gas was rationed - and stolen through siphoning from parked vehicles.
Cars were even placed on blocks by some owners for the duration
of the war as many more people took to riding streetcars or walked
Today, blackouts are extremely rare for all makes. In the
United States, there are only two known such Studebakers in existence
and one Buick. North of the border, just a single McLaughlin-Buick
blackout is known to have escaped the crusher.
That particular car, a four-door Special model, belongs to
Wes and Lois Ebbs of Scarborough, who have owned it for over
A typical blackout, it features a painted hood ornament and
tail-light trim and went one step further in having no beltline
moulding. It does have the standard clock and also came with
the optional under-seat heater and radio.
by the small Buick 248-cubic-inch straight-8 OHV motor (produced
from 1937 to 1950), it had only 68,000 miles when Wes saw it
advertised in an American vintage car magazine in good running
condition. Only the second guardian, if you discount the dealership's
brief ownership, Wes bought it from the same Yorkton, Saskatchewan,
outlet that sold this car brand new.
Now sporting just 80,000 miles, this Special has been driven
to and from Calgary and twice to Michigan by the long-time McLaughlin-Buick
Club of Canada member.
In more recent years, Wes has acquired a rare '75 Buick LeSabre
four-door hardtop to ease the '42s workload.
Although the blackouts have more in common with today's cars
than their contemporaries, they still carry a style no modern
automobile could hope to emulate.
Photos by Richard Spiegelman
1 - 1942 Canadian Dodge blackout car
2 - 1942 Chevrolet Special Deluxe Fleetline Aero blackout
3 - Rare 1942 Chrysler Town & Country blackout four-door
sedan with real wood trim
4 - The McLaughlin-Buick speaker surround on the dash is
painted, not plated