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In times of war…

Both the first and second world wars played huge roles in the development of the car, but it is arguably the second world war that played the biggest role with it affecting a more developed and much larger motor industry.

There are countless threads to the story of how war has affected the car, with books worth of information and analysis. Here, however, we look at just three key area.

Doing your duty

War on the scale of WWII meant that no business just carried on as normal. Every single business was forced to adapt and play its part in the new war efforts – and vehicle manufacturers were perfectly placed to contribute to the war in the form of engineering services.

Ford GB producing Merlin enginesCar companies almost ceased production, with their assembly lines changing from family tourers to planes, tanks, army trucks and weapons. This froze the development of cars for several years with some being destroyed in the process; either from bombing or simply becoming too distorted from a car manufacturer to revert back.

Some however, did continue. Stories, such as Sir William Lyons and his engine designers coming up with the idea of the famous Jaguar XK engine whilst doing their night fire watch duty in the WWII led to one of the greatest engines of all time being produced post war.

A lack of resources

War can make companies a lot of money, but they can also leave some financially crippled. Worst still, war can leave an entire country crippled, as it did with the UK and other European countries. This forces some out of business and forces others to adapt.

This adaptation to circumstance changed the face of the car industry post WWII. The UK car industry, for example, still retained big luxury brands, but its new focus was in small affordable cars that the newly recovering country may actually be able to afford.

More importantly, this need to replenish the UK’s coffers meant that the UK needed to start exporting more, which again started to skew the interest of many car companies.

Brands such as Morris and Austin were highly motivated in this arena and produced cars with the sole interest of foreign markets. Companies such as Jaguar, Triumph and MG saw the USA as a key area to make new money and some cars became heavily adapted from the original UK specifications just to fit with the U.S. requirements.

This new business focus lead to many manufacturers consolidating, leading to organisations such as BMC and later British Leyland – a trend seen across many of the major manufacturing countries.

A new wave of engineers

War destroyed numerous companies and lives and killed many skilled people that could not be replaced. However, it also trained many more with new engineering skills.

The hot-rod movement (although already in progress) in the U.S. was driven strongly by young military personnel coming back from the Second World War with new engineering knowledge and time on their hands. Older average type cars would be modified, tuned, raced and shown off.

In the UK, much of this new engineering knowledge was absorbed back into rebuilding the manufacturing industries, with less time and money for frivolity. However, it also lead to some new, smaller companies starting to grow out of the ashes. With ideas and skills gained from working in aviation and engineering new companies such as Marcos would start to appear, driving a revolution of new small-production sports car firms in the UK.

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