The 1942 model year was probably the shortest in Dodge production history but one of the most important. The automaker threw 110 percent of its manufacturing effort into winning the Second World War for America and the Allies. And while auto production lasted, the ’42 Dodge design helped set styling trends that continue right up to today.
Dodge had enjoyed a boom year in 1941, producing 237, 000 vehicles. But in 1942, production plummeted to only 68, 522 units as civilian passenger car output was throttled back and plants were converted to military production. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the changeover was accelerated even more, with all civilian work ordered to be completed by February 5, 1942.
As a result, the Dodge shown above, a 1942 Custom Series Club Coupe, is a rare bear. Only 4, 659 were produced, and only a handful exist today. Contributing to the low numbers: The Club Coupe was considered sporty but not totally practical due to its modest rear seat, designed for occasional use only. The more family-oriented four-door sedan sold in far greater volume at 22, 000 units.
But the rarest 1942 Dodges of all are the blackout models, also known as victory cars. In December 1941, chromium was declared a strategic material. As a result, the last handful of autos that trickled off the assembly lines early in 1942 wore painted exterior trim instead of chrome plating. The bright finish on the grille and side trim of the Dodge above indicate that this example was produced earlier in the model year.
There’s something else worth noting about this car’s grille and front-end styling. The 1942 Dodge was one of the first to depart from the traditional vertical grille, a holdover from the days of exposed, upright radiators. Instead, the ’42 adopted a horizontal grille that stretched across the front of the car from headlamp to headlamp—the look we know today, essentially. You could say the ’42 Dodge design helped to change the face of the American automobile.