In the latest installment of The Year in Cars, Mac’s Motor City Garage features another important year for the American auto industry: 1940.
The best-selling song of 1940 was “Frenesi” by Artie Shaw and his Orchestra, while the top movie was Boom Town starring Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. The Cincinnati Reds defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games to take the World Series crown, but except for that, it was a pretty fair year for the Motor City.
Chevrolet led vehicle production with just over 1,000,000 units—the first automaker to break the one-million mark since 1930. The industry was slowly climbing out of the Great Depression. Ford trailed in second with 691,000 units, and Plymouth held onto the number three slot with 522,000.
If you look closely, in the 1940 model year you can see the debut of three important long-term industry trends.
+ On the 180 Series, Packard introduced the first true factory air-conditioning system, a feature that is essentially standard equipment today.
+ Oldsmobile launched the Hydra-matic, the first fully automatic transmission and another ubiquitous feature today. In the USA, automatics now account for over 90 percent of passenger car sales.
+ Sealed-beam headlamps were adopted nearly industry-wide in ’40. They had a significant impact on styling, but more importantly, they made night driving far more popular and practical, helping to speed along the development of the national highway system.
In other news, 1940 proved to be the final year for the LaSalle, Cadillac’s beloved but ultimately unsuccessful sub-brand introduced in 1927. And it was the first year for the Continental, Edsel Ford’s Lincoln Zephyr-based personal luxury car. Industry consolidation continued—Graham, Hupmobile, and Bantam were still in business, though barely hanging on. You’ll find all these cars and more in the gallery below.