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Providing for the Future
Chrysler Leases the Proving Grounds for World War II testing
In mid-1942, all automobile production stopped in the United States and all companies joined the "Arsenal of Democracy" the name given to the manufacturers who banded together to win World War II. Automobile assembly lines were removed from the factories, set outside under tarps, and the factories were re-configured to war-time production. In many cases, additional factories were quickly built to handle the increased volume. Various companies were given contracts to develop and build the vast variety of products needed to launch and support a full-scale war.
The last Packard off the assembly line, February 9, 1942.
Packard had already been building Merlin aircraft engines for British and American use and PT Boat marine engines before the war started, so was in an excellent position to ramp up production and continue. The Merlin had been designed and first built by Rolls-Royce and it was a tribute to Packard's reputation as "Master Motor Builders" that Rolls-Royce was comfortable with Packard building their design and even accepted suggestions for improvements offered by Packard's engineers. The V-12 PT Boat engines were called 4M 2500 for the cubic-inch displacement and were rated at 1200 horsepower each (1800 horsepower when supercharged), with 3 engines in each boat.
The left-front engine in the only remaining PT boat in service, #658 in Portland, Oregon.
Chrysler meantime had been awarded contracts to build tanks and other military vehicles and built a new factory at Warren, Michigan called "The Arsenal" for tank production. They needed a nearby testing facility and leased the Packard Proving Grounds in Utica for the duration. They built a building at the Proving Grounds, now called the Engineering building, to service and maintain their tanks during testing.
The Chrysler Defense or Tank building is part of the historic site.
This photo (above) was taken during the dedication ceremony of the Chrysler tank building. An open house was held, tanks and military equipment were on display, and the public was invited.
The very first Chrysler tank built at the Tank Arsenal was driven out the door on April 12, 1941.
The first tank was called the M3 and was a medium, 28-ton vehicle. In order to get it into production as quickly as possible and avoid a 2-year development delay, Chrysler used a 6-cylinder engine they already had in production by putting 5 of them on a common frame with a common crankshaft; thereby creating a monster engine of over 600 horsepower, called a multibank. Engineers were concerned about its suitability, but remarkably it was powerful, economical, and required very minimal servicing. 7500 of these unusual multibank engines were installed in tanks. A new larger tank called the M4 Sherman continued to use the multibank engines and toward the end of the war, a still larger tank called the Pershing was called for, but few were built for use in World War II.
The Chrysler 30-cylinder multibank engine with huge radiator being dropped into an M4 tank.
A Chrysler Pershing tank on the Proving Grounds test track during testing.
A great deal of damage was done to the concrete oval test track with the testing of tanks during the war and Chrysler and the U.S. Government were responsible for a complete restoration before it was returned back to Packard. Packard's famous test hill, railroad tie section, and water traps also suffered and needed restoration. The only positive result of the Chrysler lease was that the Tank building was left behind at the end of the war and Packard was able to make good use of it for post-war testing. Packard called it the "Engineering Building."
A Pershing tank being put through its paces in the back forty of the Proving Grounds.
We close with a photo of a Pershing tank cresting the test-hill while observers in the viewing room and outside watch.
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