V-J Day Outtake: 1942 Dodge Staff Car — Take Off, Eh?

Chennault Plymouth

This photograph found in the National Archives shows Major General Claire Chennault, commander of the Flying Tigers before Pearl Harbor and the 14th Air Force after 1941 and one of the icons of the Allied war effort in the Pacific, with his staff car in China in 1944.  At first glance it looks like a 1942 Plymouth P11/P14, one of the most common U.S. military staff cars and a wartime icon of sorts itself.  Closer examination shows it to be a Canadian 1942 Dodge Deluxe, an early Plodge that was identical to that year’s U.S.-market Plymouth but with a Dodge grille badge and ram hood ornament substituted for the Plymouth’s grille badge and Mayflower hood ornament.

A Canadian Dodge appearing as a U.S. military staff car in China, for a world-famous commander, is an unusual occurrence with more than one possible explanation.  Chrysler may have used cars from its Canadian operations to fill its U.S. military orders, without wasting effort to re-badge them.  With civilian car production terminating and tanks, trucks, artillery, and other military equipment taking precedence in 1942, it may have made sense for Chrysler to shut down its domestic sedan assembly lines as soon as possible and use Canadian “captive imports” to complete its relatively small U.S. military contracts for staff cars.

Chennault Dodge

Another possible explanation has its origin in the under-recognized Canadian role in the U.S. Lend-Lease program.  Lend-Lease buyers could use the program to order equipment and supplies from Canadian sources, and the U.K, the Soviet Union, and China all did so.  Canada also had its own program called Mutual Aid to finance Allied purchases of war material from Canada.  Nationalist China may have purchased this Plodge under one of these programs and then given it to Chennault for his use.  Which explanation is correct is unclear at this time, because readily available sources such as Allpar.com do not mention the use of Canadian Dodge sedans as staff cars during the war.

Like the Chinese-marked Willys MB jeep that ended up in Europe profiled here in 2014, the presence of this Plodge in China is a minor mystery that inspires the question of whether the vehicle has survived the three quarters of a century since it went across the ocean to war.  If it did, it may reside in one of the Flying Tiger Museums in China located in Chongqing and Kunming, where P-40 fighters and other relics of the Flying Tigers are on display — reminders of the vast effort and sacrifices of the United States, China and other Allied countries needed to defeat Imperial Japan.