The three largest auto body builders in Aust. during the 1940's were General Motors Holdens Ltd ( GMH ) owned by GM U.S.A., Ford Australia at Geelong, Victoria and the Chrysler owned TJ Richards company in Adelaide . GMH had a wartime peak workforce of over 10,000 in 1944 , with plants in Melbourne , Adelaide , Sydney , Brisbane and Perth . Among GMH's many major wartime projects were the 2 pounder and 6 pounder AT guns , 25 pounder field gun and the Polsten AA gun . GMH alone built over two hundred different military vehicle body variants including gun tractors and ambulances , it supplied the U.S. army with 300 Jeep stretcher kits, converted GMC 6X6 trucks for airborne use ( chassis split into two sections ) and reconditioned many U..S. army vehicles including Dodge , Jeep , DUKW etc. Another large job taken on was building airframes for the Beaufort , Beaufighter and Mosquito aircraft projects . Gipsy major aircraft engines , torpedoes , the list of GMH's wartime achievements goes on and includes countless military canvas items such as tents and a myriad of other equipment . And , this will be a blow for die hard Ford owners , during WW2 , GMH were reconditioning Ford V8 engines for military use . Pre WW2 GMH built car bodies for many auto makes including Morris , Standard , Willys , Vauxhall , Austin , Dodge , Studebaker , the list goes on .
There were three GS Van classes used by the AMF during WW2 :
12 cwt GS Van : based on a saloon car chassis
15 cwt GS Van : based on a light commercial truck chassis
1 Ton GS Van : based on a light commercial truck chassis
There were derivations in the official nomenclature , for example, some utes were fitted out as wireless trucks and called : Van or Truck 1 Ton wireless. A few chassis were also fitted with fully enclosed panel van type bodies . Also , a few Indian pattern ambulance bodies were built on the Dodge and International D series 1 ton chassis , these bodies were normally built on the 30 cwt chassis ( Ford and Chev ) . The most numerous GS Van types seen with the AIF ( Australian Imperial Force ) in overseas service were Ford and Chevrolet . Within Australia, Dodge , Plymouth , De Soto and International utes were also used by the three services , AMF , RAAF and RAN .
For us MV collectors in Australia , restoring a vehicle that was built during the 1939 - 40 period when civilian vehicles were being impressed into military service can be rather confusing because at the time , some civilian light commercial vehicles were just left with their civilian wooden drop side trays in situ and given a coat of Khaki green No. 3 , then issued to the army . All these years later , it is difficult to be certain as to what is correct and what isn't . During this period when the vehicle makers were changing over to military production , they had little time to design specialist military bodies , so it was perfectly sensible on their part to just use the tooling they had on hand and continue on with the job in hand . Hence , most of the light vehicles issued to the three Australian services up to around 1942 were civilian based .
As the war progressed into 1941 , some military modifications were introduced on the production lines , but for the most part , military GS Vans generally kept their basic civilian guise right until the end of the war . Some models built, particularly around 1941 , were only built as military vehicles and they never saw use in civilian guise during the war period . A interesting styling feature seen on some WW2 military Aust. utes was the use of a open or roadster style cab , the cab was made by using a standard civilian truck or car cowling and fitting wooden cab framework and metal panel half doors , the result was somewhat similar to cabs on the civilian based WW2 Indian pattern vehicles . The open cab roadster ute was also seen in civilian guise pre WW2 .
Australian utility style bodies built during the 1930's and 40's did vary in design detail and method of construction but most of them had a basic wooden frame over which a metal skin was attached , usually wooden floor planks were used. At one point GMH were building two styles , a one piece type with the cab and rear together and a separate cab / body type . One oddity was the GMH built 1941 Chev and Pontiac car based military open cab utes, these featured a strange composite ute body made with a wooden frame , the framework was clad externally with masonite panels , of the 400 odd built , only 3 or 4 are known to have survived .
All these years later , it is sad to say that very few military GS Vans have survived in Aust. Survivors are usually found in a dreadful state of repair , rusted out cab floors and rotted woodwork present huge problems for potential restorers and few people have the dedication needed to take on the huge task . Being an open backed vehicle, water would accumulate inside the ute and over time wooden floors rotted away . Post WW2 , the GS Vans were sold at surplus auctions and as late as 1956 some were still being used by the PMG ( Post Master General ) . Most of them just ended up on the scrap heap . Many pre 1942 built GS Vans were issued to the AIF and were subsequently shipped overseas , this is another reason why so few of these unique military vehicles remain in Australia today.
Actual production numbers are difficult to determine and varied from maker to maker , one possible clue is from the body numbers stamped on the known survivors, for some models it is possible to make a educated guess . I think that the total production run for most types was less then 1000 . At least GMH did keep records year by year for some models . For instance for the 1941 open cab 12 cwt Chev model, GMH lists only 291 built . Beyond 1942, large numbers of U.S. and Canadian sourced military vehicles were arriving in Australia and vehicles like the ubiquitous Jeep took over many duties previously performed by the GS Vans . Although GMH and Ford produced some military utes beyond 1942 , the peak production time was during 1939-42 when the country was desperately looking to procure military hardware of any kind .
Yes , believe it or not , throughout the Second World War , wherever Aussie forces were sent , they usually took along unique Australian pattern utilities. I am referring to the civilian pattern light commercial based vehicles that the Aust. army used in great numbers , particularly during the pre 1942 period . Did you realize that many Aussie utes served in far away places like Palestine , Malaya , Egypt and Syria etc. These utes were soldiering on in the desert and jungle well before anyone had ever heard of a Jeep or Weapons Carrier . In Australia , the military vehicle restoring fraternity has shown some interest in our own unique pattern vehicles , but it's the norm at most MV events to see a plethora of overseas designed vehicles , and maybe only one or two Aussie pattern trucks . This is a unfortunate state of affairs . The utility car was a unique Aussie innovation , it was a open backed pickup style vehicle first developed by Ford Australia in 1934 . It was intended to be a general purpose run around vehicle for the land holder and it was initially based on a saloon car chassis , the idea being to combine the comfort of a car with the practical advantages of a small truck . The 1934 Ford ute styling was widely copied by other body builders in Australia pre WW2 and ute bodies were seen on many varied makes including UK marques such as Morris , Austin , Bedford etc.
In Aust. Army parlance , utes were called GS Vans , why I don't know , maybe the canvas tilt cover had something to do with that . The famous UK built wartime tilly's, made by Austin, Morris , Hillman and Standard , were similar in style to aussie utes but smaller . Aussie wartime military utes were typically based on contemporary U.S. chassis types , the chassis' and mechanical components were mostly sourced from Canada where, the big three U.S. car makers ( GM, Ford and Chrysler ) had well established factories. These Canadian factories specialized in building RHD components for the export market , mainly Commonwealth countries . Pre WW2 , much of Australia's civilian automotive transport needs were met by three main car body builders , these three companies were manufacturing bodies and assembling cars with the bulk of the mechanical components being imported . Its rather odd to think that many different marques of cars competing with each other for sales , had their bodies built by the same company .
|Officially : Van 1 Ton Battery Staff . Deployed in artillery units 1940 -42 . Carried a AWA 101 wireless set . Body and cab built by Ford , Geelong, Victoria .|