Automotive Arms Race: Car Brands With Military Manufacturing History


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Getty Images / E+ / sierrarat

About This Quiz

Ever since the car became a mass-manufactured item, the very same tools used to make cars have been turned to making weapons of war. Some of this is little more than methodological.  After all, even gun factories use Henry Ford's assembly line concept. What changed in the 20th century was the size of machines needed. Especially before the jet age, the only manufacturers with the skills, resources, manpower and capacity to build large weapons of war were car manufacturers. Today, governments rely on companies like Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing and Raytheon to make military hardware, but for most of the 20th century and even to some extent today, governments call upon automakers to craft the weapons of war.

World War II saw governments from Japan to Russia mobilize their manufacturers to turn their plowshares to swords, creating some of the most iconic, ubiquitous and deadly weapons the world had ever seen. Some of these brands still bear the hallmarks of military service as part of their branding. Even luxury brands were involved in this all out war, supplying parts, engines and sometimes whole vehicles to their respective countries' militaries. President Roosevelt even took to calling these carmakers "The arsenal of democracy."

How well do you know the military history of the automotive industry? Take this quiz and find out.

When did the GMC Model 16 enter service in the US military?

The GMC Model 16 was the first military vehicle made by General Motors, chosen for the newly mechanized US Army for light truck duty during The Great War, in 1916.


Where does the BMW logo come from?

There is a longstanding myth that BMW's logo owes its design to BMW's military past. Apparently this is something an ad man in 1929 came up with for marketing purposes, but it stuck and become part of the brand's mythology. It is however, at the end of the day, just that. The truth is that it is a symbol of the region it comes from, Bavaria, whose colors are blue and white.


How many multi-drive military vehicles did GM produce during WW2?

General Motors made a combined 583,925 multi-drive military vehicles during WW2, for the US and its allies, France and The United Kingdom. That's a lot of overtime!


Where does the Mitsubishi logo come from?

In Japanese, Mitsubishi means "Three diamonds" in this usage of the words, and so the logo follows this name, visually. Unlike the Mercedes-Benz logo, which comes from the company's ambitions in three spheres of manufacturing, this comes from the "mon" or family crest of Mitsubishi's founder, Yatoro Iwasaki.


Which manufacturer made the "Duck" for the US in WW2?

General Motors built the DUKW, also called "The Duck". Ducks are amphibious vehicles built like a boat with wheels. The acronym's meaning in military nomenclature is as follows: D means 1942. U means amphibious utility. K means four-wheel drive. W means two powered rear axles,


What carmaker made the M-4 Sherman tank?

GM built the Shermans the US used in the war, moving production from one plant to another during the war to improve efficiency and capacity. The Sherman tank went on to become one of the most iconic weapons used during WW2 despite being much less powerful than its German opposition.


How many shell casings did Buick make during WW2?

Buick made tons of shell casings for the US military effort in WW2, literally! Buick cranked out roughly 2,500 shell casings per day during the war, having turned much of their manufacturing prowess to the craft of ammunition.


How many B-24 engines was Buick making per month during WW2?

In addition to making ammo, Buick was tasked with building B-24 bombers. Naturally, the initial military contract was a conservative number, and it quickly doubled, and then doubled again. When Buick hit its stride, it was making 2,000 engines for B-24s every month!


How many Sherman tanks were manufactured by GM during WW2?

One of the reasons the US's entry into WW2 was so momentous was that the power of US production was so incredible. During the whole war, Germany built only about 12,000 Panzer tanks, with which they had to invade all of Europe. Toward the end of the war, many of these tanks were built in slave camps like the infamous Richard camp, and sabotage was common. GM on the other hand, built 11,358 Shermans expressly for invading Germany and to a lesser extent, Japan, due to the uncommon nature of tank battles thanks to topography.


Who makes the Type 89 IFV tank?

Mitsubishi makes wonderful paper, economy cars, beer (really), and as it turns out, tanks. The Mitsubishi Type 89 IFV is a tank that Japan has had knocking around since the late 1980s, with an order for even more on the way. Considering how small Japan is, the fact that there are 120 of these in the Japanese arsenal means that not only are these tanks worth the money, Japan isn't messing around.


Who makes and services the reactors on Trafalgar and Vanguard class nuclear subs?

That's right! Rolls-Royce, a company that has a man whose job is to hand paint stripes on the sides of ultra-luxury cars, has a division that makes and services nuclear reactors for submarines. Rolls-Royce isn't alone in this either. Mitsubishi, maker of cheap cars, tanks, Kirin, and plastic wrappers, also makes nuclear reactors.


Who makes the engine that powers both the McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk and the Mitsubishi F-1?

Rolls-Royce division Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Limited, a partnership with Safran Helicopter Engines, makes the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour, a powerful jet engine used in both the T-45, an American trainer aircraft, and the F-1, Japan's first supersonic fighter.


Who made the unarmored fighter that took on the Flying Tigers in WW2?

The feared A6M Zero was one of the best built fighters of WW2, designed and built by Mitsubishi, who went on to make the Lancer Evolution. The Zero was the Lancer Evolution of WW2. It was fast, maneuverable, but not built to last. Toward the end of the war, Japan began loading them up with explosives for kamikaze missions. Years earlier, when the American volunteer Flying Tigers defended China from Japan in their aging, heavy, American hardware, they had to develop new tactics to deal with these Japanese hornets.


Who made the R4 motorcycle in WW2?

BMW was into alphabet soup names as early as WW2! During the war, they made several motorcycles including the R4, for military duty, and these designs proved so popular and well-made that some are still in service today while others form the basis for modern designs. What set the R4 apart was that it was the first thing BMW made for the Nazis in WW2, beginning a relationship they refused to discuss for decades, out of shame.


Who made the G4 staff/heavy personnel car?

BMW wasn't alone in making weapons for Germany in WW2. Daimler made this astonishing limousine for the baddies during WW2. While it looks amazing with its six wheels, it wasn't actually a six by six vehicle, as not all wheels were powered. It gives new meaning to the term "G wagon".


Who made the M3 Tank?

Chrysler was tasked with building a medium sized tank with a 75mm gun for use by the US and Britain in WW2. The tank ended up in two configurations, one largely used by the US and the other, largely the UK. The American configuration, weirdly, was named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, while the UK version, also weirdly, was named for Union General Ulysses S. Grant.


Who made the Schwimmwagen?

Before Volkswagen was known for its cute ads and cuter Beetle, it was known as Hitler's hobby horse. In addition to personally commissioning the Beetle, Hitler ordered 15,500 Schwimmwagens from VW. The Schwimmwagen was basically a German DUKW, only much smaller so that it could navigate Europe's tiny roads and towns.


What vehicle did Ford present to the US military in 2000, in tactical form?

In 2000, Ford presented the US military with an armored, tactical version of its heavy duty pickup truck. Dubbed the F-350 Super Duty COMBATT modified pickup, it had built in satellite navigation, 12V, 24V and 110V AC plugs, and AM/FM radio! It also had enough armor to stop small arms fire, and a central system to inflate tires without getting out so you could drive through a combat zone with a load of 2x4s without getting shot, or whatever Ford had in mind.


Who made an experimental off road 4x4 used by the US military in the Vietnam War era, starting in 1967?

When your former top executive leaves his cushy job to work for the president of the United States, you might see a perk or two. Robert McNamara went from being a Ford bigwig to being JFK's secretary of defense, and when the US military was looking for a possible replacement for the Jeep, who should come along to supply one but Ford, McNamara's old employer! 1967 saw a slew of Ford Broncos enter military service as a result, though none saw combat.


Which of the following is not a current GM military project?

Despite its namesake, the Chevy Corvette isn't bound for military service, even theoretically. The experimental UUV, military grade Silverado, and hydrogen powered, autonomous SURUS experiment are all very much real things. We think General Motors has its eye on being a three-star general.


What company acquired GM's military hardware wing in 2003?

In 2003, General Dynamics acquired GM Defense, however that doesn't mean that GM Defense severed ties with its corporate fore bearer. GM Defense still works to modify existing GM products for military use, focusing mostly on GM trucks.


Which company did not make WW2 jeeps?

As strange as it may sound, Jeep did not make jeeps in WW2. Jeep did not even exist during WW2. The US government commissioned several companies to make replacements for the horse, including Bantam, Ford, and Willys-Overland, the latter two of which made what people think of when they imagine WW2 jeeps. Jeeps get their name from the Ford GP (pronounced "jeep") which, along with the Willys, was ubiquitous. Interestingly, the Jerry can so commonly associated with the back bumper of jeeps wasn't American at all, but a German invention to allow the contents to expand without exploding the can. Due to their safe design, American GIs would swipe them for their use whenever possible.


Who manufactured the V-1710 engine used in the Mustang fighter plane?

GM acquired engine maker Allison in 1929, and during WW2 they used it to build engines for, among other projects, the Mustang fighter plane, which was being built by Lockheed. In 1995 however, GM sold it to Rolls-Royce, who folded it into their heavy industrial holdings.


How many Model-T ambulances did Ford ship to the European front during WW1?

Back in the days of WW I, the horse and donkey were still considered valuable military hardware by most nations. The US Cavalry was still on horseback. The Ford Model-T was as cutting edge for its time as the Tesla Model-S was when it came out. Ford specified 4,362 Model-Ts for service as combat ambulances, and shipped them to Europe during The War To End All Wars.


What was the iconic WLA?

V-twin engine? Check. Olive drab paint? Check. Rifle holster? Check. The Harley-Davidson WLA is the motorcycle of all motorcycles. IT was available in nearly every theater, and soldiers who rode these fell in love with them, often buying used ones after the war. This gave rise to early motorcycle culture in the USA, with "outlaw" biker clubs going to salt flats where there were no speed limits in order to push their military grade bikes to the limit.


Who manufactured the M10 Gun Motor Carriage?

Ford holds the distinction of building the "Wolverine", AKA the M10 Gun Motor Carriage. The Wolverine wasn't just a tank. It was a "tank destroyer" meaning it was a tank specifically designed to hunt down and kill other tanks. Truly built Ford tough.


How many aircraft machine guns did Oldsmobile make during WW2?

Oldsmobile made 140,000 aircraft machine guns, 48 million rounds of artillery ammo and 350,000 units of what is described as "high precision" aircraft parts. That was your father's Oldsmobile.


Who built the M18 Hellcat?

Buick was tasked with building this awesome tank destroyer, nicknamed the Hellcat by soldiers. Interestingly, the name Hellcat, like the name Mustang, while eventually given to cars, has nothing to do with their WW2 wartime service when it comes to their car counterparts.


Who built the Bofors automatic field guns for the US in WW2?

Long before the Pontiac Trans Am, and even before the US was in WW2, the brand with the pointy logo was making anti aircraft guns for Uncle Sam. Pontiac also made axles for M-5 tanks, and it completely manufactured air-launched torpedoes, many of which were intended for German U-Boats.


What German brand makes a luxury SUV with a hardcore military heritage?

Mercedes-Benz, who claim to have invented the modern car, made the G-Wagon 460 and 461 models for military use, eventually releasing a civilian version in 1979. Whose idea was this beast? The Shah of Iran. Yes, if you enjoy the fully mechanical differential of a Mercedes G-Wagon, you can thank Iran for that.


Who built the US6 6x6 truck?

Studebaker contributed a remarkable piece of military hardware in WW2: the Studebaker US6, a massive 6x6 (6 wheel drive) truck made primarily for the Lend-Lease program whereby America gave weapons to its allies. In the case of this massive truck powered by a mouse of an engine (86 horsepower) most of these went to the USSR.


What company made the Model B Utility Truck?

The Four Wheel Drive Company, which has been around since 1909 and continues to make fire trucks and the like to this day, made this utility truck way back in WW II. It was unarmored, ran on gas (not diesel) and had four wheel drive. Who needed more?


Who made the G683 airborne infantry scooter?

Augusta's Cushman Motor Works built the Model 53 scooter for the US military in WW2, where it was christened G683 by the brass, but Cushman Airborne by the soldiers. It was designed to be dropped out of an airplane, survive the landing and provide transport to soldiers dropping with it.


Who ended up absorbing the bones of the company that built the M2 half-track in WW2?

Volvo AB purchased most of the remains of the defunct White Motor Company in 1980. After making trucks in WW2, the company kept with the business until it really hit the skids in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite being possibly one of the nicest places to work, WMC couldn't adapt, and so its manufacturing assets went to the Swedes.


Which of these brands has the best bona fides when it comes to a history with air combat?

Saab once made jet engines. GM made lots of aircraft engines. Porsche just makes fast cars. Spyker Cars, however, is different. Spyker is a revival brand. In WW1, Spyker was a Dutch aircraft manufacturer, making fighters, and cars. It went bust. Decades later, a team of investors purchased the bones of the company to build sports cars powered, initially at least, by engines built by Audi, which made aircraft engines in WW2.


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