• Genuine military Command Car as used by General Patton World War II • Complete frame-off rebuild • Engine, transmission, and drive gears have been rebuilt

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1942 Dodge WC56 Military Command Car
Years Produced:1942–44
Number Produced:21,156
Original List Price:N/A
SCM Valuation:$25k–$35k
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$12
Chassis Number Location:Dataplate on the dashboard
Engine Number Location:Pad on the driver’s side of the top of engine block, just below the cylinder head
Club Info:Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA), P.O. Box 520378, Independence, MO 64052
Alternatives:1946-68 Dodge Power Wagon, 1951–64 Dodge M37 military three-quarter-ton pickup, 1941–45 Ford GPW or Willys MB military “jeep”
Investment Grade:B-

This 1942 Dodge WC56, Lot T137, sold for at $47,700, including buyer’s premium, at Mecum’s Monterey auction in Monterey, CA, on August 16, 2012.

Geared for war

Dodge was the go-to company for the Army’s half-ton to one-ton four-wheel-drive trucks in the World War II era. Beginning with the 1940 VC-series trucks, which were essentially ruggedized half-ton civilian trucks in four-wheel drive, Dodge further refined the type with the first WC-series trucks in 1941.

These early WCs shed almost all of their civilian sheet metal except the cowl or cab for open- or closed-cab models, and gained widely arched simple open fenders with simple front-end sheet metal featuring a curved slat steel grille. With the U.S. entry into World War II, the WCs needed further refinement and to be heavier duty.

Army planners wanted a truck with a shorter cowl, which gave the trucks a lower, more stable profile. To that end, the new three-quarter-ton WCs (starting with the WC51) had a squared-off, very purposeful front end, including a flat steel slat grille.

Most versions were soft-top only, with fold-down windshields, which helped achieve more efficient shipping. These later WCs were also characterized by the use of combat wheels — rims than can be unbolted to effect tire changes in the field — helping to further accentuate the wider track of the three-quarter-ton axles.

The Jeep’s big, husky brother

The command-car body actually pre-dates standardized military vehicles to the years between the world wars. Military planners thought open bodies without doors were preferable in the lean years of the 1920s and 1930s as a means of immediate egress — either if taking fire to take defensive positions, or to more rapidly deploy artillery the vehicle might be towing.

By the time of U.S. involvement in World War II, the type had evolved from being used by front-line “shock troops” to battlefield commanders who needed to be able to quickly move around to assess the battle.

Three variations of three-quarter-ton command cars were built: the standard WC56, the winch-equipped WC57, and the non-winch radio-equipped WC58. The latter featured a built-in radio rack ahead of the right rear passenger in lieu of a fold-up map table that was on the other two variants. The VC56 was the most prolific, with 21,156 built versus the 6,010 winch WC57s. WC58 data is inconclusive, because it is believed that they may have been incorporated into the WC56 production figures. Still, the WC56, like this one, is the most often seen command car — and is far more popular for collectors today than the earlier WC51 or WC52.

General Patton rode here?

Part of the appeal of the command car is that they were usually issued to higher-ranking officers, generally colonels and above. Call it star factor — especially if those stars are on their shoulders. Everyone wants to be a general, not a private.

The consignor made some rather loose claims about our featured truck being “as used by General Patton World War II.” It seems that Patton and military vehicles is the 20th century iteration of the fabled “George Washington slept here” moniker.

Of all the American commanders during World War II, “Old Blood and Guts” is perhaps the most famous one closely associated with WC56 and WC57 command cars. Especially since, as the war continued, most generals grew to prefer the more homogenous Jeep over a unique vehicle profile that all but shouted out to the enemy, “Shoot at me, I’m unprotected and the commander is in here.”

Most everyone at the auction didn’t even ponder that Patton could’ve used this personally, but instead used one similar to it. As such, the statement likely was a non-issue as far as this bringing premium money. Far and away, the excellent restoration quality is what hit the target here.

Big bucks in the MV world

I’m deeply embedded in the vintage military-vehicle world, so I can unequivocally state that MV collectors can be some of the cheapest players when it comes to actually buying military vehicles. Case in point, when Chester Krause’s MV collection was auctioned two years ago in Iola, WI — a collection that included some of the finest-quality restorations of military trucks around — they didn’t fare nearly as well as most people expected.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of less-than-authentic restorations bring silly money at general-market collector-car auctions. Why? Simple. A lot of folks will pay to “play army truck.” And like any other collector vehicle, if you’re not an expert, it’s hard to know what you’re looking at.

This example was a stellar restoration of a correct early WC56, with only a few nit-pick items that could’ve made it more authentic. For the purist, the exposed bare-metal fasteners in the toeboards, fender mounts, and rims should’ve been painted Olive Drab — in addition to the finely varnished wood map table. All these items were originally painted to make them not gleam in the sun — therefore making them catch the eye of an enemy sniper or aircraft looking for a target to strafe. But to a modern car collector, they give more pop to the vehicle.

The similarities to the jeep also play into command car interest. Call it a he-man’s jeep if you like, with the similarities of an open-tub body with a convertible-top on a military vehicle, with a dose of rarity in a no-compromise big truck thrown in. Parts support is good in the 21st century, with quality reproduction parts now supplanting Army surplus NOS in the supply chain.

In all, this was a perfect storm of elements: an accurate, high-quality restoration presented at a venue with enough moneyed bidders who appreciate historical vehicles.

In MV collectors’ circles, this would’ve been priced in the $25k to $35k range, so for the general public to step up by ten grand is not totally out of line — not to win the battle by flipping it for a profit on short order, but to win the war as a long-term investment.

(Introductory description courtesy of Mecum Auctions.)


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