As World War II came to a close, and with it a drop in demand for military aircraft, the airplane manufacturer Beech Aircraft Corporation decided to take a stab at the auto industry. Its first -- and only -- try was the 1946 Beechcraft Plainsman concept car.
Cars are obviously quite different from aircraft, yet corporate experience with one can encourage a flirtation with the other. Henry Ford, for example, put America on wheels with his beloved Model T, made a fortune, and went on to produce the all-metal Tri-Motor passenger plane.
Henry's venture into flight was no mere dalliance, for his "Tin Goose" gained a stature equal to that of the Model T and helped launched regular U.S. airline service in the 1920s.
Abroad, BMW was famous for aero engines long before it built cars. So, too, was Bristol of England, which didn't turn to automaking until the late 1940s -- and with prewar BMWs at that.
Other firms like Daimler-Benz, Hispano-Suiza, and even Rolls-Royce were involved simultaneously with cars and aircraft at various times. So there was plenty of precedent for the 1946 Beechcraft Plainsman, "an aircraft manufacturer's idea of what an automobile should be."
Development of the 1946 Beechcraft Plainsman concept car began in late 1945, not long after V-J Day. America was still savoring final victory over the Axis, and American consumers -- denied new cars for nearly four years -- were ready to buy.
The result was a frenzied seller's market that attracted all manner of would-be auto tycoons, who reasoned that all they needed to succeed were a little money and lots of chutzpah.
The Beechcraft Plainsman surfaced in 1946, looking like one of those wildly predictive "cars of the future" that were staple elements of wartime and postwar tech magazines.
The car was novel, all right, but Beech Aircraft Corporation had a more critical motive for eyeing the automobile business: survival. Like other aviation companies in 1945-1946, Beech faced life with no new military contracts at hand and dim prospects for civilian aviation sales.
Accordingly, the firm spent $50,000 to devise a "super-modern" passenger car that might conceivably save the corporate neck should aero sales stay grounded. It might even teach Detroit a thing or two.
See the next section for details on the 1946 Beechcraft Plainsman concept car.
For more on concept cars and the production models they forecast, check out:
- Concept Cars
- Future Cars
- Consumer Guide auto show reports
- Classic Cars