The end of the Willow Run.

The end of the Willow Run.

It happened a few days before Christmas, and didn’t make much of a blip on the news radar, but GM closed the doors on the Willow Run Transmission plant for good. Most people don’t realize how huge this Albert Kahn-designed plant is: A mile and quarter long, or 5 million square feet. During Willow’s production heyday of the War, she had 42,000 men and women producing a B-24 Liberator every 55 minutes. (Ryan posted some phenomenal period pictures of Willow a while back.) Construction started April 18, 1941, and the first parts were produced Dec. 8, a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The first complete bomber rolled off the line by December of 1942.

After the War, Ford sold the plant to Kaiser, who then sold it to a desperate GM in 1953 when their original Hydramatic plant at Livonia had been destroyed in a fire. “Willow Run” became “GM Hydramatic” and the facility produced 82 MILLION automatics over the course of 57 years. If you own any GM car from the mid 50s to the 70s with an automatic, you can thank your lucky shifts for this plant, which is now just a footnote in wartime and automotive production history.

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