Photos by Teddy Pieper, courtesy Auctions America.
General George S. Patton had an affinity for Dodge Command Cars, and by the time he took command of the Third Army in France in 1944, he had a few ideas about how to make a good vehicle even better. Prior to departing England, Patton requested that a Dodge WC57 Command Car be modified to add protective armor, storage space, and in an effort to counter attacks from the air, a .50-caliber machine gun. On Friday, May 12, a Dodge WC57 equipped with these touches, but lacking specific documentation linking it to Patton, is slated to cross the block at Auctions America’s Auburn sale.
Dodge’s first Command Cars (specifically, Command Reconnaissance Cars) pre-dated America’s entry into World War II. The 1940 VC-1 was based upon a civilian vehicle, fitted with military tires and a beefed-up suspension for enhanced ground clearance. The WC6 followed a year later, but like its predecessor was based upon a civilian 1/2-ton chassis and proved incapable of standing up to the rigors of the battlefield. In 1942, Dodge introduced a line of purpose-built military vehicles built upon the 3/4-ton chassis, including the WC56 and the WC57 (essentially a WC56 with a front winch and a slightly longer chassis to accommodate this). In the eyes of some, these third-series Dodge WC’s (for Weapons Carriers) were among the finest trucks built by the Allies during the war.
The third-series vehicles were wider and lower, presenting a shorter silhouette to enemy gunners and a lower center of gravity for improved handling both on and off-road. Power came from the 230.2-cu.in. inline L-head six-cylinder, rated at 92 horsepower and bolted to a four-speed synchromesh transmission. Top speed was said to be 60 mph, and a single-speed transfer case engaged the front wheels over loose terrain. Dodge built these models in a wide variety of configurations, ranging from Command Cars to ambulances, gun carriages and maintenance trucks.
The WC57 proved popular with staff officers, a fact not lost on enemy aircraft. From the air, spotting a WC57 (or WC56) meant spotting a priority target, likely one carrying high-ranking officers or, at the very least, radio equipment. Though Dodge had taken steps to reduce the profile of the third-series models (and would introduce an even more specialized, lower-profile variant in 1943), riding in a WC57 still posed an element of risk higher than that of riding in the more pedestrian Jeep.
Following his successes in North Africa and Sicily, Patton was tasked with the invasion of Europe, and asked the motor pool at Cheltenham to construct a WC57 to his specifications. Never one to shy from attention, Patton requested metal flags for the front fenders, mounted near the headlamps, signifying his rank (then, three-star general) and command (Third Army). His three stars were repeated on the front and rear of the WC57, and to announce his presence dual horns were mounted to the front fenders. To protect the radiator from bullets and shrapnel, an adjustable metal plate covered the grille, and 1/2-inch-thick armor plating was used to reinforce the floor, giving passengers some degree of protection from anti-personnel mines. Patton like to stand while addressing his troops, so a grab rail was fitted behind the front seat, and to increase carrying capacity, a second tailgate was added to the rear to provide for covered tool storage. Finally, to repel attacks from Luftwaffe aircraft, a .50 caliber Browning M2 machine gun was fitted to the passenger running board, just aft of the front fender.
While no Browning M2, the Browning M1919 A4 is a more economical choice.
Because of Patton’s status and rank, extensive photos exist of the vehicle as it was being modified in England, most notably on VintageMilitaryTrucks.com. Thanks to the photographic record, we can see that the WC57 to be offered in Indiana does indeed have many of the same features as Patton’s own, including the flag mounts, dual horns, mounted machine gun (though the gun affixed today appears to be a .30 caliber Browning M1919 A4), grab rail (obscured by the top, but visible in some photos), radiator armor, and rear-mounted tool kit. Some details differ slightly; the rear tool kit, for example, includes door-mounted tools not present in the original photos, but such additions may well have been battlefield modifications based upon need.
Give the WC57’s overall condition, it’s quite likely that one or more restorations have been carried out since the vehicle was retired from military service, perhaps modifying the vehicle further from its as-built status. In a situation such as this, the existing photographic record neither proves or disproves the vehicle’s links to Patton, as other replicas exist (including one in Texas, clearly identified as such and carrying Patton’s four-star flag).
It’s possible that records exist further documenting the vehicle used by Patton, but finding them (and scouring them) would be an arduous task, perhaps best reserved for the truck’s next owner looking to solidify its provenance. In the absence of paperwork conclusively establishing the WC57 as Patton’s, we must default to the auction description, which says the WC57 is “reputed to be General Patton’s actual vehicle.”
Auctions America is predicting a selling price between $100,000 and $150,000 when the WC57 crosses the stage in Indiana, part of a selection of military vehicles offered from the National Military History Center in Auburn, Indiana. For more on the 2017 Auburn Spring sale, visit Auctions America.com.