Chromed & Streamlined: Medical Emergency Vehicles of Yesteryear
Some of the ambulance cars in the 1950s and 1960s had most outrageous, chromed and finned shapes - almost works of art and design symbols in themselves, with some becoming legendary movie vehicles. Here at Dark Roasted Blend we thought we’d take a look at some of the ambulances from days gone by, highlighting the most unusual and neat-looking models.
(Cadillac 1959 ambulances)
It all started in a very practical, prosaic way
Ambulances of one kind or another as a mean of transporting the sick or wounded have been around for centuries, for both soldiers and civilians. World War I saw motorized ambulances replacing the various horse-drawn types that had been used previously.
The British and French Army used the 1916 Ford Model T Field Ambulance, as did the American Expeditionary Force after 1917:
Americans had actually been involved in the war before the United States formally joined the fighting. American Field Service (AFS) originated in 1914, when young Americans living in Paris volunteered as ambulance drivers. AFS helped more than 500,000 wounded soldiers during the war and were involved in all the French Army’s battles:
Here we have not a horse-drawn vehicle but an actual horse ambulance. Horses still played a major role in the military at this point and the ambulance was used to transport wounded horses away from the front line:
In the civilian world, ambulances became based at hospitals and had doctors on board, not just drivers and their helpers. Telephones could be used to call the police, who could then organize sending the ambulance. Drivers also began to use two-way radios, so they could more easily be sent to where the need was greatest. In some places such as Australia, air ambulances were established, where the doctor was also the pilot. The British used this air ambulance in Somalia in 1920:
This white Packard ambulance (left, middle row) is fairly typical representative of those operated in the thirties and forties. It was a large and powerful vehicle and would get you to the hospital quickly. However, getting medical attention at the scene of an accident still wasn’t the norm yet. On the right is the scale model of the RM 1937 Ford Panel Delivery (with the Revell '38 front end), courtesy Sam Cates. Here is a very nice 1939 Dodge ambulance:
The Dodge WC-54 was the standard US Army ambulance in World War II. It was used in all theatres of the war and around 23,000 WC-54s were produced during the conflict. It had room for the driver, a medic and four to seven patients:
Ambulance jeeps were employed by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific, beginning at the Battle of Guadalcanal in late 1942 and early 1943 (left image below). During the war, more than 6,000 ‘ambulance versions’ of the Austin K2 two-ton truck were produced in the UK. This one was apparently a gift sent to the citizens of Stalingrad in 1943 from the people of Scarborough, North Yorkshire, expressing solidarity in the fight against Nazi Germany:
The Bedford ambulance from the UK shown here is also from the sixties. This one apparently gets used quite often, as an extra in period TV shows (left). On the right is somewhat strange-looking Austin Gypsy ambulance:
A beautiful 1969 Oldsmobile Ninety Eight ambulance:
1970 Cotner-Bevington Ambulances with Ninety Eight chassis by Oldsmobile:
Ambulances based on cars began to be phased out in the late seventies... Even the Volkswagen van was sometimes called upon by the ambulance service (left). On the right is the model of typical 1960s Russian RAF ambulance:
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