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Assembly Line at the Chevrolet Plant Van Nuys, California

Recently we posted photos of the grand opening at the Chevrolet Assembly Plant located in Van Nuys, California that was held on February 19-21, 1948. This second set of photos is dated by the source to 1950 and contain random views of the assembly line. The lead image shows the top and rear section of the body being lowered onto the previously assembled and spot welded cowl structure and floor pans.

The plant remained in operation until 1992 when Camaro and Firebird assembly line was moved to Quebec, Canada. The buildings were razed later and a shopping plaza named “The Plant” was built on the site.

Share with us what you find of interest in the photographs courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library.

  • Installation of valve covers at the end of the six-cylinder OHV engine assembly line. Two engines were offered in 1950 – a standard 3.5 x 3.75 inch bore and stroke 216 CI version that produced 92 HP for models equipped with a  standard transmission, and a larger 235.5 CI engine with a 3.562 bore used with the two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.  

  • Engine installation in the chassis – note the two-stage fuel and vacuum pump at the lower front of the engine. The bottom portion of the pump powered the vacuum windshield wipers.

  • One man front seat installation. Note the white residue on sections of the exterior body panels left behind after machine polishing of the lacquer paint used at the time on General Motors cars.

  • The body drop station – note two men in a pit under the car who may have tightened the stove bolts and nuts used at the body mounts.


29 responses to “Assembly Line at the Chevrolet Plant Van Nuys, California

  1. Interesting photographs. One can see few are wearing any type of safety gear. OSHA regulations would have helped save finger, toes, eyes, etc.

      • Call it what you may, Nanny oversite has helped prevent needless accidents. I worked in a plastic extrusion factory for about six-months, but left after having lunch with far too many people with missing fingers. I would imagine a number of these workers also worked on lines for war materiel and more than likely in the aircraft industry that was spread all over LA (Mom met Dad at Douglas in Santa Monica).

    • Also noticed that some appear to be wearing uniforms, while right next to them, workers are wearing jeans and workshirts. I wonder if GM supplied the uniforms, and if so, why not for everyone?

  2. The unsung heroes of the auto industry. We look at it here, couldn’t be so bad? Auto workers did this one task day after day, it was horribly repetitive. And the only safety item here was a smock. Think how many minor injuries these workers put up with. Can you imagine putting those seats in? Even with the lift, must have been a pain. And installing valve covers all day? Whew, I worked at Briggs and Stratton in Milwaukee for 2 days on the line, I forget the task, but it wasn’t for me. Tip of the hat to these workers. Look at the lousy chrome and those tires. Must have been the result of the Korean War, I suppose they were lucky to have any at all.

    • The Korean War didn’t start until the mid-summer of 1950, so I kind of doubt there were shortages just quite yet. As for the two-stage fuel/vacuum pump, my ’59 Ford had vacuum wipers and when trying to quickly get past the spray of a big rig in a downpour, the wipers would stop! Great engineering! Surprised I survived some of those situations.

      • I think the two vacuum systems were different between Ford and Chevy. Chevy had the pump as noted and Ford took the vacuum from the intake manifold. The Chevy system was superior. No slowing down or stopping while under acceleration. The Ford system at that time only worked well while steady cruising or going down hill.

      • Hi, MAD DOG. Bought a ’59 Ford and the wipers didn’t work at all. I ended up connecting a hose direct from the wiper motor to the intake, and they worked like on a Chevy: real fast when you up shifted and stop when you floored it. Still better than no wipers a all.

  3. As seen in Items 3 and 4 of 4, those are indeed 1950 models…in ’51, Chevys went to a shorter splash guard on the rear quarter panel on all but the station wagons.

  4. My first car was a 1952 Chevrolet, with the Powerglide and the 235 Stovebolt Six. One of the oddities of that engine (there were several) was that the nut that held the harmonic balancer to the crankshaft had slots for a crank, even though there hadn’t been a hole through the radiator for years. I sometimes wondered if a previous owner had swapped out the balancer for some reason — replacing a timing gear, maybe.

    But the engines in these pictures all seem to have the slots for the crank on that front nut. I guess Chevrolet had a warehouse full of those nuts that they needed to use up.

  5. I toured that plant two times in the late 80’s. I proudly drove my ’69 Camaro RS and displayed it in the parking lot one of the times.

    I remember two tings that were not good visuals. The first were some of the line works reading the newspaper between assembling cars coming down the line. The next was seeing line workers using a rubber mallet to align the rear hatch with the latch mechanism on the body.

    But overall it was sad to see the Tweedy plant in Compton California shuttered then years later the plant in Van Nuys plant shuttered. No too many car manufacturing plants in California anymore!

  6. I looked for the guys wearing gloves handling the sheetmetal of the roof sections on to the bodies, and they have them. I imagine deep cuts while handing that were frequent!

  7. To this day I still remember a class visit to a truck assembly plant somewhat near Camden N.J. around 1952. As I remember they were assembling milk trucks. Maybe International ? I was only 10 at the time so my memory is vague. Anyone have any idea where I might have been?

  8. Second picture: Why they were installing the valve covers? You would expect them to be put on at the engine plant before shipping. Or, did Van Nuys assemble their own engines?
    Third picture: Don’t remember seeing double gas pumps on Chevies. Were they used on all models , maybe it was an option.

  9. It would be interesting to know how the assembly line was first designed for each model . It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, I’m sure . They must have some sort of elaborate tracking system (pre-computers, egads) like a “just in time” process which evolved over time to gain efficiency.

  10. In 1951 I worked for a Chevrolet dealership doing new car preparation and the free grease and oil changes that came with each car. The car’s were beautiful and the sexy Bel Aire hard top was stunning. One interesting feature was a whistling gas tank, that whistled as you put the gas in and stopped when the tank was full. The sound was the result of air rising through a whistle in the vent tube . C;lever and useful.

    • Hi Dave, I didn’t know Chevy had that too. I thought that was a Packard exclusive feature. Our 1950 Packard had that. It was annoying, but before auto shutoffs, how would you know? It actually was a clever idea. A puddle of gas was a regular thing at gas stations, but if I remember, gas evaporated a lot faster back then.

  11. —You ran in 2014 the photograph of a 1921 Packard with a coach built body, and a water-jacketed machine gun mounted near the wind shield. It was armored, and built by Brooks-Ostruk. What I cannot find is any idea what happened to it. Did anyone record if it was destroyed during warfare, taken by someone, or just sent to the junkyard on a specific date?

  12. I saw the body drop photo and the first thing I thought of was Tawny Kitaen in the White Snake video – Here I go again.

  13. Too bad the LA Public Library does not have any photos of gen 1 and gen 2 Camaros being built at the Van Nuys plant. I was surprised about that.

  14. I have in the past owned two ’37 Chevies with 216’s and a ’50 Bel Air with 235 Power Glide. None of those engines had a dual chamber fuel pump. Vacuum was draw off the intake and on one of those cars I replaced the wiper motor with an electric for reliability. The electric was a kit that was six volt and used the same hole on top of the dash that the vacuum switch used. I haven’t seen one of those kits in years.

  15. … if you look very closely at the shop floor in these wonderful photos you’ll see what (almost ) looks to be a brick floor. It was not brick. The floor at the Van Nuys plant was crafted from thousands upon thousands of blocks of hardwood stacked vertically. The result was a floor that was easier on dropped parts, that absorbed drips of oil and cutting fluid, and (to some degree) attenuated the din that bending steel into automobiles resulted in.

    I don’t know how long (deep) the blocks were.

    Once a year (during model changeover) the floors would be cleared and an army of workers with heavy-duty floor sanders would resurface the acres of shop floors, taking out nicks and gouges and renewing the work surface for a new year of production .

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