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Woodies

Going Against The Grain Published: 20th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Woodies Classic 1940’s Ford Deluxe Woodie station wagon
Highly sought after 1947 Chrysler Town & Country Two-door convertible, note harmonica shaped front grille, a feature between 1946-1948 Highly sought after 1947 Chrysler Town & Country Two-door convertible, note harmonica shaped front grille, a feature between 1946-1948
1950’s Ford Country Squire station wagon with fi breglass and Di-Noc woodwork 1950’s Ford Country Squire station wagon with fi breglass and Di-Noc woodwork
Classic ‘wallpaper woodie’ the Buick Electra estate wagon of the mid 1980’s Classic ‘wallpaper woodie’ the Buick Electra estate wagon of the mid 1980’s
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Why a Woodie could be your sort of American classic

The Woodie or Woody if you like, fi rst saw the light of day in the early 1900s and production ran through right up until the early 1950’s. Building vehicle bodies using wood was relatively simple, whereby aluminium or steel panels were attached to a wooden frame. As car design progressed, the woodie became predominantly associated with station wagons where the rear of the bodywork was constructed of wood with all exterior sections covered in a clear lacquer. Interestingly many motor manufacturers top of the range and most expensive models became woodies, it had now transformed from a simply built hack into a luxury vehicle. Due to the very nature of their construction, wooden bodied cars needed protecting from the elements, and once the clear lacquer wore thin, then the rot set in which caused the demise of many bodies.. Following the decline of genuine woodie production in the early 1950’s, the last of the genre used Di-Noc, a faux simulated woodgrain transfer for the panelling, with a fi breglass edging. The fi nal phase in the woodie story was from 1966 onwards, when station wagon bodies re-emerged with wood effect decals stuck on, colloquially known as ‘wallpaper woodies’. Nowadays woodies have found an interesting niche in the classic car world. The American surfi ng fraternity used them to transport long surf boards, which contributed in turning them into a cult status. Their low production fi gures guaranteed exclusivity, and for pure aesthetic style, they offer excellent individuality.

Chrysler Town & Country

The famous Town & County designated woodies created by Dave Wallace made their debut in 1941 with Chrysler’s six-cylinder engined Windsor series. They were generally recognised as being the fi rst luxury station wagons, the industry’s fi rst steel roofed wagon and less than 1000 were built. They featured mahogany veneered panels with white ash framing. As the body styling was ostensible a four-door fastback, the rear window was fi xed, with access to the loading area via the ‘dutch doors’. Due to the location of the spare wheel and small opening doors, it made things rather awkward for loading large and bulky items. These woodies were available with both six and nine seat passenger accommodation and were much heavier and costlier than their four-door saloon counterpart. In 1946 Chrysler dropped the original Town & County Woodie wagon, and instead expanded the theme into a sedan and convertible which was available only with an eight-cylinder engine. There was also a Town and Country hardtop convertible, but only seven were built. The rarest of them all was a T&C two-door Brougham, only one was built! Chrysler soon established themselves as the leader in producing stylish woodie convertibles and sold more non wagon woodies than anyone else. Interiors also featured wood panelling with leather/Bedford cord upholstery. The woodie wagon appeared once again for one year only in 1950 and then after their demise, the Town & County name was continued in the all steel station wagon models.

Ford/Mercury

Ford lead the industry in wooden-body wagon sales and the Ford/Mercury range were amongst the most prestigious. Not all woodies were exclusively station wagons as the 1946 Ford Sportsman convertible coupe will attest. It was also the most expensive model in the Ford line-up and cost $1982. Although an extremely attractive car, its high purchase price and maintenance of the wooden panels saw low sales with only 1209 fi nding buyers in 1946. It was recommended that the woodwork was stripped and revarnished annually. The Sportsman model boasted electric windows as standard with a choice of red, tan, or grey leather interiors. The convertibles were powered by a Mercury 239ci fl athead V8 rated at 100hp. Lincoln-Mercury became a separate division of the Ford Motor Company in 1945 and also produced its own woodie Sportsman convertible coupe sharing the same body. However, production was to run for only one year. It was the most expensive Mercury model at $2209 and only 205 were sold. A Mercury woodie station wagon was also available for 1946. A huge amount of extra labour was required to build these woodies over their steel-bodied counterparts, hence them being costlier to purchase. 1949 was an excellent production year for Mercury, with 301,000 vehicles coming off the production line, (of which 8044 were woodie wagons) the company had never previously topped 100,000 units. A new two-door all steel wagon body style was available that it shared with Ford and used overlaid molded plywood panelling for that woodie effect. Interiors featured wood panelling door cards and woodgrain paint on the dashboard. V8 engine power was up from 239ci to 255ci and coil-spring independent front suspension replaced the beam axle.

Ford Country Squire

This was a most popular model with production running from 1950, right up until 1991 and was a premium station wagon woodie within the Ford range. Sales brochures at the time proclaimed the Ford was 50 Ways Finer, taking into account the many new improvements. The Country Squire with seating capacity for eight passengers had an elongated one piece roof, courtesy of the Body Development Studio, run under the direction of Gordon Buehrig of Cord design fame who joined Ford in 1949. There was also a clever design in the hinges that automatically locked the upper part of the tailgate in the upright position. The County Squire was powered by the venerable 239 flathead V8 which was superceded in 1954 by the Y-Block V8 rated at 130bnp at 4,200rpm. Ford’s Chief Engineer Earl S. MacPherson was none too happy with the old king pin front suspension arrangement and implemented the revolutionary ball joint system combined with coil springs which made for much improved steering. Up until 1953 real wood was used on the car, but this was to give way to a Di-Noc woodgrain transfer that simulated a rich mahogany effect on the panels, which was edged in real wood with preshaped and laminated birch and maple. From 1954 the edging was made from fi breglass topped by a maplegrain transfer. Exterior colour choice was limited to six, all carefully chosen to enhance the overall woodie effect. From 1955 the Country Squire featured a full wrap around front windscreen and vertical A-pillars. The 272ci Y-Block V8 engine had been uprated to 162bhp and the woodie now sported plank-like simulated wood trim giving the appearance of a speed boat. For 1957 the Country Squire received a major makeover with a new body design. An excellent choice if you require a Fifties cruiser with a difference and without the fi ns ‘n’ chrome cachet.

Buick Electra

The fi rst Buick station wagons were coachbuilt by the Ionia Company. The Electra model was fi rst introduced way back in 1959, but the more modern Electra in Estate wagon guise from the 1970s and ‘80s, built at the Arlington, Texas, plant, represented the best in huge load carrying capability ‘wallpaper woodies’! These were ostensibly virtually the last of the ‘full size’ wagons, though the 1990s Roadmaster did soldier on for a tad longer, then they were gone. The later Electras were powered by the 307ci 5.0 litre Oldsmobile engine coupled to an overdrive automatic transmission. They sit on a 115.9-inch fl oorpan and are 220.5-inches in overall length. Versatility is the name of the game for the Electra woodie. There’s room enough to accommodate eight passengers, or with all the seats folded fl at then there’s a useful cargo area of 90.2 inches long and 87.9cu ft. Or you can mix and match with a combination of the seats folded up and down. The tailgate has a very clever option of swinging open to the left and can be split or dropped downwards fl at it required. Interior appointments are also impressive with aircon, adjustable steering column, tinted glass and a six-way adjustable power operated seat for the driver. A great many of these woodies were literally driven into the ground and the cost of restoration isn’t really economically viable. However, if you can fi nd a good example, for people and load carrying they make great sense, and will be verging on modern classic status. Being a ‘wallpaper woodie’, there’s no maintenance of genuine wooden panels either!

Prices

The cheapest of our woodie quartet is the Buick Electra. A rough tired example in running order, but requiring restorative work can be purchased for £1500-£2500, but estate wagons in superb condition such as the model in the photo will be closer to £5000-£6000. The Ford Country Squire in excellent condition will be £15,000-£20,000,more for concours examples, and a 1940’s Ford Deluxe station wagon upwards of £20,000. The most expensive will be the Chrysler Town & County two-door convertible £35,000 plus.

Verdict

The Buick Electra ‘wallpaper woodie’ makes for an excellent, versatile load carrying estate wagon with distinction. They were so practical, used and abused, thus finding an excellent example isn’t going to be easy. The Ford Country Squire was a top of the range model and defi nitely looks the part, even if the woodwork is faux! The Ford/Mercury line-up are the genuine article, real woodie station wagons personified. For sporting woodies then there’s none much classier than the Chrysler Town & Country convertibles. Low production, rarity, and desirability means they come at a premium. Whatever woodie fits your requirements, they all exude a certain individuality and exclusivity. So what about a woodie then?



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