By: Geoff Isabelle of Classic Motoring
The Wood bodied car – affectionately known as the "Woody" - is an icon of American automotive culture made possible by wealthy car buyers in the 40's and 50's, and made popular by surfers and beach bums in the 1960's.
The use of wood in car bodies was a tradition carried over from the era of coach building when a body was framed with wood, then covered in fabrics or metals to create the outer skin of the coach. These skills transferred to the construction of automobile bodies where wood work was still a key component in the production of cars through the late 1940s. So important, in fact, that Henry Ford owned an entire forest to supply his factories with wood! Early cars, such as the 1914 Model T Depot Hack in this exhibit, had bodies built by independent companies. A basic chassis could be purchased from Ford, and the owner could then buy a separate body to suit their needs. In this case, the simple wooden framed wagon was used to haul cargo and passengers from train depots in Allentown. While functional, it was not particularly stylish or comfortable.
1. Auto comes from the Greek word meaning?
2. When was the first internal combustion engine invented?
3. Automobile started out with 3 wheels...
4. This man was credited for the creation of the automobile...
As the automobile quickly evolved from a tool for basic transport to a statement of social status, wood became a decorative element and moved from behind the panels to the outside of the car. Wood bodied wagons topped the model ranges of companies like Buick and Packard. Independent coach builders built beautiful wood bodies for Rolls Royce, Bentley and even Pierce-Arrow. These cars were very labor intensive and costly to build, requiring highly skilled craftsmen to shape, join and finish the wood.
Soon cars like the Ford Sportsman and the Chrysler Town and Country hit market with curvaceous sedan and convertible bodies. The wood was no mere decoration, either. It formed the major structure of the car from the doors back, making them heavy, tricky to assemble, very expensive, but so very beautiful!
At America On Wheels, you will see several amazing Woodies from different eras. The earliest 1914 Model T showcasing a wood body in its pure, simple form. Two ultra-rare beauties – a 1941 Hudson Super Six and a 1942 Buick Estate Wagon are stunning examples of what wealthy families would use for picnics and travel. A 1947 Nash Suburban was an expensive family car that featured a back seat that converted to a bed for camping adventures! The Chrysler Town and Country sedan and convertible were geared toward the well-off bachelor "sportsman" of the day. Another car from 1947, the Chevrolet Fleetmaster Wagon is an unrestored car that's a great example of the Woodies of the surf culture. It looks a bit beat up and a little rough but it holds a couple of surf boards and gets you to the beach every time! There is even a very unusual V8 Pilot from Ford of England and a 1952 Chevy "Steelie" – a steel bodied car that's actually been hand painted to look like a Woody. It marks the beginning of the end of the real wood car – as steel became easier and cheaper to form in large, complex panels.
By the mid 1950's, the Woody was no longer. But thanks to the owners and restorers of these great cars and others like them, the legend will live on for generations to come.
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