The Woodie: the Car that Kept the Past Alive
Those who have worked with both wood and steel are well-acquainted with the distinctive qualities of each material. Steel is strong and lasts a long time, making it the ideal substance for jet liners and skyscrapers. Wood, on the other hand, has something that steel will never possess: soul. This may explain why, even as the automobile was consigning the horse-drawn carriage to extinction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, drivers still clung to the old ways as much as possible. We’re talking about the “woodies,” a catch-all name for the wood-on-steel vehicles that captured both America’s imagination during the golden age of automobiles. PHOTOS: See more images of the 1932 Ford Model B Woodie Station Wagon
The 1930s: the Glory Years
Woodies were all the rage in the Depression era, at least among those who could afford them. Some came with their wooden components in place from the factory, and others were customized versions of production vehicles. In 1932, Ford offered a wood-sided wagon that featured side curtains instead of roll-down windows. Later examples of note include the 1935 Jensen-Ford woodie, the 1937 Ford Deluxe Wagon, and the 1936 Dodge Westchester. The Brewster Company, inspired by the original coach-making firm of the same name, built 300 of its distinctive woodie wagons in Springfield, Massachusetts from 1934 to 1936.
1940s and Later
World War Two brought a screeching halt to domestic auto production, as the nation’s massive industrial complex geared up to build tanks and fighter planes. After peace returned in 1945, so did car manufacturing. The 1946 Chrysler Town & Country, 1946 Ford Deluxe, and 1946-48 Nash Suburban are great examples from the period.
PHOTOS: See images of the 1947 Buick Super Estate Wagon
One lesser-known manufacturer of wood-sided vehicles from the era was the Keller automobile company of Huntsville, Alabama. The firm built 18 vehicles from 1947 to 1950, three of which still exist. While their exteriors hearkened back to earlier days, their powertrains included several visionary innovations. For example, the engine, transmission, clutch, and differential were built as a single unit, making removal and reinstallation a quick, simple affair.
The dawn of the 1950s saw the woodie lose favor among the public, as a penchant for all things new relegated wooden vehicles to an era that no one wanted to remember. Plymouth killed its woodie line in 1950. Buick followed suit in 1953. Marketers of the time believed that touting the virtues of “all-steel construction” was the best way to woo consumers to the local auto dealership.
PHOTOS: See images of the 1949 Mercury Woodie Station Wagon
By the 1960s, the British Motor Corporation (BMC) was the only car manufacturer left that offered wood as a structural component in its vehicles. They ended this practice in 1971 by canceling their Morris Minor Traveler line, and the woodie, like so many other great things from the past, simply faded away. Meticulously restored classics owned by modern enthusiasts are all that remains of this classic era from automotive history.
Despite the end of production, the vehicle had genre become popular in certain beach communities, and would become synonymous with groups like the Beach Boys and surfing. Perhaps the lasting image many of you have of the lovable woodie wagons.