There may not be any other vehicle that evokes more nostalgia than the woody wagon. Some say the song “Surfin Safari” by the Beach Boys plays a big part in the mystique, others says it’s because woodie wagons (and cars) harken back to simpler times in America. Regardless of the reason, fascination with these vehicles will always be woven in the fabric of American culture.
It started with real wagons
The earliest “woodies” were wagons that were direct descendants of horse-drawn wagons used for transporting passengers and goods. The Swab Wagon Company in Elizabethville, PA, one of the original wooden wagon makers, stated that their wood-bodied trucks of the 1910’s were “the same bodies we were still putting on horse-drawn wagons.” They were the same designs, stretched to fit over car and truck chassis.
Solid wood planking
The first generation of wood-sided vehicles were open bodies made of wagon-style solid planking and according to Sunset Trucks of Puyallup, a used truck dealer in Puyallup, WA, were commonly used as trucks and vehicles to haul freight. But, by the mid-1910’s, closed station wagon bodies became common and the vehicles began to be used to transport people. The rib-and-panel style that is familiar today made its first appearance on these vehicles. These new wagons were now called Suburbans and Country Clubs -names that still survive today. Major manufacturers such as Ford and Chrysler started offering woodies through dealerships, although independent body builders performed the actual construction.
In 1922, William C. Durant’s Star Motor Company became the first automaker to offer a “factory” woody. Buick followed suit shortly thereafter with three Woodie models. In 1929, Ford Model A station wagons with handsome maple and birch bodies built by the Briggs Body Company hit the market. Ford took a step toward controlling woody production by producing wood sub-assemblies at their own plant in northern Michigan. A vast range of Woodie wagons, trucks and sedans from Ford followed over the next few years.
Woodies go upscale
As the country began to recover economically from the depression, woodies were increasingly perceived as premium vehicles and sales rose accordingly. Ford easily maintained its dominance, selling almost 10,000 Standard and DeLuxe station wagons in 1940 alone. Chrysler introduced its first truly car-quality woody, the Town & Country, in March of the following year. It boasted an all-steel roof and a white ash and mahogany body built by Pekin Wood Products.
After the second world war, Ford was again first out of the gate with new woody designs. Not content to let Chrysler’s spectacular Town & Country take over the luxury market, Ford introduced a steel-framed, wood-bodied Sportsman line early in 1946. By then, woodies were fully established as luxury transportation and the manufacturers billed them as such.
Woodies became so popular that aftermarket kits, designed to be applied by the owner, made their appearance in the late 1940s. These “woody-izing” kits could be bolted to the sides of non-woody vehicles and came from New York’s Belbod Company as well as Engineered Enterprises of Detroit.
End of the line
The last great year of the woody was 1949. Handcrafting maintenance-intensive wood frames and panels was becoming very difficult to justify by many consumers. The Chrysler Town & Country switched to Dinoc vinyl with ornamental ash framing, and the 1949 Ford used all-steel construction with plywood-like panels. From 1948 through 1951, Packard produced station wagons with window framing and ornamental wood door trim made by Briggs Manufacturing.
Earthgarage – Greener Car. Fatter Wallet.