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by Jay Traugott
Despite it giving a car a certain elegance, wood is not the preferred construction material for something that burns gasoline.
Let's think of it like this: someone back in the day had the idea to partially build a road car out of wood, also known as kindling. What is kindling for those who've never been camping or stranded on a desert island? It's the small pieces of wood and twigs used to start a fire. If automakers back then were going by today's car safety standards, then the very thought of using wood in the framework and as body panels would have even made a circus clown laugh at the sheer stupidity of the idea.
Fortunately that wasn't the case and Ford, along with other automakers, managed to build what has today become a true one of a kind classic. The idea for "woodies" originated in the early 1930s. What started off as something stylish actually turned out to be a cost-saving idea simply because wood was cheaper than steel. Woodies became a fashion statement in the US and were predominantly seen in wagon-like bodystyles but there were also some convertibles and the like. Along with Ford and other brands, a number of coachbuilders and even local carpenters offered the chance for people to convert their car into a woodie.
So why all the hype with a material that can easily catch fire, attract termites and even rot? It was simply an exclusive fashion because the level of craftsmanship was quite high, especially amongst the coachbuilders. Along with the obvious aforementioned drawbacks, another issue was that it wasn't possible to have roll-up windows. They were instead replaced with simple side curtains. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, Ford, for example, only sold 1,654 woodie wagons, so even seeing one on the road then was something special.
Moving into the 1950s, however, the popularity of the woodie sparked (pun intended) amongst buyers, but the excitement didn't last long because - you guessed it - it was realized that driving around in a fire log wasn't exactly safe. Both Plymouth and Buick ended their woodie days and by 1955, only Ford and Mercury were left selling them. However, Ford was very much aware of the dangers of using real wood so they had begun to use imitation wood grain in their models. This consisted of using steel, plastics and vinyl sheets on the bodywork to give wagons the desired look.
Although the use of real wood was now obsolete, the style's popularity somehow lasted even into the early 1990s with the Dodge Caravan's body sides covered in wood vinyl siding. But it was the original woodies that are clearly the best such as this 1946 Ford Woodie Wagon that currently up for sale on eBay. Painted in its original but refinished burgundy color, the exterior has also been re-chromed throughout but more importantly, the original wood body panels have been well cared for due to a proper restoration job. Power comes from the original flat head V8 that's been rebuilt and mated to a three-speed column shift manual transmission.
As you can see by these photos, the workmanship inside and out is quite something. It's only had three owners since 1955 and it's been kept in a temperature controlled garaged since the restoration. It has a "Buy it Now" price of $100,000 and while that is expensive, any serious collector will know they're buying a true automotive time capsule.