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|Not Found on eBay: Woody Wagons|
|Written by Sam Fiorani|
|Tuesday, 11 May 2010 17:10|
If you're looking to acquire that icon of post-War America--the wood-paneled station wagon--check out the offerings at this weekend's Raleigh Classic auction
Shortly after car manufacturers introduced the closed body--you know, a solid roof and glass side windows--automakers found new and interesting body styles to appeal to specific market segments. The doctor's car allowed just enough room for the doctor to take his bag and medical supplies on house calls. In the town car, the chauffeur up front wasn't protected from the weather, but the wealthy person in the back was.
And, to cater to middle-class families, carmakers introduced the "station wagon"--its name derived from the fact that it was initially designed to haul people and belongings from train stations. Eventually, these models were found to haul children very well, too, and the "soccer mommy-mobile" was born decades before soccer took hold in America's heartland.
Many early wagons featured bodywork of wood. The exposed lumber needed more care than standard painted steel, but cars weren't supposed to last forever so nobody really cared back then. Besides, the wood body was less expensive to build than metal. As the years passed, the "woodies" that have survived have found a dedicated following and, accordingly, have dramatically risen in value.
The Raleigh Classic auction (14-15 May, Raleigh, North Carolina) features 229 cars and trucks of all vintages. Among this group are a number of examples traversing the history of American woodies, the earliest of which is a Ford Woody Wagon.
Ford is probably best known among the makers of woodies, and this 1934 model is especially interesting. Powered by a flathead V8, it has only 48,000 miles and has had few owners over the last seven decades.
And, as is typically the case, the cross-town rival stepped up with its own woody. A 1948 example will be offered at the Raleigh Classic sale.
In the rush to get production going as quickly as possible following the Second World War, American manufacturers made only the most basic updates for their post-War models. The pent-up demand for cars meant every vehicle built would get absorbed by the market. All-new models wouldn't be necessary for three or four years.
Harold Zulik of Houtzdale, Pennsylvania purchased this original from a Philipsburg, Pennslyvania dealer in 1953. He kept the car for about four decades before spending a small fortune restoring it. The restoration went so well it was awarded a Grand National, the Antique Automobile Club of America's highest honor. After 55 years, Zulik parted with his prized Chevy, but it remains in amazing condition both physically and mechanically.
Chevrolet's corporate cousin Pontiac also got into the woody market. A fully restored 1948 Pontiac Wagon will be on the auction block this weekend.
These early post-War wagons became a ubiquitous part of the suburban landscape, as returning soldiers got married, bought homes, and had families. The wagons spread like wildfire in this new prosperous time of the two-car household. Nearly every brand needed to offer a wagon to stay competitive.
Ford's sibling Mercury will be represented at the auction by a 1954 nine-passenger wagon. Auctions America claims this particular vehicle is "probably the finest example to be found." With a claim of 40,184 actual miles and one owner for the last 27 years, the wagon is definitely in rarified air. The Merc-O-Matic transmission, fog lights, chrome luggage carrier and outside mirrors, fender skirts, and factory radio are all in fine condition. The original leather interior is in showroom condition. The auction house says the vehicle "drives as great as it looks."
By the mid-1950s, most manufacturers had dropped woody wagons in favor of all-steel-bodied models. Even Ford's wagons had changed over to a simulated-wood look. Using 3M's Di-Noc (a PVC product introduced around 1940), the remaining wagons could continue the look of wood construction. Unfortunately, Di-Noc fades after three to five years of exposure to direct sunlight--which makes woody wagon survivors even more special.
Probably the most interesting wagon at this weekend's auction is from 1958. Ford's ill-fated Edsel division built a unique Bermuda wagon for the president of the Southwestern Cattleman's Association of California. Unlike most woody wagons, most of the wood-grain trim (probably Di-Noc) is toward the front of the car, starting just behind the headlights and running under the robin's egg blue inset gracing the bottom edge of the side windows.
Having spent much of its life in California, this promotional Bermuda is in beautiful condition. And while 700 Bermuda wagons were produced, this is the only one that was hand-built and features "real cowhide interior." The nine-passenger wagon has a rear-facing rear seat, factory tachometer, spinner wheel covers, and the large E400 V8 engine.
Ford continued the woody wagon look with its Country Squire line, two examples of which round out the woodies at the Raleigh auction.
An extremely rare, original-condition 1961 Country Squire with only 53,000 documented miles demonstrates the long, low look of the 1960s. Yet like the Edsel, the Country Squire only pays homage to the first woody wagons. Its wood-like trim is attached well below the door handles and extends over the front fenders. "Real" woody wagons had all-metal front fenders and all-wood doors and rear fenders.
And unlike the earlier woody wagons, this 1961 sports many of the modern features we have come to expect. Things like power steering, power brakes, a factory push-button AM radio, air conditioning, and a padded dash are included, as well as accessories such as a luggage carrier, fender skirts, and a rear-facing, third-row seat. The 1961 full-sized Fords are considered some of the best-styled cars of this era--along with its direct competitors, the 1961 full-sized Chevrolets. (Chevrolet didn't offer faux "wood"on their station wagons until the 1966 model year.)
Taking the woody idea one step more modern is the 1977 Country Squire offered for sale here. Among the last of the really big American cars, Ford's Country Squire showcases fake wood sides across almost all of its 225-inch length, from front side marker to taillights. This particular example has only had one owner and 44,000 miles. In original condition, it features every power convenience available, plus the third-row seating (center-facing, which allowed pseudo-seating for four more) and luggage rack, as well as the original factory tires.
The Raleigh Classic auction has many things, but this cross-section of nearly a century's worth of woody wagons should be a key draw to the sale. One classic woody would be enough to draw car collectors out to open their wallets, and six of them makes for a woody in everyone's garage. Okay, not all auction attendees are going to drive away in a station wagon, but there's something for almost every estate-car enthusiast to get excited about (aren't you proud of me for not making a "woody" joke here?). And there's more to this sale than just some low-mileage family haulers ...
Sam Fiorani discovered the true scope of his father's lack of automotive enthusiasm when he heard the tale of the 1948 Chrysler Town & Country convertible that said father sold, in the 1950s, for $100. That car, 25 years later, could have been traded for a house.