Monday, December 22, 2008

American Woodie Automobiles

“It's a friendly vehicle, not foreboding like a limousine or prosaic like a sedan. It's about families, kids and visiting relatives, about journeys interstate, and the golden age of railroads, luggage, family pets and the reassuring smells of old leather, gasoline, gear oil and grandfathers tobacco smoke. It brings people together in fellowship and shared good times.”

In their heyday, woodies were often the most expensive cars offered by a manufacturer and many tallied impressive sales figures.

Woodies have always satisfied the need for stylish transport of people and parcels. The earliest woodie automobiles were utilitarian adaptations of the 'Rockaway' horse-drawn carriage and canopied express trucks. By the thirties, fashionable American woodie station wagons were pressed into service by lodges, inns and country clubs. At about the same time, wealthy land-owners with country estates adopted the woodie for suburban transportation - frequently with a chauffeur at the wheel. In Europe, wood was utilized by coachbuilders of exquisite vehicles for the aristocrat.

During the World War II, wood construction saved steel for critical war-time uses. After the war, the middle class found mass-produced woodie wagons perfect for family travels. The popularity of woodies for personal transportation peaked mid-century. By the late fifties and sixties, used car dealers had plenty of cheap, poorly maintained wood-clad cars. Surfers found these bargains perfect for hauling their longboards in search of the perfect wave. A sub-culture and a car became legend.

American Woodie Autos - 1910 to 1919

Brass-era 1912 Ford depot hack is typical of the wood-bodied wagons created on Ford chassis before Ford began producing their own woodies at Iron Mountain.

It is easy to imagine this custom-bodied 1913 Ford Model T mountain wagon transporting guests from the railway station to a country estate or lodge. The folding top is not frequently seen on wagons of this period.

A 1919 Model T Ford station wagon seen at the 1998 antique auto meet in Luckett, Virginia. Wagons of this type were made by many companies - before Ford started producing its own woodies at the Iron Mountain plant in Michigan.

American Woodie Autos - 1920 to 1929

1921 Ford Model T with a birch speedster body patterned after a design found in an early 1920's Sears catalog.

1929 Ford Model A with body built by Ford at the Iron Mountain plant was classified by the company as a 'commercial vehicle' and was part of the truck line-up.

American Woodie Autos - 1930 to 1939

This pristine 1931 Ford is now in the possession of Mike and Connie Yore, who own a beachwear shop in St. Joseph, Michigan. Several owners before, the Model A was destined to become a street rod until he was persuaded it was too perfect to cut up.

$670 bought you a shiny new 1936 Ford with modern pressed steel wheels and roll-up windows in the front doors. It was also the last year Fords had separate headlamps.

A former Woodie Times cover car, Ray Beniquez's 1936 Ford is one of several woodies his family imported to Puerto Rico from the U.S. His stable of woodies also includes 1935, 1939 and 1941 Fords.

American Woodie Autos - 1940 to 1944

Peter Morse's 1940 Ford Super Deluxe station wagon pulling a 25 foot 1940 Garwood triple cockpit runabout makes for a spectacular combination --- even without the gorgeous scenery.

1941 Ford Deluxe station wagon, seen here in a Ford photo, was aimed directly at the 'horsey' set. The slightly more expensive Super Deluxe version, at $1015, was the most expensive Ford since the Model A Town car.

As the United States drew closer to involvement in World War II, metal supplies were constrained. To meet the need for higher occupancy automobiles, Brooks Stevens designed the Monart Motors wooden body conversion for Ford and Mercury sedans and coupes. The original doors were painted for a woodgrain effect and non-structural wood trim was used to enhace the design. A 1942 Mercury is pictured here. None are known to exist today.

American Woodie Autos - 1945 to 1949

This 1946 Ford Super Deluxe did a stint on display at Sea World after serving as transportation for a Mexican Government official. For more details, browse the Old Woodies feature: WoodGal's Mexican Beauty

With a total production of 16,104 woodie wagons in 1947, Ford station wagons found their way around the world. This 1947 Ford Super Deluxe is owned by Per Hedlund of Helsingborg, Sweden.

American Woodie Autos - After 1949

At a glance, Dan Simmons' clean 1951 Ford looks stock - it is, except for the mild drop job, power disk brakes, and eye-popping leopard-print carpet!

Cliff & Kathy Bartlett's 1953 Mercury still has it's original flathead V-8 with a 3 speed overdrive. They drove to Woodies on the Wharf 2001 from South Lake Tahoe pulling a camp trailer.

Woodie Trucks

It was only natural that commercial truck chassis were the platform for construction of early woodies. After all, their principle purpose was to transport goods and passengers - and the more, the better. These were the vehicles most likely to be found in service by country clubs, lodges, hotels, inns, merchants and schools.

In step with their automotive counterpart, open bodies gave way to removable tops, then to fixed roofs. Roll-up canvas curtains with flexible isinglass windows yielded to glass panes. The truck based wooden wagon became more civilized, yet maintained its rugged go-anywhere capabilities. These were the wooden predecessors to today's modern sports utility vehicle.

1913 Ford Model TT with a wooden 'huckster' style body

1914 Ford (Model TT?) chain drive

During World War I, before the arrival of United States Army, some charitable organizations offered ambulances to the Allied forces. The standard Ford Model T was provided - but without bodywork beyond the cowl. The legend says that the first ten ambulances were created with the wood of the transport cases! Later bodies were produced by the grand carrossier Kellner of Boulogne, near Paris. In 1918 this ambulance became the standard of US Army in France until the end of the war. These vehicles were originally painted grey.

Woodie Trucks 1920 to 1924

1920 Ford Model T with a Hercules Manufacturing Co. 'Business Body' and pickup bed on a ½ ton passenger chassis.

A very interesting 1922 Ford Model T C-cab flare-side pickup truck

1923 Ford Model T Depot Hack owned by Mark Lawton of Richmond, Virginia

1923 Ford Model TT 1-ton wagon

1923 Ford Model TT Grain Truck The Model TT was not available with a factory cab until about 1925. The oak cab and bed were built by another supplier.

1924 Ford Model T milk wagon used in Masterpiece Theater's production of 'Death in the Family' by James Agee.

1924 Ford Model T 'vegetable wagon' owned by Jerry & Mary Ann Corona of Austin, Texas

Woodie Trucks 1925 to 1929

This 1925 Ford Model T market truck is a typical adaptation with an owner-built wooden body.

Comfort was not an issue on this solid tire 1925 Ford Model TT police 'paddy wagon'.

1926 Ford with an 'Estate Wagon' body from the York Body Co. of York, Pennsylvania. Pictured here at the 1958 Fall Hershey show.

This Canadian-built 1928 Ford Model AA was shipped CKD (Completely Knocked Down) to New Zealand where it was fitted with a cab and stake-side flat-bed. It is made with about eight different species of mostly local tree varieties.

Woodie Trucks 1930 to 1939

1931 Ford 'Natural Wood Special Delivery' Model A Designed for merchants serving top-end customers. The sales price was $695 and was considered too expensive for the times. It was the height of the Great Depression and one could buy the full metal delivery van for a tad over $400. Just 680 were produced from 1928 to 1932. The Ford Model A Traveler camper was derived from this model.

1931 Ford Model A Mail Truck - Ahooga! The wooden body is painted green per U.S. Post Department regulations.

This rare pickup is a 1934 English Ford Model-Y. It was originally created for the Earl of Suffolk, as a gift to his gamekeeper. The styling is in keeping with English Shooting Brakes, where the doors were often metal. The little woodie still has the original drive-train, and few modifications.

Woodie Trucks 1940 to 1951

An uncommon 1951 Fordson E83W (Ford 10), woodie utility. Steel doors were frequently used on English woodies. Check the Postwar English Shooting Brakes page for a view of another Fordson woodie.

Woodie Trucks 1951 and Newer

A visual 'tip of the hat' to the wooden predecessors of today's sport utility vehicles. This phantom Ford Expedition was created in Doug and Suzy Carr's Southern California shop, The Wood'N Carr.

Woodie Buses

The omnibus, what we know today as a bus, is one of the first forms of motorized road-going vehicles. By the mid-1800's, steam driven omnibuses transported paying passengers over scheduled fixed routes in England.

After the turn of the last century, buses were an alternative to horse-drawn public transportation. Few people had cars and trains were the principal mode of transportation for long distances. The 'Sight Seeing Car' made its debut and was put into service at vacation destinations. By the 1920's wood bodies gave way to steel on the larger commercial vehicles. But wood remained popular for the most utilitarian personal vehicle --- the station wagon.

After World War 2, Robert Campbell's Mid-State Body Co. of Waterloo, New York, met a brief resurgence of demand for small wooden buses built on truck chassis. These vehicles were used by schools, manufacturers, and tourist attractions. Many were exported. In 1957 the company, the last manufacturer of wooden buses, was bankrupt.

This Ford Model TT was the original courtesy bus for QANTAS Airlines of Australia at their headquarters in Longreach.

Woodie Motorhomes, House Cars & Campers

1915 Lamsteed Kampkar - an early recreational vehicle manufactured by Anheuser-Busch. The vehicles were mounted on a Model T Ford chassis and sold for $535. This example is owned by Peter Kable in Australia.

A cottage on wheels, this 1920 Ford Model TT motorhome conversion has a sunroom and a back porch.

1921 Ford Model T camper conversion.

A 1922 family photo with a Ford Model TT that was converted to a motorhome by the owner, Carl Headlee.

A a late 1920's Ford truck provides the base for this innovative two-story expanding housecar.

Source: Ford Treasury of Station Wagon Living, Volume 2
a book compiled by Franklin Reck & William Moss

1931 Ford Model A Traveler was an early camper derived from the Ford Natural Wood Panel Special Delivery, similar to their successful station wagon.

1937 Ford House Car was produced in very limited numbers at the Ford Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. The body is framed and paneled in wood, with sheet steel clading.

A Cape Cod, Massachusetts 1940's Ford wooden beach buggy with a pop-up shelter and additional storage compartments.

Woodie Trailers

Back in the thirties there was a surge of interest in automotive travel. Most families had a car, roads were improved, service stations and motor courts were springing up. Times had been tough, but were improving. The teardrop shaped camping trailer was the perfect solution for many travellers.

The 'do-it-yourself' magazines published plans for the handyman. Kits and assembled trailers were produced by a growing number of manufacturers. The boom was on. Then came World War II and later, Holiday Inn. The Nation had changed and the little trailer fell from favor. But recently teardrops have found a new generation of enthusiasts - street rodders and retro-styled highway adventurers who carefully restore originals and build new teardrops in the old style.

Intersted in building a teardrop? Check the Trailer for Two plans here on Old Woodies.

Seen at Wavecrest '99, this woodie tear-drop trailer is reputed to be the oldest surviving example.

John Kennedy's spectaclular 1936 Ford and matching woodie trailer with a load of Whizzers at the 'LA Wood' woodie gathering.

Cliff Parker's 1948 wooden teardrop 'TREEHSE' at the Guajome Teardrop Gathering in 1999. It is pulled by an immaculate 1940 Ford Deluxe woodie station wagon with a license plate reading 'WZATREE'. This woodie/teardrop combo was the model for a nice little cast sculpture.

After World War II, teardrop trailer fever spread around the world. From down under, here are plans for a wooden tear-drop trailer for two - a 'caravanette'.

This article was originally published in The Caravan & Touring in Australia - 1948 Year Book of the Australian monthly, Motor Manual. Although the article does not state the fact, it is derived from plans published in the September, 1947 issue of Mechanix Illustrated.

Please note that this information is presented solely as a historical document, and without revision. No recommendations or claims are made as to the safety, suitability or accuracy of these plans.


With a growing preponderance of English cars in Australia there is a growing demand for lightweight caravans. This type is called a cabin car in America where they are also popular, enabling faster travel and easier negotiation of bumpy by-roads. All motorists, too, know that a lighter pull gives more m.p.g. and saves clutch and rear axle troubles. If the owner of such a trailer as this has a sleeping body in the car, or, as most caravanners do, add a tent annexe, it becomes quite a handy proposition for the family man.

This trailer can be made by the prospective caravan builder with the knowledge that it will not be as duifficult to construct as a full-size van. It is all the easier if it is built on a ready made stock chassis.

Fitted with electric light and nearly 7 ft. long in the cabin interior, it offers good sitting headroom and is as roomy as a big sedan.

The plans as illustrated of the chassis show how the trailer could be made into a 2 purpose utility hauler, the whole of the body and cabinet work may be removed and stake sides added on to the floorboards. If this work-horse use of the trailer is not contemplated the chassis construction may be simplified.

In making this Trailer for Two, the first step is to make a hardwood frame which is bolted on to the side and end sections of the frame. Flooring can be only made from what is procurable today, but the ideal would be half-inch plywood screwed and glued to the frame of the chassis. Plywood or masonite are recomended for the sides.

When making the side walls, it is best to glue the side panels on to the frame when it is placed in an horizontal position on the floor. Joints must be waterproofed. panel sides are then screwed on to frame members.

Windows and other fixtures on the walls can be cut before the side panels are finally bolted on to the frame.

This side panelling completed, there only remains the roofing and fitting up the cupboards in the interior and kitchenette.

The Roofing

Many types of roofing can be selected by the builder, such as sheet iron or aluminum, canvas covered plywood, automobile hood fabricoid, some of the stock roofing and flooring materials Orminoid, and &--- as we recommend --- masonite curved over the cross beams of the frame. This, too, should be glued and screwed. Aluminum moulding ougfht to be used to cover the seams at the sides and made waterproof. The cover of the kitchenette boot will take some carefull fitting because it must be waterproof. A tight fit and a drainage channel of beading above the door opening will help make a perfect seal.

However, in our efforts to show how to build the trailer, we have hurried to have the roof on, whereas in practical building it hould be the last item as it will be easier to make the fittings and cupboards through the opening before the roof is added.