SARATOGA, FL.- Through October 17, 2010, the Saratoga Automobile Museum presents Woodies! the Charlie and Marie Montano Collection: an all-new exhibit of vintage American wood-bodied cars from the 1940s and 1950s with special emphasis on the Chrysler Town and Country.
The Woodie: An American Icon
Long before SUVs and minivans, domestic automakers proudly sold wood-bodied station wagons, better known as woodies. Hand-crafted of maple, ash and mahogany, with timber bodies that gleamed like fine country furniture, woodie wagons transcended class barriers. They were bought by everyone from average Joes to the very wealthy; by hotels, private schools and camps; by large families, hunters, and anyone who needed more space and utility than a basic sedan offered. There were no minivans or SUVs in that era, and Plymouth didnt offer the first all-metal wagon until 1949.
Charlie and Marie Montano, of Gloversville, NY, own a superb collection of head-turning wood-bodied cars, including one example from every year that Chrysler marketed its marvelous, and now Classic Town and Country models. The Montanos have generously offered thirteen woodies from their collection for display at the Saratoga Automobile Museum.
As well, they have a range of General Motors woodies, including a barn find un-restored 1942 Oldsmobile, a massive, un-restored and well-preserved 1946 Buick Roadmaster, and a very rare 1947 Nash Suburban thats currently undergoing restoration.
The woodie is an American institution, says Montano. They were hand-crafted cars. I find the color and the warmth of the wood to be especially appealing. Montano maintains a well-equipped auto shop and he enjoys working on his cars. I leave wood refinishing to the experts, he admits, but I take the cars apart; I do most of the mechanical restoration, and I reassemble each one.
Marie and I enjoy sharing our cars with people who appreciate them, Montano adds. The Saratoga Automobile Museum appreciates the Montanos generosity. Visitors will enjoy seeing these lovely wood-bodied cars from an era well never know again.
More Facts about Woodies
Ford Motor Company sold more wood-bodied cars than all the other manufacturers, over 16,000 in 1946 alone, and even manufactured its own bodies for Ford and Mercury cars, in a dedicated plant at Iron Mountain, in Michigans Upper Peninsula. Ford Motor Company was vertically integrated; the wood, kiln-dried maple and ash framing with mahogany panels, was harvested from the companys expansive Iron Mountain first-growth timber tracts. It was harvested, kiln-dried and aged, all in one facility. Skilled craftsmen hand-built, assembled and trimmed each cars wooden body as they would fine furniture. Then it was shipped to a local Ford assembly plant to be mated to its engine and chassis.
General Motors didnt sell as many wood-bodied wagons as Ford. It would have been inefficient for GM to produce these cars in small numbers, so a legion of respected suppliers like Ionia, Hercules and Joseph Wildanger hand-crafted Chevrolet, Olds, Pontiac and Buick woodies. Cadillac never officially offered a wood-bodied model, although a a few custom Cadillac wood-bodied wagons were commissioned by wealthy owners. Produced in smaller numbers than their Ford counterparts, GM-branded woodies are very desirable. Packard, De Soto and Nash were two other American manufacturers who offered wood-bodied wagons.
Chrysler Corporation took a different approach, beginning in 1941, with its unique barrelback Town & Country model, so named because its twin rear doors opened sideways in clamshell fashion. Chrysler retained the Pekin Wood Products Company in Helena, Arkansas as a trusted supplier, to hand-craft its handsome Town and Country wood-bodied four-door sedans and in 1946, they began making convertibles. The Chrysler Town and Country was recently elevated to coveted Classic status by the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA).
Wood Is Good
With their intricate, finger-jointed framing, tacked on boot tops and multiple coats of varnish, wood-bodied cars were complex and relatively expensive to build. Many pieces were made of rare bird-eye maple, resplendent with natural whorls and unique flowing patterns. Woodies were beautiful, but they were weather-sensitive and subject to an early demise. Manufacturers issued instructions with each wood-bodied car that instructed owners how to sand and re-varnish the body every year. No one would tolerate that frequency of maintenance today, but it was a different era.
And woodies were fragile. A fender-bender thatd simply dent a metal car body could reduce a hapless woodie to matchsticks. Brutal Northeast winters meant that these were essentially three-season cars, at best. As most New England woodies were stored in the winter months, a high percentage of these cars still survive.
As they aged and became inexpensive used cars, older woodies became highly prized by Californias surfers, who invented the term, woodie, and Jan and Deans hit song, Surf City, made woodie a household word). Remember: Ive got a 34 wagon and we call it a woodie? The Beach Boys sang about woodies and were often photographed with them. Hot rodders carved these rare cars up, making the survival of Americas hand-built lumber wagons even more precarious. Highly desirable now, a spacious vintage woodie wagon or a Chrysler Town and Country is an ideal old car for weekend family cruising. The National Woodie Club, now in its 36th year, welcomes all makes, and members celebrate Drive Your Woodie Day, each Spring, helping to raise awareness of these wonderful cars.