There are a lot of reasons why wood continued to be used on car bodies long after it was “necessary,” but the simplest is this: It just looks cool.
As you can see in my last image, it looks absolutely bitchin’ in my ’89 Olds Custom Cruiser, but when you see it on a PT Cruiser, Miata (seriously!) or other unworthy wood-stickered worm you’re right to see if there’s anything heavy/sharp/explosive nearby with which you could do the world a murderous favor.
But compared to the woody wagons RM moved at its St. John’s sale—four of them for $362,450, BTW—even my beloved “Angie” is a pretender. Well, actually, to just three. One of the woodies sold here, in fact, is a fake.
Cars are listed in the order in which they appeared at the auction and all text is courtesy RM Auctions unless indicated [like this].
RM Auctions is no stranger to “woody” sales. In fact, they probably set the record for the number of wood-bodied cars put up for auction at a single sale at their August 2009 Monterey event, selling the “Alexander Collection”—a group of 52 Ford and Mercury convertibles and wagons—for over $7M.
[FYI: A single Alexander car—a 1946 Mercury Sportsman Convertible—sold for $368,500, or $6,050 more than all four at this sale.]
Then at their June 2012 sale of the Dingman Collection in Hampton, NH, they also moved nearly $2M in woodies, 10 Ford and Mercury wagons plus a coupe (most of which were picked up by the Dingmans at that Alexander sale).
Lot 123 – 1948 Packard Eight Station Sedan [$51,700]
“Series 22. 130 bhp, 288 cu. in. L-head inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission with overdrive, independent coil spring front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 120″. Well-preserved original car.”
“Previously in the collection of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, this 1948 Packard Station Sedan is a very nice, original vehicle. Painted Packard’s Golden Green, it has retained the original, practical, tan vinyl interior. Although showing its age, the exterior wood has been carefully maintained and is highly varnished. Equipped with a radio and heater for passenger entertainment and comfort and twin backup lights for convenience, this Packard is the most dramatic model of the twenty-second series. Rare and beautiful, it is the ideal car to round out a collection of original Packards.”
Look, there’s a long and fascinating tale about why this car looks like somebody screwed all that odd-looking wood onto this Packard’s hide—a clue!—but it boils down to this: Packard didn’t properly fit wood panels into its product planning so no wood panels properly fit. So they—in Packard-speak—“took the basic sedan and added a ‘dormer’ at the back.” So, sorry, folks. This one—despite its odd looks—is not only factory-built, it wouldn’t take that much to make it near-factory-fresh.
Lot 131 – 1948 Hudson Commodore Eight Custom Station Wagon [$159,500]
“Model 484. 128 bhp, 254.5 cu. in. L-head inline eight-cylinder engine, three-speed manual transmission, independent coil spring front suspension, live rear axle with semi-elliptic leaf springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 124″
This is the fake. Sorry, but I couldn’t tell you anything about this car without giving it away. This has an even longer and more, um… involved story than the Packard, so I’ll do us all a favor and lop off everything but the metaphorical “dormer”:
“One-off creation of a 1948 design; Hand-crafted woodwork; Freshly tuned and detailed. A rust-free 1948 Hudson Commodore Eight four-door sedan from Missouri proved suitable. For the rear “cabin,” he used a 1954 Hudson donor car, its roof forming the greater part of the wagon’s rear roof. The curved liftgate window was formed from Lexan. The wood proved the hard part. There were no patterns, so every stick had to be hand-crafted and finished to fit. It took more than a year to create all the pieces using ash framing with mahogany veneer. The veneer was bonded to metal panels in order to fabricate the compound curves at the rear of the quarter panels. All of this work harmonized nicely with the standard wood grain on the Commodore dash panel and window moldings.”
So, yup, 160 large for a “phantom” as they call them in modern parlance. Well, it certainly is wooded, and it looks like a station wagon, so I suppose it counts as a woody wagon. I will say no more other than to note that my Angie was designed from the get-go to be a wagon and wood “appliqués” were in the plans before Car #1 was built. Woody—and wagon—properly-engineered and direct from the factory. Just sayin’.
Lot 157 – 1947 Buick Super Estate Wagon [$63,250]
“Series 50; Model 59. 110 bhp, 248 cu. in. OHV Dynaflash inline eight-cylinder engine, single two-barrel carburetor, three-speed manual transmission, independent front suspension and live rear axle with coil springs, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 124″
“While Buick’s postwar lineup was still based upon its prewar designs, the mildly revised 1946–1948 models garnered very strong public favor nonetheless. During that era, the Series 50 Super Estate Wagon, with handsome woody bodywork by Michigan’s Ionia Manufacturing Company, topped Buick’s mid-tier offerings with a factory price of nearly $2,600. Just 2,036 of them, including five for export, were produced for 1947.
“Finished in dark green with tan leather upholstery, the example offered here was fully restored during the late-1990s. At the time the car last changed hands, all of the wood pieces were thought to be original, save for one section at the left-rear side of the car that appears to have been replaced.”
Actually, something else tried to be replaced: the buyer. This same car was offered a little more than a month later at Auctions America by RM’s Sept.2 in Auburn, Ind., sale, but only reached a high bid (no sale) of $49k. Let’s see… That would have been a loss of $2,700 in addition to the cost of the 2 ½-hour (151 mile) drive, AA’s auction fees, etc. It was my personal favorite of the sale, and not just because she’s a direct forebear of MY wagon. I like its shade of green, as well. Moving on…
Lot 162 – 1937 Dodge Westchester Suburban Woody Wagon [$88,000]
“87 bhp, 217.8 cu. in. inline six-cylinder engine, three-speed selective sliding manual transmission, hypoid rear axle, and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. Wheelbase: 126″ Engine was freshly rebuilt; 2008 Willistead Concours d’Elegance Best in Class winner.”
“Like other manufacturers that built cars for professional use, Dodge would dispatch a finished, fendered chassis with complete bodywork from the cowl forward. A specialist coachbuilder, in this case U.S. Body and Forging, would then build and fit the wooden body and add the interior before returning the wagon to Dodge for final assembly and trim. Due to the very nature of woody wagon construction, these extremely collectible vehicles have a low survival rate. Few of the less than 500 1937 Dodge Westchester Suburban Wagons built survive, making this an extraordinary opportunity to purchase a well-sorted example.”
OK, here’s the car they’re all trying to be, even mine. You can’t really say that wood has any advantage over other body-making materials—in fact, it probably has far more negatives, as its disappearance itself shows—but DAMN that car looks gorgeous! Sure, it’s got the whole Buick-greenness thing going for it, too, but apart from the ungainly exterior spare tires there’s really nothing bad you can say about it. Well, for a year or so. See, unlike my stuck-on “wood grain”, the real wood on these cars needs real refinishing every few years if you drive the car it’s on. That’s sanding and staining and the whole shebang. So I’d tell the buyers to go out and enjoy their “new” cars, but knowing what I know about woody upkeep, I’m pretty sure they won’t listen. I, on the other hand, am going out to enjoy mine right now. (Although when you’re out on a hundred more errands than you find necessary the term “enjoy” loses its meaning…)
Source : RM Auctions