I'm a surfer and one day while up on the North Shore up pulled this weird looking Toyota Prius with wood panels on the side. My first reaction was what the "heck" is that. So I strolled over to the dude that was driving and asked him about the car and the wood paneling. Two hours later into the conversation and me and the guy were now officially bra's. Here is what I learned from my new found bra.
Apparently, wood-bodied station wagons affectionately known as "Woodys" (or Woodies) may be gone, but are certainly not forgotten. At one point, woodie wagons were first popular in high-end American suburbs and were often found at country clubs, hotels, the beach and national parks. Featuring hand-crafted strips of fancy wood such as birch and mahogany on both interior and exterior panels, wood-bodied wagons were priced significantly higher than regular models. Of course today you would be hard pressed to find real wood panels on a newer version of the Woody.
History of the Woody
The original woody was a car body style with rear bodywork constructed of a wood framework with infill wood panels. Originally, wood framework augmented the car's structure. Over time manufacturers supplanted wood construction with a variety of methods and materials evoking wood construction-- including infill metal panels, metal framework, or simulated wood-grain sheet vinyl bordered with three-dimensional, simulated framework. In 2008, wood construction was evoked a bit on the Ford Flex with a series of side and rear horizontal grooves.
In 1950, Plymouth discontinued their woody station wagon. Buick's 1953 Super Estate Wagon and 1953 Roadmaster Estate Wagon were the last production American station wagons to retain real wood construction. Other marques by then were touting the advantages of "all-steel" construction to the buying public. By 1955, only Ford, Mercury, joined in 1965 by Chrysler offered a "woodie" appearance, adding real wood with other materials including steel, plastics and DI-NOC (a vinyl product). As the appearance became popular, Ford, GM, and Chrysler offered multiple models with the wood grain appearance until the early 1990s.
The British Motor Corporation (BMC) offered the Morris Minor Traveller (1953-- 71) with wood structural components and painted aluminum infill panels-- the last true mass-produced woodie. Morris' subsequent Mini Traveller (1961-- 9) employed steel infill panels and faux wood structural members.
In a reversal of sorts, as steel stamping became cheaper and commonplace, genuine wood trim became a luxury. The workmanship recalled old-world charm. The Chrysler Town & Country was the brand's most luxurious model from 1941 to 1959. The level of detail on this vehicle is clear with a tongue-in-groove panel construction.
The Woody Today
While genuine woodys fell out of popularity with mainstream buyers and manufacturers because of their increased cost of production and lack of durability, eventually the vehicles found a second life in the beach towns of Southern California. The climate helped maintain and preserve the wood, while the interiors proved ideal for surfers to haul their boards and friends to SoCal beaches.
As with most once-fashionable trends, automotive woodys went downhill, with fake wood eventually replacing the real thing. Chrysler starting using Di-Noc in 1947. GM stopped using termite bait midway through 1949, while Ford waited and started using fiberglass in 1955. This 2010 Spark created for the Paris Auto Show recalls some of the basics of the woodie genre because unlike most modern woodies, the Spark was covered in real wood.
Over the second half of the 20th century, the rise of faux wood paneling produced some real eyesores. Let's face it, at some points, there were some really awful woodys out there.
The National Woodie Club was eventually formed so that Woodie enthusiasts and owners may exchange information and share experiences with other members. As of this writing, the National Woodie Club has at least 18 chapters across America. Their monthly magazine is called the "Woodie Times".
So I am now fully indoctrinated into the "Woodie" and the Woodie history and culture. From my long conversation with my new friend I found the idea really cool, and the long tradition even more interesting particular for the surfer crowd. I'm not ready to run out and buy a Prius Woody at this point, but I haven't ruled out a "Woodie" for my next vehicle.