Old Woodies for Enthusiasts of Wood-bodied Cars and Trucks

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War Woodies

World War II and it's Impact on Woodies

United States civilian car production stopped in the spring of 1942, already many woodie wagons were being diverted for use overseas. Earlier, Ford of Canada had already made right-hand drive woodies for use in war-torn Great Britain. To fulfill continuing demand, some pre-war sedans were rebodied as wood-clad wagons by specialist firms.

1942 Monart Mercury with siren & lightsFamed industrial designer Brooks Stevens created the Monart Motors "Carry-all" conversion using 1942 Ford and Mercury sedans from the government motor pool. These specially adapted vehicles could be configured to carry three stretchers and three passengers or 13 passengers, including the driver.

1942 Monart Mercury AmbulanceThe J.T. Cantrell Company of Huntington, Long Island did contract work for the War Department. Due to a shortage of automobiles during this period, this often meant converting sedans into station wagons. The car would be cut in two, the frame and driveshaft extended and strengthened, and wood built into the sectioned area. These "altered sedans", used by the Armed Forces, were seen in all theaters of the war. One, painted battleship gray, was shipped to the Pacific where it was used in the battle for the Caroline Islands.

The real boom in woodies was after the war - a result of war-related scarcity. Vehicles were under price-controls and the selling price was capped at pre-war prices. A newly rebodied vehicle was exempt, allowing dealers to sell the remanufactured wagons at whatever price the market would bear. At the peak, J.T. Cantrell was running three shifts.

Despite the fact that car models were unchanged immediately after the war, the ready availability of wood lead some manufacturers to alter their product mix. Shortages of materials caused immense problems as Detroit resumed production, but wood was not one of them. By the end of 1946, the Big Three offered wood-bodied wagons, sedans and convertibles - in far greater numbers that had been seen before the war.

Servicemen returned home, married, and started families. War shortages eased, the United States economy grew, and suburban real estate development swelled. The American baby boom had begun. The wood bodied station wagon was the perfect vehicle for young families - or was it?

Sadly, the wagon's most prominent feature was it's greatest drawback. Wood bodies required maintenance - not a problem for the wealthy with household staff. But as a 'do-it-yourself' chore, it was frequently neglected. Manufacturers responded by using less wood and more steel. In the early fifties, woodie resale values plummeted and new wagons of steel merely looked wooden.

Dodge woodie

Sources:
  • The Station Wagon, It's Saga and Development by Bruce Briggs, Vantage, 1974
  • US Military Wheeled Vehicles by Fred W. Crismon, Crestline/MBI, 1994
  • Great American Woodies & Wagons by Donald Narus, Crestline Publishing, 1977
  • The Cars of Lincoln Mercury by George Dammann and James Wagner, Crestline, 1987
  • American Woodies by David Fetherston, Thaxton Press, 1998
  • Woodys by David Fetherston, MBI, 1995
  • Antique Automobile magazine, December 1973
  • Army Motors magazine, Issue # 86, Winter 1999
  • 1942 Monart Mercury photos - Collection of David Miller
 
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