January 12, 2019 2:46 PM   Subscribe

Woodies! That's what devotees call cars with wood construction in the bodywork--and the devotees are legion. The whippersnappers among us may be more familiar with "wallpaper woodies" like the '86 Dodge Caravan, which featured woodgrain sheet vinyl. Over at Old Woodies, woodie enthusiast David Miller has exhaustively catalogued the history of the woodie with a zeal redolent of the '90s internet: American woodies, British woodies, French woodies, weird woodies, wicker woodies. Old woodie ads! Woodie miniatures! Thrillist has opinions on the 10 Best Woodies of All Time, while Popular Mechanics looks at 5 classics alongside 5 of the worst. (Previously: Retired French cabinet-maker builds wooden Citroen 2CV)
posted by duffell (30 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
So much wood was used in early cars that the waste was a problem to be solved. The solution was charcoal briquettes!
posted by sjswitzer at 3:30 PM on January 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

A colleague of mine was tangentially involved in some academic work around wooden cars; essentially they built a car built entirely of wood. They sourced a number of hard woods for the chassis axles, etc, lighter woods for the body. They stuck with wood for the whole wheel rather than use tyres, the upshot was they didn't expect a smooth ride since they couldn't prioritise putting time into a wooden suspension. They did a lot of work to develop a wooden gearing/transmission system. Making the dashboard functional as well as user friendly proved more challenging than expected and required a mix of different woods. Wooden seats was less problematic but beyond shaping didn't offer a lot of comfort. When they put it all together they found there was only one problem. It wooden go.
posted by biffa at 3:37 PM on January 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

That is like a splintery dog comment...
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:45 PM on January 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

There is a little turquoise Model A or T rolling around town with wooden wheels, that hold the rubber tires. The spokes of the wheels and the rims are wood!

I left home in a Willys Woodie Jeep maybe a '48. I got to keep it for six weeks or so, then I had to give it back. I pulled it out of a snowbank to run away, and I took myself to friends in the mountains. It had this muffled but powerful sound and it would go anywhere, with that sloppy four on the floor, it was a beauty too, red with wooden sides.
posted by Oyéah at 3:49 PM on January 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

My old landlord, Dean Torrance wrote the line:
“I bought a ’34 wagon and we call it a woodie.”
And in 2014, he got to drive one!
posted by Ideefixe at 4:46 PM on January 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

I clicked on the wicker link hoping that the Fiat Jolly would be on there and thank God it was. I've been in to cars my whole life and have a whole long mental list of my all time absolute dream cars but goddamn the older I get the higher up that list creeps a silly little Jolly with a canvas roof and wicker seats.
posted by saladin at 4:51 PM on January 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

I looked at the vinyl wrap woody for the smart car when I bought my smart car. I could not justify the cost even though it makes me laugh my ass off.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:21 PM on January 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Does a Morgan count as a woody? Just because you can't see the wood doesn't mean it's not there. (They are beautiful cars and I have always wanted one. Mario Kart players might recognize this one.)
posted by TedW at 6:12 PM on January 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Does a Morgan count as a woody? Just because you can't see the wood doesn't me

I don’t know- but it’s a beautiful car.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:16 PM on January 12, 2019

If you are in the region, Santa Cruz has an annual Woodies on the Wharf in June where you can see a bunch of them all together and up close. It's pretty neat.

fluffy battle kitten I am with you, that cracks me up. It is a scandal that it made into the 5 of the worst link.

posted by ActingTheGoat at 6:40 PM on January 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

At the bottom of this page is the Friend Wood's Tryane II, fibre glass over a wooden frame, so that obviously counts. A three-wheeled vehicle made largely of wood, designed to reach 100mph. Which sounds, in combination, insane.
posted by Grangousier at 6:44 PM on January 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

(At the top of that page are the Mini and Morris Minor Travellers, which is, like, instant nostalgia.)
posted by Grangousier at 6:45 PM on January 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have long had an *amazing* t-shirt idea, but no idea how to actually put it out into the world: a white tee with the vinyl woodgrain strip from the Plymouth Voyager / Dodge Caravan printed around the midsection. That's it, that's the whole thing.

Y'all, I could make tens of dollars.
posted by duffell at 6:47 PM on January 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

We had two Plymouth Voyagers in the 80s with faux wood grain. duffell, I’d buy one!
posted by infinitewindow at 7:33 PM on January 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Drove an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser with the classic camouflage for many years, not perfect but quite loveable. Our beast was nicknamed:"Klingon Battle Cruiser". I've actually seen the same model used in at least two art installations, wow.
posted by ovvl at 8:13 PM on January 12, 2019

Are any of these Major Woodies?
posted by saysthis at 8:23 PM on January 12, 2019

Growing up in the Midwest in the 50's/early 60's we called woodies "beaver cars". There were rare and typically station wagons. If you were driving and you saw one before another kid in the car (i.e. my younger brother) you could yell out "beaver car" and then punch them in the arm and they couldn't hit you back.
Anyone else do this?
posted by Metacircular at 10:43 PM on January 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anyone else do this?

We always did it with VW Beetles and had to yell out "Beaver Cleaver" before punching our seatmate; others yelled "punchbuggy" whenever they saw a Beetle.

Drove an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser...

Growing up we had its close relative, the Vista Cruiser, in white with wood trim, probably a 1970. There was always a fight among the three siblings as to who got the back seat on long trips. It was eventually replaced with a Gran Torino station wagon that had a stereo (a big plus for teen aged me) but didn't look nearly as good, and nothing was as cool as those three skylights!
posted by TedW at 7:59 AM on January 13, 2019

Meant to add a link: Olds Vista Cruiser
posted by TedW at 8:08 AM on January 13, 2019

“I bought a ’34 wagon and we call it a woodie.”

I swear, I always thought that line was about a "thirty-foot wagon." I figured surfers liked really long cars.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:27 AM on January 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Bob Bruninga has (had?) a woodie Prius — scroll down a bit to find it.
posted by scruss at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2019

My parents had one of these back in the early sixties. (Wagon of some sort, no idea make model or year.) When the wood bits rotted out, my father, wise in the ways of wood, repaired and replaced. Eventually they got a VW wagon instead, having sold the woodie to - a surfer.
posted by BWA at 9:18 AM on January 13, 2019

My Dad has - amid the other project cars - an un-restored, RUNNING 1928 Pontiac coupe - he actually rolls it out of the shop and putts around the neighborhood in it just for laughs. It *needs* to be restored, but it's kinda cool as-is.

The wood in the body and interior is in remarkably good shape, structurally - it's not rotted or warped - it's just dirty and in need of some TLC. It reminded me that not just carmakers were into wood. Bellanca made amazingly beautiful, strong and functional aircraft out of wood when everyone went to metal, too. There are some things hard to improve upon when strength and beauty intersect.
posted by Thistledown at 9:49 AM on January 13, 2019

Four hole Buick, no hit backs!
posted by Oyéah at 9:49 AM on January 13, 2019

@duffel, I would buy that T-shirt.

I've always rated movies that have a suburban scenes and station wagons with wood in the body in them 2 more points (out of 10, mind).

And I'm from Belgium, I've never seen such a car in reality. It just takes me away to what I imagined American life to be when I was a kid.
posted by Captain Fetid at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2019

My maternal grandpa liked BIG cars. He'd worked in a auto parts factory in Flint from the 1940s-1978 (he passed on in 1979), and as the head floor supervisor by the mid-60s, he made enough to indulge himself: the latest model Cadillac Coupe de Ville every couple of years for when he was feelin' fancy, a Buick LeSabre every couple of years as his "everyday" car, and a Ford Country Squire for when he went fishing, hunting, sailing, and out to his, well, I'd have to call it a hobby farm. Apparently, in the 1950s, he'd had a Country Squire with the real wood. My aunt mentioned going around with him in "the big station wagon" as a child. He was toting 6 kids around then, so, sure!

I remember being in the back of the 70s Ford (so spacious to a 5 year old!) when we'd go down to the lake or to his farm, and when any of the grandkids were riding in it, he'd line the back with a plaid wool Pendleton blanket or a Hudson Bay-type blanket. Kinda preppy, but there it is. He must have been an excellent driver, because I don't remember feeling jostled around in the least. I'd wave at people out the back window and they'd "beep!" in reply.
posted by droplet at 10:24 AM on January 13, 2019

Pfft. Wood vinyl for me was always like the bright coloration of poisonous insects, to warn of danger, except with cars, wood vinyl indicated “this is an insanely crappy car.”

If you’re doing faux sides, go full-tilt insane, go wicker, and go French, so you can drive a fantastic people’s car that’ll blend beautifully with all the furniture on The Golden Girls.
posted by sonascope at 10:59 AM on January 13, 2019

I'm sorry. Shouldn't a "woodie" actually include, I don't know, wood, at least somewhere? I mean if you're just going to stick a wood grain decal on a regular station wagon, that's not really the same thing is it?

(As hilarious as the Smart Car one is.)
posted by Naberius at 1:25 PM on January 13, 2019

Achtung, whippersnappers! SYLT: Dean Torrence explains surf music, culture and woodies
posted by Twang at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2019

Surf City, here we come!
posted by slogger at 8:56 AM on January 14, 2019

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