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Woodie Restoration

Part 1: Introduction

By Jeremy Wilson

The earliest woodies were custom-built, wood-bodied cars or trucks designed to haul people, luggage, and parcels. They were often purchased by railway stations and as a result were given the nicknames “depot hacks” or “station wagons.” By the late 1920s, Ford had two reasons to put the first woodie wagons into production. Demand had grown, and the Iron Mountain, Michigan plant, built in 1920 to produce wood body parts for Model T’s, was now largely idle as Model A bodies were mostly steel. For the 1929 model year, Ford introduced the Type 150-A, which seated eight passengers or could carry cargo when the three rear seats were removed. Pictured above is the successor to the 150-A, the 150-B, which was produced in 1930 and 1931.

By 1937, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Studebaker, all offered wood-bodied station wagons and by 1942 more than half a dozen followed suit. During that period, station wagons were increasingly used by lodges, country clubs, and became a status symbol for owners of country estates.

After World War II, U.S. automakers faced the enormous task of restarting their mothballed auto production facilities. In most cases, there was no time to tool up for a new model year so the ‘46 and ‘47 cars were simply ‘42s with a few cosmetic changes. It was at this time the automakers realized they could give their prewar holdovers a fresh look by adding wood features to convertibles (Ford and Mercury Sportsman and Chrysler Town and Country) and sedans (Chrysler Town and Country and Nash Suburban).

In 1949 the concept of upscaling a car by adding wood trim was extended to steel-bodied station wagons including Ford and Mercury (real wood over steel) and Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile (wood applique over metal, nicknamed “Tin Woodies”).

Although some car clubs do not recognize the post-1948 “wood over metal” or “imitation wood” wagons as true woodies, most car buffs consider the 1953 Buick Roadmaster the last “real” American woodie as it used wood for the structure and paneling of it rear deck and window frame.

The most plentiful of the remaining woodies are the 1949-51 Ford and Mercury wagons because they are aesthetically interesting (real wood trim) and many of them survived due to their steel bodies and high production numbers. Although valued at about half that of their 1948 all-wood counterparts, they are very popular, with top examples fetching upwards of $60,000.

The most significant challenge in restoring any woodie is bringing the wood back to its original condition. For those who want top-notch results, read the accompanying interview on this page. Rick Mack Enterprises provides fully-assembled wood sets for 1949-51 Ford and Mercury wagons, including the mahogany paneling.

See Part 2 (Wood Bleaching) and Parts 3, 4, and 5 (Woodie Wood Refinishing).

Continue to Part 2...
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Interview
 

Rick Mack Enterprises

By Jeremy Wilson

P.O. Box 39631
Lakewood, WA 98496
253-539-0432 (shop, daytime)
rick@rickmack.com
www.RickMack.com

Rick Mack has been involved in Ford and Mercury woodies since 1962, with the exception of a ten year hiatus from ‘74 to ‘84 while living in Hawaii. In 1991 he set up his operation in Lakewood, Washington to do ‘in shop’ rebuilds of woodies, and, a few years later, switched over to building wood sets for 1949-1951 Ford and Mercury wagons. Rick has built over one hundred complete new wood sets for these cars over the past dozen years, and has built a great many individual parts for these models as well.

PR: Tell us about your business Rick.

RM: My business offers individual parts, complete, fully assembled new wood sets for 1949-1951 Ford and Mercury wagons including the mahogany paneling. My parts are compatible with original Ford manufactured wood parts. My parts match the original Ford parts and they fit.

PR: How much do they cost?

RM: The price for a new wood set varies depending the make and model. The basic price for a late 1950 or 1951 Ford wood set is currently $12,800 for ‘clear’ maple framing with stock mahogany paneling. That is the low end. The high end price would be for a 1949 Mercury, which has the super difficult double bend on the front door. That price is currently $16,300.

PR: Do you stock kits or are they all made to order?

RM: Virtually all of my wood sets, and I like to describe them as ‘wood sets’ rather than ‘wood kits,’ are built to order, even if they are completely stock. I do some mildly custom work from time to time, and many customers ask for some special touches: some ‘birdseye’ or other ‘figured’ grain, and some other things. I have a form I fill out for each job to make sure I know all the small details of each project, and what differences there might be in the set I will be building for the particular customer.

PR:How long does it take to ship, once a set is ordered?

RM: The work time on any given project also varies depending on my current work load as well as on just which model I am to build. Currently, the work time is only between four and six months.

PR: Do you sell parts separately or just entire sets?

RM: Yes, I do sell individual parts separately as well as beautiful paneling sets, some with absolutely outstanding special wood choices.

PR: Do you have any suggestions for people who want to save the original wood--that is, how they should go about restoring it?

RM: I have written a ‘how to’ article both on finishing wood and on bleaching wood, as well as some short notes on specific aspects of wood restoration for these cars. I do take regular phone calls from woodie people seeking advice on how to do this or how to do that, and what is the quickest or the best way to achieve some aspect of the restoration process.

PR: What was Ford’s wood care instructions for woodie owners back in 1949-51?

RM: Ford basically sent out a maintenance brochure that recommended yearly re-varnishing to maintain the wood on these cars. This was always a problem for woodie owners--especially when these cars had to serve as constant daily drivers in all weather conditions. Few owners ever spent the time and effort to do this upkeep work on anything close to a yearly basis. Most never did any varnishing work at all. But a few did, and their cars survived as coveted collectors items to this day. As an aside, Ford knew the wood upkeep was always a drawback to most people who were considering buying one of the wooden cars, so they came up with the not so marvelous plan to build and stock replacement wood sets so a customer could come in three or four years later and purchase all-new for their now tired wagon. Few folks bought into this program at the time, but the surviving NOS wood sets were a big seller for restorers over the years. As you might guess, few, if any, of these wood units still exist unused today.

PR: What do suggest for wood care today?

RM: Varnish, you never outgrow your need for more varnish. Marine Varnish: Epifanes, Z-Spar ‘Captains,’ Z-Spar ‘Flagship,’ Interlux, and Interlux ‘Schooner’ varnish to name a few great varnishes. There are others.

PR: What are you plans going forward?

RM: I turned sixty-four today, and I simply cannot say how much longer I will pursue the very difficult, and very time consuming, work of building new wood for woodies. For the time being, I will be continuing to seek, and take on new woodie work, but my retirement from this may be fast approaching.

See Part 2 (Wood Bleaching) and Parts 3, 4, and 5 (Woodie Wood Refinishing).

Continue to Part 2...
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Fascinating interviews with the owners of featured cars include restoration stories and tips. This video also features general coverage of the entire Doheny Wood classic car show along with historical and woody trivia sprinkled throughout the program. Featured woodies include a 1938 Ford depot hack; 1940 Pontiac with updated drive-train; the only remaining factory-built 1946 Mercury Sportsman in the world; 1946 Ford Super Deluxe All Wheel Drive Marmon-Herrington; 1947 Oldsmobile Model 66; 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster; 1948 Ford Super Deluxe; 1949 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible; 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe; and a 1950 Ford Custom. Wall to wall woodies and all the sights and sounds of a Southern California classic car show.
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