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1950 Ford Country Squire Woodie Station Wagon

By Jeremy Wilson

In 1950, Ford’s most expensive passenger car was the Custom Deluxe V-8 two-door station wagon: the “Country Squire.” Promoted by Ford as “The ‘Double Duty’ Dandy of them all!”, these versatile vehicles were similar in function to the modern minivan. With the rear seat removed and the center seat folded flat, the wagon provided more than 38 square feet of flat cargo and a half-ton carrying capacity!

The Country Squire was the heaviest station wagon in the “Low Priced Three” (Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth) weighed 3531 pounds. Contributing to its heft was its all-steel body with wood framework siding. From 1949 until 1954, Chevrolet station wagons were all steel (“Tin Woodies”); 1950 Plymouth wagons were all wood, and were also the last of that marque’s sided wagons.

Dave and Heather Charvet acquired this beauty in 2001 and it was a true “barn find.”

“It started its life in Beaverton, Oregon and has been a Portland area car ever since,” said Dave. “It belonged to a Ford collector who bought it from the original owner in 1968 when they were still inexpensive. He parked it in his barn near Champoeg Park because it had a little bit of a knock. As he got older, he realized he wasn’t going to do anything with it (he had a fire engine and a bunch of other cars), so he decided to sell it. I found out about it through my father-in-law, so we went to see it and made him an offer.

“The car was a lot as you see it now, in terms of the paint and the chrome. It was really solid because the barn had a dirt floor. Apparently all of the moisture went into dirt and not into the metal, so the car is completely rust free, which is shocking considering it sat for 32 years.

“The goal, if there really was a goal, was to buy it and drive it. There was rot in some of the wood, as you can still see, but overall it was really in remarkably good shape. On the other hand, it wasn’t running, the interior was kind of a mess, and the wood on the side had been painted over with brown, primer colored paint. It wasn’t very attractive.”

With the goal of creating a nice “driver,” the Charvets began the restoration process, making some tough decisions.

“We decided we were going to do a restoration, but not do a restoration. Because it’s one of those things where once you get started, where do you end? We decided that if we were going to replace the wood, we’d probably buy an entire wood kit from Rick Mack in Tacoma. He makes beautiful wood kits, but they’re about $12,000 and we thought, ‘Okay, if we start doing that, then we’ll have to paint the whole car, and then we’ll need to do all the chrome, and where does it end?’

“So, keeping a “nice driver” in mind, the first thing we did was the engine.”

To restore the primer-painted paneling, Dave first had to remove the wood framework. The 1949-51 Ford Woodie paneling initially had a natural wood grain but at some point in 1950 Ford changed to an applique, similar to that being used on wood grain dashboards. In 1951 Ford went back to natural wood, but this particular car had the applique. Dave was able to bring back the original appearance by varnishing the framework and applying a 3M wood grain material to the panels.

“The original shop manuals that went to the service departments said, ‘varnish these cars twice a year; varnish them in the spring and varnish them in the fall’”, said Dave. “It said, ‘If you want to really create good will for your customers, offer to varnish their cars.’ It’s pretty funny, but that’s what they said. Most people use Spar (marine) varnish, not polyurethane, because polyurethane looks blue when it’s applied. Varnish looks yellow, and that’s really what you want to do. The outside wood paneling is now 3M DI-NOC. They stopped making it for years but they’re back in business. The DI-NOC is applied to panels which are actually inset inside the wood framework and then screwed on from the back.”

The Charvets completely restored their Ford’s interior.

“Bright Upholstery in southeast Portland did it and they’re great. They refinished the mahogany door panels and we decided to have them reupholster the seats with leather.

They used an off-white canvas-like material for the headliner and while it was out, we removed the dash and replaced the wiring harness.”

With the third seat installed, the 1950 Ford will transport not just one, but two modern-day families. The front seat and removable rear seat are both designed for three adults. The fold-down center seat can carry two adults or three children.

“The rarest part of this car is the third seat, said Dave. “The third seat alone sells for about $1500 if the car lacks it because they often got lost. Most people took them out because they don’t fold down and then they’d throw them in the garage or they’d end up on the porch.”

To remove the third seat you just give it a push from the back and then lift to release the front hooks.

“There’s really nothing holding it in there. It’s just wedged in and that’s it. It’s heavy so when you lift it out you scrape the tailgate with the seat’s metal prongs,” laughed Dave.

When the rear seat is removed and middle seat is folded down, the cargo space becomes a flat deck. The deck can be extended by leaving the tailgate down and raising the rear window.

Ford made the cargo space larger by mounting the spare tire on the tailgate, along with the taillights and license plate. The foldaway body panel and sculpted bumper make room for the spare as the tailgate is lowered.

“I always am amazed at this tailgate,” said Dave. “The design allows you to haul a load of lumber down the road with the gate open, still having the taillights visible. And it’s kind of neat that they put a thumb screw on the back window so it won’t come crashing down if you drive down the road with the lid up.”

Options on this woodie include a radio, heater, clock, and even an evaporative window cooler.

“It’s really a good car and it really drives well,” said Dave. “Ford built the same engine from 1932 until 1953. It gained a little bit of horsepower through the years, but the flat head V8 is bulletproof, it really is.”

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History and Production Notes

For the 1929 model year, Ford introduced a wooden-bodied station wagon dubbed the Type 150-A. It seated eight passengers or could carry cargo when the three rear seats were removed. Independent coach builders had been fitting wooden station wagon bodies to Model Ts for more than a decade, but the 150-A was Ford’s first production model.

In an effort to ensure supply and reduce production costs, Henry Ford opened a lumber mill in Iron Mountain, Michigan in 1929. It was a move that, in part, allowed Ford to dominate the woodie station wagon market for the next two decades.

In the years immediately following World War II, most American auto makers had their hands full restarting their passenger car production lines and Ford was no exception. Their 1946-48 offerings were simply prewar models with little more than cosmetic changes. The 1949 model year, however, brought the significantly improved “New Generation” Fords. Taking the place of the four-door woodie was a two-door, steel bodied station wagon with “woodie” trim, requiring 85 percent less wood than its predecessor.

Pre-war woodies were often used by hotels and other commercial establishments for transporting their guests to and from train stations. Before long, they also became popular with owners of country estates, so, in 1950, Ford nicknamed their station wagon the “Country Squire,” a name they would continue to use until 1991.

This 1950 magazine advertisement shows that the target market is clearly the American family. The text reads:

For here is a car for everybody!
Dad will use it for everything from business to fishing expeditions.
Mom will use it for the beach, for shopping, for the family taxi!
The kids will use it for fun!
Loaded with features found in no other “wagon” in its field, the “Country Squire” still sports an economy price tag.

The car truly was as versatile as they claimed. But one might question the “economical price tag.” With a base price of $2107, the Country Squire was the most expensive model in Ford’s 1950 lineup; nearly $800 more than the Deluxe Six Business Coupe and only $200 less than an entry-level Chrysler.

Interestingly enough, the advertisement also contains a foretelling “safety” sentence:

The mahogany-grained outer panels of its all-steel “Lifeguard” Body are wood-trimmed.

Stated in small type, the ad copywriters put little emphasis on the fact that a steel-bodied wagon was more crash-worthy than its wood counterpart, undoubtedly because Chevrolet wagons were also steel. But six years later Ford would recycle the word “Lifeguard” for the name of its five-part safety system that included a deep-dish steering wheel, safety latches to keep doors closed on impact, and optionally, front seat belts anchored to steel plates, a padded instrument panel and sun visors, and a safety rearview mirror. Promoted by division chief Robert McNamara, the 1956 “Lifeguard System” was initially a hit with the car-buying public, but when sales unexpectedly fell, Henry Ford II complained, “McNamara is selling safety, but Chevrolet is selling cars.”

Today 1949-51 woodies are the most plentiful for several reasons. They were among the last to be manufactured, they were produced in relatively high numbers, and they haven’t disintegrated as quickly as some of their all-wood counterparts. At the time of this writing, restored woodies of this type are selling for $60,000 and up.

PRODUCTIONNOTES Production Notes...

In 1950 the production total for the Chevrolet “Tin Woodie” exploded to 166,995, outselling Ford wagons by over five to one. But this was a temporary blip. Ford station wagon sales topped Chevrolet’s in the year before and the year after.

Year Ford 2-dr Station Wagon Chevrolet 4-dr Station Wagon Plymouth 4-dr Station Wagon

1949

31,412

3342/2664*

3,443

1950

29,017

166,995

2,057

1951

29,617

23,586

76,520**

* Real wood/Simulated wood
**Steel body--not sided with real or synthetic wood. Total is only available for 1951 and 1952 lumped together

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