The Woodie, or sometimes it is spelled Woody, was an early style of station wagon whereupon the rear portion of the car’s bodywork was made of wood. This wood was typically visible and covered in a clear finish.
While few real Woodies are seen today as the concept was later replaced with replicated wood in the form of plastic or metal, the real Woodies are quite valuable, when found. The term Woodie came not only from its exposed wood panels but its design. In Britain, the vehicle was called a Shooting Brake due to the fact a ‘brake’ was another term for a sturdy horse-drawn wagon, which of course was where the Woodie concept got its start. ?
In early days, when cars were built, most were made of aluminum or steel panels bolted on top of a wood frame. Woodies were cheaper to build as they didn’t need these panels. They were also called station wagons in America due to the fact railway stations used the vehicles for hauling luggage and transferring shipments.
Although the Woodie was less expensive to build, it wasn’t long before Woodies were built in luxury form as well, including Europe’s Rolls-Royce Woodie.
In America in the 30s, the Woodie was used also by lodges, inns and country clubs to carry groups of people and their luggage. The idea of having a vehicle with large amounts of room, caught on with wealthy landowners who needed a vehicle suited for traveling in the suburbs.
During World War II, saving steel was important; this made the concept of using wood instead on vehicles ideal. After the war, a large amount of mass produced Woodie wagons became appealing to middle class families who needed a vehicle to haul all their children around in. The popularity of Woodies for personal transportation peaked by mid-century. And then it was on to something new. By the late fifties and sixties, used car dealers had plenty of cheap, poorly maintained wood-clad cars. Unfortunately, the wagon’s most prominent feature, its wood body, was also its 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. This is when the surfers discovered they could purchase an inexpensive car big enough for hauling their longboards. Thus, a sub-culture and a car became legend.
By 1955, only Ford and Mercury offered a woody-like model, but without the real wood. The wood appearance was due to the use of simulated products including DiNoc (a vinyl product) to simulate broad expanses of wood. Known as the Ford Country Squire, this heavily-trimmed full-size wagon was a staple of the Ford line from the 1940s to the 1990s. In the 1960s the Morris Minor and Mini Traveller were more basic vehicles factory built in Woodie style.
Reintroduction of woody decorated station wagons by other makers in America began in 1966 when Dodge offered the look for the first time in 15 years. By 1967, simulated “wood” decoration was used exclusively on top line models, with unadorned vehicles denoting lower price and status models.
The nostalgia around the historic Woodies has driven the price up on these original station wagons, but those who preserve them are preserving a big piece of America’s car history.