In the beginning, it was a question of technology and recycling. A car chassis, with larger, truck-like capacity to haul people and stuff from the train station to the hotel, seemed like a good idea. These types of haulers were coachbuilt in the Teens and 1920s. Ford itself started building Model A station wagons in 1929 in low quantities—at least in part because of their hand-built nature (and the costs this added into the price). Tooling up for a steel body, when no one knew whether the concept would take off, seemed foolhardy.
But the idea caught on, and soon most American car companies offered station wagon body styles to accommodate growing families. Before the war, wood was by choice and convenience, and due to the ease of making quick design changes without incurring the high cost of fabricating body panel dies, it became the dominant body material in station wagons. More than that, wood-sided wagons possess a unique magnetic attractiveness that people are fascinated by.
With steel still in short supply postwar, Ford figured out a way to use less metal per car, thus extending its supplies and sales—use more wood! And so, the pop-top 1946 Sportsman: half wood, half steel, all showy.
Buick keyed right in to the wood-bodied Estate Wagon’s upscale elegance in 1946, suggesting the hunt club, the golf course, or a trip to the country—all while extolling a limousine-like ride and Buick Fireball straight-eight power.
By the mid-1930s, most companies had a wood-bodied station wagon in their lineups, and they were advertised alongside coupe, sedan, and convertible models in due course. The idea of a woodbodied wagon was not new, or news, and so didn’t bear a great deal of discussion beyond the extra headroom, cargo, and passenger capacity, and perhaps an element of style. Very little was said about the materials themselves (save for Mercury’s details, designed to attach additional luxury to the upscale brand). In other words: they were just normal cars then. Woodies didn’t seem special until they’d gone away.
Just six short years after the Sportsman, Ford advertised the Country Squire and its “real wood trim over mahogany-finished steel panels”—technically still a woody, though the days of an all-wood body were gone.
The postwar sales rush was on! The ad for this 1947 Pontiac is more indicative of Pontiac as a brand—attempting to differentiate it from any other automotive marque out there— than it is about the model shown.
Unlike some nameplates of the era, Mercury wrote station wagon copy to accompany the station wagon images used in its ads, including mentioning maple framing and a choice of birch or mahogany panels for the body.
Ford would like to remind you that it’s been making wagons forever, and that past editions, like the 1946 model shown here, were “classic” just 20 years later. The 1966 model is now also classic.
Plymouth’s salvo in the wagon wars was the Westchester, which launched in 1934. The 1936 model seen here came standard with “rattle-proof seats”; a buyer chose side curtains or “safety glass with window lift controls.”
“Ultra smart and extra sturdy”…Pontiac presents a dichotomy in its $1,015 wagon for 1940: It promises low price, seating for eight, and enough style to stop a fox hunt dead in its tracks. Tally ho!
Plenty of wood-bodied-era ads give some lip service to the wood body—they make it sound special. For 1947, Chevrolet doesn’t even bother to give it hype—it’s all about low costs and big-car comfort.
The 1942 Plymouth was given a restyle at just the wrong time. The lack of running boards? That fresh new face? Immaterial with war coming; blackwall tires suggest austerity, although there’s ample chrome.