Wooden It Be Nice?Dodge seems far more concerned with advertising its wood-bodied Coronet wagon’s easy tailgate loading, middle-row seats that fold for easier in/out from the back, and a combination of Fluid Drive and Gyro-Matic shifting.
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.
After the war, for a while, it was by necessity: Materials shortages plagued manufacturers, just as American car companies were ramping up to deliver new models to a country starved of them for nearly four years. Metal was in short supply, but wood was still available in America’s plentiful forests. By 1952, the last wood-bodied wagons had been built: In the age of rockets, A-bombs, and V-8 engines, the idea of door latches squirming their way open due to torsional chassis flex, and the crashability of wood at ever-increasing highway speeds, was simply unacceptable. Metal replaced wood, and while wood-bodied cars never made any significant reappearance, simulated timber appliques continued to be used as trim well into the 1990s.
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.
Starting in 1948, Packard combined woodie wagon style with a sedan, calling it a “station sedan.” The tailgate was wood, but the doors were all steel. It lasted until the 1951 models appeared.
Article courtesy of Hemmings, written by Jeff Koch.