The Wonderful Woodie

I must confess an affection for the woodie body style in a motor car. I have never owned one, but I find them fascinating whenever encountered – they just seem so ‘practical’ in their styling and construction. Whilst being clearly illogical in engineering terms.

Or to put it another way – we can all see what the construction of a table or chair is – what a wardrobe is made like, or how a staircase is slotted together. The woodie car style is much the same – a wooden casing attached to the rolling chassis of a car much like a wooden carriage might be plonked down onto the flatbed of a railway wagon. The doors are wooden doors like the doors of our houses. The framework that supports the body panels is external to the panel – like the timbers of a bridge. The hardware and fitments are closer to furniture than coachmaking. and the finish is polished and varnished wood. The furniture analogy could not be stronger.

But the reason they are what they are has always been a bit of a puzzle. Were they THAT much cheaper to make in the 1930’s than metal bodies? Or was it a style thing to suggest something else. What did it suggest? Rural austerity? Cowboy adventure? Country-club exclusivity? Who knows…

The part that intrigues me these days is how a woodie gets past the pits. We have ever-increasing laws written by engineers and bureaucrats that demand more and more in motor cars – all ostensibly in the interests of safety. Sometimes I wonder if the safety that is being promulgated is being applied to the employment prospects of the engineers and departmental pencil pushers…but then I always was a cynic.

The business of wood seems to be the place where they fall down. I know it forms part of the shell framework of many vintage and veteran cars – and they get by on the great grandfather clauses of motoring laws. It has featured in a notorious case of the sale of an unsafe car here in Perth – the rusted framework had been packed with wooden beams to get the thing sold and had then broken over a railway line. I suspect that when we see woodies now in either hot rod or stock versions, that there has been a subtle reversal of this construction; there may be metal struts under wooden covers.

Whichever, I was greatly cheered to see the woodie at the recent Curtin FM Car Show near Curtin University. I cannot imagine that the woodwork is anything but fresh and new, but I take it that it was patterned after the original design. It looks glorious and probably just as practical as a metal body would be. I’d be curious to see the differential in weight between the two forms of construction.


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