The Golden Woodie – Part 2

I do not pretend to understand engines. With the possible exception of the .049 Cox Thimble Drome model airplane engine – and that impressed me with its ability to bite into my fingers. But all the rest are intricate mysteries. People ask me why I include pictures of engine compartments in my reports if I don’t know what I am seeing – I do it for those who do.

Other people are more knowledgeable – This 350 Chevrolet seems to have been neatly fitted into a place that once held a considerably smaller Ford flathead engine and presumably moves the car along at quite a bit faster pace. I salute the skill that does this. My complements to the chef who also decided to do it without cutting horrid holes in the bonnet and poking industrial machinery through them. Perhaps the owners of this wonderful custom car have passed the stage of wanting to have things look like an Ed Roth cartoon.

How much shoe-horning was required? Well the show sign said they sectioned the bonnet and reshaped the fenders so there must have been some squeaky moments. I have a 1:18th scale die-cast model of a 1948 Ford Woody so I will go look at it to see if I can see where the cutting took place. I can’t see a bad line anywhere here.

Likewise, I am going to have to consult a 1:18 model of the Ford convertible of the time to see if I can pick out how the shape of the boot lid was done. I can’t say whether the body is a readaptation of the original or a new construction but if the car comes back onto the Perth display scene and we can get closer to it past the honour barrier, I will examine it closely.

Note the wheels. perfectly chosen combination of modern spoke design relieved and highlighted by the repeat of body colour and the period-correct effect of wide whitewalls and substantial tyres. Some stylists might have been tempted to put in thin rims and strip rubber tyres, but I am glad to see they did not do this here. The Ford tragics in the crowd might have looked askance at the Chevy bow ties in the hubcaps, but then it has a Chevrolet engine after all. And all the bow ties were lined up for smooth appearance.



The Golden Woodie Part 1

Every car show has a gem buried at its heart. These are sometimes flagged by the show organisers and sometimes you just have to find them for yourself. This year at the Perth hot rod show I found the golden woodie. It is for me a true evocation of a custom car.

Just a moment for two asides – if you go to the motoring bookshops you can find very nice illustrated books of the classic 1950’s and 60’s custom cars from North America. Lots of famous names – Barris, Winfield, etc. Sometimes there are colour photos of the cars, though at the time the colour processes were both expensive and rare…and we miss out of seeing some of the images. I like to think that there are 35mm Kodachrome and Kodachrome II slides out here in private collections that still do show the colours of the time accurately. Maybe not taken with all the skill of a pro magazine shooter, but first-rate records nevertheless. If anyone comes across old car photos of any kind they should never throw them out – someone will benefit from them right now.

But the second aside…well a couple of the books I have show some pretty extensive customising done in California in those eras but they are painfully blunt in showing what are some pretty awful design choices. I know, I know – each to their own taste…but if that is the case then some of the tastes evinced by home builders were pretty bizarre. And not just home builders – the big custom boys sometimes reached out for novelty far further than aesthetics could follow. It’s the same with music and clothing tastes of that time and the place – some cause nostalgia and some cause rectalgia.

But enough of the asides. They only serve to point up what I really want to say about this car; it is a truly delightful design and very well executed. I should have wished to see it displayed on a plinth in a compound of its own.

The sign board identified the original chassis as a 1946 Ford Sportsman. It’s been chopped, sectioned, re-engined, and re-suspended. I’ll let you read the sign yourself. And thank you to Valmae and Peter for summarising it at the show – it makes it all the more enjoyable if you know what the bits are.

Okay – wooden bodies – particularly New Guinea Rose Wood ones – are not all that common in the car parks around Bull Creek. Probably just as well, considering what the local drivers can do with the doors of their Toyota 4WD’s. I can only imagine that it must take some rather special maintenance even in the country to keep up the smooth shine. Full marks as well, for the colour paint decision – the rosewood with varnish wants delicate treatment in the metal areas to keep it looking elegant – this Aztec Gold cum bronze is perfect.

Likewise, the temptation to stripe, scallop, flame, or fade is one that every hot rod or custom builder must face. Some give in to siren song of the colourful side and throw decoration at every panel that will hold paint. It’ll work in some cases, but in others they risk losing sight of the lines in the conflicting paint patterns. This car is perfect for the flowing scallop that you see here – indeed square fender Fords of the period nearly always look good with straight scallops. It just seems to echo with our memories of those custom car magazines of the 50’s…I mean the good ones.

Whoops. Is that the time? I’ll have to show you the details tomorrow…



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.