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Carved Elegance: Woodies, Wheels, and Waves Car Exhibit


woodie car exhibit


Carved Elegancee: Woodies, Wheels, and Waves, runs through September 19, 2009, according to The California Automobile Museum, formerly the Towe Auto Museum. This exhibit includes a variety of Woodies illustrating the diverse history of this design style from the early ‘30s through the ‘60s. Also included in this exhibit are art pieces, vintage surfboards, and period memorabilia.


California Automobile Museum

Location: 2200 Front Street, between Broadway and Old Sacramento, Sacramento, CA \

Hours: Daily from 10am – 6pm.

Extended hours on Thursdays from 6pm – 9pm through the Summer.

Museum admission: $8 Adults, $7 Seniors, $4 Students, children under 5 free.

Call (916) 442-6802

The California Automobile Museum’s Summer-time exhibit highlights the polished craftsmanship of wood in a car world that is dominated by steel. To most car enthusiasts, Woodies bring back memories of lazy California summer days on the beach, complete with surfboards and campfires. But long before they were considered cheap transportation and an icon of the Beach Boys, Woodies were prized by elite customers for their unique styling and craftsmanship.

“In their early years, Woodies were not produced on an assembly line, but were hand-made by independent craftsmen that added a look of carved elegance to what began as an unfinished body,” said Karen McClaflin, Executive Director of the California Automobile Museum. “Later, U.S. car makers turned to wood to re-create that elegance in cars that stood out from the crowd as buyers were starved for a new, stylish look after years of war when no cars were produced at all.”

The cars in the California Automobile Museum’s exhibit this summer represent that era when car makers embraced the warmth and color of wood to create an upscale, suburban “town and country” look with model names that suggested the affluence of the “Country Squire.” The exhibit includes eight varieties of Woodies including Ford, Pontiac and Dodge models from the early 1930s through the 1960s, detailing the evolution of the Woodie Wagon. To compliment the vehicles, various art pieces, vintage surfboards, and period memorabilia will also be on display.
At the turn of the century, the first cars were made primarily from wood, reflecting their evolution as carriages. By the mid-1920s, some of Europe’s most elite car makers, including Rolls Royce, Duesenberg, Delage, Hispano-Suiza and Renault, relied on wood to carve unique shapes for their exquisite and expensive models which usually included distinctive, customized bodies for each customer.

In the U.S., however, the first Woodies were built for their utility. Wooden bodies were added to truck chassis which could handle the weight of many passengers and luggage at travel resorts, train stations or by sports teams, and became known as station wagons or estate wagons. In 1928, Henry Ford began mass producing Woodie bodies for the Model A after purchasing a half-million acres of hardwood forest in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In the ‘40s, General Motors followed suit by producing Woodies on its own assembly lines.

Popularity of the station wagon body style grew steadily throughout the 1940s, but production was limited by the labor-intensive wood frame-and-panel construction which made these models the most expensive in the line. In the early 1950s the car companies switched to steel station wagon bodies that could be more easily and economically mass produced.

This change in design trends flooded used car lots with Woodies that were far from carved or elegant, many of them rotted and in poor shape after years of neglect. They then became the perfect transportation for beach boys and surfers, looking for something unique and cheap and were commemorated in song and art and nicknamed, "Woodies."

Today, Woodies are prized collector cars, valued for their distinctive styling, craftsmanship and polish and are given the same exacting care as any other exquisite wood products.

Woodies have influenced our language: The first Woodies, which were used to ferry passengers from train stations to hotels, were called “depot hacks.” Later, “hack” became a slang term for taxicabs that provided the same service. In the ‘60s, the early history of Woodies influenced the name for another form of transportation that carried a lot of people and luggage: the station wagon.