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'38 Ford Woodie Station Wagon

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The Feature Car

The fine looking Woodie featured in this article was restored by owner Gary Wright, of Danville, CA. Gary, a native Southern Californian, found the car while attending college in North Carolina in 1974.

San Francisco:  "Woodie" is a Southern California Surfing term from the Sixties that made its way into mainstream vocabulary after being introduced to pop culture through records and radio by groups like The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. These wood bodied station wagons were originally expensive, hand-built cars that were favored by dude ranches, country clubs and farm families. They were the "sport utilities" of their day.

By the early 1960s, they had become the favored coastal transport for wave bound surfers. There seems to be some sort of link between their wooden construction and the wood used to make early surfboards. By the time Woodies became the rage, surfboards were made out of Fiberglass. Go figure. In any case, if you have something as long as a surfboard to haul around, what better way than a warm, wooded classic, oozing with rural American charm.

Since the Sixties, these wagons have been coveted collectors items. They are of such demand that old cars with splinters instead of wood are being lovingly restored. Custom made wooden bodies are showing up on modified sedans and sports cars. This "Classic Drive" features a very rare 1938 Ford Woodie that is all original, right down to the mechanical, rather than hydraulic brakes and two speed Columbia differential.

A Little History

1938 was the worst year for auto sales since 1933, when the country was still reeling from the depression. 1937 was a pretty good year for Ford. A sleek streamlined front clip featuring Lincolnesque teardrop headlamps and the availability of a new more economical 60 hp Flathead V8, helped turn wishers into buyers. By 1938, people in the market for a new car had already purchased, while the rest were waiting for the nation get back up to financial speed. The major reason that one sees so few '38 Fords is that they didn't make all that many of them.

Though built on identical chassis, there were actually two different 1938 Ford bodies. The Standard models were quite similar to '37s, save for a body colored horizontal slat grille that extended down the sides of the hood. Deluxe versions featured unusual dual kidney shaped front grille openings that were sort of stylized versions of the contemporary Lincoln design. 1938 is the only year that Ford would paint, rather than plate the Deluxe grille.

The station wagon, built on a car chassis with Deluxe front end sheet metal, was still considered a commercial vehicle. For the first time, the wooden body came standard with glass side windows and the side detailing was far less fussy than in previous years. There still was a side-curtain option, but few buyers ordered it and it was dropped for the next model year. This was one of the few years that Ford chose to mount the spare tire on the inside of the wagon, bolted to the rear of the drivers seat, rather than out back on the tailgate.


Once behind the wheel you realize why this was considered a commercial vehicle. The wooden doors are solid, simple and trimless, and much of the hardware is exposed. No wood grained dash or soft mohair here - just lots of brown metal and tan leatherette. This baby was built to work - and last.

Start it up and the familiar Flathead V8 growl greets you. Slip that long, long shift lever into low gear, let out the clutch, and away we go. As we run it through the gears all of those Flathead memories come back in spades. For a low priced car, these Fords fly. The power range is in just the right place and you have to get it up to unthinkable RPMs to even make it sound uncomfortable.

We did this drive on a number of two-lane canyon highways near Gary's home and could get the Woodie up to a better than pretty good clip. This is where the archaic chassis and all of its soon-to be-rectified deficiencies become quite apparent. The mechanical brakes are, at best, dangerous at speed. Call me a wimp, or possibly inexperienced, but unless the brakes were applied with just the right amount of pressure the car would just "do things" I didn't like. While this braking system might have been OK on a model A, it is not acceptable on a car with a Columbia two-speed rear end that is capable of a sustained 65 MPH!

All Woodies handle a bit like rear-engined cars because of all of that heavy bodywork out back. It's intensified in the Ford due to its "darty" feeling in the steering, produced by the I-beam front end and lack of a front sway bar. Gary's wagon is better than most in the front end department but in its totally stock configuration combined with those lovely looking bias-ply whitewalls, it produced handling characteristics that require ones complete attention. This car liked to find and follow all of the imperfections in the road and squirm like a lizard on concrete highways grooved for rain and traction.

To be fair, the car was generally great on the freeway and Gary had no apparent problem driving the wagon a full 15 MPH faster than I was willing to do. Now I understand why hot-rodding was almost necessary on any early Ford V8 that was going to be driven hard. But hard driving is not what this car is about. Everyone smiles and waves, even if you are driving a bit slow on a winding canyon road. It's a cruiser - and what a cruiser. Everybody loves a Woodie. By Rick Feibusch AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Byline:  By Rick Feibusch AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  Everybody Loves a Woodie
Topic:  '38 Ford Woodie Station Wagon
Word Count:  970
Photo Caption:  '38 Ford Woodie Station Wagon - Owner: Gary Wright
Photo Credits:  Rick Feibusch
Series #:   1999 - 25








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