Wooden cars...history

History of Wooden Cars


When you think about it, the first vehicles were actually wooden wagons, carts and coaches. So it makes sense that the first automobiles were made with wooden bodies. It was a proven approach that had worked beautifully for centuries. Cars built prior to 1900 were limited in design by the peculiarities of most species of wood, which can only be bent into simple shapes by applying steam and pressure. Thus, most vehicles were considered a utility vehicle or commercial vehicle as their simple boxy shapes assisted this purpose. Slowly, with the addition of station wagons and the options of luxury models, the vehicles made their way into the everyday lives of families.

However, by the late ‘40s as World War II drove to a close, manufacturers began phasing out the use of wood in their hard bodies. There were many good reasons for that—lumber supplies were dwindling; the wood had to be tediously and expensively hand assembled; the wood was purely a cosmetic feature, providing no practical purpose and for reasons of strength and durability, the steel bodies eventually overtook the wooden compartments.  

Additionally, the wagon bodies had serious and predictable problems such as rot, splintering and moisture damage. Manufacturers and consumers soon realized that a car is not a piece of furniture and by the 1950’s the wood on most wagons was merely pasted on in the form of wood-grain decals.

As the original woodies vanished into oblivion, the all-steel bodied vehicles moved into American garages and stayed there for the next 40 years. However, in the early 1960’s nomadic surfers, who spent their days riding the waves, were always “short of cash” and could not afford a new vehicle.  In need of an inexpensive car, surfers found that they could buy old woodies cheap from junk yards or from garages, where they had been forgotten and lay idle for years. With plenty of room in the vehicles, surfers could now load the cars with their 12 foot wooden surfboards. It was never the intention of surfers to prolong the lives of Woodies, as they simply couldn't afford to. They simply aimed to keep them running so they could get to their next destination and “to the surf on time”. 

As the surfing sub-culture began to grow, music groups like the Beach Boys immortalized woodies in their lyrics with songs like 'Surfing Safari' and “Lets Go Surfin”. These songs depicted how the woodies were loaded up with boards and friends and driven on adventures to the Coast. The connection between woodies and the surfing culture was soon forged.

Over time, the woodie has arguably come to represent this “carefree and fun loving lifestyle”, just as much as the Volkswagen Kombi did through the same period and right up until current day. Whilst the woodie is now well recognized and somewhat mainstream, this ideal has become forever ingrained as a beloved icon of the surfing community.

Even better though is the fact that they remain one of the most iconic and fun vintage surf cars to own.

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