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Issue 06:03:04 - March 27, 2006

The First woody: The 1929 Ford Model A station wagon

1929 Woody Many of us received our introduction to the wood-bodied station wagon via a Beach Boys song, Surfin’ Safari. The Beach Boys told us “We’re loading up our woody with our boards inside, and headin’ out singing our song” on their way to hit the surf.

That early ‘60s release came over 30 years after the first woody rolled out of Detroit. The original woody was the 1929 Ford Model A station wagon, and although that might not have been the make and model the Beach Boys were driving, it was the vehicle that started it all.

Since then, surviving ‘29 woodies have become a great platform for some exciting and innovative customization work. The 1929 Model A holds a unique place in American automotive history and that attribute has made them even more attractive to hot rodders and customizers.

The first of its kind

Station wagons were around before 1929. This class of cars derived its name from their primary function. These wagons took passengers to and from train stations and depots, which were the primary mode of transportation for the era. No one thought of these vehicles as anything more than a means of reliably moving people from point A to point B, though they were well appointed for the era.

Woody wagons, those station wagons that boasted a wooden cabin, were being built throughout the 1920s on a custom basis. Body experts would take standard-issue vehicles and then outfit them with a deluxe wooden cabin, usually made of maple. They generally ended up in the hands of the affluent and were frequently termed “country club editions.”

In 1928, Ford discontinued its famed Model T line and started producing the Model A. One innovation was releasing the vehicle in a few different models. In 1929, Ford would offer its Model A as a station wagon. That decision created a new class of production automobiles and created one of history’s more memorable cars--the first woody.

That wagon featured a wooden passenger cabin and retailed for a little under seven hundred dollars. Ford opted to use wood largely because of its ownership of sizeable forest reserves. The Model A woody was the very first mass-produced station wagon. All previous wagons had been custom projects, not produced on an assembly line.

The Great Depression crippled subsequent releases of the wagon, as demand for higher-priced cars dropped during tough economic times. The 1929 model, however, sold relatively well. Its popularity, however, really did not kick in until decades later as car aficionados began to recognize its importance as a pioneering vehicle. For instance, some credit the 1929 Ford with bringing the term “station wagon” into existence (or, at the very least popularizing its use).

Today, woodies of all makes and models are coveted collectible cars and serve as the basis for some exciting hot rods. The 1929 Ford Model A, the first of its kind, has a strong and loyal fan base in the automobile community which recognizes it as a truly historic car.

Original specs

Most folks interested in woodies are just as interested in a car’s body as its guts.

The 1929 Ford had an open-air wooden cabin, with curtains available to ward off wind and weather. The wooden body itself was made of solid maple and featured birch plywood on the panel sides.

Ford built the Model A in an era when performance was more a matter of reliability than speed or tight cornering. A very basic four-cylinder motor that generated no more than 40 horsepower powered the first woodies. Interestingly, the engine was capable of operating on kerosene if gasoline was not available.

The ‘29 woody today

One would be stretching credulity to call the first woodies hot rods. They were simple cars built to do a mundane job. However, as their popularity has grown, so have the custom variations on the wagons. Although some have spent considerable time and effort attempting to restore the vehicles to their original form, others have decided to showcase the Model A as a high-performance hot rod. The Model A station wagon has been a great canvas for some real automotive artists.

Henry Ford could not have imagined one of his first station wagons being powered by a Chevy 302 V-8 and outfitted with a Quadra-jet carburetor. That is, however, what at least one woody owner came up with for his Model A. That particular vehicle features everything from twelve-inch glass packs to a CD player.

Another Model A fan rigged his wagon with the turbo engine from a 1987 Thunderbird and decked it out with Hawaiian teal paint and twenty-four karat gold trim. No one on the Ford assembly line thought about gold on station wagons in the late 1920s.

Gerry Byron has a 1929 Ford woody wagon featuring a four-inch chop that shoots down the roads powered by a Chevy 327 and the 350-turbo transmission. Byron’s Model A, with its nine-inch Ford rear-end and countless other customizations is not the kind of car into which you would want to pour some kerosene.

As these examples illustrate, the 1929 Ford Model A station wagon--the original woody--can be a great base on which top-notch hot rodders can create a high-performance standout that simultaneously pays homage to automotive history. Of course while hot rodders love to cut these cars up, woodies are also among the most beautiful of the restored vintage automobiles.


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