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'39 Packard Highlights AutoFair Woodie Display
There had best not be any woodpeckers around during the Sept. 14-17 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when more than a dozen classic Woodies-including a priceless Packard-take center stage.
If America's fun-in-the-sun obsession with surfing, sunbathing and rock 'n' roll music has an official vehicle, it is the wood-bodied station wagon. Immortalized in song by the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, the Woodie was born at the start of the 20th century when makers of carriages and stagecoaches converted new cars into "depot hacks," "station wagons" and other useful transporters of goods and people. The versatile wagons were also popular with resorts and other businesses that needed to transport people in comfort at a time when standard sedans were not up to the task.
Although viewed as valuable works of automotive art today, these boxes on wheels were initially produced out of wood for purely practical reasons. Sheet steel was harder to form into panels, so limited numbers of specialized vehicles for delivery men, farmers, couriers and railroad workers could be built much cheaper by using wood framing. As metal-shaping processes became more sophisticated, automakers continued to turn out small numbers- anywhere from two to 10,000 units-of wood-bodied models annually as premium-priced rides for stylish families.
Ford Motor Co. owned more than 300,000 acres of hardwood forests in northern Michigan and a 7,000-worker factory in Iron Mountain, which may explain why Henry Ford's company produced more wood-bodied vehicles than any other from 1928 to 1951.
There was a problem, however, with using wood bodies on cars. The wood rotted, especially in wet climates, and just like a house, a wood-bodied car could get infested with termites. Manufacturers recommended the wood be treated once a year with special polishes and sealants, but almost no one followed the guidelines. Even in sunny California, 10-year-old Woodies were so rough they could be bought for pocket change on used car lots, which made them ideal transportation for 1950s-era surfers who needed all of that luggage space for their boards.
Because their beach bum owners further neglected these beautiful haulers, the survival rate for Woodies has been very low, which gives them tremendous collector appeal today.
Nearly every car company offered Woodies to pre-WWII America, including Pontiac, Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Chrysler and Plymouth, but nothing gave off the smell of "old money" quite like a wood-paneled Packard station wagon.
Jack Barton owns one of only 25 such Packards created in 1939 by the legendary craftsmen at J.T. Cantrell and Company of Huntington, N.Y. Named for its 245-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine, Barton's Packard Six was complete when he located it in Florida, but it needed a thorough restoration.
Like most 60-year-old Woodies, the body was ready for the fireplace, but not before a craftsman replicated every panel and frame member out of Honduran mahogany and maple.
The Barton family was rewarded for its efforts when the dark maroon wagon took Best of Show honors at the Packard Club's national meet and the People's Choice award at the 25th annual Wavecrest show-a gathering of 300 Woodies.
"We built it to drive, but finished it to show," Barton said. "It may look like a fine piece of furniture, but we enjoy it like a car."
Other attractions scheduled for the Food Lion AutoFair include the Ultimate Surfmobile from Discovery Channel's "Monster Garage," a 900-horsepower Shadrach Mustang and 40th Anniversary gatherings of two important American muscle cars that have recently been revived: the Dodge Charger and the Shelby GT-500 Mustang. Hundreds of examples of vintage farm machinery, courtesy of the Stumptown Tractor Club, will fill the show lot next to the infield Pavilion, and there will be an automotive art gallery.
Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5. For information, contact the speedway events department at 704-455-3205 or click here!