Cotter's Woodies in AutoFair Spotlight
Vintage car enthusiast Tom Cotter has such a passion for wood-covered Fords that he has gathered one from every year between 1934 and 1942. This rare collection will be displayed during the Sept. 14-17 Food Lion AutoFair at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
When Cotter was 15 years old he bought his first car, a 1939 Ford Deluxe wood-bodied wagon, with $300 he earned from mowing yards. Like a lot of old woodies, it had been used to transport surfboards to the beach and was not in the best of shape. Cotter intended to restore it, but quickly discovered it is much easier to take a car apart than to put it back together.
"My father and I worked on it for several years in earnest," said Cotter, a native of Holbrook, N.Y., who now lives in Davidson, N.C. "But without the benefit of proper tools and talent, we didn't make much progress.
"In 1973, I sold that partially restored '39 to a car collector in Puerto Rico. I knew the minute I saw it leave that I had made a big mistake, but I needed the money for college."
A career in public relations followed that brought Cotter in constant contact with the world of high-performance automobiles. He ran the public relations department at Charlotte Motor Speedway before starting his own agency, Cotter Group, which represented NASCAR drivers, teams and sponsors. Clients eventually included prestigious automakers Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Mazda, among others, but he never stopped thinking about the 1939 woodie that got away.
Cotter and his wife Pat joined the National Woodie Club with the hope of locating a suitable replacement, but nothing excited them until 1999 when they heard about some woodie owners in Puerto Rico. Cotter contacted Ted Lopez, a dentist who owned his old '39, and spent the next six months convincing him to sell the car.
After delivery was held up another six months due to a hurricane, Cotter wasted no time finishing the restoration job he had started some 30 years earlier. He decided to return the car's body, wood panels and interior to factory condition, but he had other ideas for the powertrain.
"I wanted to modernize the car so I could use it for long trips," Cotter said. "The frame is a TCI piece, with disc brakes and a Ford eight-inch rear axle. There was plenty of room under that long hood, so we installed a new Chevrolet Corvette LS1 V-8 and automatic transmission. The car has air conditioning and powersteering, but you would never know it unless I lift the hood."
He very subtly personalized the seats by covering them in alligator skin instead of the original leather. The Maize Yellow paint that now covers the body was a special springtime option for Ford cars in 1939. Treehouse Woods in Cocoa Beach, Fla., cut birds-eye maple and ash from original patterns to create the beautiful wagon's structure and panels.
The Deluxe was completed in time to participate in last year's fall Food Lion AutoFair, where Cotter showed it with the Early Ford V-8 Club. It not only won an award for Best Ford of Show that weekend, but garnered top prize for the event-Best of Show.
Between the return of the '39 to his driveway and the Best of Show trophy, Cotter had noticed a lot of other woodies he wanted to own, and his garage was soon full of the nostalgic wagons. To date, his collection spans the years 1934 to 1942 inclusive, plus a super-rare 1940 model with an original Marmon-Herrington four-wheel-drive system that lifts the frame 20 inches above the ground.
"Ford started putting its flathead V-8 engine in cars in 1932," Cotter said. "I had this idea I wanted to find a flathead woodie wagon for every year from '32 to '51, the final year a real wood body was available.
"I'm not quite there yet, but I've got a good start."
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 visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.