The woody has always been at the heart of the golden age of, not only the automobile, but of the United States itself. When you think of the woody you think of the 1940’s and 1950’s and the beach boys/west coast California lifestyle with large surfboards hanging out of the rear window or the east coast family making their annual summer trip from Manhattan out to Connecticut for a vacation. The woody wasn’t just an automobile it was an icon. But, the woody wasn’t a new idea in the immediate pre-WW11 era and after, it was actually an idea the stems from the horse drawn era.
The earliest woodys or “depot hacks” were actually directly designed from the horse drawn wagons that would transport people and goods to and from train stations. There were multiple coachbuilders who were in business strictly for building the bodies for these wagons which continued well into the horseless age. Early on, pre 1910, many of these coachbuilders that built depot hack and truck bodies made them for a more utilitarian purpose as their wagons were, but later on in the 19 teens the bodies were still pretty utilitarian, but started to become more useable being more enclosed using removable side curtains and using the more familiar rib and panel style construction that was continued through the 1940’s.
By adding rear doors and multiple rear seats they became very appealing to the regular non-commercial buyer. They started to become more of a luxury so major manufacturers such as Ford for example started offering Woodys through dealerships, but the bodies were still custom built by independent firms. This new “luxury” Woody fad was not only American, but it was popular in Europe as well. In England, “shooting brake” bodies were built for the silver ghost chassis, but again as all English Silver Ghost bodies, were custom built, not factory. In 1929, Ford began to offer the Ford Model A station wagon bodies built by the Briggs Body Company, the Murray Corporation and Baker-Raulang. Ford was aiming at controlling woody production by producing wood sub-assemblies at their own Iron Mountain plant in Michigan and shipping these out for final assembly. While the production process was starting to resemble a true factory body, the four-door configuration with three rows of seats and a tailgate was much more consumer-friendly than the plain high-roof cargo style bodies of the earlier years.
Shortly after the Model A “Woody” station wagon was introduced the depression began and the luxury car market really took a hit resulting in many of these small coachbuilders going out of business. As a result, a few of them were actually acquired by large auto manufactures, for example Fleetwood was acquired by Cadillac and Martin Truck and Body was acquired by Chevrolet, both becoming in house coachbuilders, Fleetwood for Cadillac cars and Martin for Chevrolets commercial division. Starting in 1936, Ford began building their own complete wood bodies in their Iron mountain plant in Michigan. Despite Fords mastery of the wood body process, other manufacturers were still using custom coach built wood bodies. Marques such as: GM, Chrysler, Packard, Willys, Hupmobile, Graham, Hudson, and Studebaker to be exact. As the economy got better and before and after the war, the Woodys became even more desirable and perceived even more as luxury vehicles.
Post WWII GM offered woodies from Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Buick. Still relying on some of the few remaining independent coachbuilders that actually made it through the depression, the Chevrolet wagon used bodies from Ionia, Fisher and J.T. Cantrell & Co. Ionia and Hercules provided Pontiac and Oldsmobile bodies, while Buicks in the late 1940s used bodies initially built by the Biehl Body Company and later by Hercules and Ionia.
Out of the few small firms that still built custom woody bodies for large manufacturers such as GM, Iona was certainly one of the best with incredible attention to detail. Like many other coachbuilders, Ionia began early on, and they were known as the Ypsilanti Reed Furniture Co. and managed to survive, almost going under after the war when their wartime contracts were cancelled, emerging as the newly named Ionia Manufacturing company (named after their location: Iona, Michigan). During the war they produced truck cabs, parachute boxes, canvas tents, truck canopies, and tubular metal seating for Willys, GM, Ford and Chrysler.
After the war, since their contracts were canceled, they didn’t have enough work to keep their 4,000 employees busy, but luckily one of Bill Mitchell’s (the new President and majority stock holder in the firm) wartime contacts at General Motors was Charles F. “Boss” Kettering, who helped land Ionia a contract to produce 1946 station wagons bodies for Chevrolet (900) and Pontiac (2500). 554 bodies were built for Chevrolet in the early part of 1947 and from 1946 through 1948, Ionia built all of Pontiac’s station wagon bodies. Ionia did not have the additional capacity to build the 15,000+ wagons needed by Chevrolet for 1947 and 1948, so Fisher Body got that contract. The woodys that still exist today have mostly been restored with very few original cars to exemplify exactly how they were when they were new.
Since we decided to write about woodies in this post we set out to find the best example of one that is on the market today. We ended up finding a time capsule that is almost close to being unbelievable. It’s a 1948 Pontiac Silver Streak wagon that has just 4900 original miles since new! The seller describes the car as being 100% original except for the tires. The paint, upholstery wood are all original including all of the hardware having original finish, even the roof material is original. This car is so nice that it is hard to believe that it hasn’t been restored. The original interior looks fantastic with the correct vinyl and cord combination seats. After really studying this car closely, we believe that it definitely has the mileage described because of the condition of the dashboard, steering wheel and pedals. The seller says that all he had done to it was a mechanical wake up which included brakes and fuel system and he had the paint compounded and buffed as well as the varnish on the wood compounded and buffed. You can find it here on Hemmings in Connecticut.
The car retains its original straight eight cylinder engine and 3 speed manual transmission on the column and the engine compartment looks to be pretty clean for an original 4900 mile car of this age definitely having original lacquer paint on the firewall from what we can see in the photos. The car has the correct style white wall tires along with its original Pontiac hubcaps and trim rings which really gives it that period correct 1940’s look as an original car should have.
The paint on the outside of the car really shows well for its age, but then again this is lacquer so when that old lacquer gets compounded it really looks good. We also noticed that the “Pontiac” rubber running boards are original and have hardly any wear on them at all which is really incredible. The best part about this car is not just the condition, but it also has known provenance as well. It was sold new in 1948 in Albany, NY and a family owned it in the Catskills at their summer home hardly ever using it until it was found and sold to the well-known car collector Jim Adams of Camp Hill, PA in the 1980s, he was well known for his high end brass era cars. It was sold to the last owner in 1991 so having a total of 3 owners since new. As shown in one of the photos it still retains its original Iona body tag which is really great to see. It also comes with its original owner’s manual and service booklet stating the date it was originally delivered and where it was delivered. Overall if you are looking for an investment grade woody that really rises above them all, this Pontiac does the trick.