Mention a Woodie to someone and most people will instantly visualize endless summers, surfboards and bikini-clad damsels while Beach Boys tunes echo in their minds. The Woodie Wagon (regardless of year, make or model) holds a special place in the heart of Americana. Woodie fans all have their favorites, but in the end, it's all about the wood - and the more of it, the better. Wood evokes warmth. Warmth means summer. Summer means beaches. Beaches mean surf and surfers and surfer girls (at least to those who grew up in the 50's and 60's). And all of the above is enough to set one to daydreaming and visualizing themselves behind the the wheel of a classic like this '40 Ford Beauty. Not even the Beach Boys had a ride this sweet.
Woodies were the first Station Wagons. And for those of you who don't know where that term came from, it goes back to the days when almost everyone travelled by train, if they travelled at all. Cars of the time were specially modified (at first individually by their owners, and later by the makers), to carry passengers and luggage to and from the train stations and their homes. The term stuck and has been used ever since to denote cars with extra space for passengers and luggage.
Of course, to accommodate the extra interior space, you need a larger body, and in the early days metal was more expensive than wood as a manufacturing material. Until the late 30's and early 40's most all cars and trucks used wood in body construction (some more, some less). Even when you couldn't see it, it was there, adding strength and rigidity to the body. In the case of early wagons, it was decided to save money and make the bulk of the body out of wood and to let it all show. Besides, there were a lot of out-of-work, horse-drawn carraige makers that needed employment and knew how to apply their skills to the horseless versions. Since woodies were work vehicles made for short hauls, many early models did not come with glass windows because they were not considered worth the expense.
As we know, Henry Ford came up with quite a few innovations that revolutionized auto manufacturing. He was always looking for ways to cut manufacturing costs in oder to stay ahead of the competition. In 1929 he opened a lumber mill in Iron Mountain, Michigan, and began milling the wood used in the construction of Ford bodies. He broke further ground by being the first manufacturer to offer Woodie bodies as a regular catalog item for buyers to choose from. By the late 30's he was not only processing the wood, but also making his own bodies (the only manufacturer ever to do so).
By the late 30's, wooden construction costs surpassed that of metal construction and the old Station Wagon went from being a work vehicle to a toy for the rich, or vehicle for sportsmen (grandpa's SUV). They went from being called "station wagons" and "depot hacks" to "Estate Wagons", and began receiving things like glass windows, heaters and other amenities. After the war, GI's returning home to start families recognized the utilitarian value of these vehicles and began snapping them up, which prompted auto makers to make the station wagon the family car of choice for the next several decades. The sales of woodies peaked in the 50's, by which time much of the "wood" was simulated and the bodies nearly all metal. Soon, if real wood was used at all, it was an "accent" bolted to the body's exterior.
Many classic car officianados consider '39-'40 Ford body styling to be best that Henry ever produced. Take that basic fender, hood and grill styling and then add a varnished wood body, and you have one of the most elegent and eye-catching vehicles you'll ever lay eyes on. It may look like a stock '40 Woodie at first glance, but look a little closer and you'll see a wolf hiding under that paneled work-truck exterior.
The only thing this motor has in common with the one that used to sit there is the number of cylinders. You are looking at a GM Performance Ram Jet 350. This fuel-injected small block puts out 350 h.p. at 5200 rpm and over 400lbs of torque. If you can't catch a wave with this puppy, you need to let someone else get behind the wheel. The brackets, pulleys, and air cleaner are from Street & Performance. Valve covers, wire looms, oil breather and the reverse rotation water pump are polished aluminum from ZoopsThe Polished AC compressor is part of the Vintage Air system. The radiator and condenser are Walker and cooled by a Cooling Components electric fan unit.
All of this beauty and performance is riding on a T.C.I .chassis with polished front and rear disc brakes, chrome anti-roll bar and a posi-traction rear end. That rear end hooks up to a TCI Transmission equipped with a Dalenzie heavy-duty torque converter. Fuel is stored in a custom, stainless-steel, Rock Valley gas tank. The interior has been kept as stock in appearance as possible without sacrificing comfort and modern amenities. New leather seating helps keep everyone comfortable with the help of a Vintage Air AC/Heating system. A new ididit steering column has been painted black to match the original color, as has the Leccara steering wheel.
So where do you find a car like this? Usually out in field somewhere. In this case Ted Harcksen found his stuffed in the back of an old country junkyard behind a small auto repair shop a few miles east of Turlock, Ca. He bought the woodie way back in 1963, a year after he graduated from high school.
"I had passed by there," says Ted "hundreds of times on the way from my family's ranch to town and not noticed it." "As a teenager, my friends and I would spend weekends scouring the countryside and foothills looking for old cars, mostly Model A's and Model T's. We never knew what a 'woodie' was until the surfing craze hit in the early 60's and songs about 'woodies' came out. It was then I realized there was one in my own backyard. So one day in 1963 I pulled into the old repair shop to see what kind of woodie was out in the back. When I found it was a 1940 Ford I knew I had to have it even though it was in fairly bad shape. But even though it had been sitting in a junkyard for years most all the pieces were intact and I knew it could be restored eventually. I made a deal with the repair shop owner to buy the car for $50.00 less the engine and transmission and my brother & I towed it home the same day." Once we got the car home we parked it in one of the barns on the ranch and there it sat for 38 years. In 2000 I decided it was now or never if this car was going to be reborn. I started looking for a shop to do the work and stumbled across the website for Hot Rods & Custom Stuff. I liked what I saw on the website so I contacted Randy and went to visit the shop in the fall of 2000.
"I was very impressed by the quality of work I observed after visiting the shop and we made a deal to build the car. I drove up from Bakersfield to the family ranch in Ballico, CA and dug the car out of the barn. Once outside we hosed out almost 40 years of dirt and vermin and towed the car to my house in Bakersfield. On January 29, 2001 Randy sent up a pickup and trailer and we loaded up the woodie and sent it to the shop."
Once in the shop we began to disassemble the woodie and catalog the parts prior to beginning the restoration process, which would be substantial. As you can see, it was in pretty bad shape. Somewhere out there a guy is writing a classified ad for a car in the same shape and using the words "slight resto needed" or "great project car." But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Except for one front fender, most of the metal on this woody was fairly straight and rust was minimal--all things considered. New floor-boards were installed and a few other bad spots patched and straightened. A few custom modifications were made to the dash to accomodate the Vintage Air unit. You can also see some of the custom work on the trans tunnel and firewall. A TCI R4-700 and a GM Performance Ram Jet will get our woodie to the beach on time.