Nothing signifies surfing on the west coast of North America as much as “Woodies” – Wooden station wagons. They were inexpensive, could carry a surf board or boards easily. As well they could serve as a crash pad at night, parked along the beach or in a parking lot whether it be on the coast at a California, British Columbia or Oregon beach.
Initially woodies had a place since many potential car and automobile buyers who could not afford new station wagons would have bought such cars second hand. A wood body that was well card for seemed to last for years and years- even in humid climates such as Vancouver. It was true however that a portion of these woodies were not cared for by their owners and as such there were many lemons among this crowd.
When moisture gets into the cracks and open joints of a “Woodie” or as well into rips in the roof fabric, all sorts of decay can result. It’s a situation like the Titanic. What lies below the surface of the body of the vehicle can often be much more serious than an owner or potential buyer can think or even imagine.
A wagon that had been driven regularly every day is likely to be in better shape than one that stood around for weeks, or even months, in a damp garage – because the moisture would have been shaken out of it and dried up by the sun. It pays to look twice at a station wagon that has not gone as far as it its age would lead you to expect. It may be in worse shape than a similar vehicle with a much higher odometer reading or a newer vintage.
Neglect will be costly to you as a buyer of a vintage Woody automobile. Wood bodies were not self maintaining. A wooden body should have been maintained and revarnished every six months. The best finish is the most dangerous, however, if the joints are not filled properly. Wood filler should be worked into all cracks and coverered with a thin line of varnish. Otherwise water will have entered these cracks and be trapped under the heavy finish – eventually eating away the wood.
Similarly tears and small openings between the roof and the molding should be sealed promptly with weather strip cement. Paint, wax and varnish should not be used on fabric roofs. They will cause the fabric to crack. A light application of thin oil will keep these fabrics more than pliable.
Watch out that the drainage holes in the bottoms of doors and below the vintage sliding glass panes must also be kept open to preserve a Woodie Wagon’s body. This can be done very easily and simply by poking a stiff wire up through the holes occasionally.
Be careful of danger signs when evaluating vintage Woodie station wagons. Among the signs are – a musty smell, ugly fungus growths on the inside wood as well as discolored wood either inside or outside of the auto. Any of these signs of trouble can mean a fair amount of work will have to be done on the wagon within a year. Black or green discoloration is usually very serious, but gray areas along the top edges of horizontal frame members. The direct rays of the sun affect these edges most, and the grey spots usually can be bleached out and revarnished.
Lastly watch out decayed wood and patchwork repairs that have been concealed by paint. Look carefully for any depression in the surface of such a car body, and for cracks where there are no joints. Press these areas with your fingernail. If the wood is soft, and there are a number of such places move on. A very presentable Woodie station wagon auto is the very emblem of the California surfing image. Help maintain the tradition.