Curbside Classic: 1985 Chrysler Town and Country – Ready For Some Sanding And Fresh Varnish

(first posted 4/19/2017)     One of the great wonders of modern chemistry are plastiwoods. Think of all the beautiful old trees that have been saved thanks to Di-Noc and all the other synthetic wood wanna’-bees. And all the vast quantities of varnish, and sandpaper, and most of all, the elbow grease that’s been spared. But the really amazing thing was how the chemists were able to reproduce the natural weathering of wood on the fake stuff. Look at this 32 year old Town & Country wagon; hasn’t its wood aged splendidly? It’s the plastiwood version of patina. Well, Chrysler did have a head start on knowing how to get it right; after all, it was the pioneer user of Di-Noc.

I need to repress a certain urge to grab my sander and gallon of polyurethane and get to work on this baby. But then undoubtedly those are the wrong materials and methods. I’m sure there’s protocol for restoring this stuff, but my old school instincts and experience would make me unsuitable for the job. Better to enjoy it as it is.  Admittedly, the closer one gets, the less convincing some of the weathering is.


I just love the juxtaposition of the Turbo badge with that faded fake wood. Pseudo-performance meets pseudo-beech, or whatever it’s supposed to be. Ok; yes, these Chrysler 2.2 turbos can be quite lively, in the right state of tune and in the right vehicle. But nobody is ever going to accuse one of these early 142/146 hp units of being a genuine stormer, when hooked up to the three-speed TF transaxle. It was an expedient stop-gap solution given the lack of a V6.


Speaking of curious juxtapositions, how about hood vents on a Town and Country? Mixed messages. But then, that applied to this car in a number of ways. This very compact little four cylinder K-car wagon carried a lot of tradition on its vented hood.


The original 1941 Town and Country (1942 shown) was a true pioneer, as it wasn’t quite a wagon nor a sedan either, but it put the emphasis in upscale exclusivity in a package that graced a lot of country estates. The woodie was no longer just a utilitarian wagon, but fashionable plaything.


Its perceived success led Chrysler to introduce what was planned to be a full range of T&C variants for 1946, although only the sedan (full CC here) and the convertible actually made it into production. This 1946 still had mahogany veneer between the ash planks, but already in 1947, that was replaced by Di-Noc. As best as I can tell, the ’47 T&C was the first vehicle to use that product, as 3M’s website says it was “designed approximately 70 years ago, for application to the outside of automobile panels”.


So Chrysler, which gave us the most splendid genuine wood cars ever, having elevated them to prestige objects, also pioneered the use of Di-Noc. This 1949 wagon, the preview of what would become the T&C standard bearers some 20 years later, has Di-Noc between its ash planking. The question that I couldn’t find an answer to, given the late hour, is who pioneered the fake wood planking/framing? Some of you will know. Ford, most probably, as they kept the wood fires going for so many years with their seminal Country Squire.


Yes, it’s a K-car, but a rather fine one for the times. Well, much finer ones with pillow-tufted seats would soon make this look like what it really was: a Reliant with nicer upholstery and trim. But then it was merely a wagon, and even in the 80s, wagons didn’t yet generally deserve the highest, plushest trim levels.


The rear seat legroom looks a bit bigger than it is thanks to a somewhat short seat bottom. But then this was a marvel in space utilization compared wagons of yore.


Utilization of available space is of course more critical when there’s less to work with. Which was of course not a problem twenty years earlier, when there more than enough to go around. And then some. And if not inside, how about on that full-length roof rack? Perfect for hauling long timbers. Just no wood on the sides, though. Chrysler had ditched its woodie look after 1950, and only brought it back in 1968, due to the increasingly popular Ford Country Squire, which never dropped it and eventually launched the second Great Woodie era in the late 60s. Perhaps the suburban analogue to the back-to-the-land movement of the late 60s – early 70s?

Yup; this lil’ feller is in a whole different league. It’s got plenty of fake wood, but giving it the storied Town & Country name was a bit of a stretch hack job. How about City & Suburb?