It’s easy to forget that the station wagon as a family vehicle was a post-war phenomenon, thanks to all-steel wagons, lower prices and its rapidly changing image. Back in 1940, the target buyers for Ford’s woodie wagon were listed as “a wide variety of users” (but families were not one of the ones listed).
In the case of the DeLuxe Wagon, “it is eminently appropriate for the country estate, the private school, resort or country club.” And also “for meeting guests at the airport, station (the origin of these vehicles’ name) or dock…for transporting equipment to sporting events…for picnics, outings and other occasions.”
The Standard Wagon has its own list of “appropriate users…
…including engineers, surveyors, telephone maintenance and repair crews, scientific expeditions, and many others”. That apparently includes these buyers of antique furniture; professionals, presumably.
Here’s the list of standard features.
The DeLuxe gets leather upholstery and a few doodads, like a trip mileage indicator. The wood for the bodies came for Ford’s own vast woodlands.
If you took your hunting really seriously, then a Marmon-Herrington 4WD wagon was the ticket. The precursor to the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. (Full story here)
Yes family transport didnt figure in the minds of the advertising people, my own wagon is called an Estate, I guess it wasnt meant to be bought by the regular peasantry.
Wow, I love this one! Those ’40 Ford Woodies are droolworthy and the illustrations are period beautiful. The ’40 Ford is one of those cases where it all came together to make a particularly good looking car that year, and woodies are always pretty.
Milady had better lift the upper tailgate in a hurry if she doesn’t want the rocking chair to break the glass. Milord can’t get out and do it; he’s only about 3 feet tall.
I was fooled. The one referred to as milord looks like another lady. “Myrtle, make sure that man doesn’t scratch the rocker, it is a period 1750 you know.” Very interesting information. These vehicles cost more than sedans and had not as quite the upscale interior – unless you bought a pricier one or had it custom-fitted. So, with the advent of steel bodies for wagons came interiors similar to their sedan counterparts which were nicer in appearance. Still, a woodie is a woodie. They are works of craftsmanship.
1940 Ford woodies remind me of people cruising in them playing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”.
The long life of the wood wagon remains a mystery to me – They were expensive and low production, so it didn’t pay to tool up for more modern construction methods – because they would be expensive and low production? Although at least able to be built on normal assembly lines.
I wonder if wood retained such currency because of Ford. Ford was surely the volume leader in station wagons by far, from the days of the Model T and As. And Ford was ultra conservative and had huge forests, so wood made a kind of sense for them. Did everyone else keep with wood because that was just what Ford did and everyone was used to?
That tracks for me. Although the cost of production must have been astronomical. But yeah, if you’ve got forests, and wood seemed to have been part of the Ford universe since the teens (even Kingsford charcoal still has a Ford story on their package), it probably made some sort of financial sense for them. Weren’t they the last ones to have any wood on their cars?
Ford’s last wagon with any structural wood was the 1951, while I believe the 53 Buick is considered the last one overall. I think the metal bodied 1952 Ford Country Squire used a combination of decals and real wood trim, but I’m not sure when that practice stopped.
In England, wood as exposed structural material for the upper body was used as late as 1954 with the Austin A70 station wagons. It was used on the Morris Oxford and Austin Mini Countryman/Morris Mini Traveller wagons for only the roof supports as late as 1967.
When did they make the last Minor Traveller? They had exposed structural wood, if I remember rightly.
Wood was still widely used in steel auto bodies too, right up into the late 30s or so.
Owners did not expect their cars to survive long sitting outdoors, hence the extremely widespread use of garages back then. Cars just weren’t designed for that; even many/most the sedans had fabric roofs until the mid 30s or so. A high percentage of owners garaged their cars for the duration of the winter in the cold climate areas.
Wood was used almost universally for boats back then, as well as so many other things. It all rather makes sense, especially for relatively low production items.
And then by about 1940, as steel started to become more common, wood bodies on wagons and cars like the Chrysler T&C suddenly became chic, as they represented an upscale image. As in: I can afford to have my wood body sanded and varnished every year, along with the boat.
I really don’t think typical family buyers would have gone for steel bodied wagons anyway, as the image was not right. WW2 changed everything, and buyers started to gravitate away from sedans to wagons, sports cars, trucks, etc. The beginning of the modern era.
Another interesting article Paul-I had always assumed station wagons built prior to the postwar years (WWII) were used as family haulers and they were when I was growing up in the 50’s. But as you point out they were much more expensive than the standard steel bodied sedans and most people couldn’t afford one. Hence, apparently their use was primarily business oriented.
Steel bodied station wagons didn’t begin to appear until the early 50’s and I’m wondering why they didn’t appear earlier-it seems like there would have been a market for such a vehicle.
The ’40 Ford ad is strikingly modern in layout, especially the page with the off-kilter photos or drawings. Not much technical detail – it gives engine horsepower, but not number of cylinders or displacement.
I was thinking of ads like this when I watched the Chevy Suburban ads that ran recently portraying the ‘Burban as the quintessential family car for most of a century. Obviously that’s revisionist history, as early Suburbans were marketed as work crew and cargo trucks, not family runabouts. Family Suburbans weren’t a thing until the ’70s. I looked up a 1963 Suburban brochure just to check this and sure enough it emphasizes “loads of room for big payloads” plus a rugged new build – better than ever for staying on the job or straying off the beaten path” with “room leftover for tools, equipment, or outing gear.” It’s clearly being pitched as a covered work truck akin to crew-cab long bed pickups, though a scant sentence or two alluded to the possibility of using it for camping or family hauling during the weekends. That was clearly not their main purpose.
Throughout the brochure, the Ford name is invariably followed by ‘V8’, so there’s that.
And they probably figured the Ford V8 was so well-known by 1940 that there was no need to rehash what everyone knew. It looks like this brochure was to focus on the distinctives of the wagon body. Likely other brochures at the dealership would have more technical stuff.
Pre-WWII, station wagons were a essentially a peripheral niche market, dominated by Ford, being the only automaker who consistently catalogued the body style from the Model A on. Families that needed more seating than the standard sedan bought seven passenger sedans which Chrysler brands consistently offered. Otherwise, they bought used luxury make seven passenger sedans which were generally pretty cheaply available.
New station wagons were that odd combination of utilitarian and expensive which discouraged general popular purchase if not needed for a specific task. The well-known annual maintenance expense and the fact they were still very spartan, many lacking roll-up glass windows until about 1940.
Introduction of the 1940 Buick Super Estate Wagon and 1941 Chrysler Town and Country plus the Packard 110 and 120 station wagons were the first instances of the body style being designed to appeal to an upscale segment.
Reminds me of an eBay ad I saw several years ago for a low mileage cream puff mid 1980s Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser. The seller claimed it had truly been used as a “station wagon”, kept at the orginal owners summer residence with the car being dispatched to the closest train stations and airports to pick up out of town guests and their luggage.