One rarely sees or hears about the 1947 Chevy Woodie Wagon. Few (less than 5000) were made and many of the survivors have been modified as deluxe surf woodies or street rods with modern V-8’s. Chevy aficionados consider it the most attractive of the early post war line and collectors like rock legend Eric Clapton have begun to accumulate them.
The present owner obtained his Fleetmaster 16 years ago. Though a cliché, he would use it for Sunday drives. It had been a museum car and had previously undergone restoration. He had always wanted a Woodie, saw it in Hemmings and immediately bought it. A well known New York state classic car mechanic has provided routine maintenance and may be responsible for its years of trouble free motoring.
Wood framed and wood paneled cars have been common since the inception of the automobile. Most of the latter were the individual products of coach builders. ( The Finest offered a 1924 Delage Shooting Brake with a wood supported top, exposed wood window frames and external wooden corner supports at their 2016 Hershey auction. ) Ford having bought the 400,000 acre Iron Mountain Forest saw an opportunity and is credited with the first mass manufacture of a Woodie. Though coach built examples had been offered, Chevrolet’s first production Woodie wagon was a 1937 version of the truck based “Carry-All” two door. In 1939 Chevrolet and other GM divisions began to offer a wood paneled Station Wagon built in-house as part of its automotive lineup. It was little changed post war. It and other models previously labeled “Special Deluxe” were now Fleetmasters. They rode on a 116 inch wheelbase and boasted 90 hp. Sales of the wagons paled in comparison to their more sporty counterparts and it was said that Chevrolet lost money on every one of them. Production ceased in 1948.
“Those lovable, hand-crafted wood-bodied vehicles represent a tradition that dated back to the beginnings of the automobile”-David Adolphus Hemmings September 2005
The present owner was fortunate to find a 1947 Fleetmaster Wagon this well preserved. With the next model run which began in 1949, Chevrolet wagons sported all steel bodies with the wooden side panels as a laminated applique. The early post war Fleetmasters had structural ash and mahogany panels. Their leatherette tops were supported by a wood framework. With Chevrolet’s curtailment of true Woodie production and the subsequent cessation of production by most American manufacturers, an era would end. By 1953, automotive wood craft would disappear from the American scene.
It is ironic that the Fleetmaster Wagon was the least popular Chevrolet offering in 1947. Times and attitudes have changed and now the addition of wood to the structure, sides and top of a vintage vehicle multiplies the value of common collector cars with similar engine, chassis and interior specifications. Auction records of Woodies and their more banal coupe and sedan counterparts bear this out. Distinctive styling, the beauty of real wood, and the craftsmanship required for the final result are the likely explanations. With low annual production numbers (4912 in 1947) and an extremely short production cycle, the Chevrolet Woodie is a rarity and likely to garner great attention at local shows, in parades and even as wedding transport. With the great availability of Chevy parts, it can be maintained inexpensively and can and should be driven and enjoyed by its next caretaker.