- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

For 17 years, starting in 1939, the Cantrell Co. of Huntington, Long Island in New York had an agreement with General Motors to build wooden bodies for Chevrolet.

The attractive wooden bodies were composed of mahogany panels, which were supported by a white ash skeleton.

Because these vehicles sold for about $1,000 more than a typical steel-bodied Suburban Carryall, sales were understandably few and usually restricted to exclusive resorts, ski lodges or private estates. A large majority of the wooden-bodied vehicles reportedly ended up in the New England states and the adjoining northeastern area.

Chevrolet truck body styles changed in 1948 and remained that way through 1954. During that period, the Cantrell Co. produced a small, but steady supply of wooden bodies.

The preservation of the wooden bodies required intensive labor, therefore, after the luster of newness had worn off the vehicles, the required maintenance diminished and the vehicles quickly succumbed to the ravages of Mother Nature.

One of the few survivors, a 1949 model Chevrolet, presumably passed through two owners before being purchased by a Wilmington, Del., man who had restoration designs on his mind.

For decades the once-handsome vehicles languished until during the 1990s, when the owner sent the vehicle to a series of restoration shops. Each shop seemingly dismantled and misplaced more of the vehicle.

Eventually, the owner's health began to fail and the disassembled Chevrolet was offered for sale. That's when Tom Aubrey of Aldie, Va., came to the rescue.

The exclusive 16-foot, 4 1/2-inch-long 1949 Chevrolet 1/2-ton windshield/cowl chassis with a Cantrell wooden body intrigued Mr. Aubrey. He purchased the dismantled Chevrolet in the summer of 1999 and hauled it home, mostly in boxes.

Laying out all the pieces he had on the floor of the garage, it soon became apparent to Mr. Aubrey that more than a few parts were missing.

From the fire wall forward, Mr. Aubrey explains, the vehicle is identical to every other 1949 Chevrolet truck and the parts are readily available.

The BIG job was going to be the wooden body. A large part of it was rotted away. However, from one side or the other, Mr. Aubrey salvaged enough pieces so he could fashion patterns to complete the missing body pieces with new wood.

"Ash is a good, hard piece of wood," Mr. Aubrey said, "It's easy to work with."

Inside the Chevrolet the typical cloth headliner found in cars is replaced by 22 longitudinal wooden slats supported by seven cross bows with four more supports at the rear of the roof perpendicular to the other bows.

With the liftgate that surrounds the 9 1/2-inch high window raised and the huge tailgate lowered, the cargo space is 48 inches high, 55 inches wide and with the second and third rows of seats removed almost 7 1/4-feet of longitudinal space is available. Seven stainless steel strips on the inside of the tailgate help protect the wood. The wooden floorboards inside the truck are covered with a rubber mat.

Mr. Aubrey discovered that much of the chrome-plated brass hardware on the wooden part of his Chevrolet is marine hardware. He had the five horizontal bars of the grille chrome-plated as well as the hood ornament.

When the time came to paint the metal parts Mr. Aubrey followed the dictates of the manufacturer's plate and painted it mariner blue.

One of the more difficult repainting tasks was pinstriping the wheels with a dual pinstripe close to the hub and a single pinstripe near the perimeter of the wheel.

With the Chevrolet rolling on 6.50x16-inch tires on a 118-inch wheelbase Mr. Aubrey could begin to see the end of his project.

All 11 windows were replaced and long-grain vinyl was used to cover the top, Mr. Aubrey said.

Mechanically, the eight-passenger Chevrolet is like other trucks of that era. It has a 216-cubic-inch, in-line six-cylinder, Thriftmaster engine mated to a synchromesh three-speed transmission. Mr. Aubrey is quick to point out only second and third gears are synchromesh.

Engine temperature is kept under control with 15 quarts of coolant. The fuel tank holds 16 gallons of gasoline.

Some of the more difficult aspects of the restoration involved locating the outside handles for the four doors. Finally, a complete set was found in New Hampshire.

A nightmarish experience occurred when a Knoxville, Tenn., replater lost the car-wide hinge supporting the liftgate. Fortunately, the company paid to fabricate a new one. "I searched every day for a month and a half," Mr. Aubrey recalls of his effort to find another hinge.

Surprising even himself, Mr. Aubrey completed the total restoration within eight months. That's not much longer than the Cantrell Co. used to take to build one.

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