- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

On Feb. 10, 1942, just 65 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government shut down civilian automobile production in order to produce war munitions.

Before production ceased, Ford Motor Company had manufactured hundreds of the top-of-the-line Super DeLuxe station wagons, each of which carried a base price of $1,125.

Following World War II, civilian auto production resumed with most manufacturers offering 1946, 1947 and 1948 models that were only slightly altered prewar cars.

That's when Ken Gross became intimately acquainted with a 1948 Ford Super DeLuxe wood-bodied wagon. He was a high school student in Swampscott, Mass. back when grocery stores still delivered food to the customer's doorstep. He delivered food for the Farm Store in a 1948 Ford provided by the grocer. The teen-ager spent many happy hours behind the two-spoke steering wheel.

That was before he went on to a career as an automotive writer. Various cars have come and gone into his life, but the memory of the old Ford woody never faded.

In 1998, knowing of his father's fondness for the car of his youth, Christopher Gross, lead singer of the Spin Doctors, urged him to take action and buy such a car to fulfill the need or at least the want.

Mr. Gross, then director of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, contacted a broker specializing in wood-bodied station wagons. He requested a 1946, 1947 or 1948 Ford similar to the grocer's car.

The broker sent him leads on several cars; however, by the time Mr. Gross arranged to have a trusted friend inspect the car, it was sold.

"I didn't want to buy a car sight unseen," Mr. Gross explains.

Finally, the broker suggested a

1942 Ford, virtually identical to the postwar models.

A hesitant Mr. Gross said he wanted a Columbia rear end.

"You can put one in," the broker countered.

Mr. Gross remained reluctant until the broker offered a money-back deal if he weren't satisfied.

The Phoebe Gray metallic 1942 Ford with birch-wood panels in a maple skeleton was trucked from Chicago to the Peterson Museum where an amazed Mr. Gross said, "It's as advertised, only better." A cursory inspection disclosed that the car did, indeed, have a Columbia rear end. Each of the 14 panes of flat glass survived the trip to California.

Mr. Gross fired up the 239-cubic-inch 1948 Mercury flathead V-8 that had replaced the original 221-cubic-inch Ford V-8, and happily drove on 6 x 16-inch tires the 13 miles to his home, at the time, in Manhattan Beach, Calif. At 3,468 pounds the wagon is the heaviest Ford car built in 1942.

"This is a great engine," Mr. Gross enthuses. "It runs as well on seven cylinders as it does on eight."

Mr. Gross installed headers so that he could have dual exhaust pipes with the accompanying delightful sould tumbling through the Smithy mufflers. "Since it looks like a motor boat," Mr. Gross said, "It should sound like a motor boat."

As Mr. Gross recalls, the old Ford woody wagon transcends social and economic classes, which enhances their appeal. "People make a big deal of three-row seating now," he observes, "when it was available 60 years ago."

This prewar Ford abounds in nice touches including an eight-day Waltham clock that works, Mr. Gross boasts. He points out that adjoining the wood-grained portions of the dashboard is honey-colored plastic trim, offered only on 1942 models.

At the base of the two-piece windshield is the plasticknob to control the vacuum-powered windshield wipers.

Under the dashboard is the three-door heater that could actually warm the cavernous interior if the outside temperature weren't too cold.

Above the windshield is a bona fide aftermarket Fulton sun visor and protecting the front of the rear fenders are rubber gravel guards.

"The wood is mostly original, which I like," Mr. Gross said. The top is supported by 19 longitudinal wooden slats. "The wood symbolizes an era," Mr. Gross said. "When I drive it down the street, it makes people happy. It makes people smile."

The records indicate that Mr. Gross is the sixth owner of the Ford, which once was a Warner Bros. property. "It's just a thoroughly nice old car," Mr. Gross explains. "It's relatively trouble-free."

The handsome Ford has roll-up windows in the rear doors, a first in 1942. To accommodate the metal-shrouded spare tire on the tailgate, Ford continued to use a 1941 rear bumper with a clearance relief even though it did not match the heavier-appearing 1942 front bumper.

While in California, Mr. Gross never hesitated to take his rare Ford on 150-mile coastal trips with wife Trish, son Jake and daughter Kayla.

Last August, the family moved to Virginia, with the Ford following a month later undamaged.

"With the eight vacuum-tube radio warmed up, the wood body creaking and seven of my best friends aboard," Mr. Gross said, "what could be better than that?"

Mr. Gross concludes, "I can't imagine not having one."

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