- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

“I have a great appreciation for woodies,” Ken Gross says.

His initial experience with a wood-bodied station wagon came when he was a teenager delivering groceries in a Ford in Swampscott, Mass. In those days, he explains, the cars were called “beach wagons” or “station wagons” but were never called “woodies.”

The grocer’s Ford was a 1948 model, which was nearly identical to a 1947, 1946 or even a prewar 1942 station wagon. Mr. Gross never forgot the good time he spent wrestling the two-spoke steering wheel of that Ford.

Since then, Mr. Gross has owned several wood-bodied Ford station wagons, including a 1940 model followed by a 1948 and an earlier 1942. “The craftsmanship appealed to me,” he says.

After each car was sold, he regretted the sale. That was when he decided that once he found another wooden station wagon he was never going to be without one again.

The search commenced more than a year ago and led to several disappointments until Mr. Gross discovered a 1942 Ford Super DeLuxe station wagon for sale in Redlands, Calif.

He learned that a previous owner had been Ken Brown who was an authority on 1941 through 1948 Ford station wagons. With that knowledge, he says, “I bought the car sight unseen.”

In December, he arranged to have his 1942 Ford trucked cross country to his Hamilton, Va., home. As the car came off the truck, Mr. Gross was impressed by the Fathom Blue paint and the maple and birch wooden body. He knew the wood came from Ford-owned Iron Mountain in Michigan.

“It had been restored in the late 1970s,” Mr. Gross says. The odometer shows that it has been driven 35,000 miles since then. Mr. Gross was told the car had been parked for several years before he purchased it. He says there were no surprises and he expected that the car would require some first aid after its hibernation. “The shocks leaked and the brakes were pretty much gone,” he says. If anything on the car was wrong, it was fixed. “It gives you something to do,” he says.

With the help of Warren Barbee in nearby Purcellville, the old Ford received a new ignition, shock absorbers, hoses, wheel cylinders, brakes, fluids, wiring and lights.

Any kind of car built in 1942 is rather rare because 65 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. government on Feb. 10, 1942, shut down civilian automobile production in order to produce war munitions.

The 3,468-pound 1942 Ford Mr. Gross bought sold new for a base price of $1,125. The eight-passenger car is supported on optional upgraded 6.50x16-inch tires on a 114-inch wheelbase. Because of the car’s capability to carry heavy loads, each rear spring has an extra leaf that is absent in Ford sedans.

A 221-cubic-inch flathead V-8 engine delivers 90 horsepower and cosmetically, the car has held up well inside and out. Brown “boot topping” covers the roof while inside the car the ceiling is made of 19 longitudinal wooden slats.

The Ford is equipped with a Columbia two-speed overdrive rear axle, an AM radio and a heater with three adjustable doors.

In case Mr. Gross is caught in a rainstorm, the two-piece windshield can be cleared by the vacuum-powered wipers. In sunny weather, the external Fulton sun visor shades the windshield.

The station wagon came standard with a single taillight on the left side of the tailgate. Mr. Gross has the optional right taillight as well. When the tailgate is lowered to a horizontal position, both taillights automatically swivel so the lights can be seen from the rear.

Because the metal-shrouded spare tire is mounted on the tailgate, extra space for it must be provided in the bumper when the tailgate is opened. That’s why the notched rear bumper from a 1941 Ford is used. Mr. Gross is amused that the rear gravel pan between the bumper and body was not included as standard equipment. The optional item was priced at $1.95.

As on a boat, every inch of space is used, including a compartment under the second row of seats, which houses the tire changing tools.

Now that Mr. Gross again is in possession of a wood-bodied Ford station wagon, he says this one is here to stay.

“I’m from the ‘40s,” he declares, “and so are my cars.”

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