This was the Mercedes G-Wagen of its day, most often sold in high trim levels to affluent customers
|Vehicle:||1947 Buick Super Series 50 woody wagon|
|Number Produced:||2,031 (plus 5 for export)|
|Original List Price:||$2,805|
|Tune Up Cost:||Approx. $250|
|Chassis Number Location:||On a plate riveted to the firewall|
|Engine Number Location:||Right rear side of block near the dipstick|
|Club Info:||Buick Club of America, P.O. Box 360775, Columbus, OH 43236|
|Alternatives:||1950 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith Woody, 1954-71 Morris Minor Woody, 1928-31 22-foot Chris Craft Triple Cockpit Custom|
This 1947 Buick Super Series 50 Woody Wagon sold for $88,125 at the Christie’s Monterey auction, held August 18, 2005.
Before Dinah Shore hit them with her Chevrolet pitch, the Buick division of General Motors urged many returning World War II GIs to “See America First” in a Buick. If you needed a car and you had a little extra change in your pocket, you might bypass the Bowtie in favor of the waterfall grille and an increase in status. Something worked, as the Buick division took fourth place back from Dodge in 1947, turning out 267,830 cars, including 37,743 ragtops―22.9% of the U.S. total.
Buick had three model lines in 1947: the Special Series 40, the Super Series 50, and the Roadmaster Series 70. The Special rode on a 121-inch wheelbase, while the Super was three inches longer. For his money, the Roadmaster owner got 129 inches between the hubs. Perhaps by skipping a Series 60 model car, GM psychologists convinced Roadmaster buyers they were 20 points better than a Series 50 buyer.
Wood-bodied station wagons were dramatically more expensive than sedans or coupes in the same series. In 1947, a Series 50 wood-bodied wagon cost $2,805, while a four-door sedan in the same series was just $1,929. In a time when radios and heaters were factory options for under $100, that $865 was a big difference.
Woodys eclipsed even convertibles in price. The 1947 Series 50 convertible cost only $2,333. In the Roadmaster line, the Super Series 50 Woody carried a $700 premium, selling for a staggering $3,249. In more contemporary parlance, the Series 50 Woody was the G-Wagen to a standard Mercedes sedan, while the Series 70 fell in line more with a G55 AMG. And as the upscale SUVs of their day, they were bought accordingly, popular with land developers and lodge owners, boarding schools and large, affluent families.
An owner in Western states might use his wagon for daily transport, ferrying dude ranch guests from the train station to a remote spread, while in the East Woodys were left at the park-n-ride as Dad traveled to a New York office from suburban Connecticut or New Jersey.
Family use, errands, and chores. With this kind of gentle service, one might think they would last forever, but that was not the case. Woodys, it turned out, were maintenance intensive. Many of us have seen old photos of surviving wood bodies, while the metal parts have rusted away. More than anything, however, this is the exception to the rule, as the scenario is likely just the opposite.
Few owners were willing to invest the time and effort to keep the body in excellent shape, a routine that called for twice-yearly waxing in mild climes, and more in harsher weather. In some extreme cases, upkeep required removing all the wood panels, refinishing them, and performing carpentry repairs on rotted or damaged sections.
Expensive when new plus expensive to maintain is a poor equation for long-term survival. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Woodys got a second wind and were famous as surfer transportation―for as long as they lasted. Because there was room for surfboards on the roof and for friends inside, they were bought cheap and used up in great numbers.
Aside from its utility as a big car, a wooden-bodied car offers a unique set of sensations. Woodys often have a distinctive smell―usually a combination of varnish and dampness―similar to wooden boats. A lack of both carpets and cloth seat coverings is partially responsible here, as Woodys were equipped from the factory with rubber floor mats and vinyl seats. And the roof is merely canvas stretched over wooden slats, which does nothing to muffle noise. Because wood is so climate sensitive, veteran Woody owners will recall their doors loose and rattling in the summer and fitting squeaky tight in the winter as the wood expanded and contracted with respect to the moisture in the air.
Woodys carry their weight differently than steel-bodied cars, and the considerable body flex makes for a distinct over-the-road feel. In an era of roly-poly ride in American cars, the Woodys―often a few hundred pounds heavier―rode a little lower on their haunches and a bit floatier at the front end. Everything is relative, of course; I doubt if many Woody owners today push the performance envelope. Zero-to-sixty times could be measured in tree rings.
The Dynaflow automatic transmission didn’t appear until 1948, which means this car is blessed with “three on the tree,” and spared the slushbox’s leaking rear seal, which demands removal of the entire torque tube and rear axle for repair. And if you don’t replace the rear bushing in the transmission as well, you get to do it again about a month later.
The subject 1947 Buick Super Series 50 Woody Wagon looked to be a solid example without any major standout points for or against―a true number 3+ throughout. With replacement interior and restored paint (and a color change from maroon, for some reason), it appeared ready for casual use.
Wood issues are always paramount, and this car showed light separation between a few panels, a potentially expensive problem to address.
At $88,125, it was not cheap, but I call it fairly priced. That figure could have gone much higher, had this been a Roadmaster, as only 300 were turned out by the Ionia works. But with Super production at 2,031, enough examples exist to prevent any sort of top-tier collectibility. In addition, 4,584 Super chassis-cowl units were shipped overseas, so Woody fans might search profitably in dry climates like Argentina and Australia, where boatbuilders often doubled as coachbuilders.
There’s no reason for the new owner to perform a restoration in the near future; he should simply enjoy this decent example and expect that it will give him many years of service.
When it does come time for a restoration, however, one important thing to consider will be parts availability. Just take heart that at least one part won’t be hard to find,
and they continue to make first-class replacements. You could even say they grow on trees.