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» Home » Articles » Classic Car Reviews » Add - Classic Car Reviews » 1937 Buick Eight Woody Review and History

1937 Buick Eight Woody Review and History

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19/11/2009, 23:59   By MURRAY HUBBARD  
It's interesting the woody station wagon is so entrenched in folklore as the preferred transport of 1950 American surfers that the vehicle's origins have been largely overlooked. So where did the term `station wagon' originate? That answer later. The reason the woody took off with surfers was a simple matter of size and being affordable.
1937 Buick 8/40 Woody

It was also a crossing of paths. The Woody had become unfashionable and dated and the California surfers' needed a large, affordable wagon for their boards and at least three mates. The Jan and Dean song `Surf City' summed it up:

I bought a '30 Ford wagon and we call it a woody
Surf City, here we come)
You know it's not very cherry, it's an oldie but a goody
(Surf City, here we come)
Well, it ain't got a back seat or a rear window
But it still gets me where I wanna go.

1937 Buick 8/40 Woody rear and side view


Woodies had been doing just that – getting people to where they want to go – since the 1920's. And where they wanted to go was either to a railway station or from one. Hence the name `station wagon.' They were also known as `depot hacks' the term `hack' meaning it was a working vehicle, much like a taxi. But the term here means more than taxi as the depot hack was intended to carry large amounts of luggage. For that reason these wagons had an extended roofline and rear access for luggage, plus seating for many passengers. In the early days not only large cars were developed for this, but also small trucks.
1937 Buick 8/40 Woody side view

The history of the station wagon and the woody are inter-twined. There's little doubt the first wagons were a variant of the Model-T Ford. But station wagon history seems to start with the 1923 Star which was the first to `produce' a station wagon, as opposed to having a third party build a station wagon body on an existing chassis. There is no definitive history on the wagon. It evolved in many places, through many manufacturers, in many guises. The Woody is a cheap version of a station wagon and dates to the days of cars using timber frames. In the case of the woody the external sheet metal was not added, saving the cost of metal, labour and painting. So the term `station wagon' was first coined in the 1920's and replaced the term `depot hack'.

1937 Buick 8/40 dashboard and instruments

Australia also got in on the act. This photograph shows two `station wagons' circa late 1920s that transferred passengers from Southport Railway Station at the northern end of what is now known as the Gold Coast to the southern end of the coast, Coolangatta. The vehicles are not woodies and there's a good reason for that. South east Queensland has a warm sub-tropical climate which in summer can be stifling, so a closed-in wagon – there was no air-conditioning in the 1920s – would have been unbearable.
Australia station wagons late 1920s.

These wagons – extended chassis with long bodies – were built to suit the climate with open sides. (Image courtesy Gold Coast City Local Studies Library). It it likely that for at least some of the journey between Southport and Coolangatta the station wagons drove along the beach at low tide. It is also likely they were called buses, not station wagons, even though they were car-derived.

It was towards the late 1920s and mid 1930s that produced the golden era of woody station wagons. What had started as a necessity to carry passengers to and from the railway station had become a status symbol. In the U.S, exclusive clubs and tourist resorts used the woody as classy transport for wealthy guests. The wood was no longer just the exposed timber framework, but highly polished and maintained as a striking feature.
1937 Buick 8/40 Woody close up of side 

Our pictured vehicle is from this era being a 1937 Buick woody. Most major American manufacturers either produced a Woody in-house or had outside coach building contractors build the style for them. Unless timber is maintained, in a relatively short time being exposed to the elements, it deteriorates. So these not-so-well maintained station wagons in poor body shape became not only unloved, but unwanted. Also the timber-framed car was on the way out with all-steel bodies taking over. In this way the surfers of the 1950s picked up cheap, big, reliable transport to follow the waves.

The woody style was not confined to the U.S. Under the `Morris' heading in our classic car section you will find a story on the Morris Minor 1000 Traveller, one of a number of British `woodies.' While the woody found favour with U.S. surfers, in Australia it was mainly the VW Kombi that fulfilled the same role, followed by larger station wagons. Buick was the last manufacturer to produce a station wagon with a genuine timber structure, in 1953.
1937 Buick 8/40 close up of side

The Buicks of the 1930s came in a wide variety of body shapes with one thing in common: a straight eight engine. They were also a stable of magnificent looking cars: coupes, sedans, convertibles and wagons. Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac divisions of GM all introduced straight eight engines in the early 1930s. This put the GM brands at odds with their major competitor, Ford, that introduced their V8 in 1932 and never had a straight eight engine. In the long run the V8 won through. The straight eight – as can be seen by the woody – required a long, tall bonnet to accommodate the power plant. Straight eight engines survived until just after WW2 although some were still built in the early 1950s.

The Buick Fireball 8 engine made its debut in 1931 and survived until 1953. There were at least two variants, one small and one large block castings. The bigger block was used in the larger chassis Buicks such as the Roadmaster. Early straight eights started at 220.7 cubic inches (3.6 litre) with the largest of the 10 versions at 354 cubic inches (5.6 litre) between 1931-35. From late 1934 until the early 1940s GM Holden built bodies on imported Buick chassis using the straight eight engine.

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