Woodies on the Wharf

I never cease to be amazed at the amount sheer number of clubs, hobby groups, and organizations for specialized interests that exist in this country. Regardless of what you’re passionate about, there’s a good chance that there is a club (with its affiliated website, magazine, and festival) that you can be join to celebrate your enthusiasm with others.


This week’s case in point: “woodie” cars. Everyone knows that classic car aficionados – and their associated clubs and car shows – abound in the good old USA. Woodie enthusiasts are a subset of of this community, one with which I was not familiar until this weekend. Sure, I knew what woodies were and had admired them for years; I just didn’t know that an entire subculture existed around them.

According to Wikipedia, a woodie is “a car body style with rear bodywork constructed of wood framework with infill wood panels.” Apparently woodies came about in the 1930’s, having naturally evolved from the process of constructing passenger cabins from wood. Originally they were status symbols and were often the most expensive models in a manufacturer’s line. Woodies became more popular during WWII when the substitution of wood for steel enabled car makers to save that precious metal for the war effort.


After the mid-fifties, the popularity of woodies waned, and many appeared in used car lots, where the surfers found them. Surfers in the 1950’s and 1960’s were riding longboards – many wooden, most over ten feet long. They discovered that these inexpensive wagon-style vehicles were ideal for toting their toys. From there on out, woodies and longboarders (and all of the tiki-culture motifs that go along for that ride) were wedded for life, as was evidenced by the scene at “Woodies on the Wharf” this weekend.

“Woodies on the Wharf” is the annual car show hosted by the Santa Cruz chapter of the National Woodie Club. Over 200 woodies and their owners gather on the Santa Cruz wharf for a day of camaraderie and automotive pride.  In addition to gorgeous cars, the far end of the wharf was cluttered with longboards, leis, artificial palm trees, Hawaiian shirts, flip flops, mu-mus, umbrella drinks, and ukulele music.

The variety of colors and chassis styles represented by these cars was impressive. The hood ornaments were wild, and the classic fonts used by the car manufacturers on their vehicles were awesome. Some cars were decorated with dashboard hulas, some with old school travel stickers, and many with vanity plates. One even had a wooden travel trailer attached to its hitch.

There appears to be a little less variety in the demographic of woodie owners; there’s definitely a woody driver look. Think white guy, late fifties to early seventies, gray hair and mustache, and leathery skin — clad in California beach attire and flip flops. The longboarder look.  All very friendly and brimming with enthusiasm about their cars.


In the process of wandering on the wharf, I tried to keep track of the dates of the woodies on display. The oldest one I saw was a 1915 Model T Ford; the newest a 1967 Morris Mini Traveller – a super cute precursor to our modern Minis that was made by the British Motor Corporation. But the vast majority were from the late 1940’s.


That doesn’t mean that the era of wood siding is over, however. Wikipedia’s definition of a woodie mentions that “later model [vehicles] featured applied wood and wood-like elements.” It seems there is a bit of controversy about whether or not vehicles with “wood-like elements” – such as the 1972 Ford LTD station wagon with fake wood siding in which I spent my toddler years – should be classified as woodies.  I’m pretty sure the folks who hosted “Woodies on the Wharf” would say that they most assuredly should not. However, I think there were some party crashers. I saw several mid-seventies fake wood (probably photo-printed vinyl)-sided Pintos and Caprices parked outside the car show entrance gate, along with two PT Cruisers from the ‘oughts sporting the same look.


“How American is that?” I thought to myself. Something starts practical, gets trendy, is totally forgotten about, and then becomes so cool that it is artificially replicated.

I can think of more than a few other items of pop culture that have taken that path…



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