Crated Treasure – This ’36 Ford Street Rod Came Boxed Up Like a Do-It-Yourself Woodie Kit
Words by Brian Fluetsch, as told to John Lee
My friend Phil Price started this ’36 Ford woodie wagon project. He related the story to me about the history of this car and how he ended up with it.
Phil had a calico cat who was having a medical issue, so he took it to the veterinary clinic to have it checked out. While there, the vet noticed that Phil was wearing a hot rod T-shirt and inquired about it. After he told her a brief story of his interest in old cars, she asked if he might be interested in a 1936 Ford her grandfather had stored away before he passed. Phil was very interested, especially since he’d had a ’36 coupe in high school and really wanted another.
They set up a time to meet at the building where the car was stored. You can imagine Phil’s surprise when he saw it was a woodie wagon! They talked for a while and soon struck a deal. As it turned out, Phil would be only the woodie’s second owner; the grandfather had bought the wagon new in 1936, and it had remained in the same family.
Just as interesting, and somewhat troublesome, was the fact that when the grandfather stored the car, he completely disassembled it for fear the family was going to sell it as soon as he was gone. He built several very secure wooden boxes and filled them with all the small- to medium-sized parts and pieces of the car and then sealed up all the boxes. As you can imagine, Phil had quite the treasure hunt going through the building to collect all the parts!
Being a street rodder at heart, there was never any question about updating the running gear and making this woodie a good driver. Phil had built many cars over the years, and being a machinist by trade, the mechanical aspect was right in his wheelhouse – the woodwork, not so much. Knowing the woodwork would be a daunting task, and being limited on time to work on the project, Phil chose to sell the car to someone who could and would complete the car.
This is where my wife Valerie and I entered the story as only the third owners of this woodie. We are longtime rodders and fans of prewar Fords. I still own a ’38 Ford coupe street rod that was my first car in high school, and also a ’32 highboy roadster and a ’40 Fordor sedan. The ’36 made a natural addition to our stable (all I need now is a ’34 to complete a decade of Ford hot rods!).
We hauled the project home in pieces, the largest component being the rolling chassis with a 302c.i. Ford small block engine already mounted. Phil had boxed the original Ford frame and installed a Heidts independent front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. A 9-inch rearend from a Lincoln Versailles was mounted on a parallel leaf spring suspension from Chassis Engineering, and disc brakes were installed all around.
The 302 engine was upgraded with an Edelbrock Performer carb on a polished aluminum manifold, Pertronix ignition, and Summit Racing headers feeding into a custom aluminized exhaust system. It’s cooled by a Walker radiator. A Lokar shifter controls the Ford AOD trans. We ultimately installed Wheel Vintiques 16×4.5- and 16×7-inch steel wheels that were powder coated and shod with Coker Excelsior 5.00×16 and 7.50×16 radials, with Canadian Mercury Monarch hubcaps adding a distinctive finishing touch.
Phil had cleaned and primed the steel body parts, and we took the project to Richardson’s Custom Auto Body in Hoquiam, Washington, where Don Richardson and his talented team finessed the fit of the steel body components. It looks simple, but there was a lot of cutting, welding, and massaging required to get the 1936 sheet metal to fit as well as this does. Richardson’s also sprayed the PPG Peryiene Maroon finish.
For the all-important woodwork, the ’36 was hauled to Chris Messano Woodworks in Harbor City, California. The body was disassembled piece by piece and the framing wood was refinished and replaced where necessary, and then reassembled with new paneling. 1936 Ford station wagons were not built with liftgates, so Messano built one resembling what the Ford factory might have offered. It required a hand-fabricated hinge and stainless steel brackets to hold the liftgate in the open position.
Ford wagons had roll-up windows in the front doors for the first time in 1936, but only canvas side curtains to enclose the back doors, quarters, and the rear. Messano constructed a wider beltline and retainers to hold sliding glass in the rear doors and quarter panels, copying what Ford would finally include on 1937 wagons.
Before the woodie returned home to Olympia, Washington, it went to Sid Chavers in Santa Clara, California, for a custom interior. Glide seats were expertly padded and covered with pleated brown leather, with German square-weave carpet on the floor and rear cargo deck.
Final details included a Moal hot rod heater with a custom face plate by Pinkee’s Rod Shop, which incorporates cup holders by Santana Interior Design. The original dash now features Classic Instruments’ Traditional series gauges. Wiring is from Ron Francis, and the banjo steering wheel is from Limeworks. Stock door handles were rechromed, and a ’56 Chevy provided the under dash emergency brake.
With the help of talented craftspeople, this woodie not only made it across the finish line, but the finished product exceeded all our expectations. All the effort has been worth it. We’ve loved discovering how a wooden car seems to bring a smile to everyone’s face!
Photos by Damon Lee & Todd Ryden