How extraordinary that this 1947 Ford Super Deluxe station wagon should still be part of my life almost 50 years after I first saw it in 1973, sitting under a layer of dust in a London side street.
I remember anxiously crossing the road to inspect the car. The bodywork seemed to be in good order and, more importantly, all of the timber was in excellent shape. It was also a rare right-hand-drive model.
It’s still a mystery to me how I managed to persuade the owner to sell me the car; I remember rushing back later the same day with £300 in cash, hoping that he hadn’t changed his mind.
From my early teens, I have been fascinated by American cars and particularly anything with a V8. I would spend my pocket money on American hot-rod magazines, drooling over the cars.
Later in life I would combine my passion for vehicles with my work, concentrating specifically on the classic car market including spending many years at C&SC.
Shortly after acquiring the Ford, and with the help of my brother Mark, we decided to mildly customise the woodie.
Our first job was to replace the tired old engine with a reconditioned Mercury V8, which offered slightly more horsepower and was fairly straightforward to fit.
We then overhauled all the suspension parts and added new brakes – and we didn’t have the luxury of a nice dry garage, so all of the work was carried out in our parents’ back garden and in all weathers.
The drab old paint was replaced with a shade of metallic brown, and a set of period Wolfrace wheels and fat tyres were added to complete the ‘custom car’ look.
Very soon we were cruising up and down London’s King’s Road, showing off the woodie, and it wasn’t long before a wide variety of eye-catching vehicles began clogging up this part of the capital.
By mid-1975, the famous monthly ‘Chelsea Cruise’, as it quickly became known, was born.
Sadly, the woodie had started to become unreliable, with most journeys usually ending abruptly as persistent mechanical issues became the norm.
Reluctantly, in 1979, I decided to park the car in a lock-up garage, hoping later to dedicate more time and effort into sorting out the reliability issues.
Regrettably, the Ford would remain unused for the following 40 years. During that time I owned a string of equally interesting and wild cars, but the woodie would always remain my true favourite.
Fast-forward to 2020, and my retirement plus lockdown had given me the perfect opportunity to finally resurrect the woodie.
Although the car had been in dry storage for several decades, a full mechanical rebuild was by now long overdue.
This task was given to Ford flathead V8 engine specialist Jim Turnball of Royal Kustoms, in Dorset.
A rebuilt and ‘hopped-up’ flathead V8 engine with modern ancillaries was installed, together with dual exhaust system, full 12-volt electrics, plus a host of useful upgrades to make driving this 75-year-old classic a rather more user-friendly experience.
The £40 respray that was applied back in 1974 was showing its age, so I decided a full repaint was needed.
I handed this job to Wheel Works Auto Refinishing in Dorset, who carefully dismantled all the body panels, which were then soda-blasted and prepared for paint.
A fresh coat of 1970s Ford Copper Brown was chosen to complement the maple-and-mahogany timber framework.
Finally, the old, leaking canvas roof covering was stripped off and replaced with fresh padding and headlining.
I chose a suitable black Everflex vinyl finish for the top layer, all of which was done by Creative Upholstery Solutions in Dorset, which did other trim work including a set of fitted carpets.
After 40 years of lying hidden away, the woodie now looks magnificent and is ready for a new chapter.
It’s the car I promised myself and others that one day would finally return to the road.
Firing up the V8 monster still puts a big smile on my face every time, and now that there is a sprinkling of modern technology I’m looking forward to many more miles of trouble-free motoring – including the occasional cruise down the King’s Road, of course.
It’s just a shame that my late brother Mark isn’t here to share this new experience with me; he’d have been as chuffed as I am.
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- Owned by Alex Szczepanski
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