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Old Cars Reader Wheels: 1949 Plymouth Woodie

Old Cars spotlights a reader’s 1949 Plymouth Woodie

By Tim Richardson

Gramp's SUV - '49 Plymouth Woodie

Growing up primarily in the 60’s surf culture, this 1949 Plymouth Special Deluxe P-18 Woodie Station is my “Dream Ride”. In fact, the surfboard decals in the back window I purchased in the early 60’s at Pacific Ocean Park, in anticipation of owning a woodie someday. One of only 26 known to exist, it is the same age as I am, but in much better condition.

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In May of 2016 I was looking through Hemmings Motor News and ran across a 2-sentence ad for a '49 Plymouth Woodie with no pictures. The ad said the woodie had a Plymouth 318 motor, 904 trans., power steering and brakes plus A/C! I called the number in the ad the next morning and began a 2-month long negotiation with Dan, the 2nd owner.

The negotiation process included sending friends to see the car, as well as a two-and-a-half-day road trip to see the car in Montana for myself and purchase it. During this process I learned some interesting history about the woodie. Around 2000, Dan was in the process of moving from New York to Montana to be near family. His brother called one day from Philadelphia and told Dan about the Woody in his neighbors’ estate sale. His neighbor bought the car new and drove it into his 90’s. It had been parked for many years in his garage. Dan bought it and brought it to Montana.

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Dan told me he was scared to death to drive the woodie on the small two-lane highways near his home in Montana because the car was gutless! So, in 2001 Dan contacted a local mechanic, the “Wizard” he called him, because he could not recall his name. The “Wizard” told him to find a wrecked ’70’s Plymouth to do a drivetrain swap. It turns out that Dan’s neighbor had a wrecked 78 Plymouth Volare station wagon which he purchased and used all the drivetrain, including the driveshaft!

After the modern drivetrain new paint and air conditioning was done in 2001 the Woodie mostly sat in a barn. I jokingly refer to it as my “Barn Find” but the truth is it was in a nice, heated barn with 2 other classic cars.

Here, I would like to remind all readers of a basic rule, which is to always check the ties when you purchase a car, particularly an older one. Although I decided to play it safe and have the car transported to our house from Montana after I bought it, I neglected to check the dates on the tires. The woodie had just been detailed and the tires looked great.

However, about a year, and many miles later, after reading a car magazine article on how to check tire manufacture dates, I learned the front tires were 25 years old and the back tires were 30 years old! Needless to say I learned a valuable lesson and replaced them right away.

Since arriving in Fresno in July of 2016, Jeff Ripley, my “wizard mechanic” has rewired the woodie, making all the original gauges work, as well as reengineering and replacing the cooling system, and rebuilding the 904 transmission. Most recently Jeff replaced the A/C compressor and all the hoses making the system practically new again. Other than those heating and cooling repairs, the interior of the woodie remains mostly stock, except for a newer headliner and the bottom portion of the front seat. I am lucky in the fact that this woodie still has the third row seat which is usually missing. In fact, the only missing piece is the center portion of the back bumper, which is this year, this vehicle only. If you know where one is please contact me at, timrichardson349@gmail.com. Otherwise, the only hint that it is a restomod is the stance, Lokar shifter, and a/c vents. I am currently in the process of hiding the a/c vents and controls.

One of the things I am most proud of is the sound system. When I purchased the woodie there was a block of wood where the radio had been. I was told there was no room because of the a/c ducts. I did some research online and found a Retrosound head unit that fit in the original space. I installed Alpine 4 in. 2-way speakers in front and 6 x 9 Alpine 3-way speakers in back. Also, there is an Alpine 600 w. amp and a 10-inch kicker subwoofer in back. The front speaker grilles are the front half of drive-in movie speakers, if you are old enough to remember those. Another fun attention getter I have in the woodie is a contraption that plays sirens, ice cream truck music and has a P.A. Although I had to ban my oldest grandson, Reece, from using the P.A. to announce to entire neighborhoods that,” this is a raid, come out with your hands up” when picking up his friends for rides.

In 2018, Dustin Snyder and Brooke, my paint guys, restored the wood, removing and restraining the red mahogany panels and refinishing the ash framework. During the pandemic I have used the time to insulate the floors and apply 8 coats of Epiphanes semi-gloss varnish.

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Even though this woodie is quite rare, I drive it every chance I get, mostly transporting grandkids, running errands, and going to church. It has been to a lot of shows, and cruise nights all over the state including the Street Rodder Magazine Road Tour. We attend most of the National Woodie Club events, including, Wavecrest in Encinitis, Woodies on the Wharf in Santa Cruz, Doheny Wood in Dana Point, Woodies at the Beach in Santa Barbara as well as our own Central Valley Woodies Chapters’, Woodies in the Valley. Most recently my woodie won a first place award at a local MoPar Club Show. But the highlight of my year remains Christmas. I decorate the windows of the Woody with battery powered lights and take my family down our local “Christmas Tree Lane”. We also use it to deliver toys and food to the needy.

As the license plate says it is GRMPSUV and that’s how I drive it.

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