Back in the early Sixties, the “Surfing Craze” took off like wildfire here in Southern California. Surfers found that inexpensive and overlooked “Woodie Wagons” were the perfect vehicles to transport their longboards to and from the beach. At the time, I was busy going to high school and going on camping trips with my family. Not being a surfer, I got the idea that it would be fun to buy an old woodie and use it for camping out. But at age 16 I was too young to buy a car and I had no money. As I approached graduation from High School and got some Graduation money from my family, I started looking for a car. I had around $185 to spend.
In June of 1964, 2 weeks before graduation, my younger sister came home one day, all excited that she had found a woodie for sale in nearby Lynwood, CA. The car was sitting in the dirt parking lot of a “Nudie Bar” of all places. The mother of the actual owner, Terry Elam, was selling the car since Terry had been recently drafted into the Army and was sent off to the Vietnam War. She swore the engine was a fresh rebuild and worth the $125 she was asking. Stupid me, I made the classic mistake of looking at the car in the dark AND in the rain. I was so glossy eyed, I took the plunge and bought it.
Why my father ever let me buy that mess of a car, I’ll never know. In reality, the car was a parts car at best. Every fender was dented and rusted, the grille was missing, no front bumper, no dash trim, no cloth top, four different tires and rims, a too-narrow ’40 Ford rear-end and missing all three seats.
The seat that was there was out of a 2-door sedan of some type and was unbelievably, not bolted to the floor. As a matter of fact, Terry had built a crudely crafted wooden platform from an old redwood gate, to place the seat on. Every time you took off, the seat tilted backwards.
The wood wasn’t so great either, with wood rot starting in the left rear quarter panel. Turns out the engine was not fresh, it had high mileage. In short the car was a worn out Surfer Wagon, but pretty typical of the type cars many SoCal Surfers drove to and from the beach each weekend. It certainly wasn’t restoration material by today’s standards.
But the good news was that this crummy wagon became the best educational tool I could ever imagine. Due to the fact that I was constantly trying to keep the car running and had no cash, I learned the hard way how to rebuild the car. Over the next few years I learned about woodworking, electrical, mechanicals and painting, all the while going to college and working at various jobs to help fund it.
Piece by piece, the car started to come together. I pulled the ailing flathead out and replaced it with a 1956 Chevy V8 that I got from a running but trashed 1947 Mercury woodie. That $75 Mercury also provided a lot of wood that was much better than my car’s. I found missing parts from many varied sources.
The long gone vintage Ford Junkyard in Azusa CA owned at the time by Ford Parts Obsolete provided many goodies including the center seat. In the end, the wood from four separate junked wagons were used.
I bought a perfect front clip and other nice parts from a young fellow who was tearing apart a beautiful stock black ’48 Ford Convertible to put it on a ’55 Chevy chassis. Yep, ’55 Chevy! His screwed up idea, resulted in a disassembled convertible with a bunch of cheap parts I could use on my car.
After sanding through about six coats of different paint colors I discovered the original color was Glade Green, so I decided to go with that color. I sprayed it myself in my Dad’s garage using nitrocellulose lacquer and a small air compressor.
By 1968 it was in several major Los Angeles car shows and actually started winning trophies. Deemed too nice, the car was no longer my daily driver. I kept it garaged while I drove my newly acquired ’55 Chevy 210 Delray Club Coupe to college and work, which I still own today.
Over the years the car went through various appearances. For the 1970 Rod & Custom Magazine article it appeared in, it had chrome wheels, wide Firestone Indy rear tires and small Pirellis up from. The rear end assembly including springs was completely chrome plated.
A couple of years later, in Street Rodder Magazine the look was a bit toned down with more conventional radial tires all the way around. Eventually I ditched the chrome wheels and went for the stock look with stock rims and wide white Firestone tires.
As time passed, the car became more of a Garage Queen. I stopped driving it to California Woodie events like Wavecrest and LA Wood. When I purchased my 1929 Ford Roadster Hot Rod in March of 2009, I got an email message from my old college buddy Brian’s cousin, Bill Sullivan, inquiring about purchasing my ’48 Ford. The time was right, so I sold it to Bill knowing it was going to a good home.
Bill immediately took the car to a restoration shop in Orange County where they removed all the wood and refinished it. Over the next couple of years, Bill took the car to the next level adding accessories such as a metal spare tire cover, a visor, fog lamps and much more. More recently he had the car repainted, changed the tires again, put on a new correct fabric roof and added more detailing.
As a Class Manager at the annual Palos Verdes Concours d’Elegance, I happily accepted the task of putting together an American Woodie class in 2014. I got even more excited when I realized Bill could enter my old car in the class as a display only vehicle. So it came to be that my car I purchased in 1964 had come full circle, from a Parts Car to a Concours Car in just over 50 years. I was so very proud to see her on the grass there at Trump’s National Golf Course, amongst all those other beautiful cars. Yes, you have came a long way baby!
We would like to thank Jerry Mull for this article on his car. If you have a car that's part of your history it would be an honor to feature it and you here on the Curbside. Just contact us and let us know how we can reach you.