When I was growing up in San Francisco, our family car was a 1951 Ford Woodie that my dad used for his furniture business and family outings. We also used to take our junk to the city dumps where my dad helped me score several old metal push cars, including a woodie.
My love of cars has been lifelong and my first purchase was 25% ownership in a 50 Plymouth metal wagon (don’t tell the Ford folks I owned a Mopar). Although the car barely ran, it was my best $15 investment. We painted it with brown house-paint and between the four proud owners, we managed to coast down the avenues to the beach and keep the car running for a couple of months before it permanently expired.
My next car was a 1951 Chevy Wagon (metal woodie) for $65 that was almost always stuck in 3rd gear, but it got me around town and to the beach. The summer of junior year, I met a guy at the Russian River who was selling 1948 Ford Woodie and when I saw it, I thought it was the coolest car on the planet. It was missing a front grill, smoked like a chimney and the wood was dry rot and gray. I sold my car and motorcycle to buy it. When I brought it home to show my folks, they made me return it and get my money back. I never got over the loss of the woodie and, as a result, became obsessed with woodies.
Years later, in the late 1970s, my wife, Cathy, and I moved to Santa Cruz and I thought I was in heaven. In one of my neighbor’s garages, I spotted a vision of beauty, a burgundy 1949 Mercury Woodie that was covered with boxes in the garage. I eventually became friends with the owner, Mac Reed. Mac had owned the woodie since the early 80s. It hadn’t run or been on the road for several years. The history of the car was that it was spotted by Dave Preovoulos, long-time Santa Cruz local, at a car dealership in Los Gatos in the early 70s. There were two woodies at the car lot and the burgundy woodie was the parts car. Dave bought it and towed it home to Santa Cruz and years later sold it to Mac Reed. Dave was told when he bought the car that it was originally from Santa Cruz.
Dave later became Vice President at O’Neill’s and was a stylish surfer who I remember riding his Yater Surfboard. He was seriously injured when he fell off the cliff at the hook, incurring significant injuries to his back. I told Mac that if he ever decided to sell the woodie that I hoped he would give me first priority. Mac was a long time Santa Cruz surfer and Westside regular. Like many surfers, Mac never quite grew up and a couple of years later, he decided he wanted to be a cowboy and move to Montana. He told me he needed money to buy land and he’d give me two weeks to decide if I wanted the woodie and could come up with the money. The timing wasn’t the greatest financially; Cathy had taken the year off to stay home with our young daughter. When I talked to her about the car, she said as long as it was running, she was okay if we bought it. Mac and I spent most of the day trying to get the car running. It finally fired up, but there was a lot of varnish in the fuel lines and sludge in the gas tank, so it was barely moving. We took Cathy for a ride around the block and she gave a “thumbs up.” We bought the car in 1990 and pushed it into the garage. After boiling out the gas tank, new fuel lines and rebuilding the carburetor two times, the car could slowly crawl through the neighborhood.
Photos – Left: Don and Family circa 1990 / Middle: Woodie on tow truck circa 1993 / Right: WOW 2009
We’ve owned our 1949 Mercury for twenty-four years now and gradually restored it, when time and money allowed. The car has been repainted (Gary Fry), new interior (Ray’s of Watsonville), rewired for 12 volt (SC Woodies’ Jim Vickery) and the wood was re-done by our own Ron Heiden.
The flathead has been rebuilt with retro 50’s hot rod parts including an Iskendarian racing cam, Navarro heads and manifold, dual Edelbrock carbs, Red’s Headers, and a C-4 tranny. Mike Botzon, the owner of Fidelity Motors, did the build locally in Santa Cruz. The car is currently in surgery for new power steering.
Our Mercury has earned its stripes as the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk poster car. It was used on all the advertisements and for marketing throughout the 1990s, including a giant wall picture in the Roller Coaster Café and at the picnic area of the wharf. We also had the distinct privilege of driving the elderly surfer whose image was used to create the surf statue from his 1940s photo, as part of the dedication ceremony. Our car was also at the first dedication of the Santa Cruz Surf Museum and is featured in several books, including the “Surfinary” and as a December pinup in one of Bob Barbour’s early calendars.
Our 1949 Mercury has given us years of enjoyment and has become an integral part of our family. The best part of owning our woodie is the opportunity it has provided us to meet all of you, our extended woodie family.