Home » Morning Wood, Hatchback Edition: Cold Start

Morning Wood, Hatchback Edition: Cold Start

Cs Woodhatch Top
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There was a strange and fairly short-lived trend in the late 1970s and early 1980s where fake woodgrain appliqués got a little resurgence of popularity, but this time on a new canvas: econoboxes. Yes, once if you wanted to roll around in a vehicle slathered in decals that were designed to look like slabs of tree-meat, you were pretty much limited to a large station wagon (with a few exceptions); but, finally, there was an option for more frugal-minded buyers to enjoy the warm organic goodness of fake wood, and it was embraced pretty widely. Let’s take a look at three examples of this exciting trend that allowed me to use that juvenile headline!

It’s probably worth taking a moment to consider why this was a thing, because, objectively, it’s pretty odd. It’s a uniquely American affectation to, I think, with the woody magic generally happening at the dealer level. The overall look comes, of course, from very early station wagon bodies that were genuinely built from wood, a trend that continued into the 1940s or so.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

When almost all station wagons were made with steel bodies by the 1950s, the nostalgia for the old woody wagons was still strong, so most American station wagons offered some sort of faux woodgrain option, and this continued even into the 1990s, when minivans like the Chrysler Town and Country held onto the tradition.

There was an association with the fake woodgrain that meant, I think, honesty and family and tradition and a certain sort of status, perhaps something that people associated with rich people in cable-knit sweaters going antiquing, or something. I’m not entirely clear. But it was A Thing, and by applying it (literally) to little cheap hatchbacks, maybe some of the cheapness could be disguised.

Like on this Dodge Omni:

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Cs Woodhatch Omni2

This ad definitely plays on the genteel antiquing cliché, as that hatch is crammed full of antique things, including a creepy old doll head peering menacingly over the rear lip. There’s some dead Victorian kid’s ghost in there for sure.

Cs Woodhatch Omni

There was also an outdoorsy angle to play up with the fake wood, since real wood can be found, you know, in the woods. And the wood maybe made the car look a bit like a cabin, at home out there in the woods. I do have to say, with the canoe on the roof, this little Omni looks pretty great.

Also, look at all the denim on that man! it’s like a denim spacesuit.

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Cs Woodhatch Chevette

GM was a master at applying wood decals to cars, and they didn’t leave out their humblest car, the Chevette. The Chevette’s defining characteristic was that it was cheap, dirt cheap, and maybe a little archaic with its RWD drivetrain in an era of the rise of FWD.

Cs Woodhatch Chev2

But maybe somehow the woody veneer managed to hide the cheapness of the car, and add a little bit of console-television class to the machine. At least for the couple years it had before that wood started to fade and peel and look like a nasty skin infection.

Cs Woodhatch Vwstand

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The only non-American example I have for you today – though there were others, as I have a vivid image of a Mazda GLC wearing wood decals in my head – is the Volkswagen Rabbit, which had a dealer-installed woodgrain option. These were pretty uncommon, but VW was excited enough about it that a woody Rabbit was seen at the Chicago Auto Show in 1978, as you can see up there.

Cs Woodhatch Rabbit2

I feel like I’ve seen one of these on the road once or twice? The Chevettes and Omni woodys I think were lots more common.

Also, it’s worth noting that shades of yellow seemed to be the preferred color for hatchback woodys. And I think that’s an excellent choice.

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing a resurgence of wood-sided cars. I bet they could do some amazing-looking stuff with sustainable bamboo on the sides of a modern Tesla or Hyundai or whatever. The new Wagoneer definitely should have had a wood option, too. 

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Beached Wail
Beached Wail
25 days ago

Woodgrain is cool but hold on: that Chevy Chevette ad lists the fourteen colors available on possibly the cheapest new car for sale in the US that year, including two blues, two greens, two reds, two oranges, and yellow. Are there any low-end cars today that offer fourteen colors?

Also, Denim Guy appears to be particularly “happy” about holding that elastic tie-down strap, or maybe he just has a thing for inverted canoes.

Banana Stand Money
Banana Stand Money
24 days ago
Reply to  Beached Wail

The color situation in vehicles today is really sad. I will give a slight tip of the hat to the Koreans, as I’ve seen a number of entry level Hyundai and Kia hatchbacks in bold oranges, electric blues, bright greens, and reds.

Luxrage
Luxrage
22 days ago

For all my gripes against the Mitsubishi Mirage, the fact that they offered it in a metallic magenta really wins points back.

Curtis Loew
Curtis Loew
25 days ago

Woodgrain never should have went away.

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
25 days ago

You could have your Omnirizon dressed up like a big wagon or a Brougham sedan, first-year 1978s list an almost-full vinyl top as an option. By “almost” I mean that there was a taut vinyl covering over the roof skin itself and padded-effect C pillar trims complete with faux-heraldic emblem which look to have been built as assemblies off the car and mounted as one piece, with the aft few inches of the roof gutter and the entirety of the hatch in nekkid painted steel.

Only an illustration was shown in the brochure (and only one division showed it as the whole car, not sure if D or P. There’s one factory photo out there somewhere, a short panning clip in a promotional video on YouTube and a photo of some Aspen/Volare wagons at a dealer’s lot somewhere in Western Canada that shows the vinyl (hard plastic?)-clad C pillar of an L-body so equipped and is the only evidence I’ve ever seen that option ever actually left the factory. I saw it come up on Flickr once a few years back, stupidly didn’t favorite it on the spot and have been unable to find it since.

The woodgrain is comparatively popular at least on Omnirizons, it was heavily featured as you show, offered through at least 1980 and there are well-known survivor cars with it.

Occam's Shaving Cream
Occam's Shaving Cream
25 days ago
Reply to  Nlpnt

I can confirm the vinyl top option, Seperate C-Pillar pieces and all. My parents ordered a 1978 (1st year) Omni, red with white interior and white vinyl top. Somehow it arrived at the dealership sans top so the dealer did a half-assed job themselves but not with the factory parts: they covered the top and the A-pillars but not the C-pillars. Well mom was having none of that and told them to redo it correctly & they’d come back for it when it was right. So dealer ordered the correct factory bits & redid it. That was the first of three Omni/Horizons they had over the years. The last one (an ’88 Horizon) was eventually handed down to me. I rebuilt the engine when it spun a rod bearing and swapped in a 5-speed manual trans. That was a fun little car, I wish I still had it!

“Pics or it didnt happen” so here’s a Flickr album:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/123557012@N08/albums/72177720318346108/

MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
25 days ago

In 1968, you could even get a Mercury Park Lane convertible with faux wood siding
https://journal.classiccars.com/2023/09/09/pick-of-the-day-1968-mercury-park-lane-convertible/

Nick Fortes
Nick Fortes
25 days ago

I would have also accepted Mourning Wood as the title as well.

D-Dog
D-Dog
25 days ago

When I customize the paint on my cars in Forza Horizon, I always make them into woodies. It’s a great way to see what almost any car would look like as a woody, and quite honestly a lot of them look pretty great!

Hamish48
Hamish48
25 days ago

my favourite woody was the PT Cruiser version

Peter F Coit III
Peter F Coit III
25 days ago

79 Olds cutlass cruiser, gutless 260 v8, green with woodgrain and rally wheels. 19 years old with a mattress in the back, for camping…of course

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