"It all started with a photo from my wife's past," says Tom Wahl when asked about his oh-so-slick '51 Ford timber wagon. "Annie grew up with 'bargain woodie wagons' and recalled the weekly ritual of packing a wagon full with six kids, food, church clothes, and the family dog for the weekends at the lake. She sat in the back by the tailgate that rattled so loud that they never heard 'are we there yet?' Her fondness for those old wagons inspired me to build one of beauty that would be timeless."
Now, when Tom says "inspired," we're pretty sure he means "Annie's nostalgia gave me tacit approval to start another project." That's just speculation on our part, though. We know for certain that Tom, a business owner from Lakeville, Minnesota, has built and owned many street rods through the years--darn nice ones, at that. This longroof Ford was his first foray into woodies, though, as well as one of his first '50s cars.
Tom's experience paid off in two early decisions. First, he bought a very clean, solid car to start with. And second, he teamed up with a seasoned, talented builder named Dennis Wothe, from Park Rapid, Minnesota. With those factors in his favor, Tom laid out some pretty lofty goals for the project. "The challenge I set for myself in doing this was to create a car with modifications that were subtle enough to add to its uniqueness and beauty, without taking away its nostalgia," Tom says. "I wanted a woodie wagon that one could appreciate for years to come, instead of just at this time."
So, how do you do that? How do you make wood look this good? A good start is to move some metal around. In this case, Dennis chopped the top 2 inches through the posts, and sliced another section of metal out above the shaved driprails. The A-pillars and surrounding sheetmetal were reshaped to fit a cut-down Ford Explorer windshield, and the rear liftgate was left uncut and raised in the body, making the chop even more subtle. One-piece door and quarter glass helped emphasize the car's longer, lower profile.
Many subtle modifications were performed to clean up the rest of the body. Dennis shaved the emblems and door handles, frenched the headlights, recessed '37 Ford taillights into the rear corners, and molded a mid-'30s Chevy spare tire cover to the tailgate (rather than hanging a spare tire off the back). The understated metalwork was fine tuned by Mike Anderson, who also sprayed the suitably low-key color--a modified version of Ford Cypress Green. Tom selected smooth, natural-colored maple and birch to complement the green steel. Bright accents came in the form of thin chrome strips below the windows, a smoothed front bumper, a custom rear bumper crafted from three passenger car units, and a stock grille with signal lights set behind the bullets.
The custom sheetmetal work spilled over into the engine compartment, where Dennis fabricated a custom firewall, inner fenders, and a swoopy cover for the radiator and air cleaner. Even the 2002 LS1 engine was dressed up with custom covers before being bolted to the 4L60-E transmission. Dennis was also the man responsible for updating the stock frame with a Scott's Hot Rods IFS, custom four-bar rear suspension, and Air Ride Technologies air springs. Wilwood disc brakes were added up front before Pirelli-wrapped 18x7- and 20x8.5-inch Intro wheels got things rolling.
The woodie made a trip to Iowa City, Iowa, for upholstery, and Jim McFall's stellar stitchwork made it a worthwhile journey. He covered the only seat--a Tea's Design split-back bench--with beige leather, and then covered the slick, open cargo area to match. Thin chrome spears were made to accent the custom door panels, side panels, and sculpted headliner, while Mercedes carpet covered the floors. A Pioneer stereo and Vintage Air climate controls were also incorporated into the cabin, although you can hardly tell by looking at the smoothed stock dash.
What started with a photo from Annie's past ended with a pretty remarkable piece of wood-sided coachwork. Tom says his goal was to incorporate a bit of nostalgia in a modern car with lasting appeal; that's why the custom emblems read "Sliver ZZ," which means "a little bit of this, and a little bit of that." Considering the car's clean design and first-rate execution, we think he succeeded.