Vintage News

A Brief History of the 1949 Chrysler first series “Woodie”

In 1946 James A. Dildine returned home to the small central Pennsylvania town of Benton to join his wife, Ruth, and their 18 month old son, James T. Dildine.  He had been discharged from active duty Army service in the South Pacific and joined his father in their family feed, grain, and fertilizer business. On the long boat trip home, he had accumulated a very nice nest egg from the various “games of chance” taking place on the boat during the long boring passage.  They soon purchased with cash a two story, three bedroom home for the grand sum of $5,500.

James A. had always been very fond of cars. In fact, during a road trip a few years before his death in 2009, he dictated his history of car ownership over his lifetime—54 cars.  The car he owned in a particular year was the memory trigger for the chapters of his life history. In the spring of 1949 James A. was passing through the nearby town of Bloomsburg, PA and noticed something very exciting and unique in the window of the local Chrysler dealer:   a big flashy green convertible with loads of shiny chrome, big whitewall tires, and a gorgeous ash wood frame which was polished to furniture level. As he told the story, he hit his brakes, turned into the parking lot and went in and purchased this beautiful car for $4,500, about $1,000 less than he had paid for their home.  (Ruth Dildine had not been consulted and was not a happy lady for quite a time.) In 1949 Chrysler continued to build 373 of the same car that was produced in 1948. It was called the 1949 “first series” Town and Country convertible. These cars were a true wood frame automobile. Between the wood frame were metal panels covered with a 3M printed material called Di Noc. The Town and Country convertible was introduced in 1946 after Chrysler began post war car production. There were 1,928 produced in 1946, 3,136 in 1947, 3,309 in 1948, and 373 in early 1949.  The car was significantly changed later in 1949, most believing not for the better.

These cars were considered very stylish at the time and were very popular with Hollywood celebrities etc. The car weighs 4,332 lbs. and the bumpers are steel worthy of the leading edge of a tank. In fact, not many months after buying the car, James A. was driving down an alley in the small town of Benton and unfortunately met a friend driving a Ford on a cross alley.  The Town and Country T-boned the Ford into a electric pole and pretty much ruined it. The Town and Country drove away with a significant dent in the middle bumperette and a slight movement in the front bumper. The car never required repairs. The dented bumperette is now stowed in the trunk for memories sake. The car featured the Chrysler’s first attempt at a semi-automatic transmission which it called Fluid Drive.  The drive train has a torque converter and a unique two range transmission with each range having an overdrive. The shifting within a range is done without the use of a clutch. No clutch is needed at the stop signs either.

As was his habit, after a couple of years he traded the Chrysler for a new car.  He lost track of the car until about 20 years later when he was driving in the countryside of a nearby central PA town and spotted the car in a home garage with the door open.  The person who had owned the car over these many years had recently died, and his widow wanted to sell the car. She had no children and did not want her nieces and nephews to fight over it.  James A. always carried a blank check in his wallet, and he immediately made a deal for a very attractive price. The car was still in running condition although the Di Noc had deteriorated badly, and some of the wood had been repaired in a somewhat amateur way.  It also needed a paint job. James A. had a nephew who owned a body shop, and he had him repaint the car, matching the original color, and paint the panels between the wood with a solid color rather than attempt to replace the Di Noc. The transmission worked fined as did the straight eight engine.  In fact, whenever James A. brought the car out of the garage for a ride, he would brag that the motor “runs like an Elgin.” (For the younger readers Elgin was an American watch company known for its precision watches during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century)

During the late 1970’s and the 1980’s the car was always a feature attraction when family members visited James A. and Ruth in Benton. Grandchildren rides around town packed into the convertible were quite popular. James A. had been a mayor in the small town of Benton, and he was always called upon to use the Town and Country to drive the town “big wheels” in the annual 4th of July parade and the popular “firemen’s parade.”  The car was truly a town fixture. After the 1980’s, and the death of Ruth in 1991, the car was stored in a local vacant garage and rarely visited.

In the last few years before his death in 2009, James A. asked his son, James T. to consider restoring the vehicle.  The car was trucked to Mattapoisett, MA, where James T. lives, and early restoration efforts were begun in 2012 using various local individuals.  It was eventually determined that the project was a very complex one which required the comprehensive services of an established restoration company.  Vintage Motorcars LLC was engaged in 2014 to perform a complete restoration. All agree that the car has turned out beautifully.

February 4, 2020 – Rare White Truck arrives at Vintage Motorcars in Westbrook

WESTBROOK — Richard Willard has restored more than a thousand vehicles over the last 30 years, but none as rich in history as the original 1928 White Truck now in his garage.

“It’s pretty neat, it’s bringing history back to life,” says Richard Willard, owner of Vintage Motorcars, LLC. “It’s really neat.”

Fred J. Hermann, alongside his wife Myrtle, launched the Hermann Forwarding Company in North Brunswick, N.J. in 1927. With the 1928 White Truck, the couple began hauling watermelons for The Great A&P Supermarket.

The White Motor Company was an American auto, truck, bus and agricultural tractor manufacturer from 1900 until 1980. Restoring the antique truck is both extensive and expensive, requiring hundreds of hours of research, labor and parts procurement. It is expected to take a year to complete the work at a cost of over $100,000.

“Some of these vehicles can take 2,000 to 7,000 manhours to restore,” explains Willard. “There’s just so much involved when you take all those pieces -they’re rusted, they’re worn, they’re rotten away,” he adds. “You have to fabricate them; you’ve got to make them like new. It’s very laborious.”

Willard explains that over the years the rare White Truck underwent many changes, including a new engine and cosmetic alternations. Many hours of research are required to determine its original state.

“You have to look at the truck like a forensic scientist; who did what and when,” he says. “A lot of greasy hands have been into that truck over the last 92 years.” “You can learn a lot about the history of a vehicle while it’s being dismantled,” he adds. “On the other hand, some things can be obscured and make it very difficult to determine what was done from the manufacturer.”

Willard’s 87-year-old father, Sam Willard, is assisting his son with researching and locating original parts for the job.

“He was able to locate an old chassis sitting in a field in Washington State that we had Hermann Trucking pick up and deliver across country to us in Connecticut,” Willard says.

Plans are to have the fully restored White Truck on display in the lobby of Hermann Services’ new corporate headquarters. Willard says he is honored to have been chosen to do this restoration job.

“Between them coming here and looking at other shops and picking me, that’s a pretty good feather in your cap,” he says.

January 6, 2020 – A 1931 Buick

This 1931 Buick was my dads for the last 50 plus years. He had plans to restore it but never did. He is now 88 years old so it was time to realize that a restoration was out of the picture. I sold it to a Mr Peter Powers, who his grandfather use to run a Museum that my father use to go to and was friends with Peters grandfather….So kind of a neat story! I will keep posting pictures of the progress that Peter is making out with the car.

December 16, 2019 – Goodbye to a Classic

SOLD! The 1970 Chevrolet Impala has found its forever home in Stockton, CA. With five daughters and just welcoming his third grandson, Juan is looking forward to enjoying the classic convertible with his family. As you can see, the avid car collector and builder loves all types of cars. His plans for the Impala? Leave it just the way it is…Beautiful!

January 23, 2016 – Featured in The Day
“A Packard comes to life at Vintage Motorcars” by Lee Howard

Richard Willard picked up the remnants of a 1928 Packard three decades ago, but he’s been so busy building his antique auto restoration business that he never quite got around to fixing up his own car.

“I bought it as a basket case,” said Willard, owner of Vintage Motorcars on Boston Post Road not far from the Old Saybrook border. “It literally came in pieces.”

Over the years, he put in a few days here and there to bring the Packard 526 Runabout back to life, researching the right materials to use and finding sources around the country. But other projects kept getting in the way.

“When you’re in the business, you don’t do your own stuff,” he said.

Then he heard that the Barrett-Jackson collectible car auction house would be coming to the Mohegan Sun June 23-25. And that jump-started a more aggressive effort to finish the Packard restoration, helped along by his 83-year-old father, Sam, a former auto mechanics teacher.

Finally, about two weeks ago, the 30-year project was largely done, the chrome headlights gleaming and the leather seats smelling like new. Capping it off is a replica of one of the original radiator ornaments that gave the Packards their distinctive look.

“It was a really difficult restoration,” Willard said. “You had nothing to go by. You had no forensics.”

Willard’s father, who has done antique car restoration as a hobby for decades, did much of the research on the vehicle, which was custom made. With no definitive indication of original colors, Willard made his own choices, picking out three different reds for the body and a handsome brown look on the interior.

“The late ’20s up until the ’30s were just some of the best years for cars styling-wise,” Willard said.

Willard figures he and others put about 6,000 hours into the restoration. Other projects he has been involved with have involved more hours, including work on an antique fire engine and another involving a Nash bus, but this was the longest in terms of the years between start and finish.

“Packards are a mainstay in the antique car hobby,” Willard said. “They’re very well built, very well designed.”

Unfortunately, the Packard’s exquisite design and workmanship required many hours to manufacture, said Willard, the $3,000 original price tag compared with the cost of a $700 Ford doomed the brand to extinction.

“They made too good of a car.” he said.

The typical older man who buys a Packard will find it has no radio, no air conditioning (other than putting the top down) and gets only about 8 miles to a gallon of gas. But it does feature unique drum headlights and cool looking running boards, not to mention a handmade trunk that really is a trunk attached to the back of the car.

Willard figures the car will fetch about $400,000 , and he’s glad Barrett-Jackson has decided to make Southeastern Connecticut home for its inaugural Northeast Auction. The auction will be broadcast live on the Velocity and Discovery television networks.

“It’s going to be a proud day…to be on national TV,” Willard said.

October 14, 2013 – Featured in The Day
“Rare Nash school bus gets new life” by Lee Howard

A circa 1948 Nash school bus that made its way from Minnesota to Vintage Motorcars in Westbrook a few weeks ago is one of only two known to exist.

Rich Willard, owner of the vintage-car restoration business, said he began restoring the rare vehicle last month at the request of a Nash collector from France for whom he has worked previously.

“We’re going to bring it back to life,” Willard said. “It’s going to be labor intensive. It’s a lot of time.”

Willard, who has been known to restore antique and classic cars as well as old fire engines, said this is his first bus project. The restoration likely will take more than 3,000 man hours to complete and easily will cost in the $150,000 range, he said.

The most difficult part, he said is the initial research to try to figure out how the bus looked when it first came off the assembly line. The vehicle, which was no operational when it came into the shop, has gone through a series of alterations through the years, he said, and may have once been used as a “hippie bus.”

Making the restoration more problematic, he said, is that no one has pictures of the original look of the bus, including such specifics as handle and upholstery styles.

“The factory that made the body burned down, and they didn’t save the records, so this is going to be difficult,” Willard said. “We want it to be authentic and original.”

The Nash bus, stored outside of Vintage Motorcars when it first came in, has attracted a lot of interest, Willard said. The bus has been parked for only a day or two when one woman, a bus driver herself, came in to get a closer look. Women rarely come into his business, he said, because vintage cars are more of a guy thing.

“I have cars in here that are half-million-dollar cars that didn’t get such interest,” Willard said. “I’m assuming it’s because we all remember being on a bus (in the past) and we don’t see them (now). No one brings a bus to a car show. There’s no bus show.”

Nash Motors dates back to 1916, when a former General Motors executive names Charles W. Nash started the company in Kenosha, Wis. The company, later purchased by American Motors Corp., became a success thanks to a guiding philosophy of providing good value as well as a series of innovations that included the first compact, sub compact and muscle car.

Even Nash aficionados, who are more prominent in Wisconsin, were largely unaware that the company has manufactured school buses until the first vehicle was saved from a Minnesota salvage business in 1993.

The Nash bus hauled to Connecticut reportedly was found near a farm in Glyndon, Minn., where it had been used for alcohol-fueled hunting and fishing trips before being abandoned, its windows apparently shattered by gunfire. An Ohio member of the Nash Car Club of America discovered the bus in 2010, shortly before it was to be sold as scrap, and did some initial work on it, including a paint job that covered a previously red exterior with the more traditional yellow.

Willard said the collector who is paying to restore the bus, Thomas Harrington of Paris, intends to bring it to Nash shows and perhaps later to donate it to a museum.

But first the tedious work of dealing with rust and dents, repairing the body and chassis, rebuilding the engine and dealing with a multitude of parts, paint and upholstery issues will have to be completed. Willard figured hundreds of phone calls will be necessary to track down all the parts required to do a faithful restoration of the Nash bus and wind up with a vehicle as close as possible to one that came off the assembly line more than six decades ago.

“We capture dreams for people,” Willard said. “We want somebody to be able to look at a photo…of when this bus was new and say, ‘Geez, that looks identical.'”

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