Vintagecarguy

Early GM cars (1936 and back) with metal wrapped wooden frames?

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A friend of my grandfather has been telling us for years that GM car's from the early to mid-1930s had chassis made of wood and then were boxed in by metal? But my grandfather has also heard that 1920s GM cars were the same way. My question is, is there any truth to this? Thanks in advance. Vintagecarguy.

Edited by Vintagecarguy (see edit history)

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Well Chevy IS a GM car and yes, all cars were originally bodied with a wooden frame/metal covered body.

Diagram of the woodwork/frame of a mid 30's Fisher body attached.

post-31244-143143094897_thumb.jpg

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Well Chevy IS a GM car and yes, all cars were originally bodied with a wooden frame/metal covered body.

Diagram of the woodwork/frame of a mid 30's Fisher body attached.

50jetback, would this apply to the chassi of the car, too? That's what I meant by frame. Sorry for the confusion. Thank you for the information. Vintagecarguy.

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In the early days all cars had bodies made with a wooden framework covered with metal panels tacked on. Starting in the twenties, more and more metal was used by some makers. General Motors was one of the last companies to go to all steel bodies, except for some luxury car makers like Rolls Royce, Packard and Pierce Arrow. This was related to the high cost of tooling for the small number of cars they produced.

Here is an article that shows how the metal panels were formed and fitted to the wooden frame to make a Rolls Royce touring car body.

http://theoldmotor.com/?p=80128

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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Some very early car manufacturers ( Brush comes to mind ) did use wood in the chassis but I think by the teens all manufacturers would have been using steel.

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Franklin cars had wood chassis frames up to 1933 or 34. They were the last to stick with this type of construction. Most other cars used steel chassis from the very beginning.

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Research the Budd Co. They were one of the early manufacturing companies to produce all steel bodies beginning in the early teens. Yes, GM was one of the last to change. Bob Smits

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Morgan autos in England is still producing cars with wooden (ash) body framework and aluminum skin.

Terry

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How would I go about checking the wood in the body of a closed 1920s car? How can I tell if the wood is in good shape? Thanks again to everyone. Vintagecarguy.

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Open each door and try to lift it. Chances are the wood in the car needs at least some attention. What make car are you thinking about?

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Open each door and try to lift it. Chances are the wood in the car needs at least some attention. What make car are you thinking about?

Restorer32, Thanks for the reply. The car we're looking at is a 1924 Oldsmobile Model 30 "Opera" coupe. The exterior of the car was apparently restored in the early 1990's and it does look that way. I'll have to take a close look at the wood. How should I check the wood in the rest of the body? Is just a visual inspection okay? Thanks again. Vintagecarguy.

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Just poke around with a screw driver, especially near any joints. Also check the roof bows by sighting along the roof line front to back and side to side. If the roof appears sunken the bows are likely bad. Bear in mind that at the factory the wood was assembled first then the sheet metal was tacked in place, with most of the fasteners being under the metal skin of the body, meaning that you can't simply replace wood without disassembling the body. There are various products said to "restore" rotted wood. We have no experience with those. If there is rot it most likely is in the "sills" that run front to back at the bottom of the body or in the roof bows. Especially check the door post to sill joints.

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Just poke around with a screw driver, especially near any joints. Also check the roof bows by sighting along the roof line front to back and side to side. If the roof appears sunken the bows are likely bad. Bear in mind that at the factory the wood was assembled first then the sheet metal was tacked in place, with most of the fasteners being under the metal skin of the body, meaning that you can't simply replace wood without disassembling the body. There are various products said to "restore" rotted wood. We have no experience with those. If there is rot it most likely is in the "sills" that run front to back at the bottom of the body or in the roof bows. Especially check the door post to sill joints.

Restorer32, thank you for the advice. I will definitely have to try these things out when I see the car again. Thank you. Vintagecarguy.

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A friend of my grandfather has been telling us for years that GM car's from the early to mid-1930s had chassis made of wood and then were boxed in by metal? But my grandfather has also heard that 1920s GM cars were the same way. My question is, is there any truth to this? Thanks in advance. Vintagecarguy.

Your 1936 and back is incorrect and should read 1934 and back as GM cars are all steel in 1935 and forward sans station wagons.

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Your 1936 and back is incorrect and should read 1934 and back as GM cars are all steel in 1935 and forward sans station wagons.

Actually, it's more like this quote from Coachbuilt.

"Fisher and GM continued to use wood framing in all their cars until the 1937 model year. Fred and Charles Fisher, the company pioneers, left GM in 1934. Immediately after their retirement, Fisher Division began converting to all-steel bodies. It took until 1937 to get the wood out."

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I can only speak to Chevrolets, specifically, but at some point beyond the middle of the 1936 model year, the bodies became all steel. I've inquired about a definitive serial number point at which the change took place, but no one seems to know. Perhaps someone over at the Chevrolet Club would know.

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1935 and beyond Pontiac's use the all steel "turret top", and Pontiac shares the "A" body with Chevrolet and the "B" body with Olds and Buick.

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Franklins had wooden chassis frames through 1927. In 1928 only the short wheelbase Franklin had the laminated ash frames, the larger cars had steel. By 1929 all Franklins had steel frames.

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The thread is a bit 'split', with some talking about wood-framed BODIES and the O/P and others talking about wooden FRAMES/CHASSIS's.

Hard to imagine a wooden framed car lasting very long, esp with the axle-deep mudpies that commonly were called 'roads' in the early days.

I too heard someone once claim early cars had wooden frames but was never able to ID any, so thanks for the Franklin reference.

Here's a 1904 Buick frame, it's obviously steel : https://buickman2.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/buick1904chassis.jpg

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I can only speak to Chevrolets, specifically, but at some point beyond the middle of the 1936 model year, the bodies became all steel. I've inquired about a definitive serial number point at which the change took place, but no one seems to know. Perhaps someone over at the Chevrolet Club would know.

I concur with this statement. Chevrolet changed over to steel bodies in MID 1936. I think the reason that serial numbers are hard to pin down is there were multiple assembly plants.

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I have the idea that for a time the cheaper Chevs had the wood framing and the more expensive ones were all steel. At least when they went to the all steel turret top roof, the cheaper ones kept the insert roof for one year.

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