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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.

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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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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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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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.

Yes, as I recall, my 1917 Franklin Model 9-A Touring had a wood chassis (frame).

It was laminated second-growth ash , as memory serves.

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I don't know enough about GM cars to contribute a lot here, but I think that in 1935 Chevrolet continued to use the '34 body on the "Standard" models, while the "Master" models came with the newer (turret top) body. The turret top body still continued to be metal wrapped around wood until that midpoint of '36 that I previously mentioned. That same '35 Master body (perhaps in more modern terms, the "B" body) is, I think, one of the most beautiful sedan bodies of the pre war era. I think it's first appearance was in the '34 Cadillac LaSalle. There it still had a one piece windshield. I don't recall if an outside trunk was an option yet or not:

lasalle-1934-06191.jpg

Here it is in a '35 LaSalle, this time with a two piece windshield and an outside trunk and no front suicide doors:

36las1_Heinz.jpg

Here's a '35 Chevrolet Master:

6038134614_709980ffd1.jpg

A '35 Pontiac:

opw_richardmarlowe_mcl.jpg

A '35 Olds:

35olds5.jpg

GM continued to use that body in '36, but made the front doors rear opening. I'm not obsessed with suicide doors usually, but I think that they really add to this particular bodies handsome looks. For some reason, Cadillac and Buick didn't use the new body for '35, but, it appears, continued to use the same body (with the fabric roof insert) that they used in '34. I'm not a GM expert, so if I've made a mistake here, please correct me.

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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.

Take a handful of these guys with you and look for this response:

big-smile.jpg

Bernie

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I don't know enough about GM cars to contribute a lot here, but I think that in 1935 Chevrolet continued to use the '34 body on the "Standard" models, while the "Master" models came with the newer (turret top) body. The turret top body still continued to be metal wrapped around wood until that midpoint of '36 that I previously mentioned. That same '35 Master body (perhaps in more modern terms, the "B" body) is, I think, one of the most beautiful sedan bodies of the pre war era. I think it's first appearance was in the '34 Cadillac LaSalle. There it still had a one piece windshield. I don't recall if an outside trunk was an option yet or not:

lasalle-1934-06191.jpg

Here it is in a '35 LaSalle, this time with a two piece windshield and an outside trunk and no front suicide doors:

36las1_Heinz.jpg

Here's a '35 Chevrolet Master:

6038134614_709980ffd1.jpg

A '35 Pontiac:

opw_richardmarlowe_mcl.jpg

A '35 Olds:

35olds5.jpg

GM continued to use that body in '36, but made the front doors rear opening. I'm not obsessed with suicide doors usually, but I think that they really add to this particular bodies handsome looks. For some reason, Cadillac and Buick didn't use the new body for '35, but, it appears, continued to use the same body (with the fabric roof insert) that they used in '34. I'm not a GM expert, so if I've made a mistake here, please correct me.

That 1935 Pontiac ( second to the last picture) is a all steel car.

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Yes, they are right. Initially the cars come in the same way a wooden chassis with metal body.

NO!!!!

They, and you, are wrong. GM cars NEVER used wooden frames (chassis). The frame have always been steel. Start to end. Bodies were wood frame, metal skinned composite structrures until the mid 30s when they went to all steel construction, as stated in this thread. Please check your facts before making false statements. It just muddies up the waters even worse

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Quote: "That 1935 Pontiac ( second to the last picture) is a all steel."

Perhaps the gradual conversion over to all metal bodies started with more premium nameplates, but it could also have been at different times in different factories (I'm talking through my hat there. I don't know if GM had different factories at that time). I had a '36 Master Sedan with doors that wobbled, and later a '36 Master five window which some prior owner had installed a hockey stick in the driver's door for strength. After that I began to admire Chrysler Products!

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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.

Vintagecarguy,

With old General Motors cars, the best thing to look at are the doors and door posts. The usual place for wood rot is at the bottom of the doors and the bottom of the door posts or around where hinges are attached. Because water enters from the window openings, the bottom of the doors themselves can rot away, which in turn makes the doors fit badly. Another place to check is where the top material is attached and the seam between the fabric and metal. It's all tacked to the wooden body structure, if it rots here, it could be everywhere. If all fits well and no droop, it could be good wood. Check the drain holes in the bottom of the doors, you should be able to see the wood.

Even Buick used wooden body frames thru 1935. I put half a National Forest in mine.

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  • 3 years later...

except he left out a few details all cars from the beginning to about early to almost 1934 were all basically the same structure metal frame including the fenders and bumpers radiator shell have a wood structure made and finished clamps jigs with glue bolts and screws once done the sheet metal was applied with mails and screws and seams were lead filled smoothed sanded primed and painted including fenders then bolted to frame as one complete unit this why so many people have so much trouble now restoring these beauties but i should point out that there were some cars that had wood frames and wood bodies the only metal were bumpers engine radiators it is amazing these cars were well made strong and dependable and wow when you see them and works of art with wheels there lies the problem with these old cars no 2 even same cars are exactly the same they all have slight differences in length width and due to each one is unique to it's own

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On ‎4‎/‎29‎/‎2015 at 9:30 PM, Rusty_OToole said:

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.

1928 Franklin short wheel base were the last of their wood chassis. Longer wheel base of that year and on until end of production in 1934, they were all steel channel chassis.

 

Paul

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On 5/4/2015 at 8:40 AM, Guest said:

That 1935 Pontiac ( second to the last picture) is a all steel car.

 

I beg to differ. It is one-piece all-steel top on a wood body. My 1936 body is nearly identical, with the exception that the front doors are hung the other way. Two weeks ago I had a long conversation with a 1935 owner about his adventures replacing wood. I believe the first all-steel Pontiac was in 1937.

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On 4/30/2015 at 3:06 PM, Guest said:

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.

   My 35 Buick  Series 41 has a wood framed body as do all other 35 Buicks.

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23 hours ago, Bloo said:

 

I beg to differ. It is one-piece all-steel top on a wood body. My 1936 body is nearly identical, with the exception that the front doors are hung the other way. Two weeks ago I had a long conversation with a 1935 owner about his adventures replacing wood. I believe the first all-steel Pontiac was in 1937.

 

Yes, that is true, for the GM B bodies, but I believe the bigger C bodies kept some wood in the floor (rails?) for a couple of years more.

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