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


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On 9/25/2018 at 12:56 PM, 1929 pontiac coupe man said:

all cars from the beginning to about early to almost 1934

Sorry, Dodge Brothers cars had steel body frames from very early on, if not from their beginning in 1914. Budd made steel bodies for a number of makes, including some in Europe. In the Dodge Brothers, the floor boards, seat frames and roof inserts were wood and there was a bit of wood around the rear window, perhaps mostly as tack boards for the upholstery.

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PFitz has it absolutely correct, Rusty isn't - Franklin did not  have a wood chassis after the 1928 shorter wheelbase models. I had a 1931 Franklin for over 40 years , (Pfitz did a lot of the restoration of the wood body framework for me when we lived near each other) , the car had a steel chassis!

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Paul, no thanks necessary, your skill as a wood craftsman was amazing, hard to believe this was 30+ years ago! For any who are reading this, the Franklin I had was not a stock bodied Walker body buillt car but the car ( a victoria brougham) that the Derham Body Company built for the 1930 New York and Chicago custom body salon. Paul and I spent a day at Condon's lumber yard in White Plains, NY looking through a 25 foot high stack of ash boards to pick out the wood for the Franklin and enough to also replace the wood on the wheel arches on the 1941 Packard 120 station wagon I also owned at the time. We both were sore from moving all that heavy ash for weeks afterward. I no longer own either car, but the Franklin now resides in a great home/collection in Pa. and attends a lot of concours events with its owner who loves the car as much as I did.

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If you want to read about the inventor of the steel body and the unibody, read "Ideas that moved America... The Budd Company at 75" by Vincent R. Courtney. You can read a basic summary in a few paragraphs on Wikipedia.


Edward G. Budd developed the first all steel body in 1912. Oakland sustained the company at first, plus Garford. They also produced components for Buick, Willys Overland, Ford and others. Garford went broke and the assets were acquired by Studebaker, who also became main Budd customers until Studebaker withdrew from automobile manufacturing. The Dodge Brothers came on board with their 1915 all-steel Budd-bodied touring cars. An all-steel sedan followed.


The Dodge Brothers started out as engineers and not as coach manufacturers, so had no investment in wagon building systems with wooden frames.

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Steel chassis frames were generally the standard practice for most manufacturers early on with exceptions such as Franklin, though they would eventually conform as well.  For the composite body construction method, it too was a practice which inevitably would be superseded by the stamped, all-steel method as speeds increased, durability and longevity became greater issues.   The old adage "Chevrolet can afford the die work and Cadillac can afford the handwork" applied at least for a period.  Bearing the cost to convert to all-steel was a major huddle for smaller makers.


Attached are two photo saved from an eBay listing for a rough '36 Cadillac 60 sedan which show the extent of wood structure.



'36 60 wood structure a.jpg

'36 60 wood structure b.jpg

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Vintage car guy,

      i restore teens and twenties cars below. All are wooden bodies with mandrel formed steel or aluminum skins. I have “ recarved” three cars thru the years, one completely. Recarving verything can take a solid year! Most were made originally with oak or ash, which are harder than today’s commercial available stuff.

       To check a car to see if the original wood is “good”, I’ve done the following:

a. Open each door and close it. See if there is play in the hinges or worse, if the doorpost(s) sag when you open and close them. If the door posts sag, the wood anchorages in the body at those points are shot and you need to unskilled and redo. This malady is most common in open bodied phase one and roadster types. If there is play in the hinges, check to see if the wood around the hinges is loose.

b. Look at the sheet metal to see if there is evidence of any rust thru. If there is I would be 100% sure that the wood in those areas is shot. This illness is common in the bottoms of wood framed windows and doors where the contemporary water sealing wasn’t great.

c. Inspect the top around the gutters and rear windows. Those old cars sometimes used scrap wood for top structure, and tacks straight thru the top materials into that scrap. Thru the decades, those tacks rust and water infiltrates. That’s why so many old Sedan tops rotted out when the rest of the bodies survived.


if wood is shot, you have your work cut out to get it right! Either yourself or an expensive cabinet maker can do repairs but this can get extremely $$$$. 


Check out out my recording work on my 1918 kissel sedanlette forum under “current restorations “ on aaca.

thank you, ronRon


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On ‎5‎/‎4‎/‎2015 at 4:42 AM, TimothyTello said:

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

Very few manufacturers used a wooden frame in connection with the chassis.  A chassis is a frame (usually metal) with the springs axles and steering parts installed.  Several manufacturers used a wood axle but no other steering parts were wood.   A "rolling chassis" would have the engine, transmission and wheels installed.

Bodies  (the part that sits on the frame) were either wood (pre WWI), composite, wood with metal nailed to it, or all steel like Budd made.


As an aside here is a link to North American Coachbuilders.  http://www.coachbuilt.com/

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