From the earliest days of motorized transport, the use of timber was elemental to motorcar construction. A holdout from the days of carriage building, first motor buggies, and brass-era tourers wore bodies made entirely of wood, and even as the use of sheet metal became prevalent, wood still formed the underlying structure of most car bodies. Wood was so crucial to the automobile business that Henry Ford bought entire forests in Northern Michigan to feed Model T production at his revolutionary Highland Park plant. By the mid-1930’s most American manufacturers offered well-equipped station wagons that boasted increasingly stylish and well-finished exposed wood bodies. As engineers gradually developed new methods of stamping and forming metal, woodwork transitioned from a structural element into a styling feature, before going out with a flourish in the early 1950s.
In 1941, Chrysler took the concept of the woody to the next level with a New Yorker-based luxury car equipped with a handsome and beautifully detailed wood station wagon body. Boyertown Body Works in Pennsylvania handled the construction of the prototype, and when it emerged from the workshop, the head of Boyertown Body quipped that it looked “town in front and country in the back.” With that, the traditional, utilitarian American woody wagon got a glamorous makeover. Production began in earnest for the 1941 model year but was cut short in 1942 as Chrysler Corporation halted car production to support the war effort.
Following the War, the Town & Country returned to the lineup, offered variously as a sedan, coupe, and convertible. Interestingly, the practical station wagon of the pre-war era that inspired the whole concept was gone, eschewing practicality in favor of an outright status symbol. The T&C was costly to build, expensive to buy, and required specialized care to keep in top condition. Nonetheless, it was popular with buyers, and soon other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon with their interpretations of the luxury woody. However, few could match Chrysler’s commercial success or the sheer sense of occasion when in the presence of one of these magnificent handcrafted automobiles.
Beautifully presented in a striking combination of red over a burgundy interior, this 1949 Chrysler Town & Country convertible is a superb example of America’s most iconic woody. For the 1949 model year, Chrysler reduced the Town & Country line to just the convertible coupe, building a mere 993 examples versus more than 8,000 in the previous year. The venerable and robust Spitfire L-head inline-eight cylinder was standard fitment, paired with Chrysler’s ingenious Fluid Drive 4-speed semi-automatic transmission. Changes for 1949 included new front end styling, a redesigned trunk, and Di-Noc wood grain covered inserts replacing the natural mahogany panels of previous years. However, partway through production, those changed to painted body-color panels. This example is one of those later models, with the red-painted panels accenting the gorgeous ash-trimmed body with dramatic effect.
This rare and desirable Town & Country received a no-expense-spared nut and bolt restoration to concours standards. The project reportedly cost more than $300,000, with no detail overlooked in making this T&C of the finest of its kind. Thanks to recent expert care in the hands of an enthusiastic collector, the car remains in superb condition, rich with beautiful details and craftsmanship. The most critical element of any Town & Country is, of course, the woodwork, and this car does not disappoint with its exquisitely crafted joinery, precise alignment, and rich glossy finish. The sheet metal received similar meticulous care and is impressively straight, looking resplendent in its red paintwork. The extensive chrome and polished brightwork are also restored to concours condition and remain superb.
Appointed in maroon leather and matching carpet, the luxurious cabin presents in beautiful condition, with a lovely character thanks to the care and enjoyment it has received since the restoration. The hardware, fittings, and chrome details are all in excellent order, down to the intricately detailed window winders and escutcheons. This flagship model features both the “All Weather” ventilation system and extremely rare factory signal-seeking radio. A driver-focused binnacle houses the restored instruments, and the dash features intricately detailed brightwork. The black canvas top is taut and free of fading or creasing, and when folded, is finished with a red leather boot to match the upholstery.
Power comes from Chrysler’s legendary flathead inline-eight. The smooth and torque-laden nature of the eight pairs well with the 4-speed Fluid Drive transmission, allowing for effortless progress despite the relative heft of the T&C. Correct clamps, decals, and hardware features throughout the engine bay. As with the rest of this marvelous car, finish quality is outstanding, with the engine and undercarriage showing evidence of light road use.
Despite its pride of place at the top of the range, 1949 proved to be the final year for the top-line Town & Country convertible, as 1950 models utilized the less expensive mid-range Newport Hardtop as a base. The cost to build each car largely by hand proved too much for the accountants to ignore. Thankfully we have this superb example of Chrysler’s early-postwar flagship, which is prime for touring or casual drives, while remaining more than worthy of gracing any number of concours lawns.
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