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1949 was a banner year for Mercury styling, and the signature front end carried across to the woody wagon. Pristine paintwork, an awesome flathead V-8 and cool, hinged taillights that stay level even when the two-piece tailgate is open puts Danbury Mint’s Merc woody in a class by itself.
This chopped and hammered Merc never looked this sweet in its surfboard-hauling days. Note the custom features, including shaved handles, filled bumpers, de-chromed windshield and frenched headlights.
By the time the postwar body styles were released, woodies were on the wane. This Motor City Classics 1949 Ford in Surf Shop trim shows that the last years were some of the best. Check out the board, decals and especially the authentic paintwork on the spare-tire cover.
A far cry (style- and engineering-wise) from the traditional woody, the VW Microbus still found a niche among the beach-going counterculture. This tiny 1:87 version is from Model Power and comes with its own color-coded camper trailer.
As the surf scene—and the vehicles that revolved around it—progressed, vans became a logical next step. This Highway 61 Surf Van nailed the 1970s look right down to the fender flares.
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THE WOODY ALTERNATIVES
Not every surfer was a woody fan. Vans were a logical and natural partner to the beach scene. Vans offered the space to transport boards, buds and basic living supplies to the coast. Vans, like the Depot Hack of decades before, were made for work rather than comfort. The sparse amenities made these vehicles cheap—and even cheaper when purchased secondhand. Early vans, especially the Ford Econoline, served as an ideal motoring match for beach lovers and surfers. Not only could they get you to the shore, but the secure metal box on wheels also offered shelter for extended stays and safaris.

As plentiful and practical as domestic box vans were, the German-made Volkswagen Bus gained an iconic status with the beach lifestyle. Why this happened is not completely clear, as VW didn’t market to this niche. Perhaps the VW Bus became a part of the SoCal surf scene due to its antiestablishment appeal.

Dune buggies, and particularly the Meyers Manx, came onto the beach scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They seemed like the ideal sand/surf vehicle, though this utility was more contrived than factual. Although these fiberglass-body, VW-powered buggies were inexpensive to build and youthful in image, they played better on TV and in the movies than as actual parts of the beach scene. Lifeguards did use dune buggies to help patrol vast expanses of popular beaches, but surfers and the surfing community were not enamored with the platform.

As with the Manx, movies and television played a major role in shaping the world’s image of the beach lifestyle. In nearly every beach movie of the 1960s, hot-rods were used to enhance the youthful appeal of the films. In a number of films, drag racing was a part of the plot (what little plot there was). But truth be told, hot-rods and wild customs were not really a part of the beach lifestyle. In fact, unlike the image the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean laid down in song, surfers and hot-rodders were rarely on civil terms. The two activities share similar passions but vastly different applications.

Today’s beach parking lots contain cars far more eclectic than they did in the Surf City heyday. Board-stuffer woodies are no longer junkers used primarily because they were cheap, throwaway behemoths. They are priceless time travelers to an era when the exuberance of youth helped transform an alternative sport into a lifestyle. Woodies, vans and buggies remain to rekindle the spirit of a time when nothing mattered but a good break, warm sun, a couple of bucks for gas and a clear road to the ocean.

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Updated: June 30, 2011 — 11:22 AM

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