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Bringing a Classic Back to Life

By Chet Lukaszewski ’63

The date is Friday, January 5, 1968.  I was a new, young teacher at Syosset High School, and at the end of the school day I stayed in my classroom to tie up some loose ends and to set up my lessons for Monday. I then went back to my parent’s home, checked out the mail, and relaxed reading the latest issue of the Syosset Tribune. I eventually got to the classifieds, and there it was:

“Last of the Woodies – 1948 Chevy, Original Owner – Excellent Condition”

Being an avid surfer, I sure wanted that Woodie!  I called and spoke with the owner, Mrs. Davis. Since she lived nearby, I asked if I could come over to look at the Woodie. “Sure you can,” came her response.  The Woodie looked pretty good for a twenty-year-old wooden car. She gave me the key, and I started it up and we went for a spin. It drove well. Upon careful inspection, the wood was intact but definitely had to be refinished. Add to that, there was some body rust, and it definitely needed a paint job. I told her that I would like to buy the Woodie. She told me that at about 7:00 in the evening, several people were coming over, who too were interested in purchasing her car, and I was invited to attend. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at this meeting. Being the last to enter her living room, I found myself seated among six or seven “older” gentlemen whose demeanor seemed to turn serious as I sat down. Mrs. Davis thanked the group for their interest and then posed the following question: “Why do you want to buy the Woodie?” As I listened to their responses, I soon realized that these fellows were “serious” car guys! It was finally my turn. I started by saying I was a teacher at the local high school and in my spare time enjoyed surfing. I would drive the car down to the ocean, surfboard on top, give it a good home, and do my best to restore it to what it looked like in 1948. I could see and feel that the car guys weren’t very moved by my presentation.  In fact, there were several comments made about me not being able to care for the Woodie.  So, Mrs. Davis in her classy and ladylike way, looked at each of us, thanked us again, paused, and said “I think I’ll sell the Woodie to the young man who’s the teacher.”

Early Saturday morning, Mrs. Davis arrived at my parents’ home. She moved over into the passenger seat, and there I was in the driver’s seat of my 1948 Chevy Woodie!  On the way back to her home, she explained how her children learned to drive on the Woodie and some of the other memories associated with the car. It was very emotional for both of us!  She actually teared up a little. I asked her if she really wanted to sell me the Woodie. She smiled and answered, “Yes of course!”

I left her that morning promising to return when I refinished the wood and applied a new paint job.  It took me about two years to tidy up the Woodie a bit and complete these tasks.  True to my promise, I drove to Mrs. Davis’ home, which was a short distance off a main road.  I knocked on the front door and encountered no answer.  Looking into the windows as I proceeded to the back of the house, it appeared that the rooms were empty.  I knocked on the back door and again, no answer.  I never saw Mrs. Davis again.

Over the past 46 years, with the help of some good friends, I have been able to restore the Woodie to what it looked like in 1948. It’s been to the ocean and to some car shows, but mostly I just like to take it out for a spin a few times a month – not in the rain or snow.  I appreciate people’s enthusiasm toward the Woodie. Common responses I get include “thumbs up,” “nice car,”, and “beautiful.” There’s also the little guy who sat behind the wheel and exclaimed “Grandpa, it’s a wooden car!” 

I am truly enjoying the entire Woody experience.” And Mrs. Davis, thank you again for selling and entrusting me with the Woodie. I hope you like it.