Photography by Dave Cruikshank
Starting a build is one thing. Finishing the car and getting it to one of the most important car shows in the country–on time– is another.
Gary and Nancy Pettigrew, of Carmichael, California, faced just that conundrum when they completed their awesome 1950 Ford Shoebox Woodie in the nick of time for the 2018 Sacramento Autorama. In fact, the upholstery was finished on site with two stray pieces installed, and then it was showtime.
No one was the wiser as the old Woodie killed under the Cal Expo lights. Nicknamed “Wudz Up,” this thing really knocked us out. When we finally caught up with Gary in aforementioned Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, we shot the car and now bring you the story as a Rod Authority exclusive.
Completed in roughly five years and built almost entirely by Gary in his home garage, this Woodie has many subtle tweaks and a backstory that reveals a labor of love with the knowledge learned from 10 previous builds. Gary, a former California state government executive, builds cars because he says “it gives him a sense of accomplishment.”
This Woodie is the result.
Gary is a tall guy with an easy demeanor and was more than happy to show Rod Authority his cool workshop and tell us the story of “Wudz Up.”
“I had a 1951 Woodie that I built and sold at Mecum Monterey in 2014,” Gary explained. “I was on the hunt for another Woodie and a friend had one, but I wanted to hold out to see if there was a better example out there.He kept hitting me up about the car and after I looked around for about six months, I eventually bought it from him. It was just a body, and rusty at that. I replaced the inner and outer rockers as well as most of the floors.”
After the body was shored up, it was on to the chassis.
Gary wanted a stout foundation for the build so he called the folks at Art Morrison. “The frame was custom made to an extent. You specify wheelbase, track width, suspension components and they build it out for you. No body mounts were offered because it is a rare car, so I had to test fit the body and I made them myself. I took me about a week to get the mounting tabs welded up and the body sitting perfect.”
The chassis was outfitted with Art Morrison’s tubular A-arms up front and a 9-inch Ford, solid axle rearend with triangulated four-bar coil overs out back. The wagon stops with Wilwood six piston discs in front and SVO Ford discs in the rear. All this rolls on 17×7 chrome steelies from Circle Racing on Diamondback wide whites. Gary said the wheels will accept OEM style Ford dog dish caps as well.
For motivation, he sourced a 6.2 liter L99 LS motor (with active fuel management and displacement-on-demand) and a 6L80E six-speed automatic transmission out of a 23,000 mile 2012 Camaro SS. Gary says ” I basically left it stock, but cleaned the motor up, added an air intake and used the original ECM with a modified wiring harness. It’s making the factory 400hp.”
Next up was the exhaust. Gary says “I used the factory cast iron manifolds that I smoothed out and ceramic coated. From there back I went with a Flowmaster kit that I massaged to fit.” To keep things cool, he used an aluminum radiator and transmission cooler from Michigan Radiator.
The woodwork is the lead here, of a star-studded ensemble. Gary ordered a hard rock maple wood kit from “Wood by Whiskers” and finished it himself. The dark wood panels are exotic Curly Koa located by his wife, Nancy. Washington state woodworking guru Rick Mack attached the Koa veneer to custom formed plywood panels and sent them back to Gary who assembled them together with the maple and finished them all with automotive clear urethane. If you look closely, you can see that the grain of the Koa is matched across the panels the full length of the car.
He says, “We had the car painted at Artistic Collision Center in Rancho Cordova, California. Shop owner Steve Welsh and I mixed the paint using House of Kolor gamma gold, blushing red pearl, and a dash of apple red. Steve was one of our very best friends but sadly, passed away the next year and took the exact formula with him. We remain very close to Steve’s son, Bryan who now runs the business. It would require some experimentation, but I’m sure Bryan and I can come up with a color match if we ever need a repair.
The interior is a killer. A mashup of Von Dutch, a ’51 Ford passenger car dash and the coolest parts of a mid-’60s T-Bird. Gary elaborates, “The wagon body was narrower than the sedan because of the wood cladding. Remember this era of Ford Woodie didn’t utilize wood as a structural component but rather, the wood is attached to the metal body. It’s so thick on the doors that the cowl is considerably narrower.
I had an 1951 asymmetrical sedan dash laying around so I took five inches out of it, and moved the cluster 2.5 inches to the left to square up with the steering column.”
“Dave Putnam did the interior. He’s done two other cars for me, he’s a good friend and I love his work. We chose a tan and baseball-mitt color combo that really works well with the exterior paint. The console and front seats are out of a 1965 T-Bird. I extended the console and added bolstering to the seats.
We were going to use the rear seat from the ‘Bird as well, but it was in rough shape so Dave made one from scratch while retaining the attaching hardware from the old ‘Bird. We used Watson Streetworks power window switches and VHX Series Dakota Digital gauges that utilize a GPS system for speed and mileage.”
Check out the custom illuminated, Cyclops bullet nose at the front of the car. With an amber light and custom medallion it’s the cherry on this 4-wheeled sundae. Bringing up the rear is the custom wood liftgate by Gary and Mike Williams (never offered by Ford) with 1938 Chrysler tailights and custom lenses.
Fans and judges love the wagon as well. Gary says, “At the 2018 Sacramento Autorama, we got first in our class and at Woodies On the Wharf in Santa Cruz, we got Woodie Owner’s Choice. I’m particularly proud of the WOW award as it was from just the Woodie owners. It’s one of just three awards, joined by People’s Choice and Long Distance.”
We really dug Gary’s “world” as well. His home workshop housed a bitchin’ bulletnose Studebaker convertible and an awesome 1935 Hupmobile that he converted from a four-door to a two-door and shortened the wheelbase six inches. It caused quite a commotion on the rod scene around 2008.
After we shot photos of the Woodie, Gary and I cracked open Modelos and talked cars. Cool automobiles can be a great equalizer in our nutty modern world. Whether in a driveway or a carshow, old cars bring people together and reveal common threads. The talent and skills Gary brought to the table really shine on “Wudz Up” and make this sometimes ugly world a whole lot better place.