Previous Next

Lot 147

1939 Ford Deluxe Station Wagon

  • Chassis no. 185024182

Sold for $209,000

Model 91A. 85 bhp, 221 cu. in. Flathead V8 engine, three-speed manual transmission with Columbia rear end, solid front axle and live rear axle with transverse semi-elliptic leaf springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 112"

Among the most coveted of Ford woodies are those constructed of Birdseye Maple. “Birdseye” refers to its grain pattern, resembling a sea of tiny, swirling “eyes” that disrupt the normal straight lines of grain. It is not a species of tree, but rather a condition that arises from complex causes. Birdseye grain is known to occur in ash, mahogany, beech, walnut and birch, but by far the most common Birdseye is found in Acer saccharum, the sugar maple. Experience has shown that the greatest concentration of Birdseye tres is in the forests of the Great Lakes region of Canada and Michigan: the location of Iron Mountain.

It is believed that the “eyes” are the result of new shoots whose growth has been aborted, perhaps as a result of low soil pH and a sugar deficit within the tree. This aborted growth leaves tiny knots, forming the birds’ eyes, which are covered by the next year’s growth ring.

Birdseye Maple has a medium density and variable color. Outer rings of the tree are usually creamy, light amber in color, with darker birdseye patterns. Inner rings, the heartwood, can be deep amber with dark brown birdseyes. The “eyes” can be from an eighth or three-eighths of an inch in diameter. The wood works well on a lathe or shaper, but is hard enough that it does not scratch easily. Thus it is highly prized for making fine furniture or, alternatively, automobile bodies or trim.

The desirability of items made from Birdseye Maple results in very high prices paid for the raw wood. Although there are sometimes external clues to the identity of a “Birdseye tree,” usually the treasured wood is only discovered after the timber has been felled. Researchers have sought ways to breed and cultivate birdseyes in hardwood, but the results to date have been limited to discounting several theories of possible formation. A full understanding of the process remains elusive.

The prevalence of birdseye grain in northern Michigan led to its use in Ford station wagons. Usually, this took the form of random Birdseye pieces incorporated into bodies, as and when the craftsmen came across them. Occasionally, however, a station wagon body would be framed mostly or even entirely from Birdseye Maple. A long-standing tradition holds that Henry Ford ordered the retention of a small inventory of Birdseye wagon parts. From time to time, it is said, he would order a “Birdseye wagon” to be constructed, either for a special customer or for presentation on a particular occasion. This 1939 Ford Deluxe station wagon is one of the rare models framed almost entirely from Birdseye Maple.

It was originally purchased by a customer in the exclusive Hope Ranch section of Santa Barbara. Hope Ranch, named for the Irish immigrant who raised sheep on the property in the 19th century, was developed into a residential community in the 1920s; it remains a semi-autonomous section of the city today, nestled between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Santa Barbara channel. By the 1930s, Hope Ranch had become an upscale community, its residents having much in common with the owners of eastern estates and islands. As in the east, the Ford station wagon developed a following in this clientele. Hope Ranch was an appropriate home for a special “Birdseye” model.

Nick felt that to complete his collection he should find an all-Birdseye car. After years of not finding one and after traveling to Massachusetts to bid on the all-Birdseye 1940 Ford station wagon from The Dingman Collection, and returning empty handed as the under bidder, he received a phone call from Jim Ryan in Redondo Beach, just a few minutes from Nick’s shop. The man introduced himself and said he owned an old Ford that might interest Nick. He had been told by a friend that his wood was different from most other woodies and that it was Birdseye Maple. He explained that he had seen the car in a gas station for sale for $30,000 in 1972. Returning the next day the car had been sold but Jim was able to track down the buyer and offer the man a quick $1,500 profit. For 10 years Jim’s wife drove the kids to school in the ‘39 before retiring it to storage, where it would still be sitting if Jim’s friend hadn’t told him that the ‘39 was indeed special and that he knew of a crazy woodie collector that might want it. He was right – Nick acquired the car within hours of that first call!

Upon its acquisition, the car was given a freshening while preserving many of its original features. Most noticeable is the original, highly varnished Birdseye wood, which retains its beautiful patina. The doors all shut well and have even gaps. The metal body contours are excellent, and the black paint exhibits a deep shine. The roof is covered in new brown artificial leather. The glass is all original with Ford scripts, showing only modest clouding at the edges. The brightwork is all excellent, but for some wear on the tailgate handle. A chrome outside mirror is mounted on the driver’s door hinge and the body number dates from January 1939.

The seats are newly upholstered with brown leather. The front is furnished with lap belts for two and the spare tire is mounted behind the driver’s seat under a matching cover. The front floor has its original brown rubber mat, slightly discolored; the rear has a new black rubber floor mat. The dashboard exhibits newly restored Mahogany woodgrain, and the instruments and Deluxe steering wheel are well restored. The car has a radio, with windshield header antenna.

The engine is detailed in correct Ford green, but not overdone. In fact, the entire compartment is authentically finished in correct tone and hardware; particularly noticeable are the correct Ford radiator hoses. The tires are Goodyear 6.50-16 blackwalls, installed in 2007. The car runs and drives well, its Columbia rear axle making freeway travel effortless. It is registered with California year-of-manufacture plates 8Y505, which accompany it in the sale.

An excellent example of a very rare and desirable “Birdseye woodie,” this car is one of the gems in this auction. With no show history since restoration, it could be an excellent Birdseye debutante.


MM/dd/yyyy HH:mm:ss tt

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more