by Mike Chamberlin
I lost a dear friend recently. His name was Tom Long. He was a former San Clemente lifeguard, a surfer, a long-time Hobie employee, a musician, and a Woodie enthusiast. I mention this because, before his passing, I wrote to him and told him I would be writing articles for the San Clemente Journal. I knew he was well connected, so I reached out to Tom for story ideas. The last email I ever received from him referred me to a San Clemente resident named David Holmes (It turns out David has a wealth of information about Woodies).
First, the man: David made his career as a teacher for more than three decades at Crenshaw High School. (Most would agree that people don’t become teachers to get rich; they become teachers to mold young lives into productive adults). After more than 30 years teaching in South Central Los Angeles, he retired to San Clemente in 2011.
So how did a man on a teacher’s salary get into the expensive world of restoring, remodeling and displaying Woodies? Some say it’s an addiction, and David admits he has spent over $80,000, over a 28-year fascination with the specialty automobile, restoring his present one.
His first Woodie was a 1942 Ford, a rare car in its own right, and a nice introduction to Woodie World. But in 1990 David bought and fell in love with a very rare automobile, a 1947 Mercury Woodie. It originally sold for $1,849 before being converted to all-wheel drive by Marmon-Herrington and camperized by Coachcraft Ltd. of Hollywood, adding approximately $3,500 to its value. It was one of just five Mercury’s built with this 4x4 drivetrain and the only one of any year customized for camping by Coachcraft. The original birch wood on this Mercury is over 200 years old! It truly is one of the superstars of Woodies. Normally, this would be an investment, and David believes his ’47 Woodie is worth almost a quarter of a million dollars!
That’s the good news; the bad news is that it’s not for sale. “Never has been for sale and never will be,” says David. He added, “I consider myself to be very lucky to be the caretaker of such a unique part of American automotive history, and I very much enjoy getting it out there to events where people can learn about it.” His advice to potential Woodie buyers is to “Buy it because you love it, not because of how much it might sell for. In other words, the profit is in the fun.”
By “getting it out there,” David refers to the many Woodie shows that take place in Southern California, Orange County and San Clemente. Although San Clemente has no official Woodie show, it does line them up for two events, The San Clemente Downtown Business Association Show and the Ocean Festival, where they are proudly displayed on the SC Pier. It’s also the opportunity for Woodie enthusiasts to gather and tell stories.
David says, “Our club events are like tribal gatherings; everybody is there for fun, and whatever awards are given out are determined by the so-called judges’ impressions, as well as by who hasn’t received an award before.” Then he smiles, “We also have an ‘Aloha Spirit’ award, which has nothing to do with any kind of car.”
You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that these Woodie shows have led to life-long friendships. “We’ve all seen each others’ cars, so the friendships and shows have become the glue that keeps us together.” He notes, “Everybody from other types of car clubs says Woodie people are the most fun.”
The biggest event of the year for the Southern California Woodie Club is called Doheny Wood. Bruce Wood (really his name) is the President of the club, and he says that cars from all over the United States find their way to this annual event. “Our show at Doheny is different because it’s actually at the beach, where as most shows are in towns and on public streets.”
You might be interested to learn you don’t have to be a Woodie owner to be a member of the Southern California Woodie Club. Who knew?
David Holmes and I both attended Tom Long’s memorial. My heart filled with joy as I drove into the church parking lot to see 50 Woodies on display. They had lost one of their own and this was their way to pay respect.
I guess that’s why their motto is “Woodies Rule!”
Original owner, photographer Don Bietz, in Arizona, 1951.