21 August 2008

Sportin' Wood

This goes a bit outside the usual scope of my ramblings, but really, shouldn't part of what I'm doing here be trying to expand your horizons? (Don't answer that.)

Anyway, this is actually right in line with one of my big personal interests: cars. I've been fascinated by and enamored of cars since I was about three years old. (It's a particularly pointed irony that I can't drive, then, isn't it?) Even though my family never had new cars when I was growing up, each time we traded in our car for another one was a big, exciting deal for me. As a kid, I was often tasked with looking through the used car ads in the newspaper to find suitable possibilities to see and test drive.

Over the years we had several station wagons, and about half of them were the kind with fake wood trim on the sides and back. (I wish I had some pictures, but I don't have access to them at the moment. Check out this site for scans of tons of vintage car brochures.) Several of our neighbors and friends' families had them as well. And the names they had: Kingswood Estate, Country Squire, Grand Safari, Sport Suburban. Smell that? That's the scent of pure marketing fantasy, cut with hot vinyl seats on a summer day.

The wood-sided station wagon is an icon of 20th century American car design, but as station wagons faded from popularity and were supplanted, first by minivans and then by SUVs, as the family-hauler vehicle, the vinyl wood decaling faded as well. Literally and figuratively, heh.

Which leads us to the point: someone has seen fit to bless the world with fake wood trim kits for modern cars. This is not exactly new; such kits have been around for the Chrysler PT Cruiser for a while. But this company, Woody Wagoons, has taken the idea a step many steps further, offering kits for cars like the Scion xB (the little car that looks like a saltine box) and the Honda Element (the car that looks like a slightly larger box with gray plastic fenders--how about it, DM?)

This is all gloriously cheesy, because these cars were never designed to have this crap stuck on them, plus the kits seem to be executed in a very amateurish way. The one that actually kind of makes sense to me is the Jeep Commander, because it's a spiritual descendant of those big old Jeep Wagoneers that used to come with wood trim in the 70s and 80s.

And when I first saw the new Ford Flex, I immediately thought, "someone needs to come up with a 'Country Squire' fake-wood trim kit for this thing," because Ford can call it a "crossover" if they want, but this car is a station wagon, and indeed a modern equivalent of that 70s suburban staple. But I have to be honest: I was wrong. The wood trim kit looks terrible on it. I guess you can't go home again after all.

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