1941-1984 Chrysler Town & Country

The 1941 Town & Country 'woodie' may well qualify as the world's first hatchback sedan. See more classic car pictures.

From Detroit's salad days before World War II came the most elegant "woodie" ever: the 1941-1984 Chrysler Town & Country. Here's the story of these rare and desirable cars -- and of their collectible 1980s successor.

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Pass your eyes over the plankwood behemoths on these pages. These cars

were the essence of the T&C idea in the early postwar era and were utterly right for their time, possessing a class and character that made most of their contemporaries seem just plain dull.

Check the woodwork; hewn of white ash, fitted and mitred with the perfection of a Hepplewhite highboy, with joints so smooth you could blindfold yourself and not be able to tell where they were.

Look at the body panels: heavy, iron-like objects that fit together solidly; doors, hood, and trunklid that clunk shut like the vaults at a bank. Inspect the brightwork: lavishly applied, every square inch finished to mirror brilliance and attached with hardly a bolt or screwhead in sight.

Climb behind the wheel and take in your surroundings: a colossal radio with more steel in it than an entire Ford Pinto, able to utter deep, fat tones no transistor can duplicate; a jumbo steering wheel you can really get hold of, sprouting from a steering column as thick as a sapling; a great club of a handbrake you grab at and yank to hold the car in position; acres of plastic, that rock-hard, postwar, marbleized stuff more closely related to Bakelite than to the plastics of today.

In 1948, all this cost $3,420, roughly $15,000 in today's money. But don't think you could build one like it now for less than $50,000 -- assuming you could even find craftspeople with the requisite skill to put it together.

"Such cars are not interesting because they have unique solutions to the automotive problem," wrote Ted West about a similar Chrysler 15 years ago, "but simply because they are in some way 'foreign' to more modern automobiles. The craftsmanship and general feeling of opulence of this car, for instance, clearly distinguished it from American cars of recent years." Certainly, we'll never see a car like the 1948 Town & Country again.

Continue to the next page to learn the Town & Country story.

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