Today, when you hear the words Chrysler Town & Country, they're usually coming from the mouth of a soccer mom flaunting the state-of-the-art entertainment system and excellent storage capacity in her top-of-the-line minivan. However, the original Town & Country's had more in common with antique kitchen cabinets than the traveling movie theaters that currently wear the badge. Though both old-school and new-school T&C's are renowned for their capabilities as best-in-class people movers, they are both very different beasts.
The original T&C's were among the finest "woodies" ever crafted. These monsters were big, heavy and adorned with numerous signs of quality craftsmanship. With the main material used in constructing the cars being solid mahogany, they may not have been the safest rides when it came to enduring a fender bender. But consumers ate these cars up throughout the '40s – and not just moms hauling their kids to and from after school activities.
Though the original T&C, crafted in 1941, was a popular wagon similar in size to the minivan Chrysler sells today, these early woodies were a much more versatile line. Consumers could purchase a sedan and a convertible model that were considered high-luxury rides, priced in the same range as Cadillacs of the period.
For 1946, Chrysler decided they would go crazy producing a whole new expanded line-up of Town & Countrys. Among the planned fleet were a six-cylinder roadster, a two-door sedan, a four-door sedan, an eight-cylinder roadster and an eight-cylinder hardtop. The roadsters were to be the first hardtop convertibles on the market if they made it past the prototype phase.
But alas, by the time a realistic budget and assembly process was ironed out, Chrysler scaled back their ambitious plans for the T&C lineup. These models would all have a specialty wood-ash body frame that was hard, and costly, to produce. Manufacturing an entire line of these specialty cars was simply not cost-effective, so the four-door sedan and convertible were the only models to make it down the assembly line.
Between 1946 and 1948, these cars were a home run for the Chrysler brand, as they were the most popular non-wagon woodies on the road. The T&C convertible became one of the only models to sell more convertible variants than hardtops in automotive history during these few years, making Chrysler the leader in woody convertible design (Chrysler would see a similar trend with it's Sebring convertible in the late 90s).
These cars pose a challenge for people looking to restore them to their classic form. The wood frames didn't have a long lifespan, and the signature mahogany panels are pricey and hard to find. Because of their rarity, pristine T&C convertibles sell for upwards of $100,000 regularly on the auction block.
It's safe to say that as comfortable and sleek the 2012 Town & Country may be, it's a far cry from the original models that cruised down America's streets in the late '40s. Because advances in mass production have made it hard for mainstream carmakers to bring cars with this level of craftsmanship to market, it's unlikely we'll see a Town & Country that lives up to it's post-war predecessors anytime soon.
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