Lake Norman & Mooresville

Sherrills Ford man preserves auto history

The holy grail of many vintage automobile enthusiasts may very well be what is commonly called a "Woodie," often - but not always - a station wagon in which the bodywork is partially covered in wood.

Due to changing tastes and technologies, Woodies were no longer produced after the 1950s. Their scarcity makes them all the more interesting and valuable.

Just ask Don Lyon, 76, and his wife, Sharon. The Sherrills Ford residents are the proud owners of a succession of Woodies, beginning with Don's retirement from the auto insurance business in 1984 in Pequannock, N.J.

Following a four-year stint in the Navy in 1957, Don married his high school sweetheart, Sharon, who was the secretary in his insurance agency. He attributes his success selling car insurance in part to the 1930 Model A Ford in which he took prospective clients for a ride.

As Lyon tells it, "It was pretty hard after a ride in my Model A to say, 'No, Don, I don't want to buy insurance from you.'

"I used the Model A throughout my entire 28-year career in the business, and when I turned the business over to my son Steve, the car went with it. Sharon and I moved to Sarasota, Florida, and we began buying and selling homes and vacant property."

This proved to be a successful second career for the Lyons.

"We weren't making a killing," said Lyon, "but we enjoyed it."

After a while, however, his interest turned to car restoration.

"I bought my first old car, a 1950 Chrysler Town and Country sedan, for $22,000 at Woodie World in Ocala, Florida. I sold that after a few years so I could buy another Woodie."

The next one was a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country convertible.

"I found it in a barn in terrible condition, but I paid $5,000 for it. When I brought it home, my wife said, 'Please tell me you didn't pay money for that.'"

Lyon worked on that car - mostly on weekends - for several years, spending $70,000 in the process, which involved what he calls a "complete frame-off restoration."

His efforts, a labor of love, paid off in 2002, when he took the car to an antique auto auction in Auburn, Ind.

"I set a new world's record for the sale of that model: $116,000. Today it would probably sell for $175,000," said Lyon. "I felt sad to see it go, but I wanted to move to North Carolina, and I couldn't have my Woodie and North Carolina, too."

The move to North Carolina, however, did not mean the end of Lyon's obsession with Woodies. He still owns a 1948 Chrysler Town and Country Woodie sedan, which he bought in Chesterfield, Mo., in 1988.

"This beauty," said Lyon, "is entirely original, right down to the color."

The interior is as inviting as a comfortable living room, if not quite as spacious, with meticulous attention paid to every detail. In the trunk is an old-fashioned picnic set, just waiting for an afternoon outing.

For added interest and authenticity, Lyon has placed on top of the car a wooden canoe, handcrafted in Florida, together with a rod and reel. The canoe, Lyon said, has never been in the water.

"We take the car out for a drive once or twice a week," he said.

For everyday use, Sharon drives her faithful 1985 Jaguar XJ6, while Don drives a 2004 Kia Sedona van.

What's their dream car?

"Why, another Woodie, of course. I'm always looking," said Lyon. "If the door opens, you can bet I'll be walking through it and working on my next restoration."

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