A Perfectly Imperfect 1950 Ford Woodie Wagon…

A few weekends ago, I did the Malibu Woodie Parade thanks to my good friend John Zambetti.

For the last 4-5 years, we’ve tooled down PCH during the holidays with about 30 woodies, and I get to meet some amazing people.

This year, a woodie showed up that was a little different from the rest. I’d call it a “RatWoodie,” as it wasn’t clean and perfect like the rest, but dressed down, slammed and full of California rust paint.

As we headed south, I couldn’t stop filming this awesome car, as it was the only one with a bit of attitude. But I found the owner to be nothing but gracious and full of smiles.

John Schiess and his bride-to-be, Lauren Rheaume, along with their children Keri, Kelly and Slade piled into the dulled down racing green 1950 Ford woodie wagon and joined the parade as they cruised PCH. Once we arrived at the party at Malibu Village, I got a chance to talk with Schiess and find out why his woodie went rat.

“I’m the owner of Custom Built Machines,” began Schiess. “A fabrication, restoration hot rod shop in Chatsworth.”

Well, that explains it.

According to Schiess, the outer look is stock with the exception of an old Hollywood accessory hood ornament delete. The maple wood frames are original wood, and the panels have been re-veneered over the original wood.

“The running gear consists of a 350 Chevy, 700R4 transmission, and Ford 8-inch rear end,” he exclaimed.

And then there’s the power disc brakes, power steering and hidden A/C. The interior was custom, but with a vintage look.

“I bought the car 20 or so years ago from a guy in Riverside. It was in as many pieces as a car could possibly be and scattered around the top of a hill,” he said. “What sealed the deal for the sale was the previous owner had removed all the wood and stored it all in his garage for the better part of 35 years. So it was in good shape. This was my third woodie project, so I was familiar with what it took to get it done.”

Most people are lucky to get a barn find, but this goldmine was on a hilltop. Doosh.

Schiess went on to mention that out of all the cars they’ve had, this one serves them the best. Looks great, very reliable, comfortable and fits all of them. It’s nice, but not so nice that it can’t be used for daily driving.

According to the fam, the best part of the car is a tricky question.

“It definitely makes people smile or react when they see it,” Schiess quips. “It’s got a faded worn look to it, so maybe that’s what makes it approachable? The original intent was a finished shiny paint job as the bodywork was done and ready for paint. So in prep, I sprayed epoxy primer tinted green and figured I’d drive it for a month or two, work out any bugs and then paint it. Ten or so years later, the primer is fading, the paint never happened, and we love it.”

That’s my kind of story. The days of shiny paint are over and the days of cool textures are in.

Schiess uses the car fairly often for day trips, weekends, swap meets and hauling things. He drives it to and from work a couple days a week, but Rheaume drove it in the Malibu Woodie Parade. Her smile never quit, and I imagine it’s still there to this day.

Oh, and don’t forget about the best short story with it. John tells it true.

“The most fun we had was a trip we took to Cambria earlier in the year,” he said. “We rented a beach house for the Fourth of July and loaded the woodie with surfboards, boogie boards and all of our gear. It was a fun trip, lots of smiles and waves. But driving in Malibu brings back tons of memories.”

He learned to surf as a kid here in Malibu and taught his daughter to surf here, too.

“My fiancee, Lauren, lived in Malibu and we have friends here as well,” he added. “When the traffic is light, it’s fun to take a cruise up or down the coast, take in the views and relax.”

So many people go out and buy a Toyota, Honda or Kia to get the job done when they are missing the point. Driving through the ’Bu on the weekend is therapeutically powerful. The smiles, positive vibes, energy of the people and joy of sharing what you love is the recipe for success in any language. Begs the question, what is your ultimate ride and how can you make that happen?

Then get busy.

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