Chrysler, the automaker, sold its first minivan in 1984 as a Dodge Caravan. Chrysler, the brand, sold its first minivan six years later as the Town & Country. Prior to this minivan, the Town & Country name was mostly used on wagons, all the way back to the first one in 1941. There were only a few made in the first couple of years before production was stopped so that the company could help de-Hitler the world.
The first generation was a woodie, having much of the rear bodywork made out of wood. The following two generations did away with the wood, but it was brought back as a simulated woodgrain in the seventies where it stuck around all the way into the minivan era.
I have never been a fan of fake things on cars: fake fasteners, fake vents, hub caps that are supposed to look like aluminum wheels. They’re often not very attractive to begin with, but they also carry inherent dishonesty. They’re all lies stuck on by lazy designers or cheap engineers.
Simulated woodgrain is one of the worst offenders. It’s supposed to make the car look like a woodie, where wood was originally used as a structural part of the vehicle. Later woodies used wood as a non-structural styling element. Fine, it’s pretending, but it can look good when real wood is used. But fake wood? Fake wood is a lie stacked up on another lie. Yo dawg, I heard you like dishonest design.
I know, I’m an old man yelling at a cloud again. But this MotorWeek retro review reminded me that simulated wood wasn’t always kitschy and that some vehicles did benefit from the faux trim.
There’s something about Chrysler’s first-generation minivans that make simulated wood palatable. I think it’s partly because they are so far removed from an actual woodie, yet still have a connection back to them, if only by name. This, combined with the fact that the minivan is such a boring design anyway, makes adding some fake wood trim a move in a positive direction.
I will also give the Jeep Grand Wagoneer a pass because in some colors on some models with the faux wood in good condition it does look better. But beyond that, almost all other fake woodgrain looks bad.