HomeCar CultureLifestyleMuseums: Plywood shaped modern life, even our cars

Museums: Plywood shaped modern life, even our cars


A 1937 DKW F7 cutaway is part of the plywood exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum | V&A Museum photos
A 1937 DKW F7 cutaway is part of the plywood exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum | V&A Museum photos

So I’m cruising through the daily dezeen.com newsletter and there’s a story about a new exhibit running through November 12 at the V&A Museum, aka the Victoria and Albert Museum, London’s showcase of art and design. The exhibit’s title is “Plywood: Material of the Modern World,” and the first two photographs illustrating the article prominently feature cars — a passenger vehicle and a racing car.

Plywood in cars? Even racing cars? Hey, we know about woody wagons and how in the early days horseless carriage bodies were made from hardwoods. But plywood?

Remember Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose”? Turns out that not only was plywood integral to the De Havilland Mosquito, the world’s fastest WWII aircraft, but also to the 1937 DKW F7 — which was cut in half for a German auto show so everyone can see the plywood chassis — and to a 1967 Harris-Costin Protos Formula 2 racing car with its molded plywood chassis and birch plywood bulkheads.

Race car has plywood chassis, bulkheads
Race car has plywood chassis, bulkheads

“Plywood is an everyday material that can be used in extraordinary ways,” the museum notes. “It is made by gluing together very thin, fragile sheets of wood, with the grain of each sheet running in an alternate direction. This layering makes it stable, flexible and incredibly strong…

“The exhibition explores how this frequently overlooked material helped shape the modern world, and reveals how plywood has revolutionized design over the past 150 years.”

If not longer. The museum acknowledges that plywood was invented as early as 2600 BC in Egypt, though it wasn’t until the 1760s that furniture shops in England started using it, and it wasn’t until the invention of mechanized saws in the 1830s that the price of plywood became affordable for widespread use.

And, it turns out, plywood is making a comeback. As dezeen’s Jessica Mairs writes: “Plywood is back at the fore of the construction industry with the development of cross-laminated timber, an engineered wood with thick laminations that is allowing architects to build taller than ever without the need for steel or concrete.”

Owls Head museum takes to the sky

B-17G bomber
B-17G bomber

The Owls Head Transportation Museum in Maine has plenty of cars, but it is located adjacent to an airport and also features planes. On August 4-5, the museum hosts the 2017 Wings & Wheels Spectacular and is offering first-come, first-serve sales on tickets to ride in a B-25 Mitchell “Axis Nightmare” bomber used in the 1942 Doolittle Raid and in a B-17G Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey” bomber used by the British Royal Air Force. See the museum website for details.

The program also includes an aerobatic airshow and, on Runway 17, a showcase of collector vehicles, including some that will be offered for bidding August 18-19 at the New England Auto Auction.

Woodward Avenue royalty: Inside and out

Head northwest from the Motor City on famed Woodward Avenue and after around 11 miles you’re in Royal Oak, where the Royal Oak Historical Society Museum plans an early kickoff of Woodward Dream Cruise activities on August 5 with shows inside and outside its facility.

Inside, the museum presents “Woodward Memories,” which it says will be an exhibit showing how the community’s section of Woodward Avenue has appeared through the decades, dating to the 1920s. Outside, the museum will host a car show from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. For details, see the museum’s website.

LeMay offers rides in its vehicles

Five times this summer, the LeMay — America’s Car Museum offers visitors rides in some of the cars from its collection. The May 13 and July 20 dates have passed, but if you’re going to be in Tacoma, Washington, on August 3 or 22 or on September 21, your museum admission fee includes a ride in classic. For details, see the museum’s Take A Spin website.

Supercars at Beaulieu includes Retro Rallycross

August 5-6 is the annual Supercar Weekend at Britain’s National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, with 450 of the fastest cars on the planet there to be seen, and not just parked but out to burn some rubber. But there’s more to see than contemporary carbon fiber. The show also celebrates 50 years of the UK’s Retro Rallycross Championship with a gathering of historically important rallycross cars, including the Porsche 911 that Vic Elford drove to victory in the first British rallycross race in 1967.

AACA opening its vault this weekend

The AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is opening its vault from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday as part of a special “Caffeine Behind the Scenes” car show. Visitors with collector cars can park in the circle in front of the museum, and for a suggested donation of $5, they also can go inside to see the trove of cars that are not on public view in one of its exhibits. See the museum’s website for details.

It’s Ford vs. Chevy this Saturday for the monthly Demo Day at the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia. Cars being driven outside for some dynamic exercise are a Ford GT40 Mk II, Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, Boss Mustang, Corvette 427 roadster, and ex-Bill Elliot NASCAR Thunderbird. The demos begin at 10 a.m. and run until 4 p.m.

Young man and his tractor
Young man and his tractor

The Owls Head Transportation Museum presents its annual antique truck and tractor show Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day. The event is open to pre-1997 trucks, tractors and commercial vehicles. See the museum website for details.


Saturday, the British Motor Museum at Beaulieu opens its Treasure Trail, which runs through September 3 and offers families the opportunity to become treasure hunters with special costumed tour guides at 1:30 p.m. daily and with a “My first car” project from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the Learning Space. See the museum website for more details.


Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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