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classic station wagons

benjaminhbenjaminh Posts: 2,933
edited March 2014 in Pontiac
Is even the idea of a classic station wagon an oxymoron? Perhaps in terms of sheer dollars and cents, but in term of emotional value, style, history, and functionality, I think station wagons deserve at least some kind of niche in automotive history and as collectables. My first car ever was a 1969 Pontiac Catalina Safari Wagon, and what a car it was. It was 19 feet of sheer American family bliss, and could seat up to 9.


  • benjaminhbenjaminh Posts: 2,933
    What was the first true station wagon? When did they move from 2 to 4 doors? Which wagon was the biggest? The best? Do you have any memories of wagons you've owned, or desires for wagons you'd like to collect? Is the station wagon now dead because of minivans and suvs?
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    .....are definitely making a comeback on the collector market, though they will never be as collectible as convertibles and coupes. Check this out, station wagon fans:
    This site has a fair amount of history regarding the station wagon, and lots of pictures in the 'gallery' section.

    I certainly think the minivan and SUV have a lot to do with the current lack of 'station wagons' offered in the late '80s-late '90s. However, it's fairly obvious the station wagon (by various different names) is becoming a big player in the market once again (though we're very unlikely to ever again see 19 ft., 9-passenger, V8 wagons that were popular in the '50s-70s). Recent additions like the Protege5, the Vibe, the Matrix and PT Cruiser could all be considered wagons. Volvo wagons have always sold well; Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi and VW all sell two sizes each of wagons (the first time for any of those makes to do so in the U.S. market). The wagon is not dead, not by a long shot.
    My favorite wagon: the one my grandparents had when I was born, a 1969 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate (green metallic with fake wood sides, fully loaded, nine passenger, with the cool 'Vette hubcaps). I would like a big, '60s or early '70s American wagon. The problem is, hardly anyone 'saved' wagons from the junk yard, and fewer were made than sedans, so they're increasingly rare today.
  • jrosasmcjrosasmc Posts: 1,711
    This is the quintessential American wagon: 1971-76 Chevy Impala/Caprice Estate, and the 1977-90 generation that followed.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    My grandparents replaced the Kingswood Estate (my uncle wrecked it) with a '73 Bel Air 9-passenger wagon (not nearly as nice or loaded as the Kingswood), it was ORANGE (I'm sure Chevrolet called it something else, but it was a metallic orange/gold) with a white interior. I'm pretty sure '73 or maybe '74 was the last year for the bottom-of-the-line big Bel Air wagon.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,048
    ...the Bel Air wagon made it through 1975! It was dropped the same time as the Bel Air sedan. That final year they made about 24,000 sedans and 9300 wagons. By that time they were only about $100 less than equivalent Impala wagons, so I guess there really wasn't much point in keeping 'em around after that.

    It's funny how tastes change when you grow up. When I was a little kid, I thought wagons were cool, but when I reached driving age, I had the typical teen reaction to them. But now, in the pennysaver, I see an '89 Safari wagon, 83K, 9-passenger, loaded, only $2500, and it's kinda tempting...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,514
    Probably the first station wagons as we know them today were model Ford T station "hacks" that hauled luggage from train stations. But they looked more like very high woodies.

    You wouldn't have anything resembling a modern station wagon until automakers learned how to do large metal stampings in different shapes, so maybe the late 30s?? My earliest recollection of a vehicle that really looked like a modern wagon (car chassis, windows all round, tailgate) goes back to the late 1940s. Not a personal recollection, I mean in books.

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  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Shifty, who did you vote for, Truman or Dewey ;-)?

    Now that I think of it, my father and I had quite a few wagons between us. 1950 Plymouth (I think the first all-steel wagon, bought from original owner), 1959 Plymouth (two door, pretty sharp despite the Exner-isms), 1961 Falcon (learned how to drive a stick shift), 1961 Bel Air wagon (283, stick, actually pretty quick), 1965 Ford Country Squire (nice looking but the 352 got lousy economy and didn't move the car around too quickly), 1965 Impala (early production car with 409), 1971 Le Mans (400/300-hp) and a plain Jane 1972 Torino with HD suspension and a torquey 400, not nearly as fancy as the LeMans but much more of a workhorse. Oh yeah, I almost forgot my best friend's parents' car in high school, a '67 Ford Country Squire with 390 that could spin its right rear tire with alacrity.

    They're functional as long as they don't take up a city block, but there's only a few I'd be interested in. Definitely any '55-7 Nomad, probably the '55-6 Safari. The '57 Ford Ranch Wagon (cheap two door) has some charm and there was a two door Chevelle wagon in '64 and '65 that had Nomad overtones. The Buick and Olds intermediate Vista Cruisers are interesting and attractive. That's about it for me.

    The problem with wagons is that they're heavy and the extra weight is up high and behind the rear wheels so they oversteer. That's okay in a performance car but not okay in a 4200-lb. car with numb steering and marshmallow suspension.
  • speedshift-

    Yeah, wagons can sometimes be difficult to handle. Mine seems to be kind of erratic. Sometimes it holds the road very well and seems relatively agile in emergency avoidance moves and such, but not always. One time I was making a slow left turn onto a rain-slicked road, and the rear of the car just decided to keep on coming around. Instead of making a 90 degree turn as I intended, I spun almost 180 degrees. Since the car doesn't respond too well to sudden braking, I just turned the wheels all the way right and kept giving it gas, and it straightened out without hitting anything. I suspect that there might have been an oil slick on top of the rainwater or something, because for a few seconds I seemed to have no traction at all; it just spun like I was on ice.

    -Andrew L
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    Here's one I'd forgotten about.

    Not breath-takingly beautiful but an interesting car in one sense--the first four door hardtop wagon, maybe the only four door hardtop wagon--yet very typical '50s styling.

    And here's the Ranch Wagon. This one's a '58 but thankfully they don't show the front end. Interesting roof treatment and notice how all three pillars (A, B and C) are "fast". Ford's Nomad, I guess.

  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,048
    ...I think the '58 Ford is actually pretty attractive up front. I like the '57 rear-end better, because I don't really care for the "sideways colon" taillights, but then I didn't like the '57's front-end, because it just looked too bug-eyed!

    As for hardtop wagons, Olds had a version too called the Fiesta. I think both the Olds and Buick ran from '57-58. I think Rambler had one called the Cross-Country. I've seen Mercury wagons in both 2- and 4-door hardtop form, from around '57-60, I think. And Chrysler had 'em, in '61-62, maybe '63-64 as well.

    In fact, here's a '60 Mercury... and a '57:

    and a '58 Olds Fiesta... and a '57 Fiesta...

    It's not a hardtop but ooh's an Explorer! Hope it doesn't have Firestone tires!

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,830
    Great link, ghulet!

    I thought I was the only one who appreciated the old wagons. I guess for most people, if it's not the 2 door hardtop or convertable, the car loses all appeal.

    Growing up, I remember lots of station wagons as they pulled up to the elementry school, dropping off and picking up classsmates.

    And I suppose most wagons probably suffered a rougher life than the cars did which may be why a lot fewer survive today.
  • jaserbjaserb Posts: 858
    They just call them SUV's these days. Sometimes they even put an AWD drivetrain in there to complete the facade.
    Lets be real here...
    Highlander/RX300 = Camry wagon
    CRV = Civic wagon
    Santa Fe = Sonata wagon
    Pilot = Accord wagon

    And so on. I still remember our "Blue bomber" - a 1979(ish) Ford LTD station wagon, in glorious baby blue. I saw its twin the other day in a more palatable navy, still in very good condition for a 20+year old mommy mobile.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 58,514
    Actually some of the 50s wagons are quite valuable now, and often approach the prices of the coupes.

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  • Amazing link, EphemeraNow: It really brings back the era of those cars to see them in the ads of their time.
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    What's a Pilot? Is this a Honda SUV not sold in the U.S.?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,048
    ...kind of morped into a minivan. When the first Odyssey came out, I think they dropped the Accord wagon right then and there. That first Odyssey also seemed to be a hybrid between wagon and minivan, with car-like rear doors, roll-down rear windows, and a lower profile than most minivans. The transformation was complete though, with the current Odyssey. I haven't heard of the Pilot either, though.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    The ads are great but, of course, the cars never looked that good in person. Lots of artistic license, lots of longer/lower/wider that didn't exist--the ad illustrator doing a better design job than the designer. But they show slices of everyday '50s life that bring back memories.

    The ads are a whole lot better than the average photo posted by the average enthusiast. I found two '57 Ranch Wagon photos, one a front-end shot that doesn't show the roofline (the only unique part of the car), the other a profile shot that would show the roofline except that a shadow completely hides the rear half of the car. Both photos are good examples of being unclear on the concept.
  • benjaminhbenjaminh Posts: 2,933
    Wow, those ad pictures were incredible. I couldn't quite figure out the site though. Does Ephemeranow sell old ads? Thanks Speedshift for telling us about how artists took licence to modify the looks of the cars. It would be interesting to compare at exactly the same angle a photo of a real car with an advertisment, with real people in the same position as the people in the ads. Once Mad magazine did a whole color ad spread for a "1958 Bulgemobile" which was so huge it almost had vanishing lines in the view of the front seat--it looked like you could seat 8 or so, etc. It was pretty funny. Those late 50s wagons look just as large as my Pontiac (19 feet)--or is that just ad exaggeration?
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,048 way to tell, at least in the actual photographs, if they used trick photography is if the wheels appear to be out-of-round. Sometimes they'll stretch the pics out to make the cars look longer than they really are. As for how long those things really were, I think the station wagons might have actually been a touch longer than their sedan/hardtop counterparts, but probably not more than a couple inches. For instance, my '57 DeSoto is 218" long, and it was considered a very big car in its day, especially for its price class. An equivalent Olds 88 or Buick Special was probably close to a foot shorter. In fact, there were even Cadillac models that were a bit shorter! I'm not sure, but I think the longest car in 1957 was the Lincoln, at 227".

    Cars actually went through a brief period of downsizing in the early '60's, although it was short-lived and nowhere near as drastic as what came in the late '70's. For instance, all Chryslers rode a 126" wb in 1957, but by '63-64 were down to 122". Some Mercury models actually ballooned up to 128" for 1959, but by '61, they were trimmed to around 120", and were really more a continuation of the Edsel in price and size range, than the big, overblown Merc of before. It didn't take them long to get bulky again, though!
  • jaserbjaserb Posts: 858
    Is an uglier Honda version of the Acura MDX. Think MDX with CRV styling (yuck). I don't think it's out yet, but it soon will be. I think it's actually based on the Odyssey, so it has the third disappearing seat. Expect waiting lists and above MSRP prices for the forseeable future, in spite of the looks. There's a whole Edmunds board devoted to it.

    Now, back to your regularly scheduled classic cars discussion...

  • Our family had a 1958 Ranch Wagon (Del Rio?), base trim, two-tone green/white with a brown interior. Nice lines as I recall. 223 I-6, automatic. I was small, but I always remember my father taking out the thermostat due to it constantly overheating. My father swore off Fords after this. Replacement was a 1963 VW Microbus (13 windows) with the optional(!) 50 HP engine. I saw this past summer a 1957 del Rio Ranch Wagon, stock looking with two huge exhaust pipes (didn't see engine).
  • ghuletghulet Posts: 2,628
    ....was an 'upper' trim level of the 2-door, 6-passenger Ranch Wagon. Ford sold 12,687 in '58, making it their lowest selling wagon that year.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,830
    You can think what you will...the (yuck?) CRV's are impossible to keep in stock, and the Pilots will do even better.

    Looks are subjective I guess...
  • jaserbjaserb Posts: 858
    I drove my wife's (yuck) Santa Fe to work today. Plenty of car mags / etc have hated the styling, but we like it. No offense intended - I believe I mentioned in my yuck post that they'll probably sell like hotcakes. The MDX just did a much better job of "SUV-ing" the Odyssey's looks, IMO. Check out the Pilot board and you'll see a lot of prospective Pilot buyers aren't thrilled about the looks either.

    btw - I like hondas. Might get an Odyssey if/when we grow out of the SF and if/when I talk my wife into driving a minivan.


    Oh yeah...on topic, I see an old Bonneville station wagon driving around here a lot. What a boat! It moves under its own power, which is more than I'd expect based on its looks.
  • benjaminhbenjaminh Posts: 2,933
    The station wagon my parents had when I was born was a white 1961 Ford Falcon. It was actually a really nice size--not an elephant like the Pontiac I had later, but it had a good amount of room for people and cargo (no third seat though). I'm pretty sure it had a 3 speed manual with the shift on the steering wheel (isn't there a funny nick-name for that?). Anyway, I've never driven an American car with a manual from that era, and it's not that likely I ever will. Can anyone tell me what they were like to shift and drive?

    When I was in grad school I had a conversation with one of my professors, who was German, about Ford Falcons. We were talking about them at a party, and he told me that he'd owned one too. He said, "Yes. Ven Detroit made da Falcon they made a mistake, I think. It was actually a good car that lasted!" I told him that one of the people behind the Falcon was Robert McNamara, later Secretary of Defense in the 60s. "Ah," he said, "I understand. McNamara could make things that last a long time. First, the Falcon, then the Vietnam War."
  • speedshiftspeedshift Posts: 1,598
    You asked the right person. I had the character-building experience of driving a car identical to your parents' for about three years. Yes, they were durable lumps, probably because they had a minimum of moving parts. Mine had the 144 six pumping out 85 horsepower, just enough to get it rolling but not enough to get it up hills. It had "three on the tree" with no synchro on first so you couldn't drop it into first with the car rolling unless you double clutched. This made Hollywood stops (slow to about 5 mph for a stop sign, pop it in second and lug it through the intersection) real convenient until I got a ticket. Even at rest you had to touch second or it would graunch going into first.

    That Falcon was a real appliance but some of them were pretty nice. I'd like a '63 Sprint with a 260. They're nice looking, nicely trimmed and pretty quick.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,830
    I was thinking about this the other day...

    Anybody know waht year/model was the last of the three speed on the column?

    I remember something like a '72 Nova but there may be later ones.
  • blh7068blh7068 Posts: 375
    My folks had a '70 Pontiac Catalina 9 passenger-400 2bbl.
    Color was off yellow with similar interior.

    I remember my neighbor had a dark blue '75 Pontiac Grand Safari-with the cool "clamshell" tailgate. I dont know if there were bigger wagons made than that and the other GM '71-'76 counterparts such as the Chevy Kingswood Estate, Olds Custom Cruiser, and Buick Estate wagons.
  • parmparm Posts: 724
    Ah yes. I remember these claimshell tailgates vividly. Growing up, we always had station wagons, as did our neighbors. Kind of a slick design concept for the 1970's. But, they tended to make the back ends rather bulbous looking.

    After a couple years of use, these claimshell tailgates would really start to slow down. I think when we finally traded in our last one, you could time how long it took to close with an hour glass. ;-)
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,830
    The slightest impact to the rear bumper and they would fail to function.

    The body shops hated them!

    The dealerships hated them too. Very complex and hard to adjust so they would work right.

    Lot of warranty work on these!
This discussion has been closed.