Category: station wagon

What Year Was Peak Wagon in America? – Murilee Martin @Autoweek

What Year Was Peak Wagon in America? – Murilee Martin @Autoweek

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MERCURY DIVISION, FORD MOTOR COMPANY

There were two model years when American car shoppers had 47 station wagons to consider. Care to guess?

With the rise of the minivan in the 1980s and the SUV in the 1990s, most Americans lost interest in buying station wagons. Oh, sure, you can still buy a new wagon here today (all of which come from European marques, if you still count Volvo as European), but there was a time when the station wagon was so mainstream that American car shoppers could choose from dozens of different longroof models. The important question here is: what model year had the most new station wagon models available in the United States? Yes, we’re going to determine the year of Peak Wagon now!

As was the case with my still-controversial dive into the subject of the final two-speed transmission offered on a new car in Americadefinitions become all-important here. There are some very important such definitions involved here, and I assume you will be very angry about my interpretation of each of them. Just as with the maddeningly wrong and probably malicious definitions I deployed when I wrote about the Chevy Rat Motor, subjectivity comes into play.

First, calling your van a wagon doesn’t make it a wagon. Yes, Volkswagen of America called the Type 2 Transporter a station wagon in its marketing materials. Chrysler did the same with the Dodge A100, as did Ford with the Econoline and GM with the Corvair Greenbrier. Warlord-grade trucks aren’t wagons, either, so you Land CruiserLand RoverJeep and International Harvester fanatics might as well begin wailing and gnashing your teeth right now. I will allow that sedan deliveries are wagons— that’s a tough call, because some of the early ones are pretty truckish and/or not-so-wagonlike— but you’ll see that the sedan delivery model count doesn’t have any effect on determining the year of Peak Wagon in America.

Second, ordinary Americans had to be able to obtain a mass-produced wagon from a licensed dealer in America, and it had to be highway-legal here at the time of sale in order for it to count toward Peak Wagon scoring. That means no oddball wagons imported by servicemen stationed in Naha or Grafenwöhr, no backyard-built wagons with hand-carved poplar bodies and steam engines, no swoopy atomic-powered wagon prototypes built for World’s Fairs, no onesy-twosy imports of Soviet wagons by spirally eyed fly-by-night entrepreneurs (this one really hurts, because I was dying to include the available-here-in-theory GAZ Pobedas and Volgas, not to mention the Moskvich 402/407), no bracketed-by-asterisks homologation specials, no wagonified Detroit luxury sedans or muscle coupes custom-commissioned by high-ranking Detroit executives for their wives. No, no, no!

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Open or closed? It’s Hard to Choose Between Ragtops and Wagons – Jim Richardson @Hemmings

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About 20 years ago I bought what I considered the ultimate classic, or at least, the ultimate classic that I could afford, and that was a 1939 Packard 120 convertible coupe. I had always loved the neoclassical Packard styling, and had always wanted an open model. And I must say, I still love it and very much enjoy slow Sunday drives in it.

But there are some downsides to an open car that I hadn’t reckoned on when I obtained it. For example, I purchased it about 400 miles from where I live in Southern California, and proceeded to drive it home with the top down and no hat. Big mistake. I felt fine while I was doing it, and loved the experience, but when I got home I was chapped and burned to a reddish purple from the neck up. Yes, I know. I was an idiot. Don’t rub it in.

You see, convertibles have their limitations. As elegant as my Packard is, it only accommodates two people comfortably, and it rattles due to all the top hardware. And with the top up, visibility is marginal. It is heavier and slower than a closed model, too. It was after that I wised up. My next purchase was a 1955 Chevrolet Beauville station wagon. It was in good shape with very little rust, but it needed some restoration.

I wanted a comfortable, roomy family driver in which we could do some long-distance touring, and the Chevy wagon seemed like the ideal solution. I got it for a fair price, which was about a quarter of what the convertible set me back, and it was essentially just what I was looking for. The Beauville was the Bel Air version of the station wagon, and this one had all the goodies, such as a push-button radio, windshield washer, and the rare original Saginaw three-speed standard transmission with Borg Warner overdrive. That is ideal because it allowed me to cruise at freeway speeds with the engine loafing along, and it gave me the control of a manual shift.

But best of all, it had plenty of room for five passengers to cruise in quiet comfort, and it had a fold-down rear seat that turned into a cargo bay big enough for even the luggage my wife insists on taking along. By today’s standards, it is huge. That’s because the car was built when Americans were moving to the suburbs in the 1950s, and buying ranchettes. Those were nice spacious ranch houses with big yards in which you could have gardens, and live a semi-rural life.

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The Pontiac Grand Safari was a flagship station wagon hauling on in an era of downsizing – Matt Litwin @Hemmings

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By 1974, 5,000-plus-pound family cars were suddenly as impractical as the ol’ muscle car had been to newlyweds holding a freshly printed mortgage and a newborn baby just a few years earlier. Detuned as they were, the large-displacement—still a prevalent means of motivation within the market segment-remained incredibly thirsty. As a result, Pontiac’s full-size output fell to just under 145,500 cars in 1975, and only 137,216 were sold a year later.

Suffice it to say, Detroit needed a diet, and the automakers knew it well in advance thanks in large part to looming federal mandates. At GM, the first to be first slimmed down were the 1977 model-year full-size cars. Among them was Pontiac’s flagship station wagon—the Grand Safari.

The downsized wagon’s chassis was reduced from 127 inches to a svelte 115.9 inches. Much of the basic architecture, however, carried over from the previous generation: independent coil spring front suspension, rear leaf-sprung suspension, power steering, and power front disc brakes. Also included as a standard were FR78-15 radial tires that provided sure-footed control in all driving conditions.

The redesigned chassis cradled an equally new 5.0-liter (301-cu.in.) V-8 engine. It was more than the division’s new “economy” powerplant; rated for a rather capable 135 horsepower, the block, crankshaft, cylinder heads, and intake manifold—collectively—weighed 136 pounds less than the 350-cu.in. V-8. Factory literature touted the availability of a “new 6.6 litre (400/403 CID) V-8” on the Grand Safari’s option chart—technically a carryover engine revamped for ’77—that was rated for 180 or 200 hp. Californians could have opted for the 170-hp 350. A Turbo Hydra-Matic automatic was the only transmission available.

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The luxurious 1961 Ford Country Squire contributed to Dearborn’s dominance in the station wagon segment – Matt Litwin @Hemmings

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Without question, Ford was once America’s biggest builder of station wagons. From Ford’s station wagon debut in 1929 through 1960, the automaker sold 1,970,785 wagons in total. Concurrent to this family hauler’s rise in popularity, its market segment went from 2 percent of the U.S. industry in 1950 to 18 percent in ’59. It kept rising through ’61, thanks to Ford’s 256,597-unit output, including this Country Squire.

While use of “Country Squire” first surfaced in Ford’s 1950 ads, the emblems weren’t secured to sheetmetal until ’51. It instantly became the division’s top-tier wagon, furnished with equipment that was otherwise optional on lesser models. Further setting it apart, the Country Squire was adorned with faux wood paneling in homage to its origins without the expensive upkeep.

That exterior trim remained on the updated 1961 model, decorated with mahogany-look panels framed with fiberglass maple woodgrain strips. The rest mirrored the upscale Galaxie series, including the concave grille, crisp tailfins, and circular taillamps. Cabins were equally Galaxie-based and, for the first time, the Country Squire was offered with six- or nine-passenger seating.

Coachwork and cabin were supported by a 119-inch-wheelbase chassis, the critical element being Ford’s “Wide-Contoured Frame” that offered, “more flexible inner channels for less harshness and a more gentle ride.” Bolted to it was a “swept back, angle-poised ball-joint” front/rear leaf-spring suspension system. Hydraulic shocks, drum brakes, and 8.00 x 14 tires fitted to 6-inch-wide steel wheels completed the ensemble.

Country Squires came with a 135-hp, 223-cu.in. Mileage Maker Six, or the Thunderbird 292 V-8 rated for 175 hp—power from either was sent through a column-shifted three-speed manual. Two V-8 powerplants were optional, beginning with the Thunderbird 352 Special; its high-lift camshaft and 8.9:1 compression helped produce 220 hp. The other was the new-for-’61 Thunderbird 390 Special, which was essentially a fine-tuned 352 enlarged to 390-cu.in. Equipped with a true dual-exhaust system, higher 9.6:1 compression, and a Holley four-barrel carburetor, it made 300 hp.

A three-speed manual with overdrive was optional, as was the Ford-O-Matic two-speed automatic, available with all but the 390. So, too, was the Cruise-O-Matic “dual range” automatic, offered only against V-8 engines. Other options included power steering and brakes, A/C, radio, electric clock, hood ornament, spotlamp/mirror, and a power tailgate window.

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Which one of these four postwar woodie wagons would you choose for your dream garage? – Matt Litwin @Hemmings

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Back in the day, those seeking outdoor adventures may have called upon the station wagon as one means to lug their gear to their travel destination. So, let’s take a step further back in our latest edition of This or That by offering four dream garage options from the immediate postwar station wagon market, when such cars were still built with a healthy amount of lumber. Commonly called woodie wagons, they are among the few vintage cars that are icons of the industry and pop culture alike. Here’s a closer look at some that Detroit offered, all of which are currently available in the Hemmings classifieds.

1947 Chevy Woody Wagon, 350 crate engine, 330hp, power steering, AC/heat, 700R4 transmission, new paint, great driver, eye catcher, award winning car.

Let’s start with Chevrolet. Although the division began offering the all-steel Suburban Carryall in 1935, regular production woodie station wagons didn’t technically appear until 1939. We say ‘technically’ because wood-bodied wagons from Chevy had been available through its dealership network on a special-order basis, with bodies furnished by a number of independent suppliers, such as the Springfield Body Company and Hercules Products.

Like others, Chevrolet’s station wagon production were among the last models to be resumed after the end of World War II. Offered only on the upscale Fleetline series, just 804 were produced as 1946 models, but that number jumped to 4,912 units a year later, this 1947 Fleetline among them. Costing $1,893 new (or $22,626 today), it originally contained the division’s svelte 216.5-cu.in. six-cylinder, which was rated for 90 hp; however this stock-appearing “woodie” has been warmed up a bit with modern mechanical enhancements.

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A Rambler Rebel station wagon would make for a cool custom. Here’s how I’d build one – Daniel Strohl @Hemmings

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I’m a simple man with simple tastes. I like my action movies loud, my adult beverages cold, and my Ramblers to be a curious mid-century-styled blend of panache and performance with a specific mix of functionality and technology with select modern upgrades. I mean, you can’t really ask for much less than that, right?To keep from going stir crazy these last several months—and particularly since I messed up my shoulder—I’ve started going through all the boxes full of old stuff in the attic and basement. I came across my old models, which was great fun for a femtosecond, as well as a notebook full of ideas for classic cars as I felt they should have been built or as I would have built them had I a sugar momma and a garage that didn’t constantly get filled up with other projects.

Some of those ideas actually still hold up all these years later, which either meant that I had too much time to daydream the perfect setup when I was younger or that my daydreams really haven’t changed all that much.Take, for instance, my concept for a Rambler station wagon. I’ve always wanted a 1958-1960 full-/midsize Rambler wagon. Something about that stepped roof and reverse-slanted C-pillar appealed to me even before Nissan ripped it off for the WA60/JA60 Armada/QX56.

Sure, maybe it reduced total interior space by a cubic foot or so, and maybe it was just a way for American Motors to reduce tooling costs by sharing panels and interior structure between the sedans and wagons, but I still like it. That quad-headlamp front end always reminded me of the contemporary Chevrolets and Checkers, and while I don’t necessarily have anything against the flamboyant fins or wraparound windshield of the 1958 and 1959 models (and I wouldn’t kick one of those out of the garage for leaking oil), my preference lies with the toned-down winglets and conventional windshield of the 1960 models

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A Video History of the American Station Wagon – @MacsMotorCityGarage

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America knows Mo Rocca, the journalist, humorist, and actor. We first got to meet him as a regular correspondent for The Daily Show on Comedy Central and The Tonight Show on NBC, and listeners to National Public Radio are well-acquainted with his dry and playful wit as a panelist on the quiz show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Mo is a familiar face to kids as well, as the host of the The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation sketches on Saturday mornings on CBS.

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Burly Wood – 1948 GMC Highlander – Mike McNessor @Hemmings

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Wagonmasters, a full-length documentary film

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http://wagonmastersthemovie.com/

Station wagons were America’s “workhorses on wheels.” Today, they conjure images of outdated family photos, over-sized hairdos and unfashionable wooden siding. In 2011, Volvo – the leading premium wagon manufacturer – will discontinue the sale of its last wagon model in the United States.

There are some, however, who still cling to these vehicles and what they stand for in American culture. Wagonmasters, a full-length documentary film, offers glimpses into the lives of such wagon enthusiasts, and tells the story of the station wagon as it represents a changing America over the last one hundred years.

At its heart, Wagonmasters is a film about reconnecting with America’s past as one of its most memorable chapters comes to a close.

1962-Rambler-Ambassador-400-Station-Wagon