Once relegated to gathering dust in grandpa's garage or being used as a parts car for another restoration, the lowly station wagon has finally begun to achieve stardom, with collectors earning the respect they deserve. Wagons have come along way from being the workhorse used to bring the family to grandma's house for that special Sunday dinner or to haul an entire gang of friends out for ice cream.
Thanks to Tim Cleary, president of the American Station Wagon Owners Association, about 40 vintage American station wagons converged at Oxford Lanes in Dearborn, Michigan in late July for the Telegraph Cruise. Cleary gathered the faithful from as far away as Wisconsin to keep the station wagon flame alive. His unofficial motto--Save the whales: Restore a station wagon.--was evidenced at the get-together by a good number of restored vehicles.
Perhaps the most unusual wagon at the cruise was Adrian Clements' 1967 Ford Country Squire. While Ford may have been the wagon master back in the Sixties, this version is one of a kind. It is equipped with bucket seats and the console from the high-line XL, with a 428 V8 mated to a four-speed top loader. The special-order car was approved for build by none other than Lee Iacocca when he was Ford's president. While the outside is in "as-found" condition, the monster 428 is fully detailed.
Some of the wagons at the show had been restored to the level of any high-end hot rod. Others, such as Cornell Anton's 1988 Chevy Caprice, were lovingly kept original. Anton's vehicle might have just rolled off the assembly line, in fact.
Some included modifications for speed and beauty, among them Bill Recker's 1964 Fairlane custom Ranch Wagon and Jim Morris' 1992 Oldsmobile Hurst/Hurse shown on the first page. Morris' wagon represents his vision of what Hurst Performance might have done with one of the last of GM's full-sized station wagons.
Most wagons at the show were from the Sixties to the early Eighties, a time when you could put up to 10 people in dad's car. Ford advertised that you could get two people into each of the two seats facing each other. But you'd better be skinny. The typical station wagon could easily handle eight. Large and comfortable, they floated down the highway riding on a body-on-frame design.
I find it difficult to imagine that Lee Iacocca--the same guy who brought us the stylish Mustang--was also responsible for the demise of the American station wagon when Chrysler introduced the minivan in 1984. The traditional wagon would not die so easily though. Ford and General Motors continued to produce station wagons on a smaller scale.
Station wagons are now making their comeback with a vengeance. Case in point is General Motors Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon. Considering the Cadillac's 556 horsepower on tap and available six-speed manual transmission, this writer's view of station wagons has been changed forever. --Joseph Babiasz
1978 Ford LTD Country Squire owned by Jeremy Page-Wood
1988 Chevrolet Caprice Classic owned by Cornell Anton
1964 Fairlane Custom Ranch Wagon owned by Bill Recker
1975 Dodge Coronet Crestwood owned by Mike Bonkowski
Postscript. If you're a baby boomer, you might remember this: the rear-facing third seat in Mike Bonkowski's Dodge Coronet Crestwood.