Related: Most Iconic SUVs of All Time
Related: Most Iconic SUVs of All Time
It had wood doors and side panels when it was introduced. Its “magic doorgate” flipped down like a truck tailgate or swung open like a door. At 19 feet long and powered by V8 engines, the Country Squire was huge and sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year. But kids of its era are more likely to remember it for side-facing seats, a magnetic checkerboard, optional CB radio, and hidden rear cargo compartment. This is the wagon that introduced kids to “the wayback.”
This wasn't a car of its own, but Pontiac's designation for each of its wagons. The Star Chief, Astre, Bonneville, Catalina, Executive, Grand Ville, LeMans, Parisienne, 6000, Sunbird, and Tempest all got the Safari tag as wagons, but the Grand Safari built on the Bonneville and Grand Ville body was the most impressive — more than 19 feet long, with 5.5 feet of interior space from side to side, and weighing nearly 5,300 pounds at its peak, which would become its greatest drawback. “One of the bigger issues the wagon has versus the SUV is that when you get the passengers all sitting upright, you can shift the way things are arranged and fit a lot of cargo space in a relatively small footprint,” Kaufman says. “Wagons are usually longer vehicles, so people who live in cities will take up a smaller footprint with a small SUV.”
The Coronet, as a family sedan and wagon with brawny V8 engines — including a 7-liter Hemi and a 7.2-liner, 440-cubic-inch Magnum — was rolling hubris, built on the belief that even families deserved some muscle under the hood. Buyers approved, and none of Dodge's other muscle cars matched the sales of this beast. Its final post-oil-crisis incarnations, though, were as wood-paneled wagons and oversized, overpowered sedans.
Before automakers covered their station wagons in fake wood paneling, Chrysler had the first real “woodie,” with actual wooden doors and side panels. The Town & Country had evolved into a chromed-out wagon with tailgate and rear washer — and nearly 19 feet of length — by 1968 and got some fake wood paneling in the 1970s (also on its smaller “K-car” in the '80s). By 1990, however, it was a wood-paneled minivan, following families from one iconic vehicle to the next.
As a station wagon version of American Motors Corp.’s best-selling car and the first U.S.-made hatchback, the Sportabout used a liftgate-style hatchback instead of swing-out or fold-down tailgate. It would set a precedent for liftgates in modern SUVs.
If you got to grow up in one of these streamlined, finned, pink or teal beauties, you grew up with an inflated expectation of what a wagon could be. A two-door wagon at a time when that just didn't happen, the Commuter gave buyers a Lincoln V8 engine at a deep discount from the Lincoln brand. It was form over function, which is why it would become a four-door everyday wagon before its demise.
The Cutlass was introduced as a compact car, but had a wagon variant and edged its way slowly into family-car territory. Though the Vista Cruiser packed a V8 engine in certain models, the Cutlass Cruiser wagon was the first to take on the iconic grocery-getter look. The long Cutlasses of the 1970s and the shorter, more utilitarian Cutlass family of Cieras, Supremes, and Calaises would make the Cutlass a fixture in family driveways.
Much of the modern wagon market is firmly in the hands of luxury brands, but a Mercedes-Benz wagon was far more of a novelty in the U.S. when this version was released. With features such as anti-lock brakes, driver airbag, power windows, and a rear-facing rear row of seats, the 300TD started its life as a Cape Cod or Hamptons car. Now considered nearly indestructible, the 300TD has strong resale value among those who remember when wagons could be status symbols.
The Chevelle was the muscle car your grandmother could drive. Almost purposefully ugly and available with a big-block V8 engine, the Chevelle could haul either groceries or a load of cinder blocks and still beat sportier cars off the line. Though the wagon version was somewhat rare, it was available through the entire run and was a thrill for kids, parents, and grandparents alike.
Powered by a four-cylinder engine, this Jeep wagon was the first all-steel wagon. Jeep actually had to use a three-tone paint job to simulate the “woody” look, and that vehicle's faux wood grain, tailgate, and vast cargo space set the tone for all wagons to come. “Chrysler's PT Cruiser offered exterior wood, but it was fake, and the Lincoln Blackwood — their ill-fated luxury truck — also had exterior wood,” Kaufman says. “At the Chicago Auto Show, to celebrate 35 years of building minivans, Chrysler did bring out a first-generation Plymouth Voyager in gold with wood paneling. So just this year, I saw wood paneling on an auto-show floor.” While wood grain was lovely, the four-wheel drive added in 1949 was the first hint at Jeep's SUV future.
“Hangin' out! Down the street!” Alex Chilton and the cast of “That '70s Show” did more for the reputation of the Vista Cruiser than Oldsmobile itself. With optional rear-facing third-row seating, skylights, and a Rocket V8 engine, the Cruiser was a gem. It’s beyond us why Oldsmobile felt the need to sell it alongside at least three other wagons (a Cutlass, Custom Cruiser, and a Dynamic 88), not to mention pry out the skylights and slap on the fake wood paneling of every other wagon on the market.
At this point in Volvo's history, people drove them primarily for their safety. The 200 series had huge front and rear crumple zones, three-point seatbelts everywhere, and, in the early '90s, standard driver and anti-lock brakes standard. But the boxy exterior and cubic headlights, along with beveled headrests and crank-operated moon roofs, made an impression on many families and remain sought after to this day.
In the early days of the automobile, the station wagon was literally a car you took to get home from a train station, and it had a wooden box on the back to hold luggage. A “suburban” was for taking the same passengers and gear out to the homes farther from the city, and it was a wagon mounted onto a van or truck frame. Chevrolet invented several family cars in one stroke by debuting the Suburban in 1936; it's rolled into the modern day as an extended, truck-based SUV.
The Grand Safari “clamshell” design made its way onto the biggest versions of the Chevy Kingswood, Belair, and Caprice Estates; Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser; and Buick Estate — and so did a “glide-away” tailgate that glided away only if you exerted 35 pounds of pressure to lower it. Getting it back up was no dream, either. But having a tuck-away tailgate solved a problem that even SUV and minivan liftgates haven't figured out: How to you open your cargo door in a tight space, such as a closed garage? At a time wagon owners had smaller garages and actually had to parallel park these beasts on city streets, it was a question worth asking.
This vehicle now sells for an average of $92,900 because of what it was: a wood-sided sedan that made room for eight passengers with very few modifications. The chrome, leather, wood paneling, and glass on the interior are gorgeous, but it's the steel sub frame beneath the exterior wood that made them not only more durable than their wood-paneled counterparts, but easier to restore.
The Colony Park was a woodgrain-paneled wagon from its start as a somewhat snazzier version of Ford's Country Squire. It was ventilated all the way to the wayback, had covered headlights, and got a driver-side airbag and three-point seatbelts throughout as the years went on.
When you're a small automaker in Indiana with nothing to lose, putting a retractable roof over your wagon's cargo area is one way to stand out. With a General Motors V8 under the hood, the Wagonaire could lug items that would otherwise be too bulky to carry. Studebaker stopped producing cars in 1967, but the Wagonaire's spirit found its way into the GMC Envoy and its retractable roof in the early 2000s. It's also in just about every full-sized pickup today. “Full-size pickup trucks are becoming much more family-friendly vehicles,” Kaufman says. “Those are where you're seeing a ton of innovation in interior storage tricks, comfort features, and trick tailgates that could have built-in steps or multifunction tailgates.”
Most other automakers would take a successful vehicle brand and stick with it for decades at a time. Volvo's focus on safety made it a parental favorite until U.S. safety standards finally caught up, which is why we can understand a refresh each time they punch up the engine options, add all-wheel drive, or make multiple airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, side-impact protection, and whiplash-absorbing seat-back hinges standard.
Do you like going really slow in a dangerous automobile? Well, this wagon version of the Chevrolet Corvair not only ran on a sluggish 80-horsepower engine, but tossed that engine in the back of the vehicle like a Volkswagen Beetle. When consumer advocate Ralph Nader's book “Unsafe at Any Speed” pointed out that the vehicle's swing axle rear suspension made the Corvair unstable, it and its counterpart wagon were doomed.
We aren't talking about the huge, utilitarian Buick Estate wagons of the 1960s through the 1980s, but the big-grilled, wood-bodied wagons Buick made in the 1940s and '50s. This was back when Buick wasn't just yet another GM brand that needed a wagon, but a near-autonomous badge that could offer its own engines and designs to set itself apart. Wood panels weren't built for the long haul, which makes a childhood spent in one of these worth cherishing. Good luck finding an intact model today.
This isn't just a family car: It's a spinoff. Once simply the Subaru Legacy in wagon form and with a few more inches of ground clearance, the Outback became its own entity in 2000. It's also grown from 15.5 to 16 feet in length and looks like an SUV without actually being one. “Subaru saw Outback sales soar after it increased the vehicle’s ride height and overall size heading into the 2010 model year, and the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen and Audi A4 Allroad offer features like all-wheel drive and protective body cladding,” says Matt Smith, senior editor at CarGurus. “These details appeal to shoppers who might otherwise be interested in a crossover."
Is it a wagon or an SUV? That answer has changed over the years. Built on the same platform as the compact Impreza, the Forester began its life as a taller wagon. Its boxy frame became a familiar sight at farmers markets and on leaf-peeping vacations, but U.S. drivers' continued drift toward SUVs led Subaru to stretch the Forester from 14.6 feet to 15 feet, while increasing its wheelbase by nearly a foot. “Historically the station wagon was another family-friendly alternative to the minivan and provided more room than the traditional sedan,” Smith says. “As SUVs and crossovers gain interest among car shoppers, companies are seeing success by applying elements of those vehicles into their wagon options.”
The AMC Pacerhas a reputation for being ugly, but it was designed to be little with enough space inside to fit four people comfortably. The wagon version wasn't big — just 5 inches longer than the standard coupe — but it was an affordable point of entry that was easy on fuel mileage at a time most vehicles weren't. It got just four years on the road, but enough childhoods were spent in this car to make it a fixture in “Wayne's World” and the “Cars” films.
The minivan was already well-established in 1991, and SUVs were inching their way toward market dominance. General Motors saw a final chance to get in on the wagon market and went big, building this 18-foot battleship of a wagon on a Cadillac platform with a 5.7-liter, 300-horsepower V8 Corvette engine. With a second-row sunroof, woodgrain side panels, automatic climate control, the ability to pull 7,000 pounds, and an optional rear-facing third row of seats, the Roadmaster — and its lower-budget siblings, the Chevrolet Caprice wagon and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser — was a perfect wagon. It came too late.
Ford flopped with its first small car, the Pinto — which would explode in crashes. Based on a European model, the Escort was Ford's first front-wheel-drive model and its biggest step away frommuscle cars as well as the undersized Fiesta. It was somewhat more fuel efficient than other Fords, versatile (as a hatchback and wagon), and affordable, not to mention the first sign that U.S. automakers acknowledged the oil crisis of the 1970s and saw where the auto market was headed. Car buyers and their families were grateful.
This was simply a Taurus with an uglier grille and a lot of additional features no one asked for. But the Sable wagon seemed as ubiquitous as the Taurus version, and benefited from a V6 engine for hauling all 16 feet of families and their groceries, sports equipment, camping gear, and other items. It was one of the last dependable models from the wagon's twilight.
Ford basically had to rethink everything it knew about cars when its oversized LTD started getting outnumbered by Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. It gave the Taurus front-wheel drive, a rounded, streamlined shape, and did everything it could to increase fuel efficiency, as well as making the interior easy for a driver to feel their way around without getting distracted. The visionary moment didn't last. At the end of the '90s, Ford turned the Taurus into a giant oval and cheapened its features; by 2007, it was dead as a midsize and resurrected as a full-size, but sales plummeted. It was the last time it would base a wagon off an existing sedan or put rear-facing seats in the wayback. “I loved rear-facing seats,” Kaufman says. “When I was a kid, even if there was room in the car, if we were in a car with rear-facing seats, we'd be in the back making faces out the window at whatever car was behind us. You got to be in your own little world.”