Station Wagons 101: Everything You Need To Know

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Ford created the first fully-enclosed station wagon in 1922. That original model used a wood panel design that would pop up several times over the next few decades.

The station wagon isn’t as popular as it once was but it’s still hard to beat the versatility and comfort of those vehicles. Let’s look at what you should know if you’re considering a wagon.

A Brief History of the Station Wagon

While Ford created the original station wagon in 1922, the vehicles hit their peak in the 1960s. That decade saw some of the best station wagons ever built.

Wagons were available in compact, mid-size, and full-size designs with two- or three-way, side-by-side, and liftback options. Oldsmobile and Buick took it up a notch with a glass-panel roof design that included a glass sunroof.

The fuel crisis of the 1970s hit station wagons hard. They were classified as cars for fuel mileage and emissions purposes, which made them harder to certify. The extra weight and less aerodynamic designs hurt their numbers.

The 80s and 90s saw stations wagons gradually get displaced by crossover vehicles and SUVs.

Famous Station Wagons

Station wagons have earned a place in pop culture over the last several decades. They’ve played a significant role in TV and movies over the years.

One of the most famous examples is the Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was an over-the-top design but wasn’t that far off from reality.

A 1971 Plymouth Satellite Regent wagon features prominently in several episodes of The Brady Bunch during its run in the early 1970s. Which makes sense since no other type of vehicle could realistically transport a family of 8 people.

While it played the part of a repurposed hearse, the Ecto 1 vehicle from the original Ghostbusters movies was built around a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor station wagon.

High-Performance Station Wagons

Wagons have a reputation as family vehicles and oversized “land barges” but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some tire-burners over the years.

The Dodge Magnum SRT8 offered HEMI power, Brembo brakes, and a factory-standard chopped roof. The combination made the Magnum a fast, cool-looking vehicle that was improbably practical.

The Mercedes-AMG E63 Wagon is another example of a station wagon that will surprise anyone it pulls up beside at a stoplight. It’s powered by a turbocharged V8 engine that generates over 600 horsepower. The combination puts it in the 3-second range for 0-to-60 mph times.

Collectible Wagons

Station wagons may not be the first type of vehicle that comes to mind when you think of collectible cars but there have been plenty of examples over the years. And as collectors start to recognize these vehicles, the prices have been going up.

It’s no longer unusual to see someone change license plate to “collector” plates on older wagons.

Ford Model T Depot Hack

The term station wagon comes from the forerunner to Ford’s first enclosed station wagon, the Ford Model T Depot Hack. These vehicles were modified versions of the Model T, with open seating in the rear. They were used to pick people and their luggage up from the train station, which is how the name was coined.

Ford/Mercury Marmon-Herrington

The Marmon-Herrington company, which made military vehicles, started converting Ford and Mercury wood panel station wagons to all-wheel drive in 1937. These were some of the first “off-road” vehicles available to the general public.

Chevrolet Nomad

The Nomad was only made from 1955 to 1957 but is still one of the most attractive station wagons of all time. One of the rarest models of Nomad came with Rochester fuel injection and a 4-speed manual transmission.

Modern Station Wagons

The lines have blurred between modern station wagons, SUVs, and crossover vehicles. They all share some common traits but there are still a few true station wagons on the market.

“Butch” Wagons and Crossovers

“Butch” wagons are models with more rugged designs and equipment that lets them head off the beaten path. They’re not a true off-road vehicle like a Jeep Wrangler or Ford Bronco but they can hold their own on rough terrain.

Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback was the first of its kind in this class of station wagon. When it was first released, it had a reputation for being strange-looking and awkward but the market has clearly caught up to it over the last couple of decades.

Audi A4 Allroad

If you’re looking for a higher-end rugged wagon, the Audi A4 Allroad is a good choice. It has all the creature comforts you would expect to find on a luxury car with the practicality that comes with a station wagon design.

Modern Station Wagons

North American car manufacturers have all but walked away from the station wagon market. Instead, they’ve focused on the crossover and SUV segment. The only true wagon design that still available from Detroit is the Buick Regal TourX.

The TourX is based on the Buick Regal sedan but with an extended rear to add an extra row of seats and much more storage.

European auto companies are still giving station wagons some attention though. BMW’s 3-Series Sports Wagon offers all the comfort and class of their 3-series sedans but adds more space behind the seats.

And the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon is their answer to the 3-Series.

What Does the Future Hold for the Station Wagon?

It’s hard to say if the station wagon is here to stay or if it will gradually get replaced by modern crossovers and SUVs. Besides, they offer most of the same benefits of a wagon so it’s just a matter of semantics anyway.

Be sure to check out the Facts and History section of our site for more fascinating information about cars.

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