HD Holden Premier wagon. The artists rendering makes it look bigger than it really was. (1)

Station wagons: the long goodbye

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The station wagon seems to be a thing of the past…

Remember station wagons? They used to be everywhere. That was until the world discovered the delights of big, wide and high SUVs.In the 60s and early 70s every second family seemed to own a wagon. The choice was mostly limited to the holy trinity: Holden, Ford or Valiant.

Some adventurous types tried a Vanguard Spacemaster or Austin Freeway.

The EH wagon . . . Australia's most popular classic.

The EH wagon . . . Australia’s most popular classic.

HD Wagon

A photo dated June 1962 of the clay rendering of the HD wagon.

One of my aunts bought an HD Holden wagon off the showroom floor the week they were released in February 1965. It was a Special with a white exterior and bright red interior.

The steering wheel was coloured coded to the interior. In 1965 this was way cool.

She drove it around to our place and parked it beside our grey EH sedan. Neighbours poured out of their houses to ogle its long, low look and blade front mudguards.

Man,that EH looked so out of date – so 1963.

The HD sedan and wagon were styled by American Leo Pruneau, at GM’s global design studios in Detroit. Leo later became design boss of Holden.

Wagons are not big sellers these days. Cross-overs and SUVs have taken over.

But, on the classic car scene, wagons are starting to attract buyer attention.

The hot items in the US are the four door pillarless hardtop wagons made by American Motors, Chrysler, Mercury, Buick and Oldsmobile – from 1956 through to 1964.

When new, these wagons were always priced at the top of the range and loaded with luxury accessories.

Park one in your driveway and it signalled your neighbours that you could afford elegant style and suburban practicality in one package.

These were the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7s of their day.

These days the most sort after of these luxo barges is the 1957 Buick. With 300 horsepower V8s, these boulevard cruisers boasted a massive 2.6 meters of load space with the rears seats folded down.

The hardtop styling was elegant with just three slim chromed pillars supporting a roof so large that you could have landed a light aircraft on its metal expanse. Mind you, the four door pillarless design meant that structural robustness was somewhat compromised.

They did rattle, twist and shake, even when new. Just over 10,000 were sold and many succumbed to structural failure, which is why they are so rare now.

Mercury Wagon

1959 Mercury wagon.

1957 Buick wagon.

1957 Buick wagon.

 

In Australia the most popular wagon for collectors and restorers is the EH Holden and the rarest, the wood panelled Falcon Squire.

The Squire is in a class of its own. Who can forget them, what with all that fake wood glued to the sides, in an attempt to replicate the “woodies” from the late 1940s.

They were the top of the range Falcons boasting deep pile carpet and a power tailgate, but buyers did not like the overt American styling gimmicks and stayed away in droves.

However, as is the way with so many cars which were unloved when new, they now command prices beyond $30,000.

I’ve even heard of some folk building Squire tribute wagons. That’s a bridge too far – even for me.

My local favourite is the 1974 Falcon wagon.

This was no small automobile. Sitting on the Failane’s 116 inch wheelbase (2947mm if you are into metric) and with front end styling lifted directly from the Mustang, it is a must have classic.

If you discover a Fairmont automatic with the 5.8 litre (351 cubic inch) V8 and the dual action tailgate, you will have found a retro car worthwhile keeping.

David Burrell is the editor of Retroautos.com.au

A newspaper advertisement for our "Woody" the Falcon Squire wagon

A newspaper advertisement for our “Woody” the Falcon Squire.

 



David Burrell is the founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. David has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. Prior to starting the magazine, David worked as an international executive in a Fortune 500 company, in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.


  • Doug Mullett

    Currently owning an SUV (well, a PRADO), our old EH wagon had better loadspace as we slept in the back on a mattress which doesn’t fit into the PRADO.
    I’d give a lot to get my EH sedan back, but it was crushed after being traded in. Rugged, comfortable for its time, it went more places than I’m prepared to take the PRADO. And EHs floated, so if you got caught in water (not a flowing river, of course), you just climbed out the window and pushed it to the other side. Toranas didn’t float as well.