Station Wagons: those massive conveyances that handled like trains and were as long as high school corridors. They came in colors like baby diaper brown, pea soup green, and old mustard, and were slathered in fake wood. During your summer journey across America, you saw the great landmarks and rolled uncontrollably in between stops in the back.
The back of a station wagon: a place compact enough to be your spaceship or roller coaster, yet large enough to swallow a family set of luggage and hide the occasional offspring. There were no seatbelts or head restraints. The jagged pieces of suspension could come protruding through thin metal and decorative plastic. Thirty gallons of flammable liquid splashed underneath an unsuspecting child as he or she bashed metal toys against a metal cargo floor. The occasional fishing boat hitched to the back provided nothing but body-impaling fun for little hands and torsos. It was possibly the most dangerous place ever created in the automotive industry…but it was so much fun to slide around inside.
There were other features worthy of mention. Gleaming chrome roof racks sat atop this behemoth like a crown for the king of the road. Many times they were just for esthetics, but were strong enough for the occasional bike, trunk or recently-bagged deer. Tailgates that opened like doors on a bank vault and weighed just as much. Turn the handle one way and they opened to the right, turn it another way and it folded down. It also provided a great view once the fully retractable glass disappeared inside.
Hoods as long as a Fiat 500, bodies as wide as a Hummer H2 and suspensions soft enough for a nap and could wallow enough to provide the trampoline affect as you crossed bumps in the road and railroad tracks. Where did these vehicles go? Why are generations of children being denied these fond memories while being strapped into seatbelts and hypnotized by infotainment wizardry?
Let’s not forget the names that conjured up images of discoverers blazing trails across uncharted lands or royalty surveying their manor. Vista Cruiser, Station Sedan, Ranch Wagon, Nomad, Turnpike Cruiser, Country Squire, Pioneer, Estate, Town & County, Colony Park or Grand Safari. Surprisingly, the list goes on.
Kids nowadays are cosseted in leather heated seats and soothed to sleep by sound systems with an inordinate amount of speakers. Do they stick their heads out of the windows for ventilation? No! They have fancy-schmancy rear seat climate control systems. Do they make out in the back with the radio playing? No! A vehicle with a third-row seat is not ideal for Look Out Point.
No naugahyde or fake wood for these poor, deprived children. The sit atop the world in mom’s SUV with carbon fiber accents and 20-inch wheels.
The few wagons left on the market are selling in small numbers. Subaru’s mighty Outback, Acura’s TSX Sport, Mercedes-Benz‘s E-Class wagon. Volvo XC70 wagon and V60 and Volkswagen’s Jetta Sportwagen cling to hopes in America, but thrive in Europe.
There are still faint glimpses here and there of the wagon on the U.S. market. The Buick Roadmaster Wagon, which died in 1996, was the last of the full-sized wagons. Ford finally gave up on its Focus wagon in 2008. Dodge tried it a few years ago to critical acclaim with the Magnum, a car that made wagons cool again…or maybe for the first time. The Ford Flex retains some of the box-on-top-of-a-box look of the Ford wagons of old with a modern flair.
Time has shown that kids don’t buy the cars their parents had until much later in life, where they are now achieving classic status on the auto auction circuit. The wagon generation was replaced by the minivan era. Will the family MDX share a similar fate? If they do, that would be a powerful new course for the market, one that, in the name of retro, could open the door for the station wagon’s triumphant return.
With rising fuel prices and all-terrain features being loaded into smaller packages, there is a case for a full reinstatement of the station wagon. In which case we must ask the age old question of the auto industry that children asked their parent while riding in the family wagon: “Are we there yet….again?”