Although the Roadmaster Estate Wagon was the least popular body style in Buick’s lineup, it introduced the station wagon as a category in the American car industry. Of course, there were numerous wagons before it, but they were all sedan delivery cars for commercial purposes. When they presented the Roadmaster Estate in the late ’40s, it changed the game. Suddenly, there was a fresh and interesting long roof they based on those luxury models. It came with a powerful engine, wood grain details, upscale equipment, and prestige.
This model showed that people carriers and station wagons can be cool, although few customers purchased this special model. They produced 80,000 standard Roadmasters in two and four-door variants per year. But they only built several hundred Roadmaster Estate Wagons. And that was not enough to make Buick any money, yet enough to start a trend.
The station wagons became popular during the ’50s as Americans adopted the suburban lifestyle. The outskirts of U.S. cities became construction sites for millions of homes for the newly formed middle class. And Detroit started constructed millions of cars for the same market. At the time, station wagons were reasonable propositions for young families with children. Chevrolet presented its famous Tri-Five models in 1955. But one of the most interesting new body styles was the Nomad, a three-door station wagon that was stylish yet practical. Chevrolet also produced a lot of regular four-door long roofs. The most interesting version of the Nomad was the Fuelie. It was a rare model with a fuel-injected V8 engine from Corvette which was the first muscle station wagon.
Combining practical body style with a fuel-injected 283 V8 small block engine, Chevrolet created a new market niche. The Nomad was a popular model for small business owners and families. However, with the addition of a 283 HP engine, it was fast and could outperform some sports cars of the day. The secret was the “Fuelie” engine that came directly from the 1957 Corvette. However, despite a great performance, this option wasn’t common. Customers looking for practicality avoided high-performance engines for cost reasons. And those street racers wanted something more appealing than a station wagon.
By the late ’50s, almost all the American manufacturers started producing station wagons across the range. With the rising popularity of this body style, car companies offered innovative details, equipment, and features to attract customers. So, those full-size models gained more luxury to add to the appeal. But one of the most interesting models from the period is the 1959 Chrysler Town and Country Wagon.
They built it on a full-size platform and powered it with an optional 413 Golden Lion V8 engine. Also, the Town and Country Wagon had an interesting seating configuration with third-row seats facing the tailgate. Chrysler called the rear-facing seats the “Observation Deck” and it had power sliding rear glass as an option. Features like this suggested that wagons were not only for family transport but for road trips to discover America’s newly built highways.
The essence of Chevrolet was always dependable and affordable cars for working people. Over the years, Chevy produced many barebones models as basic transportation for small business owners. And one of those models was the Yeoman. It was quite rare because they produced it as a one-year model only. The Yeoman was the baseline Chevrolet station wagon but in two and four-door versions. Basically, the Yeoman could get any Chevrolet engine like any other full-size model for 1958.
But the base power came from a standard straight six with 3.9-liters of displacement. However, since the Yeoman was a base model, the equipment level was low, so they only put two taillights on the back. Yet the Bel Air had four and the Impala had six. And that was how you could distinguish them on the street. Chevrolet made almost 190,000 station wagons that year but only 16,000 Yeomans. This resulted in the cancellation of the model. This means that the Yeoman is not only forgotten but rare today.
When Ford saw that compact cars, both domestic and imported, were getting an increasingly bigger market share, they changed their stand on small vehicles. So, in 1960, they introduced the Falcon. In those days, Ford was nervous about presenting a new model in a new class since the Edsel debacle, which was painful for their accountants. However, the strong backing from Ford’s top managers gave the Falcon project the green light. The immediate success and strong sales proved that Ford hit a home run with the compact yet roomy Falcon. However, the car was nothing special or innovative in terms of design or technology. It had unibody construction, a leaf spring suspension in the back, drum brakes, and a standard three-speed manual transmission. The secret of the Falcon’s success was its affordability.
Also, it came with a long list of options. Even though the standard model only had a 2.4-liter 90 HP engine, customers could get the bigger six-cylinder or the 260 V8. And the Falcon was available in several body styles including convertible, sedan delivery, and a three or five-door station wagon, broadening its appeal. Like the Chevrolet Corvair, the Falcon Wagon was one of the first compact station wagons that were popular with economy-oriented buyers. This was because it provided lots of space and usability to young families.
Chevrolet always battled Ford in the full-size sedan market. So, in 1962 they took a gamble by introducing an elegant generation of the Impala that was different than the design standards of the day. The 1962 to 1964 Impala had a restrained, elegant style with straight lines. Yet it still kept the signature six tail lights in the back and four headlights in the front. Chevrolet wanted to dominate the lucrative full-size sedan market, so they equipped the Impala with everything they had. The new model featured five body styles and six engines including six and eight-cylinder units. Also, it came with three transmission choices and a long list of optional equipment. But it had one influential and innovative version in the Impala SS.
However, the station wagon was popular in the Impala and Bel Air trim levels. They featured a lot of space, modern features, and cool styling. Even today, the 1962 to 64 Impala is a popular car since they produced it in large quantities. In fact, most people consider it to be one of the best generations of the Impala ever. During its three-year span, the design endured some subtle changes. However, this didn’t affect the elegance and classic proportions of this timeless model.
Ford’s luxury 1966 Country Squire station wagon was the perfect example of a muscle car disguised as a family long roof. To an average person, this car looked like a big, old station wagon that could haul nine people, carry a lot of cargo, and cruise highways. But to experienced car enthusiasts, just one glance under the hood revealed the true nature of this car.
For 1966 and 1967, Ford offered the 428 V8 engine as an option on its station wagon model lineup. The 428 V8 in question was not the famed Cobra Jet, but the engine from the Thunderbird with 345 underrated horsepower. So, with over 460 lb-ft of torque, the Country Squire could go fast, despite the size and weight.
The classic Chevrolet station wagon lineup was complicated. They had different trim levels with different names and different body styles with different engines. So most customers couldn’t figure things out without the help of a brochure or a dealer. And that is why there are several forgotten station wagons because people just couldn’t remember them all. One of those models is the Kingswood. Sitting on the top of the wagon range, they produced the Kingswood in 1959 and 1960, and again from 1969 to 1972.
Interestingly, those models were the most expensive ones. Also, they were the biggest Chevrolet wagons with powerful engines and a long list of creature comforts. However, the most interesting are the late ’60s models that featured unbelievable specs. You could order the Kingswood with a lush wood grain trim, chrome luggage carriers, and heavy-duty components. Also, it came with full big-block power. In fact, the 427 and 454 V8 powered wagons were almost as fast as most muscle cars, yet they could seat up to nine people.
General Motors produced the Vista Cruiser from 1964 to 1977, and it was their bestselling, most popular station wagon. It is also one of the models that perfectly describes suburban America in the ’60s and ’70s. The Vista Cruisers were all large and could seat up to nine people. Also, they always came with V8 engines. In the ’70s, Vistas had a long list of optional extras like wood grain trim and the Clamshell tailgate.
The Clamshell tailgate was GM’s patent they used on all the big station wagons of the early ’70s. This included Chevrolet, Buick, Pontiac, and of course, Oldsmobile. This type of tailgate was a power-operated system that would slide the tailgate into the trunk floor. Such a design created unrestricted access to the luggage compartment. Along with the powerful engines and cool styling, the Clamshell tailgate was one of the most popular features of the Vista Cruiser.
The station wagon popularity started to drop in the late ’70s along with the economic recession and fuel crisis. The big, thirsty long roofs weren’t rational transportation anymore because buyers wanted smaller cars or foreign models. However, one of the models that retained its fan base was the Caprice Wagon. And Chevy produced it from 1977 to 1990 with minimal changes. The Caprice Wagon was one of the last classic, boxy American station wagons that featured room for nine passengers.
It came with simple but durable mechanics and with numerous extras. Despite the minivans of the early ’80s and their rising popularity, better fuel efficiency, and price, the Caprice Wagon kept on selling. It became one of the symbols of the ’80s American suburbia lifestyle, along with Chrysler’s K-Cars and the Ford Mustang.
The legendary Roadmaster name returned to the Buick lineup in 1991 after a 33-year long hiatus. And this wagon graced their freshly styled luxurious sedans and station wagon models. The car was basically the same as other offerings from General Motors in the same class. However, the Roadmaster had some more luxury options and one interesting engine, turning this comfy cruiser into a muscle car.
However, the Buick engineers found a way to install a Corvette LT1 5.7-liter V8 engine into the Roadmaster’s engine bay. The LT1 had 300 HP in the Corvette, and in the Buick, it had 260 HP. And this was more enough to turn this heavy wagon into a proper hot rod. Despite the curb weight of over 4,400 pounds, this car could outrun most muscle cars of the day.
For years, Cadillac was without a proper performance series to compete with BMW or Mercedes. But finally, the V-Series was born. It was all that Cadillac lovers dreamed of with its powerful engines and world-class handling. With its suspension setup and exclusive production, the competitors took notice when Cadillac rolled out their new V-Series models. Arguably the most successful was the second-generation CTS-V model they produced between 2008 and 2014. Under the hood was a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 556 HP, making the CTS-V the most powerful performance sedan on the market. The suspension and the rest of the drivetrain were advanced and up to the task.
Most car fans considered the CTS-V the full package and one of the best cars available. Cadillac produced three body styles. So the CTS-V came as a sedan, a coupe, and interestingly, as a wagon, too. The rarest of the three was the CTS-V Wagon, which shared all mechanic components with the rest of the V-Series models. However, the wagon body style was something Cadillac buyers didn’t expect. The car was still a blast to drive and extremely fast, but most customers preferred sedans or coupes. In fact, some buyers weren’t aware the wagon existed. And that is why the CTS-V Wagon is rare, but somewhat of a forgotten model and a definitive future collectible.
The Chrysler 300 C is probably the last true boxy-looking American sedan with big V8 power and a chrome grille. But, it is a successful model that has been on the market for almost 15 years. During that time, Chrysler produced numerous variants and versions, but one especially interesting model is the mighty SRT-8 Touring. A competitor to the BMW M5 or Mercedes E-Class AMG, the 300C Touring was the performance station wagon version of the 300C sedan. With a 6.1-liter V8 Hemi engine pumping out 425 HP and a glorious soundtrack coming from the twin tailpipes, the SRT-8 was a fast and capable long roof. The 0 to 60 mph sprint took around 4.9 seconds and its top speed was over 170 mph.
Unfortunately for Chrysler, the recession that shocked the car industry in 2010 killed the SRT-8 Touring and lots of other performance models. But fortunately, an SRT-8 costs approximately $10,000 today, which is a steal. Not only you will get a classic American muscle wagon with all modern luxury features, but you’ll also get timeless styling. Plus it has the legendary Hemi V8 and 425 galloping horses to power it. Moreover, if you don’t like Chrysler’s design, you can always opt for the Dodge Magnum SRT8. It is basically the same car but with a Dodge front end.
The Colony Park was a line of luxury full-size station wagons the Mercury division produced from 1957 to 1991 in six different generations. This was the perfect car for suburban America, fulfilling the need for big, comfy cruisers.
The best generation was between 1969 and 1978 featuring the biggest models with engines ranging from 351 to 460 V8. In those days, the Colony Park had hidden front lights, wood grain panels on the side, and a long list of optional extras. And most car enthusiasts considered the Colony Park as the Lincoln among station wagons.
In the mid-70s, station wagons were limited to suburban families and small businesses. But the Cadillac marketing team thought it would be cool to offer a super-luxury long roof. They based it on their biggest and most expensive model, the Fleetwood, and cash in on the extravagant body style and unusual combination.
They named the finished product the Castilian. It was a massive station wagon they built on Cadillac’s biggest platform, which they equipped with their biggest 500 CID V8 engine. Customers could order those limited production models through a Cadillac dealer. However, CoachWorks LTD built and delivered them to their customers.
In the late ’50s, Chevrolet presented the Corvair, a revolutionary compact car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled, flat-six engine. This was a big step for Chevrolet since Corvairs were the total opposite of other cars from the company. They featured a different concept, technology, and design.
Chevrolet presented the Corvair in few different body styles, but one of the most popular was the station wagon. It wowed customers with its big front trunk and room for six passengers, It even had some respectable space in the back.
Always flirting with bankruptcy, AMC was forced to explore the limits of conventional car classes and present new concepts to stay profitable. And one of those experiments was the Eagle. It was a passenger car with Jeep-derived all-wheel drive and great off-road capabilities in the form of a wagon.
The result was a surprisingly capable vehicle with the comfort and luxury of a sedan. Yet it had compact dimensions and relatively low weight, giving it great off-road characteristics. The Eagle was one of the first crossover models in the world. It is only today you can see how important and influential this car was for automotive history.
For decades, Studebaker was a popular economy car choice, but after World War II, things started to change. In fact, the popularity of the company started to fade, and eventually, the “Stude” was forced to close its doors in 1966. But before that, the company produced one interesting wagon.
The Studebaker Lark Wagon was a compact economy model with cute styling and a wide arrange of engines. Today, people have forgotten the Lark. However, not only was it one of the first compact cars from a domestic car company, it was one of the most successful cars for a while. It also had a unique sliding roof.
One of the coolest American station wagons is definitely the late ’50s Pontiac Bonneville Safari. Interestingly, Pontiac always named its long roof models “Safari” and made them special compared to other similar GM products. One of the things that made the 1959 Bonneville Safari so desirable is the 389 V8 with 300 HP. It transformed this family cruiser into a proper station wagon muscle car.
These family cruisers are the 20 best American station wagons they ever made. If you’re looking for a comfy and spacious vehicle, one of these will fill the bill. Some are classics while others have been lost in automotive history, but they all made their mark.