Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Early '60s Compact Wagons: Modernists Before Their Time

I like the cars of the early 1960's. And I like small cars. So it only makes sense that I like the 60-63 new compacts put out by the "big 3". My longtime favorite is the Corvair. The ultimate Corvair for me is a 62 Monza wagon. Yep, they made a wagon for two years. I'm not talking the Greenbriar van things, though I have fond memories, sorta. For '61, the Corrvair wagon was called the Lakewood. in '62, they called it the Monza, and put bucket seats in it. In '63, they called it a day, and introduced the convertible instead.

Those Corvair wagons were odd looking. The back of the car seems somewhat awkward, especially compared to their coupe brethren. The rear passenger doors seem huge, and the cargo area somewhat tall. I think this part of the design program must have been done by members of the Impala team. Maybe it was all to provide access to the engine sequestered under the cargo area. No 3rd row of seating here! But maybe there should have been a rumble seat up front! It would have been like those fiberglass motorboats, only even more unsafe!

But even still, they have a bit of grace, and a well restored one is quite delightful, as evidenced by this video.

Check out the four door sedan in the background, and how it's rear doors are actually cool in comparison!

Far more common, and I mean that in every sense of the word, are the Falcon wagons. But even these had some odd members of the family. There was the two door wagon, from which they built the Ranchero, or visa versa. And there was the Falcon Squire, complete with fake wood sides, and a list of upgrades inside and out, including a power window in the tailgate. In the interests of full disclosure, that pic of the blue Squire here is mine. Driving this baby around town gets looks, and it's great for running to the nursery to pick up plants when spring rolls around! There are some people who think it takes up too much space in the garage, but I disagree.

And then for sheer wierdness, look no further than the early Valiant wagons. Complete with Virgil Exner's trend setting body sculpting for the early '60s, the very first Valiants and Lancer wagons are now so rare that a search on Google comes up with just a few pictures from old "for sale" listings, and a mention on Wikipedia. By '63, the styling was toned down and the new models were easier to look at over time, meaning more seem to have survived. Meanwhile, Exner pretty much lost his job over the fact that the styling trends he put forth backfired. Other companies were cleaning up their styling. That, and he downsized the full sized models way too much right around the same time. Ooops.

Most of what Rambler was doing in their smaller cars at during this time was derived from the 50's cars and platforms, and were reminiscent of upturned claw-foot bath tubs. The Japanese were just getting going here, and if there is a wagon from this period, let me know! European imports were starting to take off, and the the only "wagon" I can think of would be the VW passenger van. The Morris Minor had a "woodie", but that was really seems like a 50's car. I am sure there were Holden wagons, or Vauxhalls, or some such thing. But these babies, while nice and surely idiosyncratic, are a bit outside of my world.

So, whats the point? These were practical little haulers. They are the same size as most sedans are now, and get about the same mileage. And with SUVs sales dropping like horse turds, it seems to me these cars are looking more modern all the time.

No comments: