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Model history of station wagons in the USA and Europe: The pleasure of trucks

Model history of station wagons in the USA and in Europe
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D thanks to a variable interior and a large tailgate a station wagon can optionally transport people and bulky goods. Or both together.

The station wagons were once pure workhorses - today they are part of the lifestyle

Of course, dogs, and sometimes children, are also allowed in the back. Despite these advantages, no manufacturer simply called or calls their station wagon a station wagon. Traditionally, the practical all-rounders are sold as a piece of joie de vivre and leisure culture. Their names sound correspondingly auspicious - regardless of which era they come from: Audi A3 Sportback, BMW 320i Touring, Ford Granada Tournament, Austin Mini Countryman, Renault 21 Nevada, Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser or Fiat 131 Panorama. There was even an Alfa Romeo 33 Giardinetta, in German 'Gartenwägelchen'.
In the USA, a station wagon is a station wagon

The Americans, on the other hand, have always referred to a station wagon as a station wagon or simply wagon, which would have landed us at the beginning of the station wagon. These early, motorized 'train station wagons' were used in the USA in the early 1920s to transport people and luggage from the train station home or to the hotel. For this purpose, larger rolling chassis, which were already fitted with a hood, radiator, bulkhead and windshield, were given a four-door wooden structure with a solid fabric roof. The passengers simply heaved their luggage over the side wall of the rear overhang into the cargo space behind the rear seat bench. In 1928, Ford delivered a factory-assembled 'Station Wagon' for the Model A for the first time. This tradition of timber framing remained alive for US station wagons until the early 1950s. Although at that time it would have been technically possible to design the entire station wagon body with sheet steel, the four-door 'Woodie' style remained practically mandatory.

The heyday of the large US station wagon began at the beginning of the 1970s

After the one and two-wing variants, the horizontally divided rear door came in the mid-forties, whose window and frame opened upwards and the lower body part opened as a loading area extension downwards. The Woodie boom was particularly pronounced at Chrysler: The town-and-country models built until 1950 were also available as sedans, coupés and even two-door convertibles. However, with the advent of the tail fins andthe rocket look in the mid-50s, the woodies disappeared. Sure: you didn't want to travel to the moon in a wooden box.

A new solution was found for the 'tailgate' - the rear door - that was valid until the early sixties: the windshield, cranked by hand or electrically driven, disappeared into the body flap that opened downwards. Of course, there were no station wagons to buy from the luxury brands: Cadillac, Hudson, Imperial, La Salle and Lincoln did not expect their wealthy owners to stay in the car with luggage or servants together. At the beginning of the 1970s, the heyday of the large US station wagon, which now bore the elegant designation Estate - in German 'Landgut' or 'Grundbesitz'.

The family vans of the full-size series such as Chevrolet Impala, Ford LTD , Mercury Montego or Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser easily exceeded the 5.4-meter mark, but offered space for six adults and two by two children on the longitudinal side benches in the rear. The new 'Two-Way-Tailgate', which can be opened downwards (with a sunk window) and now alternately as a door hinged on the left, facilitates access to the rear compartment. Huge V8 engines with a capacity of up to seven liters allowed effortless progress with dramatically high gasoline consumption. But then came the mini vans. The front-wheel drive, fuel-efficient minibuses Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, introduced in 1983, turned the good old estate wagons into monstrous fuel guzzlers that were gradually thrown out of the sales programs.

The classic station wagon is dead

Today, the classic station wagon is dead in the States after fat SUVs replaced mini vans. Quite different in Europe, where the station wagon has had a dream career over the past ten years. For certain models like the VW Passat and even the Alfa Romeo 159, more buyers opted for the station wagon than for the sedan. Every European and many Asian high-volume manufacturers offer station wagons in almost all vehicle segments - the only exceptions are small and luxury cars. But that was not always so. And in contrast to the USA, where the Station Wagon appeared as a large four-door model from the start, in Europe they also baked extremely small combi-rolls.

The Lloyd LS 300 Kombi from 1951 had a two-cylinder two-stroke engine with 10 hp and carried the fur inside, so to speak: The tiny 3.2 meter long and 1.3 meter narrow was actually a real Woodie, his Plywood shells, however, were covered with synthetic leather. He did not drive alone through war-torn Europe, because almost every small car from the Morris Minor to the Fiat 500 C was also available as a tiny station wagon with a one-piece rear door hinged on the left or right. Larger and therefore family-friendly station wagons followed the dwarves: Opel presented the first caravan based on the Olympia Rekord in 1953, Ford with theTaunus 12 m also got a two-door station wagon in the same year. Thanks to their American mothers, Opel and Ford were among the great station wagon pioneers in Germany. But original German brands like Borgward, DKW and Glas also had at least one station wagon in their range.

Post-war station wagons served as indestructible workhorses

Only Volkswagen needed a certain start-up time. The first station wagon was simply called VW Variant and went on sale in 1962 - with a rear-engined engine, of course - as a derivative of the new 1500/1600 pontoon sedan. Almost all post-war station wagons served as indestructible workhorses of the European economic miracle. Almost every manufacturer therefore had, in addition to the fully equipped family variant, the offshoot of a delivery van without a rear bench and in some cases without rear side windows.

France, England and Sweden also turned out to be lively combined nations. With the Citroën 11 CV Commerciale from 1938, whose rounded limousine rear could be loaded through a horizontally split rear door, the French created the ancestor of all European station wagons. It was followed in 1958 by the revolutionary ID 19 Break - with four doors and again a horizontally divided rear door. The Familiale version was optionally available with three folding seats, which were placed in front of the rear seat that was moved to the rear. The DS /ID successor, the CX, introduced in 1974, could also be ordered as a familial with a third row of seats in the huge load compartment.

In Sweden station wagons were standard after the war

Peugeot was already in 1955 with the 403 Break the station wagon music, the body design of which came from Pininfarina together with the limousine. It could be ordered with a third row of seats in the trunk as well as the successor models 404, 504 and 505. Renault tried to keep up with the Frégate Domaine Manoir from 1956 in the wagon success of the two rivals. However, in 1961 he found a significantly smaller, but all the more shrewd successor in the Renault 4. As a four-door mini-station wagon with a low loading sill and easily removable rear seat, it remained a sympathetic one-of-a-kind until 1992.

In Sweden, after the war, station wagons were the rule from the beginning. Saab and Volvo quickly added practical hatchback station wagons to their rounded sedans, as the Volvo PV 445 Duett from 1953 or the Saab 95 from 1959, which was even designed as a seven-seater in American fashion. The backbenchers sat opposite to the direction of travel and were thus able to observe perfectly how the fully occupied station wagon with its 38 two-stroke hp plowed quickly through the powder snow. The station wagon was once popular in England too - but only with the popular brands.

No series station wagons from premium manufacturers

Similar to BMW and Mercedes in Germany and Alfa Romeo and LanciaIn Italy, some (premium) manufacturers did not want to build any series station wagons until the beginning of the 80s. Bentley and Rolls-Royce - that makes sense - but also Daimler, MG, Jaguar and Rover persistently refused their sedans the practical tailgate. Austin, Ford, Humber, Singer, Vauxhall and others, on the other hand, always had one or more estates in their program that could not prevent the decline of the British auto industry. Today, the station wagon is more popular and respected than ever in Germany, despite numerous van and SUV alternatives. One more reason, as a collector of classics, not only to be interested in capricious sports cars, convertibles and coupés, but also to bravely taste the dry bread from the early years.


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