Why You Should Buy a Classic Station Wagon

Most Americans over the age of 40 grew up waging hell in the backseat of a station wagon. Most of those station wagons were Buicks, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, and Mercurys. Some might have even been Pontiacs.  Here’s why they could turn into the next collector cars.  Those Americans who grew up turning the backseat into a war zone fondly remember them.  That same generation fondly remembers the Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Firebirds (the one with the “screaming chicken” on the hood), so they buy them.  Station wagons from the 1970s and 1980s are now being bought more.  Prices are going up for these massive beasts.

The collector car market is going crazy right now.  People have more money to spend, and they want to enjoy an older car with their family.  They tend to buy cars that they remember fondly.  That’s why Chevy Blazers, “screaming chicken” Firebirds, and station wagons are starting to creep up in price.  Now is the time to buy them.

For all those people who say that station wagons are dorky and stupid, here’s a response:  station wagons have as much, if not more utility than most modern crossovers, and some SUVs, look better, and are far more fuel efficient.

Some station wagons are already highly sought-after collector cars.  They include the Chevrolet Nomad, antique woodies, and high-performance Pontiacs from the 1960s. However, there are still plenty of station wagons that can be enjoyed.  Here are some classic, and new wagons that you should consider buying.

  • 1991 Audi 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant:  There is no point in going into the details of the 1986 60 Minutes debacle that came close to killing Audi.  There were some good cars that came out in the company’s darkest days, and one of them is the marvelous 1991 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant.  This one-year-only package is incredibly rare.  Only 1,000 four-door sedans and about 200 station wagons got this package, and it was standard equipment on the two-door hatchback.  It’s a close cousin to the 1986 sedans that Audi used to dominate SCCA Trans-Am racing.  The twin-cam, 20-valve engine has five cylinders and goes through a five-speed manual to all four BBS wheels.  Maintenance is going to be a wee bit tricky, but enjoying this car won’t.
  • 1950-1991 Ford Country Squire:  This behemoth of a station wagon is what many Americans grew up in.  Early Country Squires are the expensive, sought-after woodies from the early 1950s.  Avoid them unless you have serious money and plans to upgrade just about everything on them.  However, starting in 1960, the Country Squire became the familiar family hauler.  They’ve covered millions of miles, millions of Americans remember them fondly, and they have starred in multiple movies.  They came with a Ford small-block V-8 (usually the 351 Windsor V-8 found in most Fords of the 1970s through the 1990s) and a mushy automatic transmission.  If you get a pre-1976 model in California, you can upgrade it to make the ultimate family hauler.  Just put in a modern Ford Coyote motor (the same engine as the Mustang), a Ford T-5 five-speed manual transmission, and some better suspension pieces and you’ll have the ultimate road trip/family hauler.  They are fairly reliable cars to begin with, and Ford made a lot of them, so finding one isn’t the challenge of the century like the Audi mentioned above.
  • Volvo V60 Polestar:  OK, who wouldn’t want a 345-horsepower station wagon that looks really cool?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.  While a mere 120 cars scheduled to come to the US over this summer isn’t a lot, it’s enough to make it a true collector car.  It’s a fast car, and Volvo has a rich history of deceptively fast station wagons.  It looks really cool with the big wheels, low-profile tires, blue paint, and it’s somewhat-bulbous styling.  Get one while you can, and enjoy it!  This is a car that’s meant to be driven, so drive the wheels off of it.
  • Saab 9-2X:  Why buy a re-badged Subaru WRX because GM said so?  Because it’s a more comfortable, tame early Subaru WRX.  For Saab faithful, it was too Subaru, even though it wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as the 9-7X “Trollbazer” which was just a Chevrolet Trailblazer with different wheels and badges.  For the rest of us automotive folks, it’s a more refined version of the spunky Subaru WRX.  Unlike the WRX, it doesn’t turn the wheels 90 degrees when you floor it.  Unlike other Saabs, you can get same-day service on it by simply going to a Subaru dealer.  It’s a far better car than the sales charts show.  Owners love it, and others snap them up.  They aren’t very big, and are more of a hatchback than a station wagon, but they are fun, reliable little cars that can really take a beating.  That’s something that most other Saabs can’t claim.
  • Morris Minor Traveller:  This cute little station wagon is based off of the popular Morris Minor.  Sir Alec Issigonis started his automotive success career with this car. The Morris Minor coupe and convertible debuted in 1948, and the Traveller station wagon followed suit in 1953.  It came to our shores through 1967. When other station wagons were ditching real wood for fiberglass and vinyl, the Traveller had real ash wood from the tailgate all the way to the B-pillars.  Not only does it look great, but it’s also the superstructure for the back half of the car.  That means you’ll have to sand and re-varnish periodically, but that’s going to be the extent of your automotive woes with this car.  Parts are cheap and easily sourced, and it’s an incredibly reliable car.  Not something you can say about most British cars.
  • Buick Roadmaster/Chevy Caprice:  Yes, they may have been the final gasp of GM’s RWD land barges, but who doesn’t want something that seats eight people, has a (slightly detuned) Corvette engine, and is gigantic?  These behemoths were the final iterations of the big American station wagons that so many Americans grew up in. They are still available and cheap for us to thrash around and haul kids around with.  You don’t need to do much to unlock the true potential of these engines – you just get the Corvette’s ECU, as the engines in these cars were the same as the Corvette’s LT1.
  • Cadillac CTS-V:  OK, most of us would LOVE to own a 556-horsepower station wagon that comes with a six-speed manual.  Look no further than the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V wagon.  I know that this implies that there is another one coming, which we can only hope for, but this is probably the ultimate family burnout/drift/autocross/trackday/hoonmobile.  Period.  My friend Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend had one as a long-term car for a year, and I’m still feeling the pangs of jealousy.  It has a detuned Corvette engine, but 556 horsepower is still plenty to rage through the quarter mile.  It would make the ultimate backup car for your local autocross/track day, and it would be a fun daily driver to boot.

I’m sure that many of my readers have some fun memories of being in station wagons as kids…let’s here them!

 

 

1991 Audi 200 Avant

 

1967 Ford Country SquireVolvo V60 PolestarSaab 9-2XMorris Minor Traveller1992 Buick Roadmaster WagonChevy Caprice WagonCadillac CTS-V Wagon Drifting

Does the New 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 Have What it Takes to Rule It’s Class?

Let me know in the comments section if you think that the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 can become the car that can rule the uber-luxury class.  I think it can, but then again, Mercedes usually does!

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class can sometimes go seven or eight years beforeinstituing a major refresh, redesign, or mechanical overhaul.  But, it usually leads in terms of sales and looks.  The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class upholds that tradition, and it will likely be sold in droves – for a while.  Then, all of the competing automakers will make newer, nicer, and possibly better cars.  This segment is competitive.  Currently, the S-Class, Lexus LS460, and Cadillac XTS are the segment sales leaders.  The S-Class is likely to blow all of it’s competitors out of the water.  It is just that good.

It is loaded with features that will make your jaw drop.  This car isn’t yet another ordinary businessperson special with a cave-like interior.  It will drive itself.  Really, it will!  It won’t drive itself completely, but it is semi-autonomous!  It uses stereo cameras to guide it along the road.  The name is awesome, as well:  Traffic Jam Assist.  No, it won’t send all of the rubberneckers to the grave.  Only their own stupidity will do that.   To activate this marvelous system, simply hold the brake pedal down while stationary, flick the Distronic (MBZ speak for cruise control) lever down, and give it gas.  It will take you up to 37 mph.  The cruise control is then set for up to 37 mph.  It will follow the car ahead of you simply, smartly, and efficiently.  It will do that until your speed increases or you take control of the steering wheel and pedals.  Above 37 mph, it will still guide itself.  Kind of.  It will handle itself up to 125 mph, and it can bring itself to a complete stop at any speed if need be.  Those stereo cameras are also able to read the lines in the road, and keep the plump S-Class in between those lines without any driver input.  Above 37 mph, if you keep your hands off of the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds, then a loud BEEEEEP will sound, along with a flashing graphic instruction, until you place your hands on the wheel.  But, that’s just Mercedes-Benz’s lawyers telling you to be a good driver.  As long as you don’t take the S550 on any places where there aren’t any lines in the road (i.e. tracks and gravel roads), this car will take a person places where he/she has never gone before, all by itself.

There’s other zany technology stuffed into this car.  Take the badly named Magic Body Control that is an optional active suspension feature.  If you choose to order this, then the four-wheel air suspension goes away, and is replaced by oil-over-coil shocks.  The “magic” part of that is that those same stereo cameras scan the road ahead to see if there is a pothole, a speed bump, or some roadkill.  Given the right situation, the Magic Body Control is effective in a way that is quite simply effective, in a spooky sort of way.  The result is one of the smoothest rides out there, this side of a Citroen or an old Buick Roadmaster.  When you put the car in “Sport” mode, Magic Body Control is switched off, so you can hurtle around curves and crash and bang over the smallest road imperfections.  But, that’s what makes the car so enjoyable to drive.

In the unlikely event that you will be in an accident, you will survive just about any crash.  For those of you riding in the backseat (the place to be), there are inflatable seat belts.   When the rear door is opened, the seat belt buckle receiver visibly rises.  This is probably because most customers (think China) don’t wear their seat belts in the back seat.  Once they buckle up for safety, the buckle will retract a few inches into the seat, therefore cinching the seat belt across their hips so they do not slide under the seat belt in a crash.  Speaking of accidents, there’s a feature that will make any safety-conscious parent happy.  It’s called Pre-Safe Plus.  It actively and automatically prepares the car for a rear-end collision.  What the car does when it’s about to be rear-ended (it has seven rear-facing cameras), it tightens all of the seatbelts (even if they’re not in use), applies the brakes completely, and, BAM.  Applying the brakes for a full-ABS stop seems counter-intuitive, but it’s safer to not be moving when you’re hit.  It can also “see” pedestrians and other cars.  It reacts differently to both.  When it sees a car cutting in front of it, the brakes are applied for a full-ABS stop.  When it sees a pedestrian, the brakes are applied much earlier and gentler.

Even though it’s got enough technology in it to make a computer scientist have a heart attack, one of the best advances is in the interior.  It’s truly the first German interior to really stand out from the British luxury brands (Bentley, Rolls Royce, Jaguar).  Leather and wood gracefully snake their way throughout the stellar cabin.  The interior designer said that these designs were influenced by swan wings.  Let’s call this new technique “swanning,” okay?  If You own the outgoing generation of the S-Class, you will know about those four rectangular vents on the dashboard.  Six neat, circular vents have replaced them.  Combine that with the clock, and the seven circles (vaguely) resemble the pearls on a woman’s necklace.  I don’t ask.  The head designer of MBZ’s interiors said that from now on, all vents in a Mercedes-Benz car will be round.  I find it odd that the car that will be starting the round vent trend still has rectangular vents in the back.  One other fun interior flourish are the speaker grilles for the Burmester audio system.  They are covered in an impossibly complex pattern of tiny holes of varying sizes.  If you have trypophobia, don’t look at it.  For me, it becomes ever more fascinating when I look at the pictures.

The mechanical parts of the car are relatively unchanged.  The seven-speed automatic is still their, as is the 5.5-liter, twin turbo V8.  Power, however is better.  It has been uprated from 429 horsepower to a more powerful 455 horsepower.  Torque is the same at 516 lb-ft of torque.

Overall, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S550 is the car to be measured against for full-size luxury.  It’s powerful, it’s loaded with technology that will take it’s competitors years to catch up with, it’s beautiful, and it’s got German engineering.  And German reliability.  I want one.  I won’t ask my readers.  I know the answer.  And it’s not yes.

Coverage from the 11th Annual Peggy Sue All-American Cruise!

Every year, the Peggy Sue All-American Cruise and its related events take over sunny Santa Rosa, CA.  Restored cars, hot rods, low riders, raised Jeeps, and antique American cars are all part of the mix.  We have entered our 1950 GMC 100, “Betsy” twice.  It’s always been a lot of fun for me to see all of the classic cars in the parade or the massive parking lot where they are displayed!  This year, one of my good friends joined me in watching the classic American cars cruise around downtown Santa Rosa.  Revving engines?  Check.  Drunk people yelling at drivers to “Step it up, dude!”?  Check.  Squealing tires?  Check?  The smell of burnt brakes?  Check.  Annoyed and overworked event staff?  Right on.  I know that you are getting bored reading my words about what was going on.  I’ll cut to the chase:  It was a LOT of fun, and you should join me next year.  Enjoy the pictures.

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I don’t know what this Chevy Nova had under the hood, but it sounded NASTY!  Many of the cars at the parade were either restored to Concours-levels or were built for the drag strip.  This one was built to rule the streets.   DSCN1921

This 1959 Chevrolet Corvette is a rare “Fuelie.”  Instead of a carburetor, it has a primitive version of fuel injection.  This particular example was restored to a “Level 1.”  Level 1 means that it is virtually perfect.  That it is.

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This 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne is a powerful, efficient, and stylish family sedan from the muscle car era.  It has a 327 cubic-inch V8 engine and a two-speed automatic Powerglide transmission.  It’s lovely.

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I find it nice that the interior of the same Biscayne matches the exterior of the car.  Even the steering wheel has chrome on it!

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Same car.  This is the model designation.  The car is a barn find from somewhere around Redwood City, according to the owner.  He restored it himself, and he did a very good job of it!

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For those of you old enough, you should remember the aero-wars days, when big engines and aerodynamics were all the rage.  The 1971 Plymouth Roadrunners and Superbirds were the car of choice for many famous NASCAR drivers.  Richard Petty left Ford in 1969 to go to Plymouth.   He did so much better in a Plymouth Superbird that Ford built the Torino Talladega as a response.  This particular Roadrunner has the 440 Six Pack (a 440 cubic-inch V8 with THREE two-barrel carburetors!), which was just one step below the mighty 426 Hemi engine.  It is painted in the iconic Lime Green that is popular with automotive restorers.

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This Corvette is one of the nicest Corvettes that I’ve seen in a LONG time!  It is painted Aqua Blue and Snow White, with a matching interior.  It has the 283 cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed manual.  It is a 1956 Corvette.  The only shame?  That it’s far too nice to tour Route 66 in.

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Sorry about the fingertip on the top of the camera view.  The sun was shining and I REALLY wanted to tell you about this truck!  It’s a 1965 Chevy K10 with the optional 327 cubic-inch engine and a three-speed manual.  It is built to tackle any trail, and take anything that you want with it.  It may not be stock, but it looks like it will outrun just about any Jeep from the same era off-road.

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Remember the Chevy Vega?  If you don’t, it’s okay.  The Vega was powered by a 305 cubic-inch V8.  It was relatively powerful and fast, but it was a minor disaster for Chevy.  This Vega is a 1974 model.  It wasn’t the nicest car there, but it was one of the newer cars there.

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The best part about this 1969 Chevrolet C30 is that it is used a lot.  I don’t know how much, but I have seen it at Sonoma Raceway’s Wednesday Night Drags as a tow vehicle.  It’s the perfect tow vehicle.  It’s got a 350 cubic-inch engine that’s all-original.  So is most of the truck.

DSCN1930This rare 1971 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am is one speedy car.  It’s all stock, and plenty fast that way.  It’s got the 350 cubic-inch V8 engine found in many GM vehicles from 1969-1999.  The top speed is 130 mph.  This car means business.  The lucky driver had to keep the car in first gear.  he also kept touching the brakes because the car wants to leap forward.  Lucky him.

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I’m going to apologize in advance for the direction of the photo.  This 1951 Dodge cab-over semi has been so heavily customized that the only thing original about it is the cab.  That’s it.  The rest of it is custom-built.  The truck is a heavy-duty car-hauler with three axles.  The engine is a brand-new 6.7-liter Cummins Diesel engine that has two turbos instead of one.  Wow!

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While motorcycles aren’t as common in the parade as cars, there were still a good three or four.  This 1946 Indian Roadmaster has the iconic “shovelhead” engine that many motorcycle enthusiasts favor.  This Indian Roadmaster is banana yellow with the “caramel cream” seat.  I like old motorcycles like this.  Maybe some readers will buy me one…

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The Indian logo is still in the original chrome, almost 65 years later.  The gas tank can hold 10 gallons.  It says that on the chrome gas cap.

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I like the way that Indian made the front wheel cover so stylish.  I was talking to the owner for a minute, and I found out that he drove it all the way down to Santa Rosa from Healdsburg.  That’s not a lot of fun on an old motorcycle, yet Indian motorcycles are built to cruise.  I’m guessing that it was probably a comfortable ride down to Santa Rosa.

DSCN1937This 1932 Ford Roadster is a sick hot rod.  The lady standing by the car is the owner.  The car has a Ford 351 Windsor V8 engine.  It has a Jaguar rear end, and a five-speed manual.  This car means business.  I don’t know what I like more:  The mechanical parts of the car, or the exterior?  That’s a decision that YOU will let me know in the comments section…

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This Ford Bronco looks like it came out of some post-apocalyptic movie.  It’s got aggressive tires, a six-inch lift kit, and a 302 cubic inch V8.  I don’t know the exact year, but it looks like it’s from around 1967-8.  This is one nice Bronco.

DSCN1940This is one of the coolest, most amazing Jeep CJs that I’ve ever seen.  And that’s saying a lot.  This CJ is stock, and is a 1947 model.  Between the drivers seat and the passengers seat, there is a metal rifle/shotgun holder for two high-powered guns.  Not that it would be used for that!

DSCN1942How often do you see a stock 1932 Ford roadster?  Not at all often!  This is a stock 1932 Ford roadster that could sell for upwards of $150,000 in its current condition.  It even has the rumble seat and the original interior!  It’s beautiful!

That’s all, folks!

If you would like to check out the Peggy Sue’s Cruise website, it is http://www.peggysuescruise.com/home/