cCCY8ZvQ 1973 Plymouth Fury station wagon 1
1973 Plymouth Fury station wagon 1
1973 Plymouth Fury station wagon

Forget SUVs — check out these 1950s low-slung wagons

It was in the northern autumn of 1972 when Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth unveiled their full-sized station wagons for 1973.

These “low priced” wagons were what budget-minded American families bought and had been doing so since the mid-Fifties.

By any measure the wagons were BIG.

None had a wheelbase under 121 inches/3073mm.

Chevrolet’s Impala stretched to 125 inches/3175mm.

At 79.9 inches/2029mm the Ford Galaxie LTD was the widest.

The ultimate prize for size however went to Plymouth’s Fury.

With a length of 227.5 inches/5779mm it occupied almost as much real estate as three BMC Minis.

In the two decades since Ford had “invented” the family station wagon as we know it, these suburban haulers had become longer, lower, wider, heavier and more powerful.

They’d expanded 10 per cent in every dimension except height, which dropped 10 per cent.

The massive interior space allowed three rows of bench seating for nine passengers.

Their weight was up significantly, too.

A 1953, Ford wagon tipped the scales at around 1630kg.

In 1973 the Galaxie LTD “long roof” was a hefty 33 per cent higher at 2180kg.

The Chevrolet and Plymouth gained similar amounts of excess baggage.

Naturally, ever increasing engine capacities were needed to shift these lumps of metal along the road.

The Fury’s biggest engine was a 440 cubic inch or 7.4 litres in size.

Chevrolet upped the ante with a 454 cubic inch/7.4 litre unit.

But Ford was the winner, offering a 460 cubic inch/7.0 litre engine as an option.

All were V8s.

These haulers consumed fuel at around 10-12 mpg (19.6-24.0L/100km).

1973 Ford LTD Galaxie station wagon 4
1973 Ford LTD-Galaxie station wagon


It was an era when size mattered and fuel was cheap.

But their use by date was fast approaching.

The first oil supply crisis arrived in October, 1973.

Suddenly, large and fuel thirsty cars were out of fashion.

GM instigated plans to downsize its fleet, beginning with the full-sized cars in 1977.

The others followed.

And for a while, small and fuel efficient was a key selling point.

In the mid-1980s mini vans became all the rage.

With four-cylinder engines, front wheel drive and a captain’s chair for everyone, they had plenty of space but very little pace.

Then, in the early 1990s, another trend emerged.

Cars, wagons, mini-vans and trucks morphed into one high riding vehicle.

It was called the SUV.

Once again, size and power mattered.

Today, the Impala, LTD and Fury have been replaced on American highways by the Chevrolet Tahoe, Ford Everest and Dodge Durango.

Although their engines might be a little smaller, these “full sized” SUVs have the same large footprint as those 1973 station wagons. 

And, get this, these SUVs now weigh up to 15 per cent MORE than their seriously overweight 1973 predecessors.

So, if you conclude that nothing much has changed in America’s auto-land in over 50 years — you’d be right.

Size still matters!

Mind you, in Australia we have no reason to be holier than thou.

A 1960 XK Falcon station wagon weighed a lithe 1130kg.

Ford’s 2023 Everest is a hefty 2400kg.

The Falcon’s load volume was 1954 cubic litres.

The Everest can only manage 1796.

That’s not progress.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos


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