Still ‘wagon’ the tail

Station wagons, although nowhere as near as popular as they once were, refuse to die.

Holden’s new Commodore has a wagon variant, the Mazda6 has a wagon, and Mercedes-Benz & BMW, amongst others — still offer wagons.

Outside of Australia the humble “wagon” is known as an estate car, estate wagon, shooting brake or sportbrake.

Design-wise it’s a “simple” matter of extending the roof of a sedan to above the tail lights, with either a three or five door configuration.

Many wagons offered an extended wheelbase and the chassis was used for the basis of luxury variants of the donor sedan.

Where, however, did they come from?

Oddly, the history of the station wagon comes from the railway industry.

The name “depot hacks” was the name given to the vehicle that worked in train depots. The “hacks” comes from hackney carriage, a term for a taxi.

Prior to the 1930s the vehicles had a wooden frame for the passenger compartment. Then a steel sheath was fitted, coated in a protective lacquer.

This is where part of the historic “woody wagon” in the United States has its origin. Due to safety and strength improvements, plus ongoing maintenance problems with contraction and expansion loosening screws, and periodic re-lacquering requirements, steel bodies became the norm.

Here is Oz, we saw station wagons imported from the US and not long after the 48/215’s release, a wagon version of that.

Ford, Chrysler, then Mitsubishi, and many other brands had many cars with wagon variants. The Chrysler/Mitsubishi Sigma was one. The Valiant, Falcon, Corolla also offered wagons.

Worldwide the wagon was and still is available, and there’s many a country mile been travelled in them.

Load up the XW Fairmont wagon and head down the Hume to Melbourne. Whack the kids in the back of the HQ and drive down the coast from Perth to August, or pack up the AP6 Valiant Safari and Nullabor your way to Adelaide.

However, the wagon is in decline. Although still offering sedan like ride, handling, and extra storage space, it’s under siege from the SUV.

With extra ride height for most of them, and perhaps considered easier to style, the SUV has brought the station wagon to its knees.

But, like vinyl, radio, and the cinemas, they’re not dead, and still available to buy and still wagon the tail.

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