The Studebaker Wagonaire: A car that could be turned into a truck
From 1963 to 1966, the Studebaker Wagonaire was manufactured by the Studebaker Corporation in South Bend, Indiana. This unique station wagon was thought to be the dream car - a car that could actually be turned into a truck when needed.
The unusual feature
The Studebaker Wagonaire looked and rode just like any normal station wagon. It had plenty of passenger room, four doors and a cargo area for luggage and everything else a family could pack in there. The one thing that distinguished the Wagonaire from other station wagons was its roof. Above the cargo bay, the main portion of the roof was retractable, meaning it could slide back into the front part of the roof and be locked into place. This gave the station wagon an open back space over the cargo area. It was like owning a station wagon and truck all in one.
One major benefit Studebaker marketed with the car is the fact that larger - or taller - items could be transported in the back open space. A car with a roof overhead would limit the height of objects that could be carried. Another advantage was in the cargo area, two "stowaway" seats that faced the rear could be flipped out at any time. The passengers in the cargo area could feel the breeze if the top was left open - just like a convertible.
Other Wagonaire features
The Wagonaire could seat up to six passengers, or five with the bucket-seat option. A third-row seat option was available until 1965, raising the passenger count to eight. With a third-row seat option, the Wagonaire was fitted with special tires called "Captive-Air," which were puncture resistant. Using these tires was to make up for the fact that the additional passenger space left no room for a spare tire.
Specifications of the 1963 Wagonaire
The 1963 Wagonaire was a rear-wheel drive car weighing 3,490 pounds. It used a 259.2-cubic-inch V-8 engine with 180 BHP and 260 ft-lbs of torque. The bore and stroke were 3.56 inches and 3.25 inches. It used a manual transmission with three gears. The wheelbase was 120.501 inches. There were 10,487 of these produced that year.
The Wagonaire's body design was based on the Studebaker Lark station wagon. Its unique roof was designed by Brooks Stevens, an industrial and automotive designer. Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert wanted to find a way to expand the model lines without it costing a fortune.
Stevens was also a graphic designer and stylist. He believed strongly in the concept of always making the consumer want something new and better than before. The concept is called "planned obsolescence," and manufacturers from many markets use it in their marketing efforts. The concept is not necessarily creating "junk" products that will not last, but creating good products, and then even better products the next year and the next... and so on.
An example of this is a consumer buys a brand new car this year. It's in excellent condition, but the manufacturer puts out an improved version within the next year or two. Or, the manufacturer produces an entirely new type of car that's more appealing than the "old" car. The consumer trades in his still new car for an even newer one, even though he doesn't actually need it. This pattern sets the stage for repeat business for many years - the manufacturers and dealerships all win. There is some debate over how deeply Stevens was involved in this practice.
Stevens was well-known in the automotive realm. He was famous as a designer, and many of his original designs are still used today. He was the original designer of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Today, Harleys are still based on his designs. Stevens also designed the Oscar-Mayer Wienermobile, still an icon of American pop-culture today.
He also designed the Jeep station wagons, including the Willys-Overland Jeepster, the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wagoneer. At Studebaker, Stevens designed all Studebaker models except the Avanti from 1962 until 1966, when Studebaker ended their production of all models.
A German inspiration
The Studebaker Wagonaire had been inspired by the German-built concept car called the 1959 Scimitar. The Scimitar was also designed by Stevens and was a custom station wagon similar to Stevens' earlier design, the Valkyrie from 1954. This concept car could be ordered with a Cadillac power train, but it is not known if these were actually produced.
A high performance Wagonaire
Studebaker also produced a high performance Wagonaire called the Daytona version in 1963-64. It was equipped with a 289-cubic-inch V-8 engine with a Carter four-barrel carburetor. It had a column mounted shifter manual transmission with the overdrive feature. This souped-up station wagon could actually hold place along with other muscle cars of its day, proving that bigger is not always slower. It could be ordered with any R-series Avanti V-8 engines made by Studebaker. Buyers also had the option to order the four-speed floor-shift manual transmission. However, there were very few people who actually chose these options.
Consumers loved the Studebaker Wagonaire until they discovered one major problem. The retractable roof would leak when it rained. The factory made a weak attempt to fix the problem. The wagonaires with fixed roofs were rushed through the factory and made available for $100 less than the wagons with the sliding roof. These were available in January 1963. Customers who wanted the fixed roof had to choose between that and one with the sliding roof. The fixed wagons had to be on a special order basis.
Studebaker closed its South Bend, Indiana plant, but production continued in Hamilton of Ontario, Canada. The Hawk and Avanti were both eliminated, but the Lark-based Wagonaires and sedans continued. In 1964, These were built in Canada only and would be the final models for carrying the Studebaker engines. Starting in 1965, the Studebaker models used engines supplied by General Motors. These were based on the Chevrolet V-8 and six-cylinder engines. This year, the Wagonaire was only offered in the sliding roof design.
In 1966, Studebaker's final year of production, the Wagonaire's "fixed-roof" version was offered again, but without the third row seat. The Wagonaire became its own model label. It had the exterior features that resembles the Commander, and sporty Daytona-like interior trim. There were only 940 of these produced that year. So, hot rodders and classic car collectors are very privileged to get their hands on one of these rare models.
A miniature Wagonaire was created by Matchbox-Lesney, which was a popular model car long after Studebaker closed its doors.
Oops - advertising error
The retractable roof idea was used by General Motors recently on 2004 models of the GMC Envoy "XUV" SUV. In their ad, however, they mistakenly advertised it as a "first ever" concept.
Though the leaking roof incident occurred, the Wagonaire was still a loved car because of its uniqueness and spacious room for the family. It is also adored today as one of the true station wagons from the past.