This post is one in a series based on a format at another website; much like genres of music, I can measure the phases of my adult life with the cars I’ve driven.
I’ve touched on my family’s history with wagons in previous installments, but I think the subject demands a little backstory. My father was a committed wagon aficionado before I was born, with a succession of full-size Fords from the late 60’s through to the early 80’s, when he switched to Chevy. The first wagon I can recall was a 1967 Country Squire, painted in light green. All I remember of this car was the back seat. This was back in the day of lap belts, wide swaths of sticky vinyl, and cold air whistling through gaps in the door cards. We traveled the width and depth of New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts in this Ford, and it served us well through the 70’s.
A holiday trip to my grandparents’ farm was always on the schedule, and when the whole family was in town, the front yard was filled with a fleet of wagons, each representing a wing of our extended Irish family. My uncle Neil was a Dodge man, probably due to his experience as a police officer, and he drove a huge Fuselage-bodied yacht which he swore had an extra hidden gear: Warp Drive. Later, as his family expanded, he traded it for a series of full-sized vans. Uncle Dave was a Chevy man, and always drove a clean, corporate-looking offering from GM. Grampy ran his painting business out of a series of wagons, vehicles which probably didn’t belong on the road and were filled with the tools of his trade.
Dad’s Country Squire finally had enough miles on it that he got another, this one in a darker green. If I recall, the older wagon was relegated to hauling duty for his landscaping business, and usually sat parked in the cul-de-sac with the handles of at least two mowers sticking out the back window.
Later, after the Gas Crisis abated somewhat, we picked up a full-size LTD wagon in beige over brown, named Fozzie, which was the largest wagon I recall ever driving in. It was big and plush and stuffed with a comical amount of wasted interior space; I think we could have parked my mother’s Gremlin (named Kermit) in the back if all the extra plastic paneling hadn’t been in the way. It had pop-up rear facing seats in the cargo area, which were only really good for invoking car sickness–a problem when there were no windows to roll down.
The LTD was sold sometime after my Dad bought the repossession agency, which was a relief on their gas bill and the beginning of a parade of different wagon types and brands. We had several Chevy Impala-based wagons, some of which were quite reliable, and one of which scared the family away from diesel forever: the cursed Oldsmobile LF9 motor that happily shit all over itself at the first opportunity. My sister and I drove it to school one cold winter morning and broke down within view of the parking lot; we were told it was due to water in the fuel (GM did not include a water/fuel separator on this engine, so this makes sense), but I still believe it deliberately wanted to embarrass me in front of the entire 9th grade.
After the Chevy, we had an Audi 9000 wagon, which was a lot like driving the Millennium Falcon. This was back when Audi was synonymous with “overpriced European shitbox.” When it ran, it was fast and we could hide a lot of people in it. But it spent more time in the garage than in hyperspace, and we needed R2-D2 to decode the electrical issues it suffered from. Driving to pick up my parents from the airport one day, we turned on the windshield wipers in a summer squall. Within a half a mile the wipers shorted out the whole car, and we coasted to a stop on the access road to the Arrivals gate. I recall waiting a very long time before it started again.
Nevertheless, I liked a wagon, because I was doing a lot of hauling for marching band and as the head set builder for the drama club. After the VW accident and the Subaru trying to kill me, I drove my parents’ cars around for a while until another vehicle turned up in the impound lot: an ’85 Sentra wagon.
It was a tired example owned by a heavy smoker, which probably explained why the bank hadn’t wanted to reclaim it and the fire-sale price we got it for. Blue over gray, it had been in a minor front-end accident at some point, enough to bend the hood and wrinkle the driver’s fender but not damage the frame or engine. After we bought it, I spent an entire weekend scrubbing the nicotine off the plastic bits, scrubbing the carpeting and headliner, and fumigating as much of the stink out of it as I could. This was only partially successful.
My Dad sourced a used fender and aftermarket hood, and I pounded out the mounting points enough to get the fender lined up with the bumper and get the hood to close, although I was the only one who could open it. We never did repaint it, so it looked ghetto in three colors, but it ran, and it was mine.
It served me well that winter and through the spring. It featured a 1.6 liter engine with a three-speed automatic, and got very respectable gas mileage at the expense of being a complete pig, but that was mostly OK with me. It had four doors and a spacious rear cargo area so I could haul drywall and plywood and drums and friends. The pictured example has A/C but mine did not, which kind of sucked.
After graduation, my group of friends decided to hit Jones Beach before we all had to get serious with our summer jobs. We loaded up my Sentra, my friend Jon’s Cavalier, and headed south. Jon loved to beat on his Chevy and quickly left me in the dust; I remember pulling into the parking lot long after they’d gotten there, covered in sweat, and getting home at about the same interval. Still, it got me to and from work and parties and I could fold the rear seats down to crash if I couldn’t make it home, which came in handy that summer.
In the fall, as we firmed up college plans and I got ready to head to MICA, I emptied it out and gave it a final wash, and we sold it to help pay for tuition. If I remember correctly, Mom and I drove to Baltimore in a wagon of some kind, but I can’t remember what it was…