Passing by these old Ford/Mercury wagons, you don’t really think of them as “state of the art.” But an ingenious hinge is all it could really take to transform the family hauling game and upset all other participants.
Although Ford was at the losing end of the volume game with General Motors in the postwar era, one arena where they consistently trumped the automotive giant was in niche products, and one of those markets were station wagons. For whatever perceptive reason, Ford’s roundup of wagons consistently brought in the dough for Dearborn.
Although a lot of the profit margins and snob appeal went to the Country Squire (and the equivalent Colony Park at Mercury) Ford sold a fair number of the more plain Country Sedans (and equivalent Commuter Mercuries) to those who could do without Di-Noc wood paneling.
With sturdy frames, and equally sturdy V8 engines (some would say truck-like) combined with the stereotypical boulevard ride that was parcel of full sized FordMoCo products, nothing was better suited to being king/queen of the PTA carpool than one of these boxy behemoths in newly paved suburbs from Belmont to Bethesda.
By 1965 General Motors (slightly) threw in the towel on its more posh B-body full sized wagon companions for the LeSabre and Eighty Eight, relying on the stretched A-bodied Vista Cruiser and Sportwagon, respectively to cover the more expensive wagon market, leaving Chrysler’s Town & Country to go against the Colony Park.
And in 1966, Ford brought out an innovation that literally, opened the door further for them to dominate the wagon market. From the lowliest of Falcon wagon through the poshest of Colony Parks, the Magic Door Gate two-way tail gate debuted at the rump of all Ford Produced wagons, and would be a hallmark of all full sized Ford Wagons until the last LTD Country Squire/Colony Park wagons rolled off the line in 1991.
The 92,000 + Ranch Wagons and close to 7,000 Commuters were among the over 200,000 Full sized Ford Wagons that opened new horizons with their innovative dual function hinge that allowed the door to swing down in the traditional tail gate way, or open sideways like a door, which took full advantage of the dual facing rear seats that expanded (nominally) the cargo area into a seating area for four brats.
Although Fords compact and midsize wagons didn’t stick with the Magic Doorgate forever, this advance help them for years maintain the healthiest share of the family truckster market. The only domestic competitor that would truly upset this balance would be when Chrysler brought out a mainstream, sliding door minivan alternative to these sburban cul-de-sac beasts in the early 1980s.
The Magic Doorgate basically sealed the lock Ford had on wagons for the next 20 years, until the Aero Chic of the Taurus took over as the wagon to own. You may not think of that as totally revolutionary, but in a market where ease, capacity and utility are the main reasons for sales, anything that makes any of those three attributes even more prominent is welcome.
GM tried to answer the question with the needlessly complex clamshell tailgate on their huge 1971 quartet of wagons, and Chrysler… well… they had torsion bars. Even former wagon foe American Motors didn’t bring any innovations to the field of wagoning in the 1960s. Once it became clear that Studebaker wouldn’t survive long enough to keep their Wagonnaire from leaking, it was clear that Ford had the answer that most people (or most non-brand loyal people) wanted.
Like the flair bird, Ford had a knack for finding, or stumbling into market niches that where there for the taking. Normally, they found ways to present their product in a far less complex way (Mustang versus Corvair) or successful way (Hawks versus four- seat Thunderbirds). By one door hinge, FordMoCo continued to dominate a breed until the breed died out.