Curbside Classic: 1969 Chevelle Wagon – Sporty And Wagon Don’t Mix

1969 Chevelle 3 quarter rear.2

A buddy of mine frequently says, “Real Chevelles have four round headlights.” Of course, he’s making reference to the fact that the sixties-era Chevelles packed big horsepower behind their multi-headlamp grilles, while in 1971 the Chevelle went to both dual headlights and low compression engines (designed to work with the newly mandated lead-free gasoline).

1969 Chevelle front view

Looking at this head-on shot, you can also see that a four-eyed Chevelle brought a tough looking, sporty attitude to the table. Designers hoped this front clip would strike fear in the hearts of other drivers who, cowering in fear, would pull over anytime they spotted this visage in their rear view mirror.  However, the designers also had to mount this front clip on all Chevy intermediates in 1969, and such a ferocious prow did not always matchup to the rest of the car.

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The four door models provided a noticeable step down in aggressiveness, but the wagon bodies really emphasized the disconnect between sport and practicality. This shot emphasizes the difference in attitude from front to rear: The front fenders arrow forward, and include a character line that emphasizes this cutting profile, while the rear fenders carry the rear door kick up back to the tailgate, creating a fat butt constantly dragging down those spear shaped front fenders.

1969 Chevelle 3 quarter front

Someone has been working on our wagon–the hood and fenders have been painted, and I’m betting that dual power bulge hood came off another car. As part of the project, the owner must have removed the model badges, since there are no badges on the front or rear fenders.

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That’s too bad, since I’d like to know the trim level. Chevy offered three wagon trims in 1969: Nomad, Greenbrier, and Concours. They also started offering a two way tailgate that year. A-body wagons with the two-way tailgate included a cut line on the passenger side of the bumper to accommodate the two-way function. Since our featured car is missing the cut line, it’s either a Nomad or a Greenbrier.

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The two-way tailgate came standard on the top of the line Concours, so it’s out of contention.  Based on the body-colored window trim combined with the manual window crank, I’m thinking this bad boy is the base model Nomad. Still, sixties era mid-trim wagons didn’t automatically get lots of brightwork, so it could be a Greenbrier. The front fenders both include an engine displacement callout (which I can’t read), so I doubt a straight six graces the engine bay, making the Greenbrier trim that much more likely.

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Given the cachet of the Nomad name when Chevy assigned it on their top-of-the-line (two door) wagons from 1955 through ’57, it’s odd to think the nameplate graced the flanks of a base wagon just twelve years later, but that’s exactly how it went. Paul posted a review of this nameplate debasement a few years ago in this Curbside Capsule.

1969 Chevelle side view

You may have noticed the alloy wheels on the other side–this side has one alloy and one styled steel wheel. I’m sure this car came from the factory with wheel covers (or dog dish center caps), so the owner rustled up these wheels to go with the power bulge hood. This wagon may end up looking pretty good at the end of its current restoration journey.

Firebird wheel

If I were to guess, I’d say those alloy wheels came off a mid-eighties Pontiac. These wheels were mounted on early third-generation F-bodies, and the 1986 Bonneville and Parisienne. The ones on the wagon not as shiny as this example, but the curvature of the fins and total fin count appear to match.

1969 Chevelle 3 quarter rear

I started this post by discussing how the aggressive front clip of this car does not match up to the prosaic wagon body. However, I do like the body of this car. Even given its rough finish, the section with blue paint emphasizes the good lines of the A-body wagon.

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I don’t care much for the four door version of this series, and the cut line of back door highlights my point. However, adding the wagon roofline and back glass helps to hide that sin, and results in a very attractive body. All it really needs is a front clip that matches the rest of the body.

1971 Concours wagon

To make my point, here’s an image from Jim Klein’s Car of a Lifetime post. In 1971, Chevy abandoned that aggressive four headlight front clip, and went over to this more formal, almost Monte Carlo-looking clip. While the ’71 coupe lost some its aggressive appeal, I think the looks of the four door and wagon both improved. In addition, Chevy wanted to move coupe buyers into the higher-margin Monte Carlo, so they no longer needed a flashy coupe. I’m sure that made this new clip the obvious choice.

Big Bad Wagon

So let’s wrap this segment up with a question: how do you fix an aggressive clip on a big butt wagon? I think the solution calls for a muscle car makeover. But not just shiny paint and torque thrust wheels. To really motivate that four-eyed set of fenders, let’s reach into the box full of big blocks, and mount a 396 or 454 between those frame rails. That big torque motivation is exactly the formula required to build a righteous ’69 wagon!

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