Vintage Review: 1971 Plymouth Satellite Custom Wagon – Road Test Magazine Rates Carol Brady’s Ride

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Most American station wagons were seen as disposable workhorses, used hard then dumped and forgotten when done.  But thanks to Hollywood, there were certain Plymouth wagons that didn’t fade completely into oblivion: for the entire run of The Brady Bunch TV show, family matriarch Carol Brady always drove a late model, tan-colored Satellite wagon, including the redesigned-for-1971 midsize Mopar.  In the real world, however, how good was the car?  In the 1971 issue, Road Test Magazine reviewed a Satellite Custom Wagon, giving their assessment of the new fuselage family hauler.

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Thanks to the wonders of TV syndication (and now streaming), The Brady Bunch became part of the American pop culture landscape and remained surprisingly popular for decades after its initial prime time run.  The show’s syrupy take on the escapades of a remarried couple and their “blended” family of 3 sons and 3 daughters left a far more enduring legacy than anyone likely imagined when it debuted in 1969.

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Chrysler Corporation received ample product placement on the show, and for the first several seasons both Brady parents drove a brand new Plymouth each year.   Family Patriarch Mike Brady drove Fury convertibles, and then a Barracuda convertible.  However, the show’s producers must have decided that Mike was more of a convertible guy than a Mopar man: once Chrysler Corporation dropped all its convertibles after 1971, Mike Brady was switched to Chevrolet drop tops, where he had an Impala and then two different Caprice convertibles for the duration of the show.

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But Carol Brady never strayed, and stuck with Mopar all the way.  No doubt a Plymouth Wagon was always useful for a woman toting around 6 kids (and full time live-in housekeeper Alice).  Strangely for ‘bigger is better” America of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Mrs. Brady was never given a full sized Plymouth.  Apparently there was no need for a supersized Fury wagon to wheel around when a still-jumbo Satellite was just right, even for a big brood.

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For 1971, the mid sized Plymouth was completely redesigned, and naturally a new Satellite Custom Wagon showed up on the set of The Brady Bunch.   In fact, for the opening episodes of Season Three, the Bradys took a family vacation to the Grand Canyon in their new Plymouth wagon.  Let’s see what the Bradys were getting for their fictional family car.

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Road Test notes that wagons had become “the standard for millions of highly mobile recreation-oriented families.”  Perfect for the Bradys, and just what they needed to head to the Grand Canyon!  However, the Satellite Custom Wagon reviewed by Road Test only sported the 318 two-barrel; surely Mike Brady had to pony up for the 383 four-barrel to haul his 6 kids, wife and housekeeper, along with towing a trailer.

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The mid-size Satellite was still a very large car, and did not give up much in the way of cargo carrying ability compared to the larger Plymouth Suburban wagons.  It was easier to drive and handle however, being almost a foot shorter overall on a 5” shorter wheelbase, 1” narrower and 520 lbs. lighter than the full-size wagon.  The Satellite wagons were also less expensive, starting at $272 ($1,599 adjusted) below the bigger wagons.

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The smaller size and weight of the Satellite wagon also paid benefits in handling and braking compared to the full size wagons.  While obviously not designed for aggressive driving, the Satellite Custom test wagon handled and braked reasonably well, while the 318 offered adequate acceleration and decent fuel economy.

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Overall, Road Test was favorably impressed with the Satellite Custom Wagon, especially in the minimally equipped form that combined economy with capability as on the car tested.  RT’s basic wagon cost $3,963 ($23,302 adjusted), which was very affordable for a big wagon, though the car certainly did not have much in the way of desirable options.

However, a stripper wagon wouldn’t do for the Brady Bunch!  Let’s take a look at the 1971 American Car Prices Guide to spec out a Satellite Custom Wagon that would be suitable for taking that Grand Canyon run in the utmost comfort.

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Note the check marks and question marks on these pricing pages weren’t made by me.  The original purchaser of this guide seems to have been shopping for a ’71 Satellite, possibly a Road Runner from the look of the options that were marked.

1971 Plymouth Satellite Custom 3-Seat Wagon $3,333.00
·      Vinyl Side mouldings $15.50
·      Vinyl trim, bench seat $25.55
·      383 V8 4BBL $144.55
·      Torqueflite automatic $237.50
·      H78x40 WSW tires $36.80
·      Drive Aid group $14.20
·      Trailer tow package $39.90
·      Disc brakes, front $24.45
·      Power brakes $45.15
·      Accessory floor mats $14.25
·      50 amp alternator $11.80
·      70 amp battery $14.80
·      Tinted glass, all windows $43.40
·      Remote control mirror, left chrome $12.95
·      Rear window defogger $31.45
·      Air conditioning $383.25
·      Electric clock $18.45
·      Variable speed windshield wipers $5.85
·      Dual horns $5.50
·      Rear compartment lock $11.00
·      Inside hood release $10.55
·      Roof rear air deflector $20.40
·      Drip rail moulding $12.95
·      Wheel opening moulding $14.05
·      Bumper guards, front $16.85
·      Luggage rack, roof $57.05
·      Automatic speed control $60.90
·      Nox Exhaust Emission Control (required for CA) $12.95
·      Power windows $110.10
·      Power tailgate window $34.65
·      Auto lock tailgate $27.20
·      Radio, AM/FM with stereo cassette $366.40
·      Extra H.D. suspension $5.80
·      Tilt steering wheel with rim blow $55.70
·      Power steering $111.40
·      Deluxe wheel covers $27.35
Total $5,413.60

So the Brady’s loaded Tunisian Tan Satellite Custom 3-seat wagon worked out to $5,414 ($31,831 adjusted), just about where a new 2017 mid-level Chrysler Pacifica Touring is priced—spot on for a nice (but not too fancy) family hauler for an architect and his bunch.

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After the show’s third season ended, Carol Brady naturally had to get a new car (that Grand Canyon trip was tough), so this ’71 wagon was probably taken back by Chrysler and unceremoniously sold as a used car.  From there, the world’s most famous ’71 Satellite Custom wagon likely met the fate that befell the vast majority of workhorse vehicles—used-up and junked.

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Years later, this scarcity of early 1970s wagons probably made it tough for the producers of 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie.  The new wagon casting for Carol’s car was a 1972 Mercury Montego Villager—a shock for car enthusiast Brady purists who knew that nothing from Ford every graced the Brady’s driveway.  But the Montego was a brown wagon from the 1970s, and that’s all the producers needed or cared about.  The real irony is that the ’72 Montego wagon was actually a lower volume car—15,505 units were sold, compared to 21,975 ’71 Satellite wagons.  Truly a quirk of the Southern California used car casting lot…  After all, virtually any/all of these wagons were long gone by the mid-1990s, never mind today—just think, when was the last time you saw one?

Related Reading:

CC Cinema: The Brady Bunch – The Astro Turf Is Always Greener

CC 1972 Satellite Custom: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly