Automotive History: Selling the ’63 Studebaker Wagonaire

(first published 8/31/2011)   In its last two years, Studebaker blasted more new or heavily revised vehicles out the door than at any time after World War II.  The GT Hawk, the Avanti and a heavily facelifted Lark were in showrooms for 1962.  For 1963, the company’s showcase product was the Wagonaire.  As Studebaker’s big product for the year, the Wagonaire was featured and promoted heavily in television and print ads.  Many times, an ad campaign uses several different pieces hammering the  same theme.  But Studebaker’s ad agency (D’Arcy Advertising) did the opposite.  Was this an approach born from the desperation encircling South Bend in 1963?   Or was it a studied attempt to introduce a new and unique feature in as many different forms as possible to convey the car’s possiblities to the widest possible audience?  Take a look at the ads below and decide for yourself.

The black and white print ads saved money, but were also the product of D’Arcy Advertising trying to be more creative for the demanding Sherwood Egbert.   Perhaps the black and white ad campaign for Volkswagen was an influence.  The message here is purely factual.  Here is what the car is and how it works.  The car was touted as 3 cars in one – a sedan, a convertible and a cargo carrier.

This ad uses line drawings to depict the car and set the scene.  Now, the message shifts to more imaginative uses – Just think, your own personal parade review stand!

This ad reflects reality.  Movietone News United Press International bought a fleet of 30 Wagonaires for use as camera cars.  This ad uses the good old fashioned testamonial, and refers to the car as “The World’s Only Wagon Convertible.”

Not all of the ads were black and white.  This full color ad is a bold, whimsical exaggeration of the car’s capabilities, and an interesting mix of a photographed car in front of painted artwork.  If that was not enough, they threw in a contest to give away a Wagonaire and other prizes in a Million Dollar Sweepstakes.

So what was the Wagonaire, exactly?  The advertising message was that the car was anything you wanted it to be.  Actually, the ads did a pretty good job of prompting the imagination.  So many uses and concepts flowing from a simple sliding roof.  We will always wonder what could have been here.  If this had been a Ford Better Idea, would we all take sliding roofs for granted in our minivans and Suburbans today?  We will never know.  Or maybe, it was just a sliding metal panel without a lot of genuine utility.  But if that was really true, the advertising campaign did a pretty good job of making it seem like a lot more.