Ah, that’s a nice green.
Say it’s 1960 or 1961, and you’re weird. No full-sized Ford or Chevy wagon is going to work for your family. That new Falcon wagon is just so average in every way; everyone loves it, immediately eliminating it from consideration. You listen to Art Blakey and Coltrane, wear hip sunglasses, but also like to carry a bunch of junk, or maybe kids. Luckily, it’s a great time for you to be a wagon buyer, whether you like weird looks or weird mechanical specifications. All aboard!
Why did everyone like those slanted pickles?
The obvious first stop is the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer to look at the new Valiants. The above model is a 1960, but ’61s are very similar. Virgil Exner really went off the deep end with this one; it’s a space alien with wheel bearings. With wing-like extensions on the front fenders, it’s like a bird in flight: a bird with a great big maw in front. In a way, that huge grille looks kind of sporty, like a ’50s Ferrari at the Mille Miglia, but when you look at the car as a whole, Maranello is the last thing that comes to mind. The reverse slant of the side glass echoes the odd eyebrow taillights, and vestigial fins seem to whisper that maybe Exner’s “Forward Look” is just about reaching its sell-by date. The Valiant looks like Plan 9 from Outer Space in a Bonanza world; in other words, right up your alley.
Mechanically, the Valiant is top dog among the compacts. Its new 170 and 225-cubic inch “Slant Six” engines are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition from Ford and Chevrolet. In the short lived NASCAR compact car series, Valiants absolutely clean up with their “Hyper Pak” engines. Valiants also have the typical Chrysler torsion-bar suspension, which provides fairly crisp handling when compared to the rest of the Big Three. If you order the automatic, it’ll have pushbuttons like a typewriter, which appeals to your oddness gene. You’re not 100 percent sold on the Valiant, however. “If only,” you think, “Chevrolet would offer a wagon version of its Corvair.” The next year, they do.
The new Corvair wagon is called the “Lakewood,” and it is a weird person’s dream machine. Rear engine like a Volkswagen? Check. Swing axles too, unfortunately. It might be a little more socially acceptable than a VW Bus, but that’s OK. In the end, you’re almost guaranteed exclusivity, because the Corvair wagon only lasts for two model years.
The Lakewood also has something no Valiant can lay claim to: two luggage areas. You can fold your back seat down and carry all of your gear in the back, and still have room for stuff in the trunk up front. Unfortunately, both luggage areas amount to 68 cubic feet, while the Valiant claims 72. Oops.
At least with the Corvair you get up-to-date styling that doesn’t scream, “Suddenly it’s 1957!” In fact, most enthusiast publications laud the Chevy’s styling for most of its production life, and many compact foreign cars are seemingly influenced by the early Corvair. Even today, its styling appears more evolved than the Valiant’s.
If you order an automatic, however, you will be stuck with a two-speed Powerglide, rather than the Valiant’s up-to-date three-speed. And again, the Valiant has a much more powerful engine lineup. Plus, Chevy dealers often don’t like working on the unorthodox Corvair, with its aluminum engine; any mechanic in America will gladly turn wrenches on the simple Valiant. Corvairs may be a little easier on gas, but not enough to make that a selling point. Like everything on earth, there are pros and cons to each. Which will you choose?
Alas, by 1963, the Corvair wagon was replaced by the more utilitarian Chevy II. You could still order the Corvair Greenbrier for a few more years, but somehow, workaday Corvairs just never really caught on. It was the kind of car that worked better as a Monza or Monza Spyder. Valiant wagons marched on through 1966, with a 1963 update that was far more Engel than Exner: stylish, but much less avant-garde.
By 1963, the Valiant had pretty much returned to Earth.
In fact, by 1963, weirdos who wanted wagons didn’t have much of a choice, unless they shopped the used car lots. Fortunately, there are still a few of these wild creations hanging around for iconoclasts to cling to, and some of them end up at car shows.
An aunt and uncle in Wayne, MI had a ’60 Valiant wagon in white…it came used from Genthe Chrysler-Plymouth somewhere around Detroit. To my 6-year-old eyes, I thought “Genthe” was “Gentle”, as in “Gentle Chrysler-Plymouth”.
A few years later after our family moved back to Butler, PA, my mom had a blue ’60 sedan as a second car for a year or so, and of course it seemed homey with good memories thanks to Aunt Dee and Uncle Ron having owned one a few years before.
Yes I’ll ALWAYS remember the sound of that slant 6.
The Corvair wagon wins in the looks department.A beauty,no wonder I’ve never seen one if they were only made for 2 years.There were some very strange looking Mopars in the early 60s though I think the wagon looks better than the Valiant sedan.
I can recall seeing early Valiant’s as a kid. They looked weird in the very late ’60’s and early ’70s, but you knew what your were looking at! I’m not sure why, but they’ve grown on me (and not like a strange fungus). The wagons seem less weird then the sedans. I’ll vote the coupes with their odd side window set up as weirdest.
The Corvair strikes me as suspect. The load floor seems high – to accommodate the rear engine. A high lift doesn’t bother me much, I’m tall, but the distance from floor to ceiling looks short, reducing utility. Since I believe you access the engine for service through the load floor, issues like noise, and proper sealing from weather and fumes also seem suspect and likely to deteriorate over time. Didn’t some early Corvairs also have gasoline heaters that were more than a bit suspect for safety? Through in the suspension issues and I’ll pass. I have some appreciation for Corvairs, but give me a ’65 and up when the bugs are worked out.
The wagon had 2 ways of accessing the engine, through the floor of the cargo compartment or, for a quick check of things like oil, the panel where the license plate goes on the rear of the wagon flips down for those things.
Corvairs had an optional gas heater that was mounted in the front, it ran from the gas tank. Safe compared to what? Remember, this was a different era, everything from this era is considered dangerous by todays wussy world, yeah it had a gas heater, so what? People gave real pellet guns to kids while blowing Pall Mall smoke in their faces.
I dislike the Corvair slightly less than the Valiant.
I’ll take the Lakewood.
The VW Squareback, introduced to the US market in 1965 is its functional successor. Dad had a Squareback. I do remember riding in a Lakewood as a child and thinking is was unique, as we had a ’59 Brookwood at the time.
The Valiant wagon actually looks less strange than the sedan in one way, no “toilet seat”.
I’m all about weird wagons. Given the choice here, nobody will be surprised that I am a Valiant dude. I simply love the roofline on these wagons. I recall reading a comparison test from when these came out and the Valiant was considered the most stylish of the three. Style, of course, is a fleeting thing.
A quick nit to pick, Exner was still there to oversee the 63 Valiant, which may have been one of his cleanest designs after 1960. The trim changes for the 64-66 models show the Engel influence slowly unfolding.
Finally, you forgot one choice for an oddball wagon – the Lark! The grille of a Valiant, the boxiness of a Corvair, and the room of a much larger car. And you could get it with a V8, even.
The 1961 Buick Special, Olds F-85 and Pontiac Tempest were also oddball wagons, in their own way. The styling was fairly conventional (though based on the Corvair structure) but the engineering definitely was not.
JP, you beat me to the punch with the Lark, and since someone else already suggested the Rambler, I’ll embellish on the Lark’s attributes as a time warp on wheels: passenger compartment derived from the 1953 model, compete with pedals that worked through holes in the floor, rather than suspended from under the dash, brake master cylinder under the driver’s side floor, only one turn signal indicator light on the dash, which flashed for both right and left turns, a flathead 6 that dated to 1939 and massive friction in the steering from a cam and peg gear system that everyone else had abandoned for recirculating ball years earlier.
‘course, you could hold out for a 65, and not only have a sure orphan from a company barely twitching in it’s last death throws, but one with a Chevy 283, which, being nearly 200lbs lighter than the Studie 259 made the Lark, for the first time in it’s life, almost a decent handler. You could also get the Wagonaire, a clever idea, though it leaked…a lot.
It’s strange, but I don’t consider the Lark all that odd. I think they look pretty clean, and they’re mechanically pretty typical. Now, maybe a Wagonaire…I do have some pictures of one of them…
I guess the Lark wagon was odd only because so few people bought them. Sort of the same way today’s Mitsubishi is odd.
No mention of the Rambler American wagon? The 1961 model got a reskin and a 4-door wagon version. A miracle of updating the basic 1950 Nash Rambler body http://www.myrideisme.com/Blog/gasser-rambler-wagon-renderings-its-my-ride-is-me/
Valiant with the big 6 and HYPER-PAK for me Baby!
Although I’d buy the Lakewood if I had a crystal ball to see that I could eventually install a bigger flat 6 from the years after the wagon was discontinued.
You’ve certainly hit on one of my biggest, oldest bones of contention regarding mechanics here:
“Chevy dealers often don’t like working on the unorthodox Corvair.”
I have never in my life understood why so many mechanics would not improve their skill set, or whyGM could not, or would not, force its techs to take training courses. Mopar was the same way. When I worked for both GM and Chrysler, you’d always have a situation where one or two guys cleaned up on what were considered “high skill jobs” while the rest stood around looking for fluid flushes and brake jobs. There is plenty of coin in these jobs. Take transmission rebuilds, Mopar rated them at 17 hours and a good tranny guy could do it in ten. A differential that rated at 7 hours could be done in four.
Pads and rotors were 2 hours and by the time you got the car in the shop, in the air, pulled the parts, did the job and road tested, the tech would lose money every time. Yet, of the 16 techs on our shop, only four could do specialties. Those four guys rarely had comebacks, (huge money losers) but the other 12 had loads of them. One, I recall, had a 30% comeback rate and that on simple stuff. Just plain poor training, but if anyone in management said anything, you’d hear the word “union” a lot. This meant any kind of “difficult” job could take days, or even weeks. When I was at GM, only one guy could do the AWD systems on the Astro Vans. The last one I saw him do took a month. First, he was a lazy “I’m a union man” type and second, he was the only one who could diagnose anything like an AWD system.
The only “import” I worked at, and only for a summer in 2007 as a favour, was a Nissan store. New models meant a one week trip to the training centre in Ontario, all expenses paid, and no tech would be permitted to work on any new model until he was certified to do so. This reduced comebacks to a minuscule level. Summer tends to be slow in the service business, so the Nissan store sent four techs to train at a time. Every guy in the shop could do everything, including trannies and diffs. It made putting work through the shop fast, efficient and profitable.
When I get time (hahahahaha) I should write a few pieces comparing stealership service.
You make excellent points. If I am in a waiting room at a mechanic’s shop whether its Pep Boys, the car dealership, the local mechanic, or even hanging out as a kid at the John Deere Dealership my dad worked at, I always look for the training certificates of the mechanics.
I have noticed that the “independents” and certain brands of dealership have the most cross training. I as a consumer (but I am also an enthusiast) I notice how many employees are ASE or manufacturer certified to do various jobs.
The laziness of human beings is astounding to me. The “smart” man would figure out which book jobs can be done much more quickly than the book says and make the money on it.
Vauxhall Viva clutch book says one and a half hours best known time with a good cable 19 minutes
Amen. While my experience with this is only a mere fraction of yours from my short time doubling as a fleet manager, you are correct on the flat refusal of some to learn more – things that could help them out in many ways.
It’s good to see (in a sense) my experience isn’t isolated.
I became a default VW repair facility because Australian trained techs wont touch air cooled Vdubs without messing them up, I could make em run the local garages couldn’t.
I have never in my life understood why so many mechanics would not improve their skill set, or whyGM could not, or would not, force its techs to take training courses. Mopar was the same way.
Nothing much has changed. The Ford Freestyle, 05-07, used a CVT. The vast majority of Ford dealers have noone who knows how to repair them, which is a problem because they tend to eat their input shaft bearing. A coworker of mine had one, and said he asked the dealer about changing the fluid, and the “service advisor” said you never change the fluid. The owner’s manual says fluid change is needed at 60K, but it takes a different proceedure, a special filter and special fluid, which the dealer apparently didn’t want to be bothered with. So, instead of a properly maintained trans, the customer ends up shelling out $4,000 for a factory rebuilt replacement.
What else would you expect in a country where the program to switch to the metric system was cancelled around 82, because people refused to learn anything new?
Maybe the gumment canceled the metric deal, but industry had been making the switchover for years. When I did work for John Deere in 1971, all work was metric. By now everything in the automotive world is metric, even PACCAR, with Kenworth and Peterbuilt, long ago converted to metric due to its ownership of DAF and its involvement in the European and world market.
Only architects seem to be stuck in the past. I really hate dealing with drawings dimensioned in feet and inches. Doushebags.
Maybe the gumment canceled the metric deal, but industry had been making the switchover for years.
Industry switches to expedite exporting to metric markets, that is, nearly everyone else in the world, and importing parts from foreign markets.
Where the mob sees it, the US is almost exclusively English. The dual mile/kilometer highways signs and gas stations selling by the litre that were common in 1980 are long gone. Only soda bottlers have stayed with metric containers since the late 70s. Probably a result of, having switched their bottling lines to the metric size bottles, refused to spend more to switch back.
Funny thing I noticed while watching the British produced episodes of “Junkyard Wars” aka “Scrapheap Challenge” several years ago, the contestants that were in their 50s and 60s talked and worked in English units and the contestants that were in their 20s talked exclusively in Metric units.
A few years ago I hired a “high skill” mechanic away from the local GM store for our operation, and he really is good. The dealer still holds it against us! The biggest reason he left is because all the hard stuff was straight time. He ended up making less than the parts replacers who could beat flat rate on the easy stuff. Less parts commission too. They still have to call him back sometimes on tough diagnostic jobs and now they pay his rate or he doesn’t go.
Things like that are one reason some guys won’t upgrade. If you work for a short sighted dealer, you wind up making less $$. Dumb, but that’s how it is in the flat rate game.
Never underestimate the willingness of a mechanic to fight for the easy money jobs. The two senior mechanics at our shop (one was let go a year ago, long story, definitely not the dealership’s fault) would scream bloody murder if any of the other three mechanics started getting scheduled ‘too many’ easy and profitable jobs. As far as they were concerned the new guys, not having seniority, were only to be given the difficult stuff that had a low profit margin.
It got to the point that in my original position of running the service desk, I’d handle all the crash bar, saddle bag mount, etc. work, plus on Saturday’s would handle the PDI (final checkover before delivery) stuff – everything that only took competency with wrenches and not mechanical training. Which, of course, had to be checked out by one of the senior mechanics and went on his time sheet. I wasn’t a mechanic, so I didn’t fall under the system.
Said mechanic was a fair guy, however. Any time one of my bikes needed worked on, that was his personal project, to be done before the customer stuff. And, for that matter, eight years after I got promoted from the service desk, he still handles my stuff on the same basis.
“Any time one of my bikes needed worked on…”
Please take this as more of an observation than a criticism (i.e., we must live in parts of the country where people don’t quite talk the same), but my brain had trouble processing the remainder of this post after it saw the phrase “needed worked on”.
I guess it varies from place to place, when I worked at a Pontiac-GMC dealer, we had techs that were skilled in everything and eager to learn new things, there were always cars that were “pains in the ass” like the DOHC 3.4 W-bodies, but they would work on those too, we had top Syclone/Typhoon guy that had people coming from hundreds of miles away sometimes to get something repaired on their turbo trucks, we also used to get a good number of 89 Turbo “Anniversary” Trans Am’s in for service too, Emerson Fittipaldi used to bring the one he won at Indy in for service with us.
It was funny, I worked at one of the few dealerships where people would still bring in old cars for service too, 60’s and 70’s cars were regulars in our service dept, they usually belonged to an older, affluent folks from our surrounding neighborhood, we used to regularly service a 68 Buick Wildcat sedan, a huge 74 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate, that belonged to a tiny little old lady, even an 80 diesel Bonneville would come in for service from time to time.
In 63 you could get some weird British estate cars too, at least in Canada. However you’d have to be a pipe smoking tweedy type and/or a recent immigrant from the old country to want to do that.
Make mine the Valiant with a 6 and three speed. Such glorious weirdness.
I’m not even sure the Valiant came in wagon here the feeble Falcon did and the then prehistoric Holden but no Corvairs, Valiant wagons soldiered on until the late 70s down under as did the much improved Aussie Falcon and Holden wagons are still made and called sport wagons and fitted with Cadillac front sheet metal for export.
We never had the first generation Valiants wagons, Bryce. The first series was more of a toe in the water exercise to see if the smaller Chyrsler would sell and only ran for a couple of years. When they did, we got the newer full line series tooled up for the ANZ market.
Had me an AP5 Regal Safari, 225 slant, push button auto, white on blue. Loved it. I was always more comfortable in Aussie mopar, but starting these things on a cold morning tested my faith. Sorely.
I remember the first AP5 wagons had the US taillights, then very soon they changed them.
Have seen R/S wagons, but always assumed they were recent imports.
They also carried on with wagons post-66 too.
Let’s go way out on a limb here.
Four-door hardtop, wagon, six cylinder (or V8 optional) plus I even have an ad printed in German.
Doooooh! I appear to suffer from a condition called “Rambler-Blindness”. I really must get this looked at.
I love early 60s Rambler wagons. My acquaintances at the local body shop had a ’60 sitting out back that a guy had dropped off and left there for years, never to return. I tried to buy it from the guys at the shop, but they talked me out of it…too much rust.
A wagon? A pillarless hardtop wagon? Where do I order? 😉
Images of innovative TV comedian Ernie Kovacs’ Lakewood wagon after he managed to kill himself by wrapping it around a pole probably didn’t help sales much:
At the corner of Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Blvd. His wife, Edie Adams, had driven the Corvair to a party at the home of Billy Wilder. Ernie came from a “sweetening” session at ABC (re-doing dialogue and correcting mistakes) for his upcoming special and because of the rain switched cars with his wife before leaving. Southbound and making, I believe, a left (eastbound) turn the loss of contact on the right rear tire (it appears to be shredded and off the rim) due to the limits of the swingarm suspension apparently caused the car to spin and impact the pole. I was only five when this happened, but he was my favorite comedian and I couldn’t at that time understand how he could be on television after his death.
There are rumors he was coming from a party where there had been liquor, it was raining and supposedly he was trying to light a cigar when the crash happened, so I dunno how much of a role the Corvair played in causing the crash.
Obviously we were not there at the time but the Corvair was then equipped with a swing arm transaxle that pivoted from the center of the car, so any change in height effected the camber of the rear wheels. Volkswagens of that era were similar, with one large exception. The Corvair did not have any limit to downward travel, save the shock absorbers, something they are not engineered to do. If the unit or mount broke, the wheel could (and in some cases did) tuck under the car. I owned a 1966 Beetle (VW would not upgrade the design until 1968) and I can tell you from a single incident on a rainslick road one night that even a slight over-correction began a spin, given the rear weight bias, that others have described as swinging a bucket of sand. In my case, once the car began its spin I was simply along for the ride. A this occurred in a semi-rural area where there was mud on either side it was must a matter of getting unstuck.
The other factor to consider is how appropriate the old phrase “wrapping it around a telephone pole” was back in the day when cars were simply not engineered to protect the occupants. Finally, had the car not impacted right at the driver’s door (the impact was great enough to throw Mr. Kovacs out of the car on the passenger side) it probably would have been survivable.
Some of the Space Valiant’s key styling quirks seem to have come back to us. Have you seen Infiniti’s latest? There’s the gaping grill opening, and the rear pillar sweeps backwards in a reverse swoop that suggests neither speed nor structural strength. It seems to please some odd buyers, but not this one.
Are we limited to American iron? Because if not, my parents’ choice for an oddball wagon in the early 60s wins hands down: the Saab 95 wagon. Oddball styling but efficiently packaged ? check. FWD? check. 3 cylinder, two stroke? Hard to get more oddball than that! Even freewheeling, like a bicycle…
Corvair wagons are very cool….after all these years still a good look, owned 3 of them back in the day.:-)
….oops 2 Monza’s , a coupe, and a convertible, also a Corsa convertible ….but unfortunately no wagons…
Corvair, any day. No comparison.
Second choice: Saab 95 wagon.
Third choice: Citroen DS19 wagon.
You are a hopeless romantic. Seek refuge in the arms of that woman that taught you auto crossing in New York state.
Saab ’95 wagon-a dump truck if there ever was one.
Citroen DS19 wagon-as long as all you want is a static display and interesting conversation starter, go for it!
As for Corvair or Valiant? I’ll take both. On days that I wan’t superior handling and braking, I’ll take the Corvair after I’ve gone through the Empi catalog and outfitted the car with a camber compensator, quick steering arms, Koni shocks, and dual glass packs. And don’t forget the Michelin Xs.
For good ole American torquey goodness and Chrysler’s torsion bar front suspension, give me the Valiant, also with the go-fast goodies of the day. And don’t forget the Michelin Xs.
Growing up in Mexico City, Valiants were the stock car kings. They simply kicked ass.
Having owned a ’64 Monza convertible, a ’63 Citroen DS19, and early ’60s Chrysler stuff, I must say I loved them all. But only the Valiant was able to take a beating like an anvil.
’95 Saab Wagon or Saab 9-5 Estate ?
Thanks ! So it can’t be a ’95 95, that’s for sure.
“…it’s a space alien with wheel bearings” Funniest line at CC in quite a while!
I love the 1st-gen Valiants, always have. Space Age styling and Slant Six power, what’s not to love! Yeah, I’m kinda weird. And don’t get me started on the insanity of a rear-engined station wagon. Weird is good but outright lunacy leads to a world of pain.
Speaking of colorful early 1960s cars, the latest Coen Bros. movie, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, set in the winter of ’61 is a CC-lover’s dream. Joel and Ethan Coen have always had the eye for interesting cars.
Just saw that movie, and you are right…aside from it being funny and dark, as their movies usually are, there are some great cars. Even a running Packard!
Did you see “No Country for Old Men?” That movie bugged me because the cars were all too new for the supposed time period.
I’ve been on the fence about seeing “Inside Llewen Davis.” I love that old music, and obviously the cars, but I’ve been reading that it’s a real bummer.
“Why did everyone like those slanted pickles?” Cat’s eyes, that’s why!
Damn it Mike now I’m having Mad Men like fantasies about secretaries…
And I’m an administrator to boot!
Ok Mike…you live in my area. Explain to me why the hipster girls NEVER come off looking this good in these glasses! Oh wait, hairy armpits/legs and no makeup kind of kill that whole look….
my corvair will have to be a four door monza, so enter me on the valiant list wagon-wise. no slushboxes required.
Tough choice! The Exner Valiants are weirdly cool, although in spite of my love of wagons, the lines translate a lot better to the coupe, or even the sedan–Yes, that was ME that just said that.
The ‘Vair is pretty sweet too though. Ive always liked the wagons…its just too bad the 2nd generation never got a wagon variant.
I don’t dislike the looks of the Corvair wagon by any means ,but I would trample across its hood to get at the first Gen of Valiant wagon.
The 60- 61 Valiant screams Exner, and to me how is this not good?
“ahem”…A;;ow me to introduce you to “Ernie” My 1962 Corvair Monza Wagon. Corvair wagons were only called “Lakewood” in the 61 model year. Using the Monza name in 62. For only half that model year. Being replaced on the line by the new for 62 and 1/2 Chevy II wagon.
Monza was a model name for one of the two wagon models in 62. The other was just called a 700. In 1961 there were model 500 and 700 Lakewood wagons. The Lakewood name was dropped in 62. Who knows why the inconsistent naming.
We don’t have cute names for ours. But meet our 61 700 Lakewood and our 62 700 wagon. 700 was top of the wagon line in 61 and the bottom of the wagon line in 62.
OK, technically, it’s a hatchback, not a wagon, but, for my money, a Kaiser Traveler outweirds everything.
Better look in the video
Ferrari 456 GT Venice.
Best opening line of a CC yet:
“Say it’s 1960 or 1961, and you’re weird.”
For styling, I’d take the Corvair wagon, hands down. I really like that green and white one in the top photo, but what’s up with the add-on grille on what’s supposed to be a grilleless car? For driving, I’ll take the Valiant.
I actually like the styling of the early Valiant sedans; it’s that reverse C-pillar and really odd quarter window on the wagon that I can’t abide!
Well, I don’t mind the Corvair styling when it’s a sedan, but the wagon’s rear end just doesn’t work for me. It’s like they tried to get competitive luggage area by making it boxy – it doesn’t match the front half to me.
On the other hand, is there anything at all that matches with the Valiant’s styling? I suspect not, yet the overall result gels spectacularly. It would be my vote in the Grand International Curbside Classic Weird Wagons election. And I’d be very happy to drive one if I owned one.
If we’re allowed to vote outside the Val’ and the ‘vair though, my heart goes to the pillarless hardtop Rambler wagon Jason posted above. I love how the roofline arches above the doors and is then lower and horizontal for the luggage are. Reminds me very much of the Y12 Nissan Wingroad’s roofline! –
That Rambler roofline has a lot of PA Cresta in it.