Shot and posted at the Cohort by William Rubano. More on the GM “clam shell” wagons here.
In the early 80s there was a Grand Ville clamshell in my neighborhood that had sat for years in the driveway …with a 5 or 6 inch gap between the tailgate and the window. Not hard to see what took that car off the road!
It just goes to show the desperation of GM to try and out-do the Wagonmaster (Ford). Come up with some overwrought feature that was A) Expensive to make
B) Added a pile of dead weight C) Robbed a good bit of space D) Had questionable reliability and repairability E) Required a completely different chassis and rear suspension (see A),
all for nought.These things were only beneficial if you launched boats on a regular basis, which was their one and only advantage.
You are right.
But it’s still cool IMO. Practicality has made the world a less interesting place.
I’ve never launched a boat… how does a clamshell help?
Makes it easier for the water to get inside, for more of that “on the water” experience? 🙂
The dead weight of the clamshell helps traction on slippery boat ramps and with a flip of a switch the tailgate disappears, giving an unobstructed view over the right shoulder.
No doubt that the Clamshell was a gimmicky impractical idea. While the Ford’s back in the day made a more practical choice, that gimmicky tailgate has made the GM wagons far more desirable today.
Once GM emulated the Ford wagons with the 77 B-bodies, they then dominated the wagon market until it disappeared.
Reminds me of how a few of my 67-year-old body parts fit these days.
+ 1000! 😉
Winning comment of the day?
These wagons were popular with large families. When I was in grade school, two such families from our church had the Chevrolet version of this. One was all burgundy metallic. The other was golden bronze-ish with wood grain.
I always liked those Pontiac turbine wheel covers. My best friend’s mom had a burgundy ’74 GrandVille with them.
My parts fit, they just keep seizing up.
“If your tailgate sags for more than four hours, consult your doctor immediately.”
This looks like it’s had its di-noc stripped and has been painted. Strangely they left the trim that surrounded the di-noc.
To avoid having to fill the holes I would guess.
My father’s employer (John Deere Franchise) provided B-body wagons to their salesmen as work vehicles (always purchased gently used – the local GM dealer knew if he got one in trade he could sell it quickly). If the vehicle in question had di-noc it would be stripped with the trim remaining. Fortunately for most of the 1980s the trim on the GM B-body woodies was chrome. It would be left in place and masked when the vehicle was painted green and yellow.
One particularly fetching wagon was painted with the area formerly occupied by fake wood being painted John Deere yellow with the remainder being painted John Deere green. It made an interesting two-tone.
I don’t think it was painted. GM used simulated wood-grain vinyl “dinoc” that was translucent and let a bit of the underlying paint color show through and blend with the wood-grain’s colors so that it took on the hue of the car’s paint color. On cars that saw a lot of sunlight the vinyl would fade to white and crack and it is pretty common to see it completely peeled away by owners.
I was in several of these back in the day – I think I got at least one ride in every flavor of them. Most time was spent in the 75 Olds that a good friend’s father had. The Pontiac version made for a good looking wagon. Without researching it, I would guess that the Pontiac was the rarest of them all.
These clamshell wagons remind me of its distant, most recent cousin: The Envoy XUV. Same general idea, same result: More trouble than it was worth.
Still, back in the day, I did think it was futuristic! Just goes to show how over-bloated full-size cars and wagons had become, which is why I switched my interests to mid-sizers of all OEMs.
Gotta love GM…
Always trying to “remake” money over bad ideas, that never worked years before.
Like, the module for the engine in some Escalades, that let’s the engine supposedly idle on only 4 cylinders… Sounds like a 1981 V8-6-4 nightmare, revisited.
My Dad had a 1971 Grand Safari with the clamshell tailgate that was his personal car, and also his “truck” that he used for his printing business. I remember the first time I saw that tailgate in action I thought it was the coolest thing ever! It never really gave him any trouble. The only problem I remember him having with it was dropping his keys in the big hole where the tailgate disappeared into. He was always cursing the overall design of it! But for how much use that tailgate got, it never was a problem.
Dad bought one of these back in ’75. It was a 1972 Chevrolet Brookwood and the tailgate was manual. Twist the knob and the gate rapidly disappears downward. Before the seatbelt laws came into effect the preferred seating arrangement had all the kids seated along the back gate. Ever the joker, never the thinker, my little sister decided it would be funny to reach out and twist the handle while dad was pulling away from a stop. Every one of us was jetisoned out onto the pavement. Lucky it was in front of the house after backing out of the driveway and not on a major roadway.
The water drains for the space below the gate frequently clogged causing it to fill to the brim. The curtain of water shooting up behind the bumper when that manual gate went down was truely awesome. In the winter there was sometimes several hundred pounds of ice in there or at least enough to sag the rear end. These drains had to be cleared several times a year.
The biggest drawback of the manual gate was the strength it took to yank it up again. Mom could never do it and ten year old me had to wait a couple of years to get it done successfully in one or two tries. The gate was often down an inch until dad got home. The tracks were kept well greased to aid in raising the gate which meant the brackets on the inside ends came down with bone crushing force. Lucky for me a hard sole shoe stopped the gate before the bones went crunch. It still hurt a lot and that was one day I was thankfull for dressing up for church on sunday. We learned to fear the gate and a call was always made before the latch released. “EVERYBODY FOREWARD!”
Sometimes I wonder how we ever survived.
hehehe. I still want one though.
When I was 9, my dad bought a 72 Kingswood new from Roger Penske! It had the manual door knob like yours. We never had a problem with drainholes or water ice build-up.
Pro tip for the door: because it was counterbalanced with a torsion bar, it was possible to push it down, almost to the point of it latching fully open, and then with the springs help pulling it up to latch closed.
Our neighbor bought a Pontiac Safari the same year but theirs had the electric door like that in the picture here.
Wasn’t the manual version of the clamshell gate the one that tended to get jammed, something about it getting askew in the track? If so, I can sure see it being worth coughing up the extra dough for the motorized version, as long as it was substantially more reliable. Additionally, if the motor crapped on the latter, was it still possible to manipulate the gate manually (as difficult as that might otherwise be) or was the operator simply SOL?
Either way, it’s kind of shame it didn’t work out. In fact, with the popularity of light pickups as mainstream transportation these days, I wonder if any manufacturer has considered bringing back some sort of similar disappearing tailgate. Maybe not on the domestics, but seems like this would go over well on something like the Honda Ridgeline, particularly since they were the ones who pioneered the magic rear seat, something that is almost a given in a minivan and a big reason for the popularity of the Honda Fit, the only small car that has it.
In our region Buick wagons were the rarest. Chevy’s and Pontiacs were the most common. Olds was not too far behind the Pontiacs. Maybe because our local dealer sold Buicks and Pontiacs they sold more Pontiacs because of price.
That Pontiac has a power tailgate. Notice the absence of a handle in the middle of the gate. Doesn’t look good being crooked though.
In April of 1973 my folks took delivery of an ordered Olds Custom Cruiser with the manual gate. They had it for 13 years. The tailgate took some strength to slam shut in that time it always worked with no problem. The lower bodysides needed to be refinished because of the tuck under and wide track, typical for GM at the time.
And yes the drain plugs for the tailgate well would plug up and water would shlosh around in there.
That car carried our family of 6 (plus a popup camper and gear) from Wisconsin to Disneyworld and back. Also to Colorado, and Wyoming and back to Wisconsin. In Colorado at night we hit a dead moose in the middle of the road. Sent the hole car and trailer airborne for a fraction of a second. No damage.
After 13 years we sold it back to the dealer. Where it probably got sold to someone running it in a demo derby. 🙁
I think most of these died that way.
Wow, that moose had some sucky ass luck. 😀
Had one of these Chevy clamshells right after my wife and I were married (’79). Don’t remember which year, just that the tailgate was balky. The thing I remember the most was my wife getting stopped one night by the cops, who refused to believe she was nineteen, and thought she was about fourteen, as when she drove it she had to look between the hub and the top of the steering wheel. She had forgotten her license so she was detained while they verified it. The fact that she was barely five foot tall did not help matters. Boy, was she mad when she got home.
Never mind, the Brady Bunch wagon’s woes…
I’m more bothered by the white wagon/CUV’s?(who knows, all these ugly 2006-now appliances, look alike)
bad tint job or trash bag window.
Looks like Lo-Jack couldn’t track down ALL the hot-boxes. 😛
The CC Effect is in effect, as it often is, in SW PA. I can’t tell you how many times a car has been featured on here and soon afterward I’ll spot one. The opposite also happens, I’ll spot a car I haven’t seen an example of in years and then within a few days it’ll be seen here (Reverse CC Effect).
This time, unlike most times, I was able to get some pictures. Walking across one of the huge fields that serve as a parking lot for a large annual swap meet, I spied the unmistakable greenhouse from a good 50ft away and quickened my step, exclaiming “Hey! A clamshell!” It was a very hot & humid day, and Mrs K-Code thought I’d suffered a case of heat stroke and was hallucinating that I was on a beach. As I took the pics I explained to her about clamshell wagons and their rarity, and having just read an article about them, and now here was the first one I’d seen in years. She’s a bit of a gearhead too, digs classic iron and going to cruises and swap meets. Yes, I’m a Very Lucky man 🙂
We usually have very similar tastes in cars, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm for this clamshell ’73 Impala. “It almost looks bigger than the New Yorker.. (our ’68 sedan) ..at least there’s no fake wood on it” was the nicest thing she said about it. She doesn’t share my deep love for Di-Noc lol (I’d have taken more pics if it had been sporting the beautiful stuff, but clamshell Impalas were not so blessed).
I did make sure to get some shots of the leaf spring rear suspension (versus the coil springs of the non-wagon Chevies), and the funky tailpipes that run beneath (instead of above) the rear axle, two interesting aspects of these cars that I had forgotten about, but were now top of mind having just read about them on CC (article published on June 16, spotted this clamshell on June 17).
Classic CC Effect.
I will now attempt to post a number of pictures
Yes, it has a trailer hitch
Leaf spring rear suspension.. not the best pic, but I was laying in the grass hoping someone didn’t step on me or think I was passed out and call 911
Tailpipes that go Under, instead of Over, the rear axle
The top of the dash was somewhat warped and cracked but photographed well. I like the steering wheel and the white interior
If only this Impala were a Caprice Estate Wagon, covered in acres of Di-Noc 😀
..Like this beauty!
(pic from the web)
Long may you run
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