Cohort Classic: 1950 Plymouth All-Steel Wagon – The First Modern Station Wagon

(first posted 4/5/2011)    CC Cohort contributor Davo posted this 1950 Plymouth wagon with impeccable timing. I’ve been wanting to find one for ages, but no luck so far. This is a very significant historical milestone in the evolution of the modern station wagon indeed; or let’s just say it’s the granddaddy of them all.

Until it arrived, wagons were built in special shops or by sub-contractors out of wood. Quite the operation too; Ford held vast woodland tracts to supply his army of carpenters. But let’s face it, as romantic as the genuine woody wagon seems now, it was a royal pain to maintain. The splinters in a crash weren’t so hot either. But the biggest factor was cost: woodie wagons were quite expensive, and not surprisingly so, given the labor involved. The only question is, what took so long?

Plymouth took the plunge with their new 1949 models, and the writing was on the wall. This wagon was a big hit, as Dad didn’t have to be sanding and varnishing the wagon every spring like the boat (fiberglass took care of that).  Within a few years, Ford and Chevy ditched their wood shops and joined the steel brigade.

This wagon also has sentimental value to me: When we arrived in Iowa in 1960, my Dad’s new boss and his wife drove up to the Cedar Rapids airport to pick us up. He drove a beautiful ’56 DeSoto Firedome sedan; she drove one of these, in the ubiquitous navy blue. In 1960, that made it an elderly car already.

As  we walked to the two cars in the parking lot, I headed for the powerful and handsome DeSoto, but was redirected to the plump Plymouth wagon. I vividly remember every detail, and though I resented it then, I learned to appreciate these cars.

Strictly speaking, the Plymouth wasn’t actually the first all-steel wagon, just the first one in the mainstream of the market. The Willys Jeep wagon beat it by three years, arriving in 1946. It solde well, and undoubtedly influenced the Plymouth as well as some others:

At least one European company was very inspired by the Plymouth and/or Willys. I always wanted one of these Volvo Duett wagons. They were very cool in the late sixties-early seventies, when they could still be found readily and cheaply. Very roomy back there indeed; perfect for a cross-country jaunt with a friend or two. Just about as big as the Plymouth, actually, which was a fairly compact car.

To put that in perspective, the Plymouth wagon’s dimensions are almost identical all-round to 2017 Toyota RAV4.

Here’s the details.

Now if that had been a white gen1 Xb behind the Plymouth, I would really have been impressed!