The Vega has been discussed here on CC ad infinitum (if you missed it, further reading on CC can be found here and here), so I won’t rehash what all of you know: Coulda, shoulda, woulda. But an interesting question that occurred to me is why didn’t GM offer four-door versions? For that matter, why didn’t Ford do the same with their subcompact Pinto? Many of their Japanese competitors–Datsun 510, Subaru Leone, Toyota Corolla–had them. Even Chrysler’s captive-import Dodge Colt had a four-door wagon. So why didn’t GM and Ford bother?
The European Opel Ascona (CC here), sold here as the 1900, offered a four-door version, albeit as a sedan and not a wagon. With all the money GM spent on their pet project–and let’s be honest, if they wanted to save money, they could have based their small car on the very sound Opels–how much more would tooling a Vega with more than two portals have cost?
By 1976 the Vega was a pretty decent little hauler, and the wagon was perhaps the best looking Vega of all. If a four-door version had been built, we probably can assume it would have been recycled for the 1978 Monza line, just like the two-door wagon was.
Ford did the same thing with its Pinto: Any model you wanted, as long as it had two doors–notwithstanding the wagon’s tailgate. But over in Blighty, you could get a Cortina four-door wagon. What gives, Ford? Maybe we wanted a small quattroporte Pinto. The Quattropinto?
And by the way, for all you Pinto people (wagon CC here): My first attempt to create a four-door Pinto wagon resulted in a concoction so ugly that I ditched it. Perhaps it was the angle of the original photo I used. At any rate, a more suitable picture from oldcarbrochures.com sufficed. May I present the 1980 Pinto Squire four-door wagon?
This four-door Pinto’s styling is not quite as harmonious as the four-door Vega’s–rear wheelwell intrusion, anyone?–but hey, if you wanted real room, you could always check out a Fairmont Squire or LTD across the showroom. Perhaps that’s just what people did in 1980.
My feeling is that because of the wonderful reputation the Vega and the Pinto gave their respective makers, a four door wagon would have simply allowed them to alienate MORE people by reaching a broader audience.
I really don’t recall Vega wagons being used as family cars. They usually ended up in the hands of younger people who wanted lots of trunk space, and thus a couple of extra doors would have meant very little to them. Also, that lengthened 4-Door wagon would have been incredibly slow. I used to have a ’76 Vega hatchback with an automatic, and that thing defined the word “slow” and used it in a sentence. A much better idea would have been to market a wagon version of the Nova.
I was thinking of compromise in the already-flimsy structural rigidity.
Possibly the two-door wagon-body was chosen simply because it had more inherent stiffness – like an airplane fuselage. Four doors would have revealed the lack of material used in building the body to a target weight, with a target price.
This is an interesting concept…we tend to forget, that at the time there was a gaping hole in the wagon market between the Pinto/Vega and the “intermediate” (really, former-full-size) wagons.
And, in those years before minivans and SUVs/CUVs…wagons were where the family dollars were at. And there were more families with children and fewer singles, statistically, at that time.
I suspect having four-door small wagons was one part of how the Japanese cracked the American market. There were limited alternatives, really…AMC, on a perpetual Consumer Death Watch, and with their half-hatchback/half-wagon Sportabout; or your grandma’s Valiant wagon If you were a Ford or Chevy family,you either got a Gran Torino wagon, or a Pinto Penalty-Box Squire.
Or you could do something WILD…go with a Colt or Toyota or Nissan.
The mistake could have been rectified easier, with less cost and compromise, by either having brought out Maverick and Nova wagons, or in Ford’s case, by keeping the Falcon wagon alive
What I suspect happened with these cars, is that Ford followed GM’s lead and restricted the Vega (and by extension) and Pinto to the lowest rung buyers, with keeping the car model choices restricted, they could keep their costs low. If there were no interest in any kind of utility, the mini wagons would not have existed.
I think the other observations are correct about the four doors and the missing four door wagons, the structures probably would not have been able to handle the additional stresses. Like the contemporary Maverick, they would have necessitated a stretched wheelbase for reasonable utility. There goes the advantage of just having one set of stampings, assembly equipment, etc…
WRT the Japanese offerings: I think their product line ups for export were a lot smaller than what we were used to seeing from the domestics. Niche marketing may have played a part, but unlike AMC who was making a career of niche marketing oddball cars, most of the Japanese money and reputation was made on little economical hatchbacks and sedans. The wagons were considered part of the overhead of doing business, since we hadn’t gone apesh!t over SUVs and CUV and any other UVs yet.
If the demand truly wasn’t there and only AMC and some of the Japanese brands still offered them, that may have been the extent of the sales for that style of car. I don’t have sales numbers to show the trends, but it’s my suspicion that’s what happened. The Big Three never should have abandoned the compact station wagon. But, like the Rancheros that went from the Falcon platform to the Fairlane platform, it wasn’t that much more to build the car on the larger platform, but they could charge a lot more for them. I’m sure the same reasoning was used with compact wagons.
About a Maverick wagon, one Ford dealer in Brazil did some Maverick wagons
I’m surprised then Ford didn’t attempted to do a Granada wagon either when the Granada was released in 1975 (situation who was corrected later with a Fox-body Fairmont wagon rechristined as Granada wagon for ’82).
Your Photoshops reminded me that Ford actually did stretch the wheelbase of the Maverick by 7 inches to create a 4-door. It was a pretty good-looking car, because the proportions were right. Seems to me the next logical step would have been a wagon.
The next logical step would have been a Maverick Squire. They could have sold a ton of those.
There was a Maverick wagon — in Brazil, made in very small quantities by a coachbuilder. It’s a great looking car, and it doesn’t look like they cut corners in the conversion, as the tailgate opens all the way down to the bumper which required relocating the gas tank and filler.
Chrysler sold a ton of Aspen and Volare wagons in 1976-77. That package did fit into the sweet spot betwen the subcompacts and the bloated “intermediates” of all of the Big Three. Wagon sales increased in 1977 over ’76 despite the teething problems of the early Aspens/Volares. Probably helped demonstrate to Ford that the market was there, leading to the Fairmont/Zephyr wagons in ’78.
That may be the only Maverick with 4 doors that looks right!
It looks a lot like a ’70-’71 Montego wagon to me, but without the Jimmy Durante nose. Looks good!
The Maverick was on the “Falcon Platorm”, so just putting a Mav clip on the Falcon wagon was easy.
Hw about a 6 door airport shuttle like those old Pontiacs, Internationals and Checkers?
It’s cool that you mocked these up. This is something that actually crossed my mind a lot as a child, since we had a Pinto Runabout hatchback from the time I was about 7 to 10 years old. Of course I was always relegated to the tiny back seat, which wasn’t easy to climb in and out of even for a little guy (wrestling with a high back front bucket seat with a release lever didn’t help!) I wondered why there was no four-door version, and figured that oh well, they just can’t make doors that small! LOL. I guess there weren’t many 4-door Rabbits, Datsun 510 wagons, etc., around back then, or at least they weren’t catching my notice. Your Pinto and Vegas wagons look surprisingly good. I wonder how a 4-door Pinto hatchback or sedan would look, though. Did you try it?
Not yet, but I suspect it would be harder with the coupe/hatchback’s sloping roofline. How about a Pinto CUV?
Funny! Now it reads AMC Eagle wagon.
The thing to remember about actual real-life four-door sedans and wagons is that the front doors are shorter than on the corresponding two-door models. So even if you don’t extend the wheelbase you end up having to do a lot of redesign and make new stampings and such. So if you’re a car company trying to sell smaller cars to customers who unaccountably don’t want their perfectly nice full-size vehicles you’re not going to spend a lot of money on stuff like that.
Why this attitude didn’t seem to change after the inroads that Japanese cars made into the US market is another question….
It did, kinda.
Now…almost all smaller cars are made in four-door versions only.
They faced the same choice but answered it differently. Can’t afford two- and four-door models; four-door versions draw young families and offer lower insurance rates (because of obscure statistics affecting risk ratings)…so, it’s four-doors. Or a Personal-Luxury or ponycar model.
Tom asks a good question. Perhaps the best technical answer is that the bodies for both the Pinto and the Vega weren’t designed with a four door in mind. They were too low and the side glass sloped too sharply into the roof.
If you don’t believe me, compare the roofline of a Pinto or Vega to that of the Opel 1900. The latter car’s greenhouse is much more upright. That was necessary for such a short wheelbase; what’s the point of offering a four door if the back seat isn’t very roomy?
GM and Ford assumed that subcompact buyers wanted style over roominess. In a way this was understandable. Coupes sold particularly well in the late-60s and early-70s.
Meanwhile, smaller four-door wagons had fallen out of favor with American automakers. By 1970 each of the Big Four had dropped their compact wagons, and only AMC partially filled the void with the 1971 Sportabout — which didn’t even have a full liftgate.
I’m not sure that smaller 4-door wagons had fallen out of favor as much as the bean counters didn’t see enough profit in them. When “compact” wagons were left behind by GM and Chrysler in connection with a redesign of their smaller cars (’68 for GM and ’67 for Mopar), there were reasonably sized, nonbloated Chevelles and Coronets to sell to the same buyers. The sales pitch of more cargo room happily corresponded to greater profit per car. Ford was even more subtle because it kept making Falcon and Comet wagons but brought the cars up to intermediate size. When each of the carmakers reintroduced smaller wagons (’76 Volare/Aspen, ’78 Fairmont/Zephyr, ’78 Malibu/Cutlass/etc., ’84 GM A-body FWD wagons), sales took off quickly.
I think that they didn’t do this because they didn’t see the value in it.
I owned a couple of AMC Eagles (AKA Hornet Sportabout) and they weren’t really practical as a true wagon. I couldn’t imagine how a car a bit smaller than that would fare.
On that I disagree.
The Pinto Squire I had…well, it wasn’t a delivery van; but in an era where minivans didn’t exist, it had FAR more usable room inside than a Gran Torino sedan offered. We tend to forget just how much space those bench seats and general layout in cars of that era, took up.
I never measured out a Sportabout; the forward tuck of the liftback surely cut into its utility. But…had it been a real wagon with a vertical rear gate…eminently useful.
It’s all relative. American cars of that era emphasized “style” over efficiency. The 1972+ Torino had so much bloat that it had roughly the same usable space as an “old-school” compact Valiant despite being much larger on the outside.
AMC’s Hornet was a new-school design that dumped the almost European space efficiency of the old Rambler in favor of a more coupe-like look — low, rakish and not nearly as space efficient.
I haven’t had a Pinto yet but, with the seats up in back and 3 Passengers in the Eagle things were tight. Heck, it was tight with 2 people and Winter coats. The original purpose for my Eagle was to do side jobs out of discreetly. After shoving tools and helpers in I found I had no room for materials. A car slightly larger like an 83 Cutlass Cruiser (constantly borrowed from my dad) made a huge difference.
I’ve always looked at the Pinto and Vega as 2 seaters trying to skirt the Insurance guys.
Maybe another answer is Ford and GM’s experience with their captive imports. Most of the Opels I saw back then were 2 door cars. And, of course, so were VWs. I recall reading somewhere that in the German market, 2 door cars were always more popular than elsewhere. Perhaps PN can add to this point.
Ford had been selling the Cortina here, but in low numbers. My scoutmaster had a 69 Cortina wagon, much like the blue one pictured. However, of the few Cortinas I saw, 2 doors seemed most common. It was not, by the way, a durable car. In fact, at 2 or 3 years old, it was a real heap. It may or may not have been the car’s British roots, but I never saw anything else that required shifting by vice grip pliers because the shift handle broke off an inch above the floor.
I suspect that execs at GM and Ford figured that small cars were going to be for young, single people, who typically bought 2 doors then anyhow. They probably did not figure the market for a 4 door to be big enough to bother with, certainly not with the low profit margins on these cars.
JP I must have read the same article about german 2 door wagons. The T-car wagon was also 2 door, and I wondered why, but apparently the wagon was developed in Germany.
The Holden T-car (Gemini) had to compete with Japanese wagons of the same size with 4 doors. It never seemed like a good idea to me. However, it meant there was a Gemini panelvan, which was very cool in the 70s!
Or, they figured that the market for a four door subcompact, (four doors necessary for the real needs of the largest share of the market) would eat into their higher margin models.
The original formula laid down by GM for easing customers out of low margin models into higher ones was style and status. Later, as all the brands of a manufacturer began to share power, style and features, the only way to protect higher margins was utility. Hence, by the 70s, it made sense to cater to the then newly emergent and newly affluent youth market with limited utility vehicles while keeping the much larger family market out with this same strategy of limited utility.
(We seem to have this weird idea that manufacturers build what we want. They actually build what maximizes their revenues).
The Japanese, as in so many other areas, smashed these strategies and left American manufacturers reeling (until, with maturation of their own economy and its costs, Japan has had to deal with similar realities and in the process, has lost ground to the Koreans).
Actually, these days, the manufacturers build what the government demands they build. The Cavalier, for example, lost $200 per unit for Chevrolet…but they needed to sell it to keep the Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers high enough they could sell larger cars and meet the seemingly-bottomless SUV market.
You’re basically right, however, in thinking that Detroit was discouraging sales of small cars with limited body styles. In those days, the idea seemed to be, make the four-door customer move to a larger and more-profitable model.
CAFE changed all that – the small cars had to sell. Which was a challenge, since the kind of body layout which accommodated four doors lost the low-and-swoopy Pinto look. And the price point had to be met…there’s a ceiling, nobody can know where it’s at at any given time…but buyers will not go beyond it in great numbers. So…often times the car is sold at cost or below to get those CAFE numbers up.
Well put, Norm.
Norm; you nailed it.
I like the ‘Quatropinto’ moniker. Maybe the Pinto Squire should have been called the Squirrel?
Looks like Ford did have a 4 door Pinto in prototype already…
Well, actually it looks like a 3 door, as the 4 door treatment is only on the driver’s side.
Now that is seriously intriguing – any more info/pics on it?
I found these pics for sale on eBay by a legit seller of old car pics. (I’ve purchased items from him in the past for brochures to help show with some of my classic cars.)
Do a search for “Pinto” under this seller’s items, you’ll find at least 4 pics of the same car.
The pics look like they were taken at Ford’s proving grounds somewhere.
Awesome, found them – thank you! I’ve purchased brochures from Autolit several times previously too, for Southern Hemisphere dwellers like myself, they’re a reliable source of American car brochures (and the odd obscure Japanese one too!). It’d be fascinating to find out more about the 3/4 door Pinot wagon, think I might do a bit of trawling through the internet later this week…!
It looked like either a Toyota Corona or Cressida Wagons built during that point in time.
Interesting that it’s a 1973. The Squire and wagon had been out for at least a year already.
It looks cool! But better and sportier as a 2 door in a Nomad kind of way.
Despite being more of a Ford man, I confess a closet attraction to the looks of the 2-door Vega wagon, but your 4-door what-if is even more attractive!
Ever since the first Corvair, Falcon, and Valiant station wagons rolled off the assembly lines in 1960, compact station wagons have been a tough sell. For the price of a compact station wagon, a buyer could get a larger intermediate 4-door sedan, and I would imagine that, more than anything else, is what keeps the small station wagon off the market more than anything else.
So, it just wasn’t worth the investment for Ford or GM to tool-up and build 4-door versions of the Pinto and Vega wagons. The market just wasn’t there (particularly since the 2-doors were hatchbacks).
In fact, one of the most puzzling recent model arrays was the original Ford Focus which included a 3-door hatchback, a 4-door sedan, a 5-door hatchback, and a 5-door wagon. Geez, talk about product overlap.
What about a Nova and Granada Wagons? Any takers?
Interesting – the Granada looks like a cross between the Euro Granada, the USA Granada and the Australian XC Falcon wagon.
Motor Trend did a few stories saying Ford was planning Granada/Monarch wagons. But, they saved the $ and waited for the Fairmont versions.
The Pinto and Vega were designed in USA and didn’t have 4 door variants planned at all, compared to imports that come from markets that wanted small 4 doors. These two were planned in the late 60’s to compete with VW Beetle, and no idea that Japan would overtake VW eventually.
CAFE was passed in 1975, and took effect for 1978 model year. So the Vega and Pinto were not designed with that in mind initially. BTW, 18 mpg required that first year. Which was one reason that Mopar dropped the big Dodge and Plymouth C bodies.
My Dad always said “Why didn’t they make a Chevette Wagon?”, even tho the Vega was close…as seen did not come with 4-doors. The Opel front is the Chevette so even an Opel wagon wouldda been it to be ezact (give or take a trim).
OOPS Spoke too soon Didnt I….
It appears they did offer one but a 2-door of course in Brazil.
Cant wait to show him…now only if a 4-door had been made huh.
Mopar could’ve had a Valiant wagon by mid-’72, ’73 at the latest just by reimporting the Aussie wagon body dies after production there switched to the new, bigger Aussie Valiant that was really a Coronet with the wasted overhang hacked off. I wonder if they even considered it.
Chrysler actually waited about 3-4 years later and instead had the Plymouth Volare’ & Dodge Aspen 5 Door Wagons as their “Compact” Wagons back then.
You have to look at the basic platform and see that the car was a TOTAL POS and underpowered, badly designed with no more weight to be added on with the suspension, engine and fuel economy suffering………………this era of car was saddeled with the battering ram bumpers and theyaded tremendous weight to the cars, plus the feds mandated detuned motors for emissions just about killed economy and performance..glad they kept it at 2 doors, 4 doors would have been a KILLER!@
I often wondered about that when my dad had the VW Squareback. 4 door would have been cool. I think the Brazilian VW had a 4 door version. With the Pinto, the car was too low, and wheelbase was too short. They had to cram in that back seat between the wheels. Access wouldn’t have been much better than a 2 door wagon. I had a regular Pinto for a while, and wished they’d made it taller so the back seat could also be taller. Then you wouldn’t have that transmission tunnel splitting up that rear seat.
The amazing world of gumball made a Pinto wagon
The amazing world of gumball made a Pinto wagon
Is the following link about a Ford Pinto 4-door prototype real?