In 1967, dad and mom had finally had enough of that unreliable 1958 Plymouth. They felt we needed a new family station wagon, so we returned to the Buick family to get a two-year-old 1965 Buick Sportwagon. We still were going back and forth between the home in north Seattle and the weekend place on Whidbey Island (35 miles and a ferry ride away). The wagon was needed to haul three kids plus groceries plus bikes plus other stuff we’d carry back and forth most weekends. Pictured above are Mom and my sister Helen at the Whidbey house, about to go to Church.
The Buick Sportwagon (and related Olds Vista Cruiser) were introduced in mid-1964. They were based on the GM intermediate A-body wagons in the Special and F-85 lines. As I understand it, the idea was to turn the third seat forward on nine-passenger models and get away from the dizzying rear-facing third seat. The wheelbase was stretched from 115 to 120 inches. And to give adequate headroom for adults in the third seat the roof was raised behind the second seat, with tinted windows at the leading edge and the sides.
Here are two pics I grabbed off the internet. It’s a little hard to tell, but the regular Special wagon (below) has shorter rear doors than the elongated Sportwagon (above). I’m not sure, but I think the extra room went behind the second-row seat, to give the third-row passengers some extra footroom. The increased height of the roof on the Sportwagon meant more headroom for passengers who were essentially sitting atop the rear axle.
In any case, ours was a two-seat wagon, not a three-seater. The car had a voluminous covered storage area below the rear deck where the third seat would have been stored. It was useful for hiding stuff from prying eyes, although my relentlessly middle-class family never carried anything particularly valuable in the cars. Cheap as always, Mom furnished the weekend home with used furniture; castoffs from friends, and stuff she picked up at Goodwill. So no need to hide anything expensive in what was “her” car.
Originally, Buick planned to offer this wagon standard with the Fireball V6. Motor Trend did a pre-release comparison between the V6 Sportwagon and an Olds Vista Cruiser with their V8, and found the Buick barely adequate for normal driving due to the weight of the car. They noted that the V6 had to work so hard to move the car that gas mileage was no better than the Olds V8. So by introduction time, the 300 c.i. V8 was made standard. That’s what our car had.
Here are a couple of shots from the internet of a similar car to ours. I don’t know what the name of this odd shade of green paint was, but you certainly don’t see that in today’s world of silver; white; grey, and black cars. Ours had a nice quality vinyl interior; carpeting, and power windows and tailgate window. The previous owner had disconnected the power windows in the rear doors, presumably for the safety of their kids, but the driver’s switches could raise and lower those windows. Our also came with the two-speed Super Turbine 300, with the unique Switch-Pitch variable stator that gave a little extra oomph when accelerating in direct drive. Over the years the car was pretty reliable—a big change from our 1958 Plymouth, which broke down with distressing regularity.
The story of how this car became mine is a sad one. Shortly after the picture which opens this COAL was taken, Mom started exhibiting the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, and my sister Helen started showing the signs of a form of schizophrenia. Mom started having difficulty walking and using her right arm, and Helen had to drop out of college. My older brother Jim (who had a form of autism then called Asperger’s Syndrome) couldn’t handle things, so he went to live at the family home on Whidbey Island to avoid the stress. That left dad and me as the two drivers in the family. I was allowed to drive the Sportwagon to high school, because I was sometimes needed to deal with a medical emergency concerning mom or Helen (or both). Dad was traveling a lot for work in those days to make extra money for the medical bills, so it was up to me to drive Mom to the doctor or drive Helen to the psychiatric facility when she had a breakdown.
As an aside, in 1970 Dad traded his 1963 Buick Electra 4-door hardtop for a 1967 Electra coupe. Ours was dark blue, like the four -door above, but a coupe, like the white one. It had a black vinyl top, vinyl interior, power everything, Super Turbine 400 3-speed automatic, and the new Buick 430 V8 that replaced the old “Nailhead” engine. I loved that car! It was fast; luxurious, and sporty. And I loved those wall-to-wall tail lights! Whenever dad was away, mom let me drive that car; I felt like king of the world when I drove it.
In my first COAL episode I told the story of when I “drove” our 1953 Buick through the garage doors—twice. The ’67 Electra is another player in the continuing saga of Crutchfield car crashes. One morning I was headed up the hill from my house to high school. Someone came down the hill and didn’t see me coming, so he slammed into my left front fender trying to make a left turn in front of me. I was OK, but the car was a mess. The first person on the scene was my next-door neighbor, our high school Principal Mr. Waller. He got me calmed down and took me to school after the car was towed away. That afternoon, a girl in our school had a medical emergency and had to be taken away in an ambulance, complete with police assistance. Rumors were running wild, so Mr. Waller got on the public-address system and explained what had happened. He added “Here at Shorecrest High we watch out for each other. Just this morning I helped one of your classmates who was in a bad car accident.” My sixth period physics class, who knew the story, broke into laughter and applause; I was mortified. The senior class voted me “Worst Driver” that year.
After graduation, I enrolled in the University of Washington. I had been admitted to Stanford, but Mom and Dad felt it was best if I stay in Seattle. I moved into the Delta Upsilon fraternity on campus—they felt it was important for me to live away from home, even though it was only 12 miles away. By this time mom was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer drive, so the 1965 Buick went with me. Parking was limited, but the fraternity gave me parking privileges in return for making runs to a day-old bakery place to get bread and rolls to feed the brothers. I felt a bit ashamed driving a mommymobile, which my pals dubbed The Green Slug. They had cool cars—Mustangs, Camaros, Javelins, a ’57 T-bird, and a 396 El Camino. I would put the back seat down in my car and pretend I was driving a two-seater sports car; nobody was fooled. But I was popular late at night; we could pile lots of guys into my car to make a run to the local burger joint, Herfy’s. This was frequently done after some of the guys had taken ‘a walk on campus’ (meaning they snuck out of the drug-free chapter house to smoke weed). When they got back they had the marijuana munchies, so off we went in my car in search of junk food. Since I didn’t do weed, I was the designated driver.
In 1970 my grandmama Helen, who lived a few miles way from the family, decided she had had enough of the dismal Seattle winters and moved back to Los Angeles, where she had lived for years. Grandmama used to drive with her knees while applying make up. She raced like the little old lady in the Jan and Dean song. She also said that it was a “rule” that when making a left turn against traffic that you only had to let three cars go by and then it was your turn to move. How the driver of the fourth car would know they had to yield, she never explained. So I was asked to drive her down to California, since Dad didn’t trust her to make the trip alone. I got to drive her 1960 LeSabre coupe (just like this one). For seventeen-year-old me, it was my first long road trip. I loved loafing along in that big ol’ Buick with gobs of power. It was decidedly less fun than it could have been. because Grandmama cried the whole way from Seattle to Portland. She was going to miss her son and the old schnauzer who was too old for the trip and had to be put down. She stopped sobbing long enough to direct me on how to drive and to nag me about my driving. When we stopped for the night Dad got on the phone and told her to get off my neck.
A couple of years later, Grandmama came up from California for a visit. I was away at school but came home for evening to have dinner with the family. When I got there I saw Dad’s Electra in a crumpled heap and Grandmama nowhere to be found. Apparently she got confused by the parking brake release, and got out of the car to bend down and figure out how to disengage it. She’d left the car in Drive, and when the parking brake was released the car started to roll, dragging her under and running over her left leg, and then smashing into a light pole. She was in the hospital for several weeks, and then recuperated at my folks’ house. She bitterly complained that because of her injury she wouldn’t be able to wear “cute shoes” anymore. Mom, who had a frosty relationship with her in the best of times, finally retorted “Helen! At least you have hope of walking again.” Mama didn’t take no mess from anyone.
Mom passed away in 1972 at the beginning of my sophomore year. I was devastated, and the impact of her death worsened my sister’s condition. For the next three years I would drive The Green Slug back and forth to have dinner with dad once a week or to help cope with my sister. In 1973 I was bringing Sister Helen home from the psychiatric facility in a snowstorm. I slid in the snow and crumpled the front fender for my car. Dad was away at the time, so I dealt with the insurance issues and got the car fixed. He was not at all amused when he got home. Also in that year I was on a road trip with fraternity brothers in Spokane. A bunch of us piled into Tom Hullinger’s 1972 Celica to go drinking in Idaho where the drinking age was 19. We got tanked, and on the way back to where we were staying Tom lost control of the car and we tumbled down a hill, rolling over six times and ending upright. I remember my head smashing the back window as we rolled over (I was in the back seat). Miraculously, nobody was hurt. From then on I had a personal rule: never drive drunk or get in a car with a drunk driver. Which meant for decades I was the designated driver.
I drove The Green Slug until my junior year of college. For my 21st birthday, Dad gave me $1,000 to buy my first real car. He had in mind something sensible like a two-year-old Buick Special. I had other ideas, which I’ll discuss in my next COAL episode.
COAL № 1: Buicks Aplenty; a Fiat, and a Pontiac • The Early Years.
COAL № 2: 1958 Plymouth Custom Suburban • Dad’s Biggest regret
I think that color was called Seafoam Green. Compare it with this wagon: https://www.schmitt.com/inventory/ds-1965-buick-sport-wagon-vista-cruiser/
BTW, the two-speed automatic was “Super Turbine 300” (rather than 200).
Thanks….. You’re correct, it’s ST 300. I blame the new glasses I’m wearing on my proofreading error!
Fixed now. Minor detail.
Thanks Paul. The obsessive car geek in me would hate to let even a minor error stand! ☺️
Wow. Such a great story, but sad at the same time.
It reinforces my thought that vehicles do become very personal, though I’ve been laughed at for it.
Truly sorry about the health issues you dealt with.
Thank you for sharing
Good grief – what a COAL chapter. I felt exhausted after reading it.
First, car colors in light green are now so popular that most dealers have them on long wait lists, especially according to friend’s experiences at Toyota and Subaru dealers. Even as the chip shortage is corrected, light green and “Sand” colors are hard to get.
I am sorry for your loss and the trials of dealing with your mother’s MS and your sister’s mental illness. Asperger’s used to be in a separate category in the DSM (*) but at some point it was put onto the Autistic spectrum, albeit at the extreme functional edge of that spectrum. Asperger’s is often found in people who are considered geniuses in their chosen fields, such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. (Note: Twitter is not Musk’s chosen field.)
(*) The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Driving and drinking – In the 1950s my parents would often not remember driving home from parties, even when the Packard was neatly and perfectly backed into the garage the next morning. It frightened me and, like you, I often volunteered to be the designated driver in later years. I never liked the feeling I was not in full control of my brain at all times.
My sister had a 1967 Buick Sport Wagon V8 in dark green. It was much smoother, quieter, and better equipped than my 1967 OHC-6 Tempest. When I went through my first divorce I used that Buick to move furniture into a [shabby] studio rental apartment in Long Beach Long Island.
“Helen! At least you have hope of walking again.”
What a perfect and appropriate comeback by your mother.
Like some with Asperger’s, my brother had an unusual gift: He was an amazing guitar player. He used to play at all the family gatherings. He could listen to a song once and then replay the guitar part note for note.
Mom and Dad both had snarky, sarcastic senses of humor. Which they passed on to me. It sometimes gets me into trouble because I blurt out some sarcastic quip or witty retort without thinking and ends up offending someone.
Steve, yes, thank you for sharing. Your story conveys the trials, challenges, and humor that an interesting family (but aren’t they all?) contains. I’m really enjoying your COAL.
I very much appreciate the GM A-body wagons of this age. I think they’re just the right size and I do love the raised roofline in the back. I too would probably opt for a 2 seat version and keep the back seat down for cargo-carrying. I think I’m smart enough not to get myself into another old car at this point in my life, but I do keep an eye out for a mid-60s to early 70s A-body wagon. Fortunately, the prices on these are rapidly rising, so I’m protected that way.
A large car in college absolutely has its benefits. It certainly did for me in similar ways that the Green Slug served you.
You certainly had more than your share to deal with at that age, but it was good that the boring old Buick mom-mobile didn’t give you more to worry about. Sometimes a car like that is just what we need while we address other things in life.
It took way too long for me to understand that the Sport Wagon/Vista Cruiser was more than just an ordinary Skylark/Cutlass wagon with a funky roof. My Oldsmobile roots would probably steer me into a Vista, but I like the looks of these Sport Wagons a lot.
I will agree with AUWM on the Seafoam Green – it seems to have been a 1965-66 color shared by all GM divisions (under different names) other than Cadillac. I think almost everyone offered something like it in the early to mid 60’s. I never liked it much back then, but like it a lot more now.
Excellent write-up. You certainly had to go through a lot as a young person with family health issues. But you did good! And I’m impressed that your family was a Christian family who attended church. I was also raised to go to church and still do to this day!
Love the ’67 and ’68 Buick Electras. Beautiful cars.
RIP the GREAT AMERICAN STATION WAGON! Classy comfortable hauler ! Believe BUICK ( Roadmaster) was the last to build a station wagon. The rise of the VAN as I seem to recall was largely due to CAFE standards which considered them as trucks and not subject to figures for determining corporate averages 🤔. Then came SUVS and crossovers 🤮.
When I went to Shorecrest High in the early 80s, there was a kid in my Econ class that the teacher nicknamed “Krash Kratts” (last name Kratts?) because he drove a ’69 Grand Prix that was mostly caved in on the passenger side.
Wow…. you mean we went to the same high school? How’s that for a coincidence! Was Mr. Waller still principal then?
I graduated in 1971. Years and years later when Dad passed away he left me the house in Sheridan Beach/Lake Forest Park where I grew up. We always wanted to move back to Seattle, so we sold our home in DC and moved back into that house. I still am friends with Mr. Waller’s daughter.
I graduated in ’83. Waller wasn’t principal when I was there. One of my good friends lived in a waterfront house on Shore Drive – lots of good times! I grew up in Lake Forest Park and haven’t moved far away (Lynnwood).
I probably knew your friend’s family. We lived on Shore Drive, but not on the lake – across the street. Some of my shorecrest friends also live in their family homes here too. It’s a wonderful neighborhood.
You probably passed my house on the way to and from school. Until I was 12, I lived down the street from Sunshine Grocery
Agree with longhorns cord. 67 and 68 Electras were beautiful cars. Also loved 58 overchromed Buicks. In 77, on vacation toured Beverly Hills in style in friends 70 Wildcat convert! Those were the days when, YES, you really would rather have a BUICK!
Yep, I also really like the ’69 and ’70 Buicks. the years from 1965 to 1970 were darned good for all GM full-size cars. Liked them all from this period.
The ’69 and ’70 Wildcat two-door hardtops and convertibles were stunners.
Wow, you sure had to deal with a lot as a young man. That’s very sad about your family.
Too bad the Sportwagon didn’t get any respect, I find it to be a handsome car especially as a wagon.
Good thinking on the drinking and driving, I didn’t encounter that until college and on one occasion my roommate and I decided to walk home from a night out rather than get in the car with a guy who had consumed a few. I gave my kids the lecture before they went themselves “Never never get in a car with a drunk driver, take an Uber we’ll pay for it”
I hope the next installment has happier circumstances.
I liked the looks of mid-late 60s GM intermediate wagons. My only experience in the back of a GM wagon was a late 60 s Buick Sport Wagon and the Vista Cruiser style roof and forward facing seat were much nicer than my usual experience of four kids jammed in the way back of a Country Squire. This seems to have been a very eventful time, I hope things settle down a bit.
A well written narrative, and it must have been really tough for you grappling with your family challenges.
I would drive our old Chevy 70 wagon once in awhile to college – and it was great for hauling around fellow students. I didn’t care about how it looked or any particular image – it’s good to have transport. Of course, the biggest issue was trying to park that thing in and around Berkeley, California.
Really enjoying your stories, Steve. Life throws a lot at people and we do the best we can. Glad you had some nice Buicks to help along the way. These were great years for the make. My favorite was my friend’s 1965 Wildcat convertible with the 465 and a four on the floor, not a common combination. Great car to cruise in.
This wagon appears in my neighborhood from time to time. It is pristine, not sure of the year but might be a 65? It is very plain Jane, dog dish caps, no fancy trim. But great condition, appears to be original – and this is SoCal.
Great looking wagon. I learned to tell the ’64 and ’65s apart from the front bumper. Dropped center = 1964; raised center = 1965.
Of course, the ’65 Skylark coupes and sedans are obvious from the wall-to-wall taillights, but with the Specials and wagons, the front bumper is the tell.
I really enjoyed this COAL installment, Steve. Those mid-60s Buicks were special, pun intended. GM had a great idea with the lengthened wheelbase and forward-facing 3rd row seats for the Sportwagon and Vista Cruiser.
Your personal travails at a young age were poignant. I am also familiar with mental illness; perhaps if I ever get motivated with my own COAL series, it can be discussed in more detail. Also, one of my cousins had MS, but she has been in remission. Unfortunately, her husband developed MS and has had quite the journey with it. He’s remained incredibly optimistic through it all.
Our family car while I was in college in the early 70s was a 1967 Chevy Bel Air in turquoise, not too different from the light green of your wagon. I recall some of my friends laughing when I told them about the car.
MS is a horrible, horrible illness. You go day to day wonder if this is the day when something goes wrong. Mom’s illness showed up late in life at age 55. It was the rapidly progressing type, and she was gone in five years.
It wasn’t all bad. She kept her sense of humor through it all. And she taught me how to cook. She’d sit in her wheelchair sipping scotch and tell me what to do and why I should do it while making a meal. The skill has stuck with me all my life. So I thank her for that!
Another well told story about life and the cars in it .
Nothing like adversity to make a young person grow up quickly. Thanks for sharing this difficult chapter of your life, but you obviously handled it very well.
I had a real thing for these Sport Wagons and Vista Cruisers when I was a kid; so much cooler than our Coronet wagon.
Mine was a 66 special wagon with the fireball 6 it was great, loved that car even with the mushrooms growing in the back seat carpet.
I now have a 64 skylark convertible with the 300 i do love it too but that 66 wagon was really great!!
Sorry about your Mom. Health issues are tough to deal with.
My Mom’s still around, at 92 she stopped driving 2 years ago, but my Dad’s been gone 7 years. He never owned a Buick, but in 1965 he bought a new Olds F85 wagon (no Vista Cruiser for him). I think it was otherwise similar to your sportwagon, he bought it at Val Preda’s in South Burlington, after an accident with his ’63 Rambler Wagon, in front of our motel room, as we’d just vacated our house moving up to Vermont (the first of 2 times). He found his way up to Essex Junction for his job (he changed jobs pretty often back then, but since leaving college in ’56 always worked on the same thing, till he retired in 1990). It wasn’t his last wagon (which was a ’78 Caprice Classic) but it was his last green car (3 in a row) , having an Irish last name probably had something to do with it. Back then, our family still only had 1 car, so we were momentarily carless, we stayed with grandparents (despite all the moves we never lived closer than about 100 miles from them). A couple years later, my Dad bought a used ’59 Beetle as his first “2nd” car…he’d been in the Army in Germany in the early 50’s and was often assigned an early Beetle (they didn’t have Jeeps, maybe they were in Korea instead?) or a REO truck.
My Dad was probably like yours, plus our family of eventually 6 only needed the 2 bench seats, so he never ordered the 3rd row seat, preferring to use the underfloor area for storage to keep the wagon section open as possible to allow kids to sleep (anything to keep us from driving him crazy while he was behind the wheel). It was a bit of an art to pack it such that as much stuff would fit as possible, they were pretty roomy so often we’d get just about everything in what he called “the well”.
He owned it till he bought a Country Squire in ’69…about average for him. His had the 330 V8, it was his first car with a V8, the Ramblers both had 6’s as well as his first car, a new ’56 Plymouth Plaza stripper….might have had a heater, but no radio, flathead 6, 3 speed on the column. Only car he bought before meeting my Mom, who learned to drive on a semi automatic Chrysler Windsor, but wasn’t comfortable with anything other than an automatic, so starting with the Rambler, our family car had automatic, though up till 1986 or so, his 2nd car was often a manual, unless he also wanted my Mother to be able to drive it, specifically during the gas shortages in the 70’s.
Probably would be considered bad now, but as kids we were often left in the car waiting for one or more of our parents to do some shopping. We lived up north then, so more likely the car would be a bit cool rather than too hot…but I recall my sister trying to teach me to sing “Do you know the way to San Jose?” for no particular reason, it was probably all over the radio back then….I associate the song with the F85, for some reason it left an impression back then.