(first posted 4/27/2013) As many recent Curbside Classic blog posts have noted, the cars that decorate street scenes in period movies and the rows of classics we see at car shows don’t really reflect either the period’s model mixes of actual sales or the way our streets once looked. For instance, at the Fabulous Ford show here in Southern California, almost half the cars were Mustangs (typically with the biggest V8 available); all the rest were other models in a variety of body styles that were approximately 75% coupes/15% convertibles/10% other. However, this Curbside Classic reflects the most pedestrian of all body styles, and a suspiciously low level of chrome trim.
As a child of the Sixties, I know that a chrome-free exterior is the strongest indicator of a base trim level. Sure enough, a quick tour of the internet tells us the Brookwood wagon trim level corresponds to that of the Biscayne sedans and coupes that were Chevrolet’s base models for 1961. Frankly, I prefer this cleaner look over the chrome-laden upper trims, but purchasing this model established your cheapskate sensibility instead of a desire to upstage your next-door neighbors.
I did not set out to find this specific wagon, but I’m confident it represents one of the rarest body styles and trim levels of any of the big three manufacturers that’s still on the streets. Bling-free, scorned by social climbers and frequently saddled with a straight six, these wagons have fed scrap yard crushers for the past half-century. Take in its sculptured flanks, bare window frames, and chrome-free exterior, as you’re unlikely to see one on the streets of your town.
To appease the Chevy faithful, I should note that in 1961 Chevy eliminated the curve at the back edge of the rear side glass. By using flat window glass and a narrow D-pillar, the engineers significantly widened the tailgate opening, thus increasing the wagon’s utility–and further distancing the body from ’50s flash and style by creating a more traditional 1960’s utilitarian appearance. As such, perhaps it represents the defining moment of that era: Less flash, more utility.
Paul recommends pressing the camera up to the glass for interior shots. I was pleased with the results of this technique, which allows us to see the rather pedestrian interior of the Brookwood. Not surprisingly, it has the telltale sign of a Powerglide.
I believe the owner plans to hot rod this wagon, and they have found a very complete example for the project launch. Beyond the missing driver’s-side glass, all the pieces appear to be present and accounted for.
Taking pictures of the interior did bring back memories. Not specifically of this car, but seeing those flat metal panels in the rear space, as well as the spare tire cover behind the rear-wheel arch did remind me of the domestic wagons my father used to drive. All these big, flat metal components conspired to create continuous NVH problems, and Dad would send me over the back seat in search of the latest panel noise, but each fix provided only a temporary solution. Creaks and squeaks were characteristics of these cars, rather than a repairable fault.
In closing, let’s talk about this specific car. We’ve talked about patina in recent posts, and here we have a classic example of California patina. Los Angeles equals no road salt, minimal rainfall and never-ending sun, and these factors combine to provide a top-down rust pattern. After the sun burns off the roof paint, morning dew slowly creates a light and even coat of rust on the top surfaces, while the side-panel paint slowly fades to a flat finish.
Since you want to know, I can also tell you that an exhaust tip pokes out behind each rear wheel, indicating V-8 power. Judging by the wheels and overall stance, I believe this car’s ability to haul ass probably matches its ability to haul lumber home from the yard. I hope you enjoy these pictures, which I’m pleased to provide for your enjoyment!
Very nice example, but boy do I miss my ’53 Chevy Handyman wagon. Three on the tree Blue Flame straight six. Very utilitarian as well. Hauled lots of construction lumber and tools for many years.
Dear Chevy: Why didn’t you angle the C pillar to match the D pillar? That perfectly rectangular door window looks dorky.
Otherwise, outstanding find.
Because it matches the B pillar? I’d have to see a photoshop to see how it would look angled, but I rather like it because it looks so utilitarian/Volvo-esque.
I have a real soft spot for the ’61, and this wagon is a very nice example. Unlike on the ’62, that drooping side character line really integrates with its front end.
Paul, maybe this will photoshoped photo will do the trick for you. I appologize, Dave, for modify your excelent photo, but I was curious too.
Thanks; It makes it look like a Ford! Which is not a bad thing, but as I said before, I rather like the distinctive look of GM’s wagons back then. But if they had been like this, I might well have liked them too.
These GM wagons were so much a part of the landscape when I was a kid, I never even thought about the straight C pillar – that was just the way they were supposed to be. You are right, this makes it look like a Ford. Now I can’t decide which I like better.
Yuck. It looked OK on Fords, but in this case the squared-off door allowed for maximum utility and ease of entry. I am not a GM fan, but here the designers got it right IMHO.
Quite right. My family had a ’65 Bel Air wagon for a couple of years, and that was the first year that the C-pillars slanted forward. I’ve always found it somewhat surprising that it took the stylists and engineers that long to make the change, compared to the competition.
As noted by the writer, this version is a marked return to stark utility – form following function. Compare it to the wild 1959-60 wagons, with their strange window divider scheme…this is clean and neat.
With the 1963 update, and the straight-angling of the vent window leading edge, it got more stark and more clean
It was the time for it. A neighbor of ours had a dead-ringer for this car; don’t know if it was Powerglide with a six or a V8. I was only five, six, seven at the time.
Later my old man bought his Wagoneer…the similarity is striking. The only difference is the abbreviated rear door on the Waggy…whereas the GM wagons used a full panel without a wheel cutout.
Otherwise, and especially in the rear side glass over the cargo area…a near-exact copy. And that’s all the more remarkable since BOTH came out in 1961, the Wagoneer a few months after the GMs as an early 1962.
I used to think that too, the 61-64 GM wagons looked so plainly square. The 65-70 wagons had sportier C pillers.
How about these roof pillars? Any angle you want!
Sweet ride! Hope they fix the window and leave the rest as it is-love the stance and mooneyes. Take it to Whole Foods, drive around the parking lot and watch the Beemers scatter.
Nice commentary on the true meaning of “sport utility”: this fast, roomy, simple, made-for-freeways cruiser with a backdrop of roid-raging 4x4s. For all those pesky LA blizzards…?
This wagon is easy to get affectionate about. It is what it is, but it’s great!
There was a ’63 Bel Air wagon available on ebay a few months ago. It was pretty well optioned, too. I guess some of the “options” were after-market installs, but they fit the car. A couple of super rare legitimate factory options were A/C and power windows.
1963 Chevrolet Bel Air wagon – interior:
I read with interest about that particular Bel-Air wagon and as I recall, it was claimed to have been ordered from the factory with every option available in ’63. I guess the production order or other documentation like the original window sticker are needed to prove its authenticity, but to me, it looks like everything is factory installed and correct. It makes you wonder though, why a Bel-Air and not an Impala wagon??
Then again, I once encountered a ’63 Impala wagon with the six cylinder engine along with factory air and wondered about that one as well.
Gad, I remember that upholstery, only in red. My father had one of these as a company car thru 1965. For some reason, I always think of that pattern with big spots from wet swimming suits.
Heh, me too. My dad had a ’63 Bel Air (sedan, not wagon) with this exact same interior. Car was aqua inside and out. It definitely was not optioned like that eBay car.
Could be a dual set up on the straight six which I’ve heard produces very interesting results or the owner might not have started the project yet and it could be an original 283V8 car.
Whatever is going on I hope there are many more years of it.
I am looking hard at the front grill emblem and I think I see a gold “V” under the Chevrolet bowtie. Assuming it is original and/or correct to the car, this indicates the presence of a 283 powerplant.
Emblem with no “V” – six cylinder
Emblem with “V and crossed flags” – 348 engine
I took a look at the source photo, and still can’t tell. The bottom of the emblem forms a “V” shape, which helps mask the prescence of any gold vees. I’ve attached a closeup, but opinions may vary…
I’ve never seen a V on these. On Tri-Fives, sure. Not on 1961-64s.
Maybe it’s because I just never came across one that had a V8.
The “V” was used also used 58-61: 58 front and rear, 59 front only, 60 both, 61 both). I believe it appears in this 61 front emblem, and it would also be in the rear (except for wagons).
Drove a 62 model four door sedan all over Panama. Like this, it would be like Moses parting the water when you encounter traffic jams. I had a six with three on the tree and it was plenty for traffic condition and speed there. This car seems to be optioned like my 57 (283/glide) and that means easy to drive.
Bowling for Beemers! Or, grab a couple of your homies and go cruising, three abreast, down the Pacific Coast Highway. I got shotgun! What a practical car this is. And you can haul stuff in it, too.
Interesting to note then 1961 was the last model year, until 1969 then Chevrolet used separate nameplate for the wagons and the Brookwood name resurfaced along with Kingswood (and the Nomad was applied to a lower-trim Chevelle wagon O_o ). Plymouth did the same while Ford continued the Ranch wagon, Country Sedan and Country Squire.
I spotted a picture of a 1972 Brookwood “Clamshell” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:1972_Chevrolet_Brookwood.jpg
The reference to rattles and squeaks brings back memories of riding in these cars as a kid. The X frame GM cars were by far the loosest cars I have even been in. Rattles and quakes, too, when you go over big bumps in them.
My dad had a 1965 Belair and before that a 1961 Biscayne. The ’65 was a much tighter car but the ’61 was much cooler looking.
I’m so used to seeing Low-Riderized ’61 sedans & coupés in AZ & esp. CA, this uncustomized wagon is a bit of a shock, as if the body style fell down the memory hole. While Mom had a ’61 Chevy sedan once, Dad always got Ford wagons, so that may be part of it too.
The rear taillights (2 or 3, & the backup light location) were always a clue about a Chevy’s trim level; it must’ve been in Chevy’s divisional policies or something.
Interesting how the wheels intrudes little into the rear doors. I guess I’m used to Ford overhang.
A friend of mine had an all-original ’70 Kingswood Estate ( the top trim level ) that he inherited from his dad. It was an odd shade of aqua with a matching interior, fake wood down the side, roof rack, third seat, all the trimmings.
One day a Greyhound bus pulled out in front of him. He eventually put it back together, but it wasn’t quite the same after that. I’ve lost touch with since, so I don’t know whatever became of him or the car.
My father-in-law had the top-line version of this rig, called a Nomad iirc. To me that was a misnomer, and the name should have stayed with the tri-five 2-door wagons it came with.
F-i-l’s car was a 283 Powerglide car, tan in and out, and did all the family hauling without problems that I can remember. His next car was a 1970 Torino 2-door hardtop, and I think he may have switched to that because the kids were gone and he didn’t feel the need for a big wagon.
I rode in it several times, and even borrowed it once when I was between pickups and had some big something-or-other I needed moved. It was a rainy day, and I discovered that I could drive about three feet after I’d cleaned the rear window and it would be dirty again.
I found a pic online of one in the same color.
Very clean, & makes a good contrast with the featured car’s lack of trim. One had to be decidedly frugal to resist all the “bling,” since its stylists surely didn’t intend all those “character” lines to be left unadorned.
What year was the photo taken?
Neil, iirc it was a quite recent photo of a car for sale. I found it by doing a google image search on “1961 Chevrolet Nomad”, and the pic and a rear view of the same car were on the first page of results.
Love old unmolested wagons. This one looks great just the way it is. If it were mine, I’d go through the mechanicals and make sure everything’s running well, and then just drive it like this.
My girlfriend’s mother owned a ’61 station wagon similar to this one, same color but in the Bel Air trim level and a white roof. It was a 283 with a three on the tree, and would run out of breath at about 92 mph when I would attempt to outpace the Illinois Central freights that ran through my gf’s small town. In 1967 the majority of the paint had patina similar to that of the featured car. Pretty normal behavior for GM lacquer at the time.
In 1966 I was 11 years old. We moved back to Rouyn (now Rouyn-Noranda) Quebec after a five years in Europe. My uncle came and picked us up in one of those, same colour, even. He used it as his business vehicle as well as family hauler. Well sized to bring washers, dryers and stoves back to his shop for repairs. Not sure what he did about refrigerators. My cousin still operates that shop, it’s even on Google Street View! http://goo.gl/maps/evh0H The wagon is long, long gone.
Thanks for the smile 🙂
I have a complex relationship with this generation of Chevy. I hate the floppy structure and the horrid driving position (low seat, high steering column). The power steering with 6 turns lock to lock and the 2 speed Powerglide were things that properly belonged back in the Eisenhower administration. I mean the first one (1953-57)
However, they were uncommonly beautiful cars. I really like the ’61 version, and it makes a particularly attractive wagon. These were so much cleaner and lighter designs than anything coming out of Ford or Chrysler at the time. A great find and a nice piece.
Agree 100% with JPC’s observations.
Makes one understand why Ford’s advertising slogan “The Wagon Masters” had the ring of truth in the 1950’s & 1960’s.
‘Course any traveling salesmen knew that the Mopars models were much superior “road cars” in this time period.
What a good restoration project this could be, and a very practical runner too!
If I were to hot rod this car, I’d keep it clean and minimalistic like this and just stick to hot rodding the drivetrain…it’s elegant just like it is, and would make a great sleeper (and a practical one).
Great read and a great find,thank you
The first thing I thought when I saw this was “It looks like an overgrown Corvair wagon of the same year minus the Corvair’s cooling louvers”. They both even sport the rectangular rear door glass. That said it has a certain charm and brings back memories of the ’59 Brookwod my dad’s only car he bought new when I was growing up.
We had a ’61 Brookwood wagon back in the day. It was the second of 3 wagons in our family, the first a ’59 Plymouth and the final one a new ’65 Impala wagon which also had AC.
Didn’t have this cars wide rims and fat tires, though.
I remember mom never liked the strippo ’61, 283 powerglide and not much else, AM radio and probably power steering. I remember when getting gas and the oil was checked (remember those days?), she would wait until it needed 2 quarts and just get one because she said it would just “throw the oil” if topped off. I believe it was purchased when it was 2 years old.
A real beauty- and great looking wheels! But wait! What’s parked behind it? Is that a VW Notchback? Please go back and cover that- whatever it is!
Looks like it’s a Beetle.
Definitely a looker! The patina is perfect, and the moon caps on wide tires with a little bit of rake give it just enough toughness so that you know it’s not Grandma’s car. Style to spare, chrome or no chrome.
The Corvair wagon had this same look .. I like the 65 and later Impala wagons , more sporty looking !! Interesting that they went back to those wrap around rear side windows to the tailgate briefly in the early 70s. Even the AMC Pacer had that look too.
Great story. I also like the minimalistic look, as others have noted. My family had a ’58 Brookwood, 283 w/powerflide, and NO power steering. It was a real pain for my poor mom to park the beast. My dad was the quartermaster when I was in the scouts, using the Chev to haul tents and other gear to camping trips in NJ and PA. I recall the car having plenty of pull in and out of campsites, and overall a robust workhorse, but had a severe case of the “rustles”.
I like ’61’s.
This reminds me of one I saw on JalopyJournal that was converted to a sedan delivery. CORRECTLY. As in, he used 2-door sedan doors.
Chevy missed a bet by not making THAT body style.
I should add that the first station wagon I remember making an impression on me was in 1966, when new neighbors moved down the road from us. They had a gold (copper?) 1964 Impala wagon. I never rode in it, but even as a 10 year old, I liked the way it looked.
The dad also had a nice ’50 or ’51 Chevy coupe that he drove back and forth to work in Findlay, OH. AND he had a green and black ’35 Chevy coupe that had belonged to his dad.
Later, the Impala wagon was traded for a ’69 version in deep green. It also looked really nice.
Sweet car ! .
Looks ready for work or play .
In always prefer a V8 to a inline 6, but in this case, I think a 235 inline 6 cylinder, with a 3-on the tree, would make it more appealing.
Lovely example of a rare and quite beautiful car. Would be a shame to customize it, IMO.
Always liked the 61 over the 62 body style, especially the Bel Air HT.
I have noticed over the years, going to car shows and cruise nights 61s are rare to see. Maybe more 1962s were built ? I thought the 1960 model had a much nicer Dash than the 61 of 62 models. ………JMO
Sometimes I read my older postings and just cringe. This time when I look at this wonderful old wagon I notice that with its current stance the rocker panel remind me of a 49-52 Chevy: starting out rather low and wide, and then tapering in and up toward the back wheel opening. Maybe the color, which would have been common in the early ’50’s (recall the ICON Chevy business coupe), helps it to look that way, also. I kind of like that.
Another classic bit of Californiana: That house!
What a pity we can’t wave an automotive magic wand and combine the exterior styling of this ’61 Chebbie wagon with the chassis, engine, TorqueFlite automatic transmission and interior & dashboard of a same year Plymouth!