Curbside Classic: 1961 Chevrolet Brookwood (Biscayne) Wagon – California Patina


(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!