These are not easy cars for me to write about, as they wood have been just about the last thing I wood have considered buying for a family hauler at the time — we bought a Grand Caravan, as did so many others of my age cohort. These traditional woodie wagons were just too much of a throwback for me. Yes, I thought the Country Squire was a fine wagon back in 1958 and toerable 1968, but not in 1990.
But to lovers of wood, real or simulated, these offered their owners the opportunity to relive the cars of their childhood rather than move on to something new. That was a shrinking segment of the population by 1990, but GM still had them covered — in Di-Noc — with Chevrolet, Olds and Buick versions of essentially the same thing. But hurry — 1990 was the final year of these box-B Bodies; they were rolling coffins by then.
It had been 14 long years since the new downsized GM B/C bodies created a mini revolution in the full-sized field. What had seemed fresh and bold now seemed decidedly stale and out of date. But they still had their charms for some, even in a shrinking world of traditional full-sized RWD American cars. By 1990, the market share for this segment (including sedans) was down to 3.3%. There was a bump in 1991-1992, thanks to the newly aero-styled version that arrived in 1991. But that bump didn’t last long; by 1993 it was down to 3.5% and then resumed its death march to the finish.
Of course I appreciate them now for what they are, or were: a living relic of a different time and age.
The station wagon had its golden age in the 1950s. The whole concept was essentially new after the war, as previously they still had real wood in their bodies and were too expensive for the average family. But as the wood became fake and the large families of the times came to appreciate the vast versatility of the wagon body style, it quickly became the hot new thing.
Sure, it was still a huge market in the ’60s, but it wasn’t hot and new anymore; that belonged to the vast array of smaller cars and high performance ones. The GTO and Mustang are the icons of that decade while the wagon became the all-too familiar family hauler, for those of us that were hauled around in them, gazing at Mustangs and GTO’s through the rear window.
By the 1980s its image was severely degraded, as something only clueless Clark Griswold would chose. Yup; that’s how we smug minivan owners felt about them.
The Buick version had the nicest interior if you were fond of wood and velour, or their facsimiles. How many Buicks of all sizes did that basic dashboard design grace? Even the radically new FWD X-Car Skylark had it, to make sure it was still safe for Buick traditionalists.
Once one has spent a bit of time in the higher seating of a van and appreciated its open center aisle and less constricted environs, one of these wagons just does not appeal. But then of course there were those that hadn’t yet had that experience, and might never.
That goes even more so in the back, where the two rear seats both faced forward in the minivan, and the aisle access to the rearmost seat made movement underway on a long trip utterly indispensable, as when there was a spill or other more serious issue back there. For what it’s worth, I rather suspect that an increasing percentage of the ever-smaller number of buyers of these wagons didn’t actually have little kids. That velour isn’t exactly very vomit or spilled juice-box friendly.
This Estate Wagon is mostly in very fine condition, but it is showing some signs of aging.
It also sports the optional turbine alloy wheels. That’s not to suggest these wheels represented any sort of actual performance qualities; the Olds 307 V8 made 140 hp and was a bit notorious for being weak-chested. Not a lot of lead in its wood pencil, in other words.
But then the ’80s weren’t exactly peak performance for the overwhelming majority of cars, although I was pretty happy with the 3.3 V6 in our GC; it seemed more than adequate for the times. According to what I could find, this Buick managed the 0-60 in about 12-13 seconds; the Grand Caravan in about 10 seconds. Of course that would soon change as GM finally found some power again in its Chevy V8.
I admit that I’m much more likely to stop and shoot one of these old wagons than I am for a Chrysler minivan of the same vintage. It gives me the opportunity to imagine what it would have been like if we’d bought one instead of that Grand Caravan. I’m trying…