(first posted 10/4/2012) Got a growing family on a budget? Are twins on the way, but you don’t want to pulverize the piggy bank? If so, you had a plethora of choices in 1962! The compact-wagon market was booming, and virtually everyone but luxury stalwarts Chrysler, Cadillac and Lincoln offered tantalizing tailgate options in a reduced-size package. Which one would you have chosen in ’62?
Near-Cutlass level class was available with the F-85 wagons. Using the same basic body as the Tempest, the F-85s upped the ante with our roundup’s first standard-equipment V8 and first optional automatic with more than two gears. Incidentally, that automatic was the Series Five edition of the ever-controversial Roto-Hydramatic. Also, it might even have been mentioned in Curbside Classic (if I remember correctly, JPCavanaugh’s mother had a love/hate relationship with her ’61) that there were concerns about GM’s using buyers as guinea pigs for their new aluminum V8’s casting and cooling issues.
One of our Mid-Century Modern Miniature Mobility Masterpieces, the Buick Special, was actually named “Car of The Year” for 1962, an honor that seems to have been based solely on its new Fireball V6. Still, with 135 standard horsepower on tap, and Buick prestige written on its flanks, how could you go wrong?
It’s time we got to the “Mopar Madness” part of our comparison. While the Valiant/Lancer fraternal twins didn’t share as much DNA as the Falcon/Comet wagons, it was mostly sheet metal and appointments that set apart these family haulers, perhaps inspired by Virgil Exner’s repeated playing of “Fly Me To The Moon” after too many Manhattans.
But underneath the outré styling lived all the typical Mopar goodies: Torsion-aire ride, Torqueflite automatic, and a tough Slant Six. Incredibly, these weren’t even the most mutant looking wagons offered by Highland Park: Despite that reverse slant C-pillar, they still project a jaunty sportiness that’s absent from the competition, the Corvair excepted.
Now, let’s move out of Detroit Metro to our independent choices. First up, from South Bend, is the Lark. From the windshield back, the Lark wagons featured 1959-vintage bodies (which themselves displayed 1953-vintage roots) while all the other Larks tried to hide their age with a little more make-up and some empire-waisted gowns, including squared-off roof lines and starchier rear fenders. But here we see such big-car amenities as the tough-old-bird Studebaker V8. Growing only 2.5″ in the front clip, the Larks had the tidiest dimensions of any V8-equipped wagon for 1962.
But tidiest of all was the thriftmaster from Kenosha, with its Praying Mantis face and basic structural innards from the dawn of the 1950s. Also found here, in base models, is the only flathead I-6 available in the class (although OHV engines were available for higher-grade models). Yet with all that old-fashioned technology also came old-fashioned build quality, with solidity that some competitors rather lacked. Although the world had changed since its debut as a “bathtub on wheels”, plenty of buyers loved the car’s stubborn adherence to its “American Virtues.”
So here we are. Where will our small-wagon fantasy money go? Given the plethora of choices, I find this comparison the hardest from which to make a firm decision–even without factoring in the imports. But have at it.