In the collector-car world, the post-baby-boom generation's ascension to tastemaker status is evident in the skyrocketing prices of muscle cars, but another indicator is the redemption of a far more ridiculed automotive species: the station wagon.
The tens of millions of kids who sat in the cargo area of their parents' station wagon, hanging out the open rear window, breathing exhaust fumes, and watching the world unreel behind them, are now far enough into adulthood that seeing one of those subdivision schooners evokes warm feelings of nostalgia rather than cold contempt for all things parental. Because station wagons were neither well cared for nor considered worth saving, those sightings are rare indeed, which makes the cars real head-turners today. None are more so than the wood-paneled examples, the very embodiment of American suburbia.
Of all the Kingswoods, Crestwoods, and the many other faux-wood wagons, the Ford Country Squire was the most ubiquitous. Despite Ford's perennial second-banana sales status, its wagons ruled, meaning that, if you drive one today, nearly everyone you encounter will be transported back to their wonder years - either their parents had one or they rode in one to Cub Scouts or baseball practice. Incredibly, the Country Squire was a fixture of Ford's lineup from 1951 to 1991, and, really, the question of which version is the most fun to wheel around today depends on which model appears in your family's old Super 8 movies. Country Squires from the '50s have a Happy Days vibe, while the overstyled 1970s leviathans are a perhaps not-so-happy trip back to the malaise era. The '60s are the prime hunting ground, as those wagons are old enough to be cool yet modern enough to be freeway-worthy. The decade's earlier cars exude more vintage character, with their wraparound rear quarter windows and giant bull's-eye taillights. But we dig the rectangular cars from '65 through '68. Not only are they as squared-off as Johnny Unitas with a brush cut, they drive better than their earlier siblings - although that's a pretty fine distinction when compared with today's cars. This generation of Ford's big wagon also featured innovations that make it more enjoyable today, including front disc brakes, a tailgate that drops down or opens like a door (from '66), and available dual side-facing rear seats - a must-have now that letting your kids bounce around the cargo area is largely frowned upon.
Push the button on the meaty, chrome handle and, as the door swings open, you're greeted with the unmistakable vinyl interior smell that takes you right back to grade-school days. If the bench seats seem a lot smaller than you remember, try climbing into the wayback (my, how we've grown). Luckily, you won't have to slug it out with any siblings to claim the left front seat, where you'll find that the Country Squire drives like a classic American car, with one-finger steering, a torquey (if breathless) engine, and a floaty suspension that also manages to send a rattling shudder through the body at every bump. Still, the big Ford is a surprisingly practical classic, handy for hauling the occasional bulky item and perfect for taking the kids out for ice cream. Everybody pile in.
What To PayBetween $7000 and $11,000 for a nice driver; $12,000 to $14,000 for a show car. The '65 is at the upper end and the '68 at the lower.
Four-door, six- or eight-passenger station wagon.
Watch Out For
Rust, particularly in the rear quarters, the spare-tire well, and the frame rails. The vinyl wood grain can be redone (although the new stuff doesn't exactly match the original), but the fiberglass surrounding trim is almost impossible to find.
Green Sales Company
Mac's Antique Auto Parts
American Station Wagon Owners Association
The '65's styling is the cleanest, but the '66 has the advantage of a two-way tailgate. People pay extra for the 428-cubic-inch V-8, but it's hard to see why; this is no muscle car, and both the 390 and the 352 already drink plenty of fuel.