Sunday, February 7, 2010

Station Wagon

A station wagon is a passenger automobile with a body style similar to a sedan but with the roofline following the full, sometimes extended rear cargo area and sometimes an extra row of sometimes rear-facing seats, ending with a more vertical door than on a hatchback.

Also sometimes referred to simply as a wagon, the term 'station wagon' is used in American, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand English, while the term estate car or simply estate is used in British English. European manufacturers such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have often referred to their wagons as "Avant", "Touring", and "Estate" respectively to distinguish them from their sedan counterparts.

The first station wagons were a product of the age of train travel. They were originally called "depot hacks" because they worked around train depots as hacks (short for hackney carriage, an old name for taxis). They also came to be known as "carryalls" and "suburbans". The name "station wagon" is a derivative of "depot hack"; it was a wagon that carried people and luggage from the train station to various local destinations.

While commercial in its origins, by the mid-1930s, wood bodied station wagons, also known as “Woodies”, began to take on a prestige aura. The vehicles were priced higher than regular cars, but were popular in affluent communities, especially among the country club social set. The vehicles gained in “snob appeal” when mating the utility of the hard wood bodies to better makes of automobiles such as Buick, Packard, Pierce-Arrow. By 1941, the Chrysler Town and Country was the most expensive car in the company's lineup.

Cachet aside, woodie wagons required constant maintenance; bodies were finished in varnishes that required recoating, bolts and screws required tightening as wood expanded and contracted throughout the seasons.

Following World War II, automobile production from preexisting manufacturers resumed using tooling left over from 1942. However, advancement in production techniques learned over the course of World War II made all-steel station wagons practical when automobile manufacturers switched over to new designs.

Traditionally, full-sized American station wagons were configured for 6 or 9 passengers. The basic arrangement for seating six was three passengers in the front and three passengers in the rear, all on bench-type seats; to accommodate nine, a third bench seat – often facing backward, but sometimes facing forward or sideways – was installed in the rear cargo area, over the rear axle.

Station wagons enjoyed their greatest popularity and highest production levels in the United States during from the 1950s through the 1970s. Sales of station wagons in the United States and Canada remained strong until 1984, when the Chrysler Corporation introduced the first minivans. The emergence and popularity of sport utility vehicles which closely approximate the traditional wagon bodystyle was a further blow. After struggling sales, the Chevrolet Caprice and the Buick Roadmaster, the last American full size wagons, were discontinued in 1996. In 2005 the Dodge Magnum was launched, although it was discontinued by 2008.

Since then, smaller wagons have been sold in the U.S. as less expensive alternatives to SUVs and minivans. Domestic wagons also remained in the Ford, Mercury, and Saturn lines until 2004 when the bodies began a phase-out, replaced by car-based crossover SUVs and minivans designed to look like station wagons. European luxury carmakers such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz still offered wagons in their North American lineup, using the labels "Avant", "Touring", and "Estate" instead of wagon.

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