Before the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) and before the minivan, there was the station wagon. Prior to the station wagon there was the depot hack which was used primarily by hotels to haul passengers from train stations (railroad depots) to the hotel. By the close of the 1920's, the name 'depot hack' had been replaced by 'station wagon.' These types of vehicles were used throughout the 1930s and 1940s, serving various purposes and never really entering into mass production. They were produced in limited numbers, often built by custom coachbuilders who would take an existing chassis and create a body suitable for their customers needs. By the 1950s the station wagon began evolving into an American icon. As families moved out to the suburbs, the growing families needed a multi-purpose vehicle that could haul their kids and luggage.
In 1955 Ford introduced the Country Squire, one of a series of station wagons. The Ranch Wagon was the entry-level station wagon, followed by the Country Sedan, and then the Country Squire, the most expensive of the group. It was originally given the same trim level as the Ford Fairlane but by 1958 it began mimicking the Ford Galaxies.
This 1962 Ford Model 78 Country Squire 4-door, station wagon has seating for nine-passengers. It carried a factory price of $3197 which included the eight-cylinder, 352 cubic-inch engine that produced a potent 220 horsepower.
By Daniel Vaughan | May 2006
When one pictures the classic American station wagon, thoughts drift to the Ford Country Squire. A well-balanced machine, the Squire is desirable as a reminder of the 60s, 70s era. The Ford Country Squire established itself as the archetype of a whole new kind of status symbol, long before the minivan was a twinkle in any Detroit product planner's eye.
Primarily easily dependable family cars, station wagons over time evolved from commercial vehicles and buses. Similar to horse-drawn delivery wagons, the first station wagons were open vehicles that carried people and cargo, manufactured in the 1920s. A decade later the wagon became more ‘car-like' and were most often seen at private schools, country clubs and other rustic, upper-class settings. By the late 1940's the station wagon was still a boxy, limited-production, wooden-body vehicle with removable seats Postwar middle-class families began the new trend that would continue for decades. The strong demand for used ‘woodies' alerted automobile manufacturers to a larger market for this particular type of vehicle.
The wood-bodied station wagon era was just about over when Ford made a very important change to its family hauler and gave it a new name, the Ford Country Squire. A full-size station wagon, the Ford Country Squire was built by the Ford Motor Company from 1950 until 1991 and was based on the Ford full-size car line available in each year. Always featuring the imitation-wood trim on the doors and tailgate, the Country Squire was the premium station wagon in the Ford Range.
Able to carry up to 9 passengers, the Country Squire featured unique side-facing seats that were fitted in the cargo area, rather than the usual rear-racing seat. The standard American family wagon, the Country Squire was the top of the line model with similar 'Squire' wagons as top of the line for other vehicles, including the Pinto in the Ford line up. In 1950 and 1951, the Country Squire was based on the Custom DeLuxe series, and the Crestline from 1952 through 1954, the Fairlane from 1955 through 1958, Galaxie from 1959 through 1966 and the LTD/LTD Crown Victoria from 1967 until 1991.
By the 1950's, the newly redesigned station wagon was an American staple for life in the suburbs. Sales of the station wagon soared with the introduction of all-steel bodies that eliminated arduous waxing and refinishing of wooden panels. The imitation wood-grain siding and trim immortalized the station wagon's rural, elitist image. From the mid 1950s onward, the framing of the wood was fiberglass and the remainder a plastic appliqué. The station wagon very quickly became a symbol of family activity and intimacy in the outdoors. Minivans today now serve the purpose the station wagon originally held.
One could install an AM/FM-Cassette stereo with a combined and fully-integrated Citizens' Band (CB) two-way radio, and replacement dual-purpose automatic antenna with certain versions of the Country Squire. The radio then had the visual appearance of an original equipment, factory radio. Other options on the Country Squire was a hidden, lockable compartment behind a rear fender well that was not visible when the rear seat back was in the upright position.
All Ford wagons utilized a two-piece tailgate assembly prior to 1961 that required the operator to lift the rear window up and locking it into place via a mechanical support, and then drop the tail gate down to fully access the rear compartment. A new tailgate assembly that was adopted post 1961 used a self-storing window feature that could either be rolled down into the gate via crank on the outside of the gate, or by an electrical motor actuated by the key or an interior switch. Before it could be lowered a safety lockout measure required that the rear window had to be fully retracted into the gate.
The Magic Door Gate was introduced in 1966 by Ford, allowing the tailgate of the vehicle to function as a traditional tailgate that could be lowered, or a door that swung outward for easier access to the seating area. This was made possible through the use of a traditional stationary hinge on the right, and combination of hinges along the doors right side, which carried the weight of the gate as it swung outward when used as a door. By the end of the 1960s GM, Chrysler and AMC all adopted a similar configuration. The 3-way tailgate was an advanced version, which permitted opening the door sideways with the window up.
Demand for full-size wagons was on the low end when Ford began its restyle of the full-size 'Panther' platform in the late 1980's. Rather than investing money in a separate body style for a new wagon, Ford instead chose to steer buyers towards its newly facelifted Aerostar and Taurus. Full-sized GM B-body wagons would be discontinued in the 1990's due mixed reactions to their styling. The Chevy Caprice and Buick Roadmaster were also discontinued in 1996. Sold in Europe under the Chrysler 300 Touring nameplate, Chrysler re-introduced a full-size wagon in the form of the Dodge Magnum. Minus the fake wood paneling, the Ford Freestyle re-introduced the 3-row wagon as a crossover design.By Jessica Donaldson