17 March 2015

Car Stuff: Fantasy Garage #17

I admit that last week's alley-found Volvo was something of a stall tactic, as I tried to figure out what I wanted to feature in the Fantasy Garage this time around. I think the time has come for the FG to turn somewhat autobiographical and include a car from my early years.

For a good chunk of time we were a station wagon family. Wagons were so common as family vehicles in the 1960s and '70s that us having one made me feel like our family was a little bit more normal, because we were at least superficially like so many other families, at least in that respect. (Eventually we got a car that wasn't a wagon, but it's never been clear to me why, because it was still a full-size car. Maybe by that point my parents thought a station was no longer necessary.) There was also a Blazer and a Subaru wagon, but those didn't come along until after I went to college.
In fact, we had only three station wagons. The first was a 1965 Chevrolet Bel Air in turquoise ("Artesian turquoise" was its official GM name) with a matching interior. The seats were vinyl and were very hot in the summer. If you look at this catalog image (from Old Car Brochures) it's the car at the bottom, but the color of the car at the top (it was brighter than how it looks in this image).

A few years later we got another Chevy wagon, one year newer but a Caprice, which was the top trim level and a new model that year. (These were used cars, by the way.) Chevy had decided they wanted to go after the Ford Country Squire more directly, and in order to do that they needed to offer a wagon with woodgrain side trim.
After wood-bodied station wagons became too costly to produce, Ford started doing the fake-wood thing in the '50s, but other companies didn't offer their own versions until some time later. After Chevy jumped in, just about every other wagon maker brought out its own version. Ours was white like this one but the interior was blue, not red. And my recollection (which may be wrong) is that the interior was a cloth and vinyl combo, which was considered classier at the time.
In 1972 we got a 1970 Plymouth Sport Suburban. I've posted about this car before, and it's probably my favorite of all the cars we had when I was growing up. Ours was dark green with a dark- and light-green vinyl interior. Other than the color it looked just like this one, right down to the wheel covers. But ours didn't have the third seat; none of our station wagons did. We still rode in the "way back," just sitting on the hard metal floor.
The hidden headlights were my favorite feature of the Sport Suburban. The twin bulges on the hood had optional turn signal repeaters which faced back toward the driver; they're the same basic idea as the ones you see today on cars' side mirrors, except those are more for the benefit of other drivers.

So yes, I want a Sport Suburban for the Fantasy Garage, for nostalgia's sake more than anything else. The '71 was pretty much the same car, but the grille was different (it still had the hidden headlights), and Chrysler eliminated the vent windows from its full-size cars that year. But they also took away the hood bulges, so it's sort of a toss-up. I think I'd probably stick to a '70 just because it's what we had. I used to include the '72 on my wish list, but over the years I've come to like its styling less and less.

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