We talk a lot about classic sports cars, exotics, and American muscle, and for good reason. In our hobby, most of what we see people buying and selling falls into one of those categories. If we actually went back to the 1960s and ’70s, though, we would see that plain-Jane sedans ruled the roads. On the highway, we’d see herds of station wagons. Not minivans or crossovers—good ol' fashioned station wagons. (Or estate cars, or whatever you want to call them.)
Most domestic wagons are old enough to be classics, and many are still surprisingly affordable if you’re looking for a stylish cruiser with room for some friends and maybe a dog or two. You really are spoiled for choice in this category, so we narrowed down the options to three big estate cars, each from a different brand but all built by the General, that could be yours for less than $20K.
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The all time cool G.M. g-body or later a-body wagons fom 79 to 83 have to be one of the best. These last rear wheel drive, Chevelle or Cutlass size wagons are going away. In the midwest, salty road winters, caused extensive rust in the rear frame and brake backing plates. A very dumb wheel cylinder install method, by way of a clip instead of bolts, caused problems. I know of all the quirks as I have owned 8 of these wagons. My last and best one is a 83 Cutlass. Rust free one owner that never saw a winter. Back a while they were easily found for around $1000.00. You could have a Chevy, Olds, Buick or Pontiac, all basically the same car. I love them.
Heyyyyy, there's some uncharitability here going on with respect to my B-body wagons (yes, plural, I owned three Caprices and a Roadmaster) back in the '90s. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my friends, and it changes with the times. Remember Peter Paul Rubens and his nudes? Right. Someday the 1994 Caprice will be thought of as beautiful. Just not today, perhaps. I'll tell you what I thought was beautiful: the 481,000 miles I got out of that LT1, and the sound, and the endless luggage capacity, and the 600K that car generated for my company during it's never-to-be-exceeded-again service time. It could really take some shots, too. When it was weeks old, a junior colleague of mine brought it roaring up a hill, got surprised at an intersection, jumped a curb and went flying Dukes of Hazard style, to land in a smoking ruin in the parking lot of a bike shop. Insurance agreed to cover the huge costs of repair, but the frame shop could never exactly straighten the frame. I took the car back anyway and put another 470,000 miles on it before things started to go wrong that exceeded my time, energy, and my accountant's patience. Great car. I miss it.
Mark in Baltimore
We had a similar Chevy wagon in our neighborhood a few years ago. It was white and black and the license read 'Shamu'. (BTW, I always referred to these Buicks as 'Roadbastards'...can I say that?) Truly, these cars were GM's absolute low point in designs.
Started out with my learner's permit in a '68 Vista Cruiser. "Champagne Gold", I think, was the color? Had the 455, I believe, as it had a ton of get-up-and-go. After my mother saw what a leadfoot I was, she shortly replaced it with a '73 Vista Cruiser with the 350 before I turned 16. Not nearly as cool a car, but it did have the "quadraphonic" 8-track tape player. Great for listening to The Who!
Too funny! Cracks me up.... When I had wagons, everybody said how ugly they were and nobody would buy them...they eventually went to the junk yard... Under $20K? I wouldn't give you $200.bucks... the owners should just write them off as a learning adventure and find a car with some class... I'm sorry, but I've gone through this phase and it is expensive... enjoy your car but remember, it is "for you" that you have it and not something to advertise...
I drove a 1973 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser Wagon with a 455 when I was in high school. Vinyl bench front seat and no A/C. It was the big brother to the Cutlass Wagon. You could carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the back and it had the awesome disappearing clamshell gate. My parents got rid of it while I was at college before I could get my hands on it.
I remember when I was a teenager in the early Eighties that our local Mechanic had a Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser on his lot for sale for $800. I kept going back to look at it, I was fascinated with that vista glass panel roof.