Saturday, March 7, 2009

1974 BUICK ESTATE STATION WAGON

I was going to work the other day and as I was waiting for the red light at Preston and Arapaho, this tank of a station wagon pulls up beside me. A graying Gentleman/Captain in his (perhaps) fifties was in full command of his boat and while at the red light was texting and later talking on his I Phone. He had a really nifty top of the line TomTom GPS along with several other high tech gee gaws that lit up the interior of the vehicle belying the fact that his chariot was an albatross from a previous age. He had obviously transcended that antiquity as the interior of his vehicle looked more like the starship Enterprise.

The vehicle in question was a 1974 Buick Estate Station Wagon, just like the one owned by my Dad many years before which firmly etched in my memory banks. Believe it, the 1974 to 1976 Buick Estate Station Wagons were the largest station wagons ever built. They were huge and cavernous - the automotive battleships of their day. Dad could transport a whole kids’ soccer team in his vehicle and did so with some regularity (Go Brunonia!). These big sturdy wagons, born out of the railroad era, were the proud though doomed predecessors of the Van Age. Scots please note the Saltire on front license plate in the above photo.

Our wagon was tan in color and with a faux wood grain exterior trim which Buick ostensibly used to attract the more affluent members of our society: those with obvious good taste (the Ozzie & Harriett crowd). Buick wanted to conjure up memories of kinder and gentler times though now it’s been relegated to an object of reverence though mostly curiosity and nostalgia, witness this writer. The wagon’s huge size and eye popping, high performing 455 cubic inch V8 engine meant that it could only survive in an era of sub $1.00 per gallon gasoline prices. Indeed, the big Estate Wagons would go the way of the wind and the dinosaur and were downsized in 1977. The new mandated fuel economy standards meant that the big tanks were doomed to the junk pile and that’s where most ended up. Indeed, when you Google the car you mostly get the names of junk yards and parts dealers that specialize in replacement parts for these outdated beasties.

I think it interesting that with an original MSRP of just over $5K US that car is now worth well over $12K US (less than mint) in today’s marketplace. I did note that the current owners of a ’74 Buick Estate Wagon that had been converted for funeral home use is now going for a very affordable $1,740.00. We suspect that it doesn’t run. At any rate, I am sure that there’s a college fraternity out there that could come up with the coins for that purchase? Dad ended up donating his Estate Wagon to a local church when it became obvious that it needed some major work on the engine. As a man who greatly appreciated the value and worth of any item I wonder what his reaction would be to its current valuation?

Estate Wagons have even achieved cult status and probably because nostalgic old farts like me who owned and/or drove them, remember and appreciate their presence in so many movies to include the iconic The Blues Brothers, Thelma & Louise, Car Wash and Best of the Best, among many others.

Many folks in my generation to include great Friends Jim and Jo Pennington of Chattanooga owned a vehicle in that Goliath genre; in their case an old Plymouth Station Wagon that served them well and was generally the top seller for Plymouth for many years. For a fairly comprehensive glimpse into our station wagon past, please do not hesitate to surf over to
http://www.stationwagon.com/history.html.

Driving one of these gas-guzzling monsters was also a pretty good way to stay in shape. Power steering aside, they required some muscle and as big as they were, a flight plan should have been filed so that other, more diminutive vehicles could stay out of your way… I vividly remember the difficulty I had negotiating my GMC Yukon XL in the mountains around Erwin, Tennessee, then home to good Friends Mike Wilson and Tad, Beverly and Charlie Sims. I cannot even comprehend how that big Buick Estate wagon could even fit on some of those very narrow, steep, switchback mountain roads. By necessity it had to own the whole road…

Fast forward to today and we see that many manufacturers including Subaru, Volvo, Mazda, Suzuki, Saab (goodbye), BMW, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Volkswagen and domestic manufacturers Dodge and Chevrolet (wannabes) are producing small to mid size (some hybrid) crossover station wagons that better appeal to our economy, agility, utility and our green, downsizing mentality. Sure not the form and function of my Father’s Buick Estate Wagon!

We see that GM’s Buick brand has miraculously survived the initial downsizing of this once all-dominant automobile manufacturer. The Buick has been all but reinvented with GM even proclaiming that “This is not your father’s Buick!” a seeming take off on one of their old advertising proclamations, “This is not your Grandfather’s Buick.” I find this generational, geriatric snub a tad alienating not to mention confusing as the Buick used to be that first grand step of the middle class to automotive respectability. With an ever aging and more affluent population, what would they recommend for us blue hairs? GM and their Buick line appear between the rock and the hard place with their future bleak at best.

With GM and Buick trying to escape an ever aging demographic and that being their primary though diminishing customer base, they have to at least literally try to reinvent the wheel. That failing, Buick won’t be around much longer. Aside from that, how do you convince a potential buyer to purchase a car from a nearly (and apparently impending) bankrupt manufacturer?

Guess that we won’t be seeing the resurrection of the Buick Estate Wagon anytime in the near future. If there is ever a renaissance of these big wagons and I get weird and want to buy one, maybe I can make an offer to our Buick Estate Wagon texting Friend the next time we meet at the traffic light. Haven’t seen him since…

Aye,

Ned Buxton

1 comment:

chefola said...

My name is Michael McCann and I have a friend in the building I live and has a 1974 Buick Estate Wagon/9 passenger wagon that was modified to a AmbleWagon I have specs and Picture will send. Michael