Weird and Wonderful Wagons

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Feb 07, 2018

I love station wagons, and  have owned several—a Volvo 122S, a Plymouth Valiant—and right now I’m interested in acquiring another—perhaps a Saab or one of those cool Audi allroads?

Thinking about my old cars got me on the weird wagon track. Even better than owning a production “estate” (that’s the British term) is coming across a rare conversion. This happened to me during my car hunter days, when I came across a round-body 1950s Mercedes Ponton that was made into a wagon by the German firm Binz.

These Binz Benzes are exceedingly rare, and quite valuable now.

C’mon, look at that thing! You’re not going to see another one coming down the road, even in Germany. The Binz conversions were mostly to 180 and 190 diesel models, and most were run into the ground. The green example I found was stored inside, and not too bad. The owner wouldn’t sell, but 20 years later it came up for sale, still at the same location and much the worse for wear.

In the coachbuilt era, which ended in the early 1950s, cars had separate chassis so the body could be custom ordered, and often was. Want a 12-passenger LaSalle woody wagon to pick up new arrivals and take them to their hunting lodge? Our guess is that’s it below. All the classic coachbuilders are gone now, so this kind of conversion would be very expensive.

A woody built on a LaSalle chassis, probably for resort duty.

Here are some other rare-as-hen’s-teeth station wagons. Ambulance and hearse conversions don’t count:

The world's only 1996 Cadillac Estate Wagon, yours for a mere $11,000.

Cadillac Fleetwood wagon. Yes, it’s obvious that this “Cadillac” started life as a 1996 Buick Roadmaster estate wagon, of which plenty were made. But whoever converted this car did it right. The front clip of the Caddy doesn’t just bolt on, says, but it fits pretty well in this case.

Even the taillights have the Cadillac crest.

Plus the Cadillac dashboard was used—no mean feat grafting that on—and all the appropriate badging. The seats are stock Buick, though.  If you’re interested, the asking price is $11,000.

I always liked the 1964 GTO, and it looks good as a wagon.

Pontiac GTO wagon. Silly concept, right? But it’s not so bad in the metal, and it would be practical, too. I found a bunch of GTO wagons, but this two-tone 1964, with a four-speed manual and 400-cubic-inch V-8, is my favorite. It was sold at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Las Vegas seven years ago. Where is it now?

The original 1965 Intermeccanica Mustang wagon inspired copycats.

Mustang wagon. The first one of these is this 1965, which came about when ad exec Barney Clark, designer Robert Cumberford and car nut Jim Licata thought they could make some money marketing two-door wagons. They sent a new car to Intermeccanica in Italy (where custom bodywork was cheap). The tailgate was hinged at the bottom, the rear seats folded, and the back window was retractable—just like in a real wagon.

A neat Mustang "Sport Wagon," which came to light in Germany. (Flickr/Arjan de Rooy)

The production plans never happened, but other people also caught the Mustang wagon bug. The “Sport Wagon” above, a 1967 I think, was spotted at Classic Remise in Berlin, Germany. It’s a pretty neat job, and reminds me of the Pinto wagons that would come later.

The Vista-Bird looks great, except maybe that Plexiglas rear window.

T-Bird wagon. The work of Idaho Falls resident Lyman Dye, this creation is known as the Vista-Bird, built from the marriage of a 1962 Thunderbird coupe with a 1965 Oldsmobile Vista-Cruiser wagon. It really works well, I think, though the Plexiglas rear window (with Pinto hinges!) seems a bit crude. The seats are out of a 1978 Plymouth Sapporo.

Can we say...ugly?

The same Vista Cruiser idea went into creating this 1971 Dodge Challenger wagon, but the results aren’t as pleasing.

Yipes, stripes!

Corvette wagon. There are many, many such conversions, and they mostly look terrible. The Corvette curves just don’t sit well with a squared off wagon back. This one, which is based on a modern ‘Vette (with ’53 styling cues), is the best I’ve seen.

The 1954 Corvette Normad was actually build on a Chevy sedan base.

Interestingly enough, GM actually did conceive of a wagon, and build the Chevrolet Corvette Nomad for the 1954 General Motors Motorama at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Sensibly, it was based on a sedan chassis, not on the Corvette itself. This is the only Corvette that six people could sit in. And the rear seat, folded. The next year, the Bel-Air Nomad debuted.

The shooting brake lives again in the form of this wagon.

Aston Martin wagon. Back to Europe, there were a number of conversions on Aston Martin chassis, upholding the tradition of the British “shooting brake” (used for hunting on the big estates). There are some ugly ones, and none are good enough to look like factory products, but this 1967 DB6—built for racing great Innes Ireland—comes close. It was built by Panelcraft in London, and became a daily driver, providing fast Continental touring across Europe. Cruising at 120 mph was possible. The car has been advertised for $500,000.

My favorite conversion, which I’ll never be able to afford, is a one-off built from a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300C. The car was created in period for Caroline Ryan, a scion of the American Tobacco Company fortune. The New York resident needed a wagon to get her to her yacht (formerly owned by Harold Vanderbilt) in Palm Beach, Florida. Our old friends at Binz stepped in, and they built this extremely elegant wagon. It has a red leather interior, a two-piece rear hatch and multi-level luggage compartments.

The lines of this Mercedes 300C wagon are just so elegant. In 1999, it went for $75,000, but is worth much more now.

With such a heavy body, this wagon is undoubtedly on the leisurely side. I’ve driven a standard 300C, and (despite sharing a motor with the 300SL sports car) it’s no fireball, taking 17 seconds to achieve 60 mph.

The great fun of wagon spotting is finding and photographing cars that never left the factory as grocery getters, but do that duty now. A GTO wagon for getting to the Cub Scout meeting? Why not?

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