Harman Patil (Editor)

Station wagon

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Station wagon

A station wagon, also called an estate car, estate wagon, or simply wagon or estate, is an automotive body-style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk lid. The body style transforms a standard three-box design into a two-box design — to include an A, B, and C-pillar, as well as a D-pillar. Station wagons can flexibly reconfigure their interior volume via fold-down rear seats to prioritize either passenger or cargo volume.


The American Heritage Dictionary defines a station wagon as "an automobile with one or more rows of folding or removable seats behind the driver and no luggage compartment but an area behind the seats into which suitcases, parcels, etc., can be loaded through a tailgate."

When a model range includes multiple body styles, such as sedan, hatchback and station wagon, the models typically share their platform, drivetrain and bodywork forward of the A-pillar. In 1969, Popular Mechanics said, "Station wagon-style ... follows that of the production sedan of which it is the counterpart. Most are on the same wheelbase, offer the same transmission and engine options, and the same comfort and convenience options."

Station wagons have evolved from their early use as specialized vehicles to carry people and luggage to and from a train station, and have been marketed worldwide.


Station wagon and wagon are the common names in American, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian and African English, while estate car and estate are common in the rest of the English-speaking world. Both names harken to the car's role as a shuttle, with storage space for baggage, between country estates and train stations.

Having shared antecedents with the British shooting-brake (originally a wooden-bodied vehicle used to carry shooting parties with their equipment and game), station wagons have been marketed as breaks, using the French term (which is sometimes given fully as break de chasse, literally "hunting break)." Early U.S. models often had exposed wooden bodies and were therefore called woodies.

Manufacturers may designate station wagons across various model lines with a proprietary nameplate. Examples include "Estate" (Mercedes-Benz, Chevrolets with the fake-wood option), "Avant" (Audi), "Touring" (BMW), "Tourer" and "Cross-Tourer" (Citroën), "SW" for Station Wagon or Sports Wagon (Peugeot), Estate (Renault), MCV (Renault/Dacia), "Tourer" (Rover), Kombi or Variant (Volkswagen and Saab) and "Sports Tourer", "SW - Sportswagon" (Kia) or Caravan (Opel).

Distinction from hatchbacks

Both station wagons and hatchbacks typically share a two-box design configuration, with one shared, flexible, interior volume for passengers and cargo — and a rear door for cargo access. Further distinctions are highly variable:

Pillars: Both configurations typically feature A, B & C-pillars, station wagons feature a D-pillar and hatchbacks may feature a D pillar.

Cargo Volume: Station wagons prioritize passenger and cargo volume — with windows aside the cargo volume. Of the two body styles, a station wagon roof (viewed in profile) more likely extends to the very rearmost of the vehicle, enclosing a full-height cargo volume — a hatchback roof (especially a liftback roof) might more likely rake down steeply behind the C-Pillar, prioritizing style over interior volume, with shorter rear overhang and with smaller windows (or no windows) aside the cargo volume.

Cargo floor contour: Favoring cargo capacity, a station wagon may prioritize a fold-flat floor, where a hatchback would more likely allow a cargo floor with pronounced contour (e.g. the new Mini or the sixth generation Ford Fiesta).

Seating: Station wagons may have two or three rows of seats (e.g., the Ford Taurus wagons) while hatchbacks may only have one or two.

Rear suspension: A station wagon may include reconfigured rear suspension for additional load capacity and to minimize intrusion in the cargo volume, (e.g., worldwide versions of the first generation Ford Focus).

Rear Door: Hatchbacks typically feature a top-hinged liftgate for cargo access, with variations ranging from a two-part liftgate/tailgates (e.g., the 1958 A40 Countryman) to a complex tailgate that can function either as a full tailgate or as a trunk lid (e.g., the 2008 Škoda Superb's TwinDoor). Station wagons have also enjoyed numerous tailgate configurations. Hatchbacks may be called Liftbacks when the opening area is very sloped and the door is lifted up to open.

Automotive journalist Dan Neil, in a 2002 New York Times report described verticality of the rear cargo door as the prime distinction between a hatchback and a station wagon: "Where you break the roofline, at what angle, defines the spirit of the vehicle", he said. "You could have a 90-degree break in the back and have a station wagon."

A model range may include multiple configurations, as with the 2005–2007 Ford Focus which offered sedan (ZX4), wagon (ZXW) and three and five-door hatchback (ZX3 and ZX5) models.


The first station wagons were a product of the age of train travel. They were originally called "depot hacks" because they worked around train depots as hacks (short for hackney carriage, an old name for taxis). They also came to be known as "carryalls" and "suburbans".

Before the 1930s, manufacturers assembled the framing of passenger compartments of passenger vehicles in hardwood. In automobiles, the framing was sheathed in steel and coated with colored lacquer for protection. Eventually, all-steel bodies were adopted because of their strength, cost, and durability.

Early station wagons evolved from trucks and were viewed as commercial vehicles (along with vans and pickup trucks), not consumer automobiles—with the framing of the early station wagons left unsheathed because of the commercial nature of the vehicles. This would be reflected on those vehicles registrations--Pennsylvania, for instance, issued special "Suburban" license plates well into the 1960s, long after station wagons became car-based. Early station wagons were fixed roof vehicles, but lacked the glass that would normally enclose the passenger compartment, and had only bench seats. In lieu of glass, side curtains of canvas could be unrolled. More rigid curtains could be snapped in place to protect passengers from the elements outside.

In 1922 Essex introduced the first affordable enclosed automobile (sedan), which shifted the auto industry away from open vehicles to meet consumer demand for enclosed automobiles.

Initially, manufacture of the wagon's passenger compartments was outsourced to custom body builders because the production of the all-wood bodies was very time consuming. Major producers of wood-bodied station wagons included Mitchell Bentley, Hercules, USB&F, Cantrell, and other custom builders. The roofs of "woodie" wagons were usually made of stretched canvas that was treated with a waterproofing dressing.

Eventually, the car companies began building their own station wagons. Star (a division of Durant Motors) was the first car company to offer a factory-built station wagon, in 1923. In 1919, the Stoughton Wagon Company of Stoughton, Wisconsin, had begun putting custom wagon bodies on Model T chassis. By 1929 Ford was by far the biggest seller of station wagons. Since Ford owned its own hardwood forest and mills, at the Ford Iron Mountain Plant in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, it began supplying the wood components for the Model A wagon (although initially some final assembly still took place away from the factory, by Briggs, in Detroit, with wood from the Mengel Company in Louisville, Kentucky). The same year, J. T. Cantrell provided woodie bodies for Chrysler vehicles until 1931.

By the mid-1930s, wood-bodied station wagons had some prestige. They were priced higher than regular cars and were popular in affluent communities. When it was introduced in 1941 the Chrysler Town & Country was the most expensive car in the company's lineup.

Woodie wagons required constant maintenance: bodies were finished in varnishes that required recoating; bolts and screws required periodic tightening as wood expanded and contracted through the seasons. In 1935, General Motors introduced a steel-bodied eight-seat Suburban wagon, based on the Chevrolet truck.

The popularity of woodies was renewed, in the surfing culture, during the 1950s and 1960s.

All-steel wagons

After World War II, automobile production resumed, with prewar tooling. New advances in production techniques made all-steel station wagon bodies more practical, eliminating the cost, noise, and maintenance associated with wood bodies.

The first factory-built all-steel station wagon in North America was the 1946 Jeep Station Wagon, based on the Jeep produced by Willys-Overland during World War II. Willys offered a trim level, evoking earlier wood bodywork, rendered instead in paint and trim work. In 1935, Chevrolet introduced the Chevy Suburban, with an all-steel station-wagon body on a commercial-truck chassis. In 1947, Crosley introduced an all-steel, car-based wagon in Europe.

In 1949, Plymouth introduced the first all-steel station wagon in the U.S., the two-door Suburban, based on an automobile platform. In 1950 Plymouth discontinued the woodie station wagon, converting to all steel bodywork. Buick discontinued production of the last North American wood bodywork after the 1953 model year. Morris of England continued to market its Morris Minor Traveller until the late 1960s.

During the mid 1950s real wood accents replaced all wood sides, and by the late 1950s, the accents had reduced to being faux wood . For example, only the very first Ford Country Squire had real wood accents, most were built with simulated woodgrain paneling. By 1955, only Ford and Mercury offered a woodie model, accomplishing the simulation of wood with other materials, e.g., steel, plastics and DI-NOC (a vinyl product).

The Ford Country Sedan was actually a station wagon, they called it a sedan to highlight it was for personal ownership rather than taxi or other commercial use,as historically station wagons were for taxi style or hire car, hotel convenience vehicle, etc. services.

Ford was undoubtedly the most known for the use of woodgrain appliques on its vehicles. In addition to the well-known Country Squire, the "Squire" trim level was an available option in a few different model ranges. These include the Falcon Squire, Fairlane Squire, and in the 1970s the Pinto Squire. Surviving examples of these smaller "Squire" wagons are much rarer than the more popular full-size Country Squire, which was ordered and produced in much higher quantities. The Squire was always the highest trim level of any Ford Wagon and included the signature woodgrain applique, and usually additional exterior chrome, nicer interior trim, special emblems, etc. Other manufacturers marketed wagons and minivans with simulated wood off and on from the mid-1950s through the early 1990s. The most notable of these are the Chrysler Town & Country, The Buick Estate, The Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, The Chevrolet Kingswood Estate and the Mercury Colony Park. Simulated wood appliqués became less common in the 1980s. With the introduction of the retro-styled Chrysler PT Cruiser wagon-like model, aftermarket firms began selling simulated woodgrain kits.

Station wagons experienced highest production levels in the United States from the 1950s through the 1970s. The late 1950s through the mid-1960s was also the period of greatest variation in body styles, with pillared two- and four-door models marketed alongside hardtop (no B-pillar) four-door models (e.g., American Motors' Rambler Cross-Country wagons). Rambler offered a four-door of this body style in 1956, followed by Mercury, Oldsmobile, and Buick in 1957; Chrysler entered the market in 1960. The pillarless designs could be expensive to produce, added wind noise, and created structural issues with body torque. GM eliminated the hardtop wagon from its lineup in 1959, and AMC and Ford exited the field beginning with their 1960 and 1961 vehicles, leaving Chrysler and Dodge with the body style through the 1964 model year.

Full-size wagons

Traditionally, full-sized American station wagons were configured for six or nine passengers. The basic arrangement for seating six was three passengers in the front and three passengers in the rear, all on bench-type seats; to accommodate nine, a third bench seat was installed in the rear cargo area, over the rear axle. Through 1956, all wagons had the third row facing forward, but Chrysler's 1957 models had a roof too low to permit a forward-facing seat installed over the axle, so it was turned around and placed behind the axle. GM wagons would adopt the rear-facing third row with 1959 models until 1971, and again in 1977.

In full-size Ford and Mercury wagons built after 1964, the configuration was two seats facing each other, placed behind the rear axle. According to Ford, each seat would accommodate two people, raising the total seating capacity to ten passengers; however, these seats were quite narrow in later models and could accommodate only one passenger, limiting the total capacity to eight passengers.

The 1964–1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser and 1964–1969 Buick Sport Wagon featured raised rooflines beginning above the second-row seat and continuing all the way to the rear tailgate. Above the second seat were acrylic glass skylights in which passengers could view the outside from overhead. On the three-seat models of these wagons, the third seat faced forward as did the first and second seats. Later, the 1971–1976 full-size "clamshell" wagons used a similar raised roof to provide adequate headroom for a forward-facing third row, but without the skylights.

Recent models of station wagons are usually built on smaller platforms and accommodate five or six passengers (depending on whether bucket or bench seats are fitted in front) in two rows of seating. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate, a mid-sized station wagon, has an optional rear-facing jump seat for two passengers in the cargo area.[1]

Full-size station wagons have been replaced by medium or full-size SUVs (both light truck and crossover types) with three-row seating such as the Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.[2]

Two-door wagons

In 1951, the compact 100-inch (2,540 mm) wheelbase Nash Rambler line included a two-door station wagon design whose production continued through 1955. After the merger of Nash and Hudson, the new company, American Motors (AMC) reintroduced the two-door wagon in the "new" Rambler American line in 1959 with only a few modifications from the original version. This was a car targeting buyers looking for economy and load space, as well as a strategy of reintroducing an old design. This two distinct model run was a successful business decision that is almost unheard of in automobile history.

The 1955–1957 Chevrolet Nomad (now a valuable collector car) and sibling Pontiac Safari were two-door station wagons, competing with the 1957-58 model years-produced Ford Del Rio two-door wagon. Mercury produced a two-door hardtop (no "B-pillar") station wagon from 1957 to 1960, named the Commuter. Chevrolet produced the 1964–1965 Chevelle 300 series two-door station wagon.

In 1961 Volkswagen introduced the Type 3 (also known in various markets as the Variant and the Volkswagen 1500 (later the Volkswagen 1600)), available as a two-door sedan and as a two-door station wagon, which was commonly called the Squareback. VW's then-typical rear-engine layout was retained for the Type 3, but the engine profile was flattened, resulting in a small car offering interior room, as well as trunk space in the front. The model was offered through the 1973 model year.

The 1970s were a high point for two-door wagons in the U.S. as GM, Ford, and AMC fielded examples in their subcompact car lines.

The Chevrolet Vega Kammback, introduced in September 1970, was the first U.S.-made four-passenger wagon and the first two-door wagon from GM in six years. It shared its wheelbase and length with Vega coupe versions and was produced in the 1971–1977 model years. The Pontiac Astre Safari wagon is a Pontiac rebadged Vega that was introduced in the U.S for the 1975 model year. The Chevrolet Monza and Pontiac Sunbird Safari wagons replaced the Vega and Astre respectively. Retaining the Vega wagon body, they were produced for the 1978 and 1979 models years with Pontiac and Buick engines.

Ford Pinto and Mercury Bobcat 2-door wagons were produced between 1972 and 1980. American Motors also entered the market with a wagon version of the AMC Pacer, produced between 1977 and 1980. The last two-door wagon available in America, the Volkswagen Fox, was discontinued in 1991.

In the United Kingdom, estate car versions of small and middle sized models were more common. The estate ("Traveller") versions of the Morris 1000 ("Minor") and Mini, with external ash wood frames (structural on the 1000); had two vertically divided van-type rear doors in the style of older shooting-brakes (see "station wagons around the world", below). The Hillman Husky estate version of the Hillman Imp was unusual in being a rear-engined estate. Other two-door station wagons in Europe included the Ford Escort, Morris 1100, Vauxhall Viva, Vauxhall Chevette, Fiat 127, and Saab 95.

A former East German car fleet made uniformly of Trabants and Wartburgs had a distinct luxurious version of 2-doors estate coupe Trabant 601 Estate with an extra C-column far back to extend the rear compartment of the car. This version had a full scale liftgate allowing to access the entire rear room of nearly 1000 l with rear seats folded.

Popularity in North America

Since the 1970s, sales of station wagons in the United States and Canada dropped for several reasons. The 1973 oil crisis was a turning point against the "traditional classic American station wagon—with its acres of fake woodgrain siding, sticky vinyl bench seats and lazy-revving V-8 engine", which have been described as "wallowing land arks". The 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation parodied the styling cues of 1970s station wagons with its garish Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

In 1984 Chrysler introduced the Chrysler minivans derived from the K platform. While the K platform was also used for the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries station wagon models, the minivan would soon eclipse them in popularity. Since minivans and SUVs are classified as light trucks under US CAFE standards, manufacturers had a strong incentive to market those vehicles over station wagons, which are classified as cars. Station wagons have remained popular in Europe and other locations whose emissions and efficiency regulations do not distinguish between cars and light trucks.

The emergence and popularity of sport utility vehicles which closely approximate the traditional wagon bodystyle was a further blow. After struggling sales, the Chevrolet Caprice and the Buick Roadmaster, the last American full size wagons, were discontinued in 1996. The Ford Taurus wagon was discontinued after the 2005 model year. The Dodge Magnum was marketed during the 2005–2008 model years.

Since then, smaller wagons have been sold in the U.S. as less expensive alternatives to SUVs and minivans. Domestic wagons also remained in the Ford, Mercury, and Saturn lines until 2004 when the bodies began a phase-out, replaced by car-based crossover SUVs and minivans designed to look like station wagons.

Subaru has been a notable exception to the rule, offering full-size Legacy and Outback station wagon models in the United States and worldwide consistently from 1994 to the present. These models continue to be produced at the Subaru of Indiana plant in Lafayette.

The last subcompact station wagon produced in the United States and Canada was the 1992 Toyota Corolla. Compact station wagons have been declining since the 2000s. Ford dropped the Ford Focus ZXW wagon after its 2007 model year, and Subaru replaced the Subaru Impreza wagon with a 5-door hatchback model. Volvo announced that they will withdraw their compact station wagon, the Volvo V50, from the U.S market by 2012 due to poor sales figures. In Europe the V50 remains popular. The VW Golf Sportwagen is Volkswagen's mid-2015 attempt to rectify the absence of a subcompact wagon from any manufacturer in the North American market.

European luxury carmakers such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz still offered wagons in their North American lineup, using the labels "Avant", "Touring", and "Estate" instead of wagon. However, these wagons had fewer trim and powertrain levels than their sedan counterparts, for instance the wagon styles of high-performance trims such as the BMW M5 and Audi RS6 were never imported to North America. The Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG in Estate trim is the sole performance wagon offered in the U.S. market. The Mercedes-Benz W204 wagon was not offered in the United States and Canada unlike the previous generation. The BMW 5 Series Touring was dropped from BMW's North American lineup after the conclusion of the E60 generation, due to slow sales in the United States with only 400 wagons sold in 2009. Due to the popularity of SUVs in North America, these European manufacturers have been supplanting their wagons with car-based crossovers such as the BMW Sports Activity Series, the Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz M-Class, these offer a wider range of options and engines than wagons.

However, the Cadillac CTS gave rise to its wagon counterpart, the 2010 CTS Sportwagon. Unlike European luxury wagons sold in North America, the CTS Sportwagon has almost as many trim levels as its sedan counterpart. The CTS wagon was discontinued in 2014.

Although station wagons have declined in North America, they offer several advantages over car-based crossovers. Wagons offer cargo space without compromising driving dynamics or radically increasing weight. The high fuel prices in Europe and Japan have led to nearly half of all production vehicles being wagons, and a similar result is expected for the United States. This trend is already being seen with an increase in wagons being sold in the United States. Cadillac's 2009 CTS Sport Wagon, Acura's 2011 TSX Sport Wagon, and Lexus’ CT200h Hybrid wagon are examples of this increased proliferation.

Around the world

European manufacturers often built two-door station wagons in the post-war period for the compact class, a practice that continued at Ford (amongst others) with its Escort Mark III well into the 1980s. By that time, manufacturers developed four-door models. In Europe, these vehicles remain popular and in volume production, although minivans (known in Europe as MPVs—multi-purpose vehicles) and the like have expanded into this market segment. As in North America, early station wagons were aftermarket conversions and had their new bodywork built with a wooden frame, sometimes with wooden panels, sometimes steel. Station wagons were the originators of fold down seats to accommodate passengers or cargo.

Station wagons are generally called estate cars or simply estates in the United Kingdom. The term shooting-brake, a term for an original hunting vehicle, came to be known synonymously with station wagon and were also custom built as modified luxury coupés with an estate car-like back. They generally retain two side doors. Until the early 1960s many of them were built with structural wooden rear frames, making them some of the most expensive and luxurious "woodies" ever built.

Most small cars produced in the UK from the 1950s until the 1980s had Estate versions, some of which were also used as small delivery vans minus the rear windows. By the mid-1950s most British car manufacturers offered at least one estate model. Manufacturers often chose a specific model name to apply to all their estate cars as a marketing exercise - for example Austin used the Countryman name and Morris estates were called Travellers. The famous wood-framed Morris Minor Traveller was produced from 1952 to 1971 and larger Morris Oxford Travellers were produced during the same time, initially also with wood-framed bodies but in five-door all-steel form from 1957. Some British estate cars were closely derived from existing commercial van models - such as the Austin A30/35 Countryman and the Hillman Husky while the Morris Travellers, the Austin Cambridge Countryman and the Standard Ten Companion were bespoke. One of the smallest estate cars ever made was the two-door Countryman/Traveller version of the Mini, initially available with or without (purely cosmetic) wood framing for the rear body - an option that was dropped in 1970 when the model was revised to become the more upmarket Mini Clubman Estate, which stayed in production until 1980.

Despite the popularity of station wagons in America, the two U.S.-owned manufacturers present in the UK (Ford and Vauxhall) were both relative latecomers to the estate car market, but the Ford Consul and Vauxhall Cresta were available as estates via factory-approved conversions from specialist coachbuilders such as Friary and Farnham.

Rover and Austin produced 4×4 canvas-topped utility vehicles in the 1950s that were available in estate car body styles that were sold as "Station Wagons". They incorporated better seating and trim than standard editions with options such as heaters. Early advertising for the Land Rover version took the name literally, showing the vehicle collecting people and goods from a railway station.

In France almost all station wagon models are called the Break (with a different spelling from the English shooting brake). French breaks from Peugeot and Citroën were available in seven- or eight-seater "family" versions long before MPVs became known in Europe. The break version of the Citroën ID, introduced in 1958, was the first European model to offer the same size, style and luxury as an American full-size station wagon (prior to this breaks had been basic semi-commercial vehicles more like the American 'suburban'). The ID Break (known as the Safari in English-speaking countries) had the same eight-passenger seating arrangement as many American station wagons with two front-facing bench seats and two folding inward-facing seats in the load bed. The 'Familiale' version had a front bench seat, a forward-facing three-space bench seat in the middle and a folding forward-facing three-seat bench in the rear, providing a versatile nine-seater car. The Citroën also boasted an American-style two-part tailgate while its unique hydropneumatic suspension provided both self-levelling and automatic brake biasing regardless of the load carried. The car could also 'kneel' to the ground for easy loading of heavy or large items. The successors to the ID, the CX and XM, continued the tradition of offering some of the largest estate cars in Europe but the XM's replacement, the C6 was only produced as a saloon. The Peugeot 404, introduced in 1960, offered a conventional alternative to the innovative Citroëns for buyers wanting a large estate car. Its replacement, the 505 was available in both five-seat and seven-seat 'Familiale' versions. As with the Citroëns, changing demands in the French car market led to the end of the large Peugeot estate models in the mid-1990s, with the smaller and less versatile Peugeot 406 becoming the largest estate model in the range from 1995.

The German language generally describes station wagons as Kombinationskraftwagen ("combination motor vehicle") or Kombi for short. During the 1980s Volkswagen Polo crossed car categories by offering a two-door station wagon shape (not named as a wagon) as the main model in its range in some markets.

Volvo built a mid-sized station wagons such as the V70, but this model was dropped from the company's U.S. lineup for the 2011 model year.

Japanese manufacturers did not build station wagons in large volume until recently. Models marketed as passenger station wagons in export markets were often sold as utilitarian "van" models in the home market. Some were not updated for consecutive generations in a model's life in Japan: for example, while a sedan might have a model life of four years, the wagon served for eight years, such as the 1979 Toyota Corolla (built until 1987) and the 1987 Mazda Capella (built until 1996). The Nissan Avenir is an example of a model that began its life as a utility vehicle and became a passenger car in the 1990s. Toyota no longer builds a wagon version of the Camry, but has wagon versions of Corolla or Auris, as well as Avensis. Station wagons remain popular in Japan with the likes of Subaru Levorg and Toyota Corolla Fielder, although they are in slow decline as the SUVs and minivans have taken over a large portion of this market.

In Australia and New Zealand the most popular station wagons were the large Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore models, although the Falcon wagon ceased production in 2010 due to wagons being replaced by SUVs in the Australian marketplace. The Commodore is slated for discontinuation in 2017. These are usually built on a longer wheelbase than their sedan counterparts, though they share the same door skins, leading to a slightly unusual appearance with the rear door not reaching all the way to the rear wheel arch. Traditional station wagons in Australia have seen a major market share decline since the early 2000s as they are replaced by medium and large SUVs.

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo V70 are examples of seven-seater estates not manufactured by the French manufacturers.

South Korean manufacturers do not have strong tradition in producing estate cars.

Tailgate evolution

Many modern station wagons have an upward-swinging, full-width, full-height rear door supported on gas springs—often where the rear window can swing up independently. Historically, wagons have employed numerous designs:

  • Split gate: The earliest common style was an upward-swinging window combined with a downward swinging tailgate. Both were manually operated. This configuration generally prevailed from the earliest origins of the wagon bodystyle in the 1920s through the 1940s. It remained in use through 1960 on several models offered by Ford, including the 1957-58 Del Rio two-door wagon. This style was later adopted on aftermarket camper shells for pickup trucks, seeing that pickup trucks already had a bottom half tailgate as an OEM feature.
  • Retractable window: In the early 1950s, tailgates with hand-cranked roll-down rear windows began to appear. This was another innovation first seen on Rambler wagons. Later in the decade, electric power was applied to the tailgate window—it could be operated from the driver's seat, as well as by the keyhole in the rear door. By the early 1960s, this arrangement was common on both full-size and compact wagons.
  • Side hinge: A side hinged tailgate that opened like a door was offered on three-seat wagons by American Motors to make it easier for the back row passengers to enter and exit their rear-facing seats. This was later supplanted by the dual-hinged tailgate.
  • Retractable roof: The Studebaker Wagonaire station wagon had a unique retractable rear roof section as well as a conventional rear tailgate which folded down. This allowed it to carry tall objects that would not fit otherwise. Water leaks, body flex and noise prevented the innovation from being adopted by other manufacturers. The concept was reintroduced in 2003 on GMC's mid-size Envoy XUV SUV.
  • Dual and tri-operating gates: Ford's full-size wagons for 1966 introduced a system marketed as "Magic Doorgate" — a conventional tailgate with retracting rear glass, where the tailgate could either fold down or pivot open on a side hinge — with the rear window retracted in either case. Competitors marketed their versions as a Drop and Swing or Dual Action Tailgate. For 1969, Ford incorporated a design that allowed the rear glass to remain up or down when the door pivoted open on its side hinge, marketing the system, which had been engineered by Donald N. Frey as the "Three-Way Magic Doorgate". Similar configurations became the standard on full-size and intermediate wagons from GM, Ford, and Chrysler. GM added a notch in the rear bumper that acted as a step plate; to fill the gap, a small portion of bumper was attached to the doorgate. When opened as a swinging door, this part of the bumper moved away, allowing the depression in the bumper to provide a "step" to ease entry; when the gate was opened by being lowered or raised to a closed position, the chrome section remained in place making the bumper "whole".
  • Clamshell: Full-size General Motors 1971–1976 wagons — the Chevrolet Kingswood, Belair and Caprice Estates; Pontiac Safari and Grand Safari; Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, and the Buick Estate models — featured a 'clamshell' design marketed as the Glide-away tailgate, also called a "disappearing" tailgate because when open, the tailgate was completely out of view. On the clamshell design, the rear power-operated glass slid up into the roof and the lower tailgate (with either manual or optional power operation), lowered completely below the load floor. The manual lower tailgate was counterbalanced by a torque rod similar to the torque rods used in holding a trunk lid open, requiring a 35 lb push to fully lower the gate. Raising the manual gate required a 5 lb pull via a handhold integral to the top edge of the retractable gate. The power operation of both upper glass and lower tailgate became standard equipment in later model years. Wagons with the design featured an optional third row of forward-facing seats accessed by the rear side doors and a folding second-row seat — and could accommodate a 4 x 8' sheet of plywood with rear seats folded. The clamshell design required no increased footprint or operational area to open, allowing a user to stand at the cargo opening without impediment of a door — for example, in a closed garage. Subsequent GM full-size wagons reverted to the doorgate style for its full-size wagons.
  • Liftgate: A simplified, one-piece liftgate on smaller wagons. Subsequent generation of GM's full-size wagons returned to the upward-lifting rear window as had been used in the 1940s.
  • Swing-up window: An upward-lifting, full-height, full-width rear door, where the window on the rear door can be opened independently from the rear door itself. The window is also opened upwards and is held on gas struts. The Renault Laguna II estate featured this arrangement.
  • Fold-up license plate: Wagons (including the Volvo Amazon wagon, early models of the Range-Rover, and the Subaru Baja) had an upward folding hinged plate attached to the lower tailgate of the split rear door. When the tailgate was folded down, the plate hung down and remained readable. The wagon versions of the Citroen DS, variously called the Break, Familiale or Safari, had a different solution- two number plates were fitted to the tailgate at right angles to each other so one would be visible in either position.
  • Safety equipment

    Some station wagons are fitted with additional front-facing or rear-facing seats, along with safety belts, to enable passengers to be carried safely in the cargo area.

    Cargo barriers may be used to prevent unsecured cargo from causing injuries in the event of sudden deceleration, collision, or a rollover.


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