The popularity of these types of vehicles increased as social norms changed, with bigger families, slowly increasing family incomes, and improved roads encouraging travel. We saw thousands of wagons in town and country, weekdays and weekends. They were in daily use as working vehicles but were especially noticeable at holiday times, loaded to the gunwales with Dad, Mum and kids, plus sometimes a rellie or two and the dog, and all the holiday stuff, tents, bikes, boats, playthings; sometimes a trailer hooked on behind carrying even more.

The same applied in the States, in Britain and Europe, and the big manufacturers in all these areas featured family-size wagons. We’ll define family size as 1.5/1.6-litre four-cylinder wagons or larger, going up the ranges to family six-seater six-cylinder wagons (Holden, Valiant, Falcon) and massive V8-powered load carriers, up to monster nine-seaters in the most upmarket versions from the likes of Buick or Oldsmobile in the States.

Fintastic! 1960 Dodge Pioneer station wagon

A Dying Breed?

Their popularity grew, peaking perhaps in the early 1970s, but by the late seventies, estates and wagons began to slip from showrooms and catalogues, though they were still usually available to order. You could see the trend here in New Zealand in their slowly decreasing numbers on the roads, and it accelerated through the 1980s. In Australasia, Britain and Continental Europe they were still selling reasonably well, but the decline was particularly noticeable in the USA.

Now, well into the 21st century, we seldom see these larger family wagons in New Zealand, and as an inveterate car watcher, it set me thinking why? What was behind this change? We noticed above that post-WWII social factors increased estate and wagon demand through the 1950s and 1960s, but by the 1970s different social factors had come into play; birth rates were decreasing and holidaymaking habits were changing because of cheaper air travel.

Reliable and solidly built – Volvo 145 estate

But beyond these social factors, there was change in the motor industry itself, and manufacturers’ product ranges were now subtly different, with most marques offering hatchback body styles that allowed easier tailgate-style luggage loading and access, which had always been a good selling point for estates and wagons. However, hatchback luggage space was still not as big as the better estates and wagons, so they still had one extra selling point in their favour.


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