Wednesday, March 12, 2014

5k: Wagonaire vs. Wagoneer: Which Wagon Will Win its Way to your Wallet?

Back before crossovers, SUVs, SAVs, CUVs, minvans, tall wagons, and 5-door hatchbacks, if you wanted a long roof people/stuff hauler you had one genre of vehicle to consider: the station wagon. There were two subsets; a wagon could be based on a car or on a truck chassis. What pundits would now call a "traditional body-on-frame SUV" was just known as a station wagon through most of the 20th century, and this category would include such greats as the Chevy Suburban, International Travelall, and Jeep Wagoneer. The SJ Wagoneer was made from 1963-1991 and took many forms during that time, but today let's compare a classic Wagoneer to its little-known half brother, the Studebaker Wagonaire. Find this 1973 Jeep Wagoneer for sale in Castle Rock, CO for $3000 and this 1963 Studebaker Wagonaire in Orland, CA for $6000, both via craigslist. Bear's Natural Habitat tip from Kaibeezy.

First we need to ask, what the heck is a Wagonaire? The rugged Stude was a car-based wagon built on the Lark platform. Both it and the Jeep were penned by the industrial designer Brooks Stevens and have an obvious family relation when studied from the rear 3/4 view. They both share a long flat roof, downward tapering D-pillar, little wraparound lozenge taillights, single-piece tailgate with integrated rear glass, and swoopy rear wheel arch.

Walk around front and the difference becomes apparent. The Jeep was based on a Kaiser truck platform whereas the Studebaker Lark was a compact car that shared the Mercedes-Benz Pontonesque grille styling with some of its contemporaries like the Gran Turismo Hawk. Not to criticize the Lark's odd front end styling - I definitely wouldn't want to compare it to Joan Rivers' face - lest DT incur the wrath of the Studebaker Drivers Club!

Both the Wagoneer and Wagonaire were originally powered by their makers' respective inline sixes, decent for the day but nowhere near the power and sophistication you'd get in a 2014 Jeep or 2014 Studebaker...wait,, Chrysler...Gelandewagen, I mean, Fiat 500 (whew). This '63 Wagonaire on craigslist has the 170 cubic inch "Skybolt" inline six making 112 hp; the only bolt this thing will shoot through the sky is the one it eventually throws off of its own connecting rod and through the crankcase when it gives up the ghost. Good news though, Wagonaires were available with both Studebaker and Chevy V8s. There was even a Wagonaire Daytona model with a supercharged 289 and floor-shifted 4-speed. 

The fearsome Studebaker Skybolt

The main selling point of the Wagonaire is the manual sliding rear roof, which opens forward to turn the cargo area into an open-topped bed. They were apparently prone to leaks but man, that looks awesome and would be a hell of a fart ventilation device. Whatever we do here, let's just not talk about the GMC Envoy XUV, which GM marketed as the first of its kind without really doing much homework on the subject.

Wagonaire windshield is cracked...

The Wagoneer in question is powered by the AMC 360 V8 making somewhere south of 180 hp. The 360 held the distinction of being the last carburetor equipped engine in any American car sold to the public when the Wagoneer was finally taken out to pasture in 1991. Being a '73, this one in Colorado is a middle generation truck; the '60s dash is gone, thin simu-wood siding is starting to grow on the flanks, and the grille has merged with the headlights replacing the earlier Kaiser styling that looked even more similar to the Lark.

...Wagoneer needs a carpet.

The seller of the '73 Wagoneer is commendably frank, saying there is "a bit of rust on the doglegs and tailgate, a couple of pin holes in the are getting a LOT more honesty in the description than I got." For only $3k you are getting a definite project but a bit of rust repair, cleanup, and a carpet and this would be a presentable FSJ.

For a cheap solid example of an earlier SJ Wagoneer project, check out this '64 in San Luis Obispo, CA for only $2500 on craigslist.

Which would you pick for your BrooksStevensMobile, an 'aire or an 'eer? You can put anything in the back of one, but go anywhere in the cabin of the other, at half price and with two more cylinders.

See a better proto-SUV? email us here:

Fake Edit: The '63 Wagonaire can also be found here on ebay, for a $1k discount: $5000 Buy it Now.


  1. I'm leaning towards the Wagoneer after seeing this on The Longroof Society on FB:

  2. Excellent, interesting writeup, CFlo! Looking forward to seeing comments from the Longroof crowd.

  3. Holy crap, where have I been? Since when is a Jeep Grand Wagoneer worth more than scrap value?

    I blame hipsters. These things are everywhere in Silverlake.

    1. Personally I think a pre-smog Wagoneer with a modern drivetrain and interior reboot would be a great all-around family truckster for someone who appreciates older machinery. Sorta like the ICON "Derelicts" that are floating around the show circuit and offered for multiple hundred thousand $, but much cheaper.

    2. Weird, I just realized that I wrote up an identical green-on-green '73 Wagoneer as a seller submission from Ian at Jewel or Jalopy. The one in CO was originally from OR as well, but I spy a different license plate number.

      "Any resemblance to previous Wagoneers, living or dead, is purely coincidental."

      1973 Wagoneer from August 2013

    3. blink comparator says: different car - note front bumper thingies, bigger wing mirrors, and, IIANM, no antenna on this one

    4. Don't get me wrong, ever since the last few episodes of Dawson's Creek where they took a cross country road trip in one (you can have my man card now) I've been pretty interested in them too. There's one locally with an '02 Denali AWD chassis under a ratty Wagoneer body but its far from complete (and I think he's parting it out now after months of being unsold via CL). I think someone had a similar idea (modern underpinnings). My only issues with them are that they're usually very, very abused, only come with a slush-o-matic from what I've seen, and 11mpg gets real old real quick. Plus, the market for these things has exploded as of late... check this one out. $26k!?

  4. Not sure where you are from RyanM, but on the East Coast the Grand Wagoneer, especially the wood sided ones like you posted, are indicative of wealth. Not rich, but old money-my-family-came-on-the-Mayflower wealth. Pull up behind a Maybach at the Four Seasons in a Wagoneer and the valets will rush to you without a second glance at the Maybach.

    1. I'm out on the left coast. Los Angeles. Thats a line I hear oft repeated by each crop of east-coast transplants, but up until now I hadn't thought it actually caught on. Methinks one could make a decent business buying up nice looking, rust free but won't pass CA smog Grand Wagoneers and shipping them to New England for resale.

    2. Indeed one could. There's already an outfit called Wagonmaster in Texas doing just that. Look at the Grand Wagoneers marked Sold, and the locations they sold to...New England and Europe.

    3. Holy crack pipe. These were not well built vehicles, not particularly reliable, and weren't very good at what they did. Underpowered, terrible fuel economy, ride like crap, leak everything, can't tow much, rust like an early 70's American car, and handle like a Conestoga wagon. Which is precisely why I like them, because they're the anti-Los Angeles. Big, bloated, polluting, huge, in your face, middle finger to every Prius on the road.

      Still, $40-$50k is insanity. But hey, I guess they're worth whatever someone will pay for them.

  5. I like my cars like I like my women--Big and boxy with lots of junk in the trunk.

    But seriously, great write up. I'm holding out for a Volvo 240 wagon with a V-8 or an International Travelall.


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