Q: Dear Greg, I love your column every week and I cut them out and have them all in a scrap book. This past week you wrote about station wagons which I also love.
I owned many wagons mostly Chevy, Buick and Pontiac. My all-time favorite wagon was my 1987 Catalina Safari with three rows of seats and wood on the side that I drove for seven years. Then, my mom drove it for three more years and it ended with over 200,000 miles.
I loved all of my wagons, and also had three different smaller Ford Taurus wagons. My favorite Taurus was a 1999 finished in all black. I am a car person so I really appreciate your car columns. My husband has probably owned every car ever built! (Haha).
Keep writing your nostalgia car columns and I look forward to reading them every Tuesday in our Westerly Sun newspaper. Sincerely, Georgia M. Algiere, Westerly, Rhode Island.
A: Georgia, letters like yours keep these somewhat arthritic fingers going! I am happy and honored if you add this “just for you” column to your scrapbook. Also, forgive my tardiness in answering your handwritten letter dated March 30, but with lots of people staying inside my “letter bin” of both email and regular mail at times gets pretty full…which I am most grateful for.
Now it seems every time I write about station wagons I receive more mail than usual. Station wagons were pretty much all we had to choose from besides the four-door trucks, Volkswagen Micro Bus or Corvair passenger van from the 1950/1960 decades. Prior to the first Dodge/Plymouth minivans appearing in 1984 it was a station wagon heaven for consumers and the reason why we love recalling the days of station wagons and the many different trims and designs. Wagons were always built in lower production numbers than the many cars that came our way that, unfortunately, usually ended up at the car crusher. The low build number is one of the main factors why station wagons today continue escalating in value, especially the very good to pristine examples.
Back then, full size wagons came in two-door and four-door trims, from six to nine passengers with powerplants from small a six cylinder to powerful V8s. The 1987 Pontiac wagon you owned deserves some further explaining as back in 1982, General Motors utilized the Pontiac brand as a marketing test and eliminated all of its Catalina and Bonneville full size Safari Wagons from production, along with all other Pontiac full-size, rear drive cars. At the time, it was a stunning move.
Thus in 1982, full-size Pontiacs, be it cars or wagons, were gone from the showrooms and replaced with front-drive compact and mid-size rear drive “G” platform wagons. Further, Olds, Buick and Chevrolet still offered its full size, V8, “B” platform rear drive counterparts.
And the result of the test? Not that good.
The large format V8 powered car market returned with vigor in ‘83, and there sat Pontiac with nothing to offer its consumers. So, late in the model year, here comes the full-size Pontiac wagon back to dealer showrooms thanks to sibling Caprice and some quick badge, front grille and rear taillight replacements. Engine availability, however, took a turn backwards as the Buick 110-horsepower 231-inch V6 was the standard engine on the Pontiac wagons and not remembered for moving the big Pontiac with much authority. Thankfully, a 305-V8 with 145-horses was an option, but also listless in performance when loaded with family and cargo. My beautiful 1983 Buick Park Avenue had a 305-V8, and it was awfully slow when it came to acceleration.
So, 1983 became a pivotal year for Pontiac, as following its one model year hiatus, consumers immediately responded in a positive manner and purchased many a new full-size Pontiac wagon and a good number of midsize G platform wagons, too. Pontiac was back in the full size wagon market with the Catalina Safari and Bonneville Safari wagons you and I remember.
Your 1987 Pontiac wagon, meanwhile, was actually a clone of the Canadian built Pontiac Parisienne, a full-size Pontiac powered by a V8 that was identical to the Chevy Caprice and built on GMs aforementioned B-body platform. And thanks to acceptable yet declining sales, availability went well into the 1990s with Buick and Chevrolet lasting the longest.
Specifically, the final Buick Roadmaster and Chevy Caprice wagons were sold from 1991 to 1996, and an Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser was also offered through 1992. As for Pontiac, they were left out of that final station wagon generation and concentrated more on high performance cars like its Firebird Formula, Trans-Am and GTO rear drive, Corvette powered muscle cars. Pontiac’s last full size B platform was the 1989 model rear drive biggie, identical to your 1987 wagon.
Some readers may not recall the Pontiac 1982 test dilemma, which they quickly fixed in 1983. As for personal ownership, I’ve only bought one wagon in my days, a midsize 1979 Chevy Malibu (very nice). I did have full-time use of company wagons including a 1982 AMC Hornet, 1984 Dodge Aries and 1986 Olds Firenza, all used to sell newspaper advertising.
Hope you enjoyed the column Georgia and thanks again for your handwritten letter and our enjoyable phone chat Sunday morning, June 21. You sure know your cars and wagons!
Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes questions and comments on collector cars, auto nostalgia and motorsports at email@example.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840.