Mercedes-Benz

Mitsubishi

Once one of the most popular automotive categories, new station wagons today are something of a niche offering—typically favored only by the cognoscenti. While the rest of the motoring public has embraced SUVs, Crossovers, and Minivans, the truly aware new car buyer knows you can get just as much utility in a much smaller footprint simply by opting for a new wagon. In addition to utility, you also get the style and easy handling, as well as all of the other attributes of the car upon which the wagon is based.

The history of the station wagon goes all the way back to the time when trains were the predominate method of long distance travel. One needed a vehicle with extra carrying capacity to handle the type of luggage people used back then. In other words, one needed a wagon-type vehicle to drive to the train station.

Or, said succinctly, one needed a station wagon.

Ironically, the earliest new station wagon models were based on trucks—just as SUVs are today. The first car company to offer a factory built new station wagon based on a car brought it to market in 1923. However, as early as 1919, the Ford Model T chassis was being fitted with a station wagon body as well. Incidentally, the bodies of those early wagons were made of wood. In fact, there was an entire industry based around this. There were a number of coachbuilding companies specializing in producing those wood bodies for new wagons.

Thing is, those wood bodies required a great deal of maintenance. They had to be varnished regularly to protect them from the elements, and their screws, nuts, and bolts would gradually loosen from the vagaries of the road. Further, they were easily damaged in crashes.

In North America, the first factory-built all-steel new station wagon came in 1946. Again, as irony would have it, that first all-steel new wagon was a Jeep product. However, it had been preceeded by a truck-based model from General Motors in 1935, the Suburban. In other words, by the 1950s and 60s, when the popularity of new wagons was at its peak, the vehicles we know today as SUVs had evolved into car-based station wagons. Then, when car-based new wagons fell out of favor, the automotive consumer switched back to SUVs.

Which, once again demonstrates, everything old eventually becomes new again.