By on August 25, 2009

A recent study shows that the generation gap has dramatically narrowed. Parents and kids are now each others’ best friends, or something like that. But they weren’t always so chummy, especially in the sixties and early seventies. I have a theory for that: it was the heyday of the rear-facing third-seat station wagon. Nothing like the generations traveling while facing in opposite directions to cultivate oppositional disorder. And just to add a little more dissonance, how about we examine the two most polar opposite examples of the genre.

Rear-facing third-seat station wagons (“RFTSSW”) had a fairly short life-span. Since I’m writing this while deep in the woods, I’m going to have to trust my memory, which tells me that Big Three RFTSSWs appeared in 1957 (Chrysler) and 1958 (GM). Since the original woody station wagons of the teens, wagons had forward facing third seats. High floors and tall rooflines accommodated a unified outlook on travel, values and wars. That even goes for the seemingly unusual combination of two-door wagons with third seats, like the Fords of the late forties and early fifties. But there weren’t any seat belts or kiddie seats to fuss with, so working your way back from the front door to the third seat was just another mini jungle-gym session. For adults: not so much so, but then this was well before the obesity crisis.

But the “Suddenly It’s 1960” 1957 Mopars and GMs of 1958 were so low-slung the RFTSSW needed to be invented. And those eight and nine year-olds facing away from their parents in 1958 would be marching in the streets or occupying the University President’s office ten years later. I know this from experience.

It was a quantum shift in our family dynamics when a 1965 Dodge Coronet RFTSSW replaced our 1962 Fairlane sedan. Now, instead of having to deal with body contact, parents and younger brothers, my older brother and I cultivated and acted out our anti-social defiance in un-observed and unrestrained freedom, fueled by stacks of MAD magazines. The parents were probably equally glad that we were out of sight and out of mind.

There is something unique about the relationship of the driver (and front seat passenger) of the car behind you when you’re in the rear-facing third seat. From the safety of your car, and the assumption you’ll never see them again, the few remaining tendrils of inhibition and social conscience are blown away. Whether it’s all sorts of face-making, the feigned intimacy (with the other car’s occupants; NOT with your brother!) of blown kisses which inevitably escalated to lewd gestures, a (not so) pretend fight to the death with your seat-mate including a dramatic suffocation or strangling, or even going “nuclear” with a full-blown mooning.

It’s a universal law still in effect, although much rarer today: pull up behind some young kids in a rear-facing wagon seat or sitting in a pickup truck bed at a light, and the usual social conventions disappear inevitably and instantly. I make a point to try to outdo them, or, since old habits die slowly, initiate it.

Perhaps it’s away to deal with the inevitable frustration of riding in the rolling dog house. Watching the scenery ever-so-slowly recede into the horizon is the antithesis of how humans evolved to travel: eyes forward, ready to take in every new sight as it first appears. Instead, our formative years were spent watching the world re-fold itself backwards. No wonder we were itching for a revolution!

Having tumbled to the profound insight that what was good for the country was good for GM, it decided that RFTSSWs were too much of a threat to its long-term profits. Its 1971 full-size wagons received the same treatment that the prophetic mid-sized Buick Sport Wagon and Olds Vista Wagon introduced in 1964: an extended wheelbase to allow a modicum of leg room in front of the rear axle for a forward facing third seat. But it was in vain; a generation of future Japanese car buyers formed their subversive impressions in the back of millions of GM’s RFTSSWs.

Ford never succumbed to the dangers of the RFTSSW on its full size wagons, as this 1958 ad clearly shows. Does that explain the soft spot today’s older boomers still have for Ford? But beginning in 1965, Ford went a different route: tiny twin seats that faced each other in the way back. Kids hated it: who wanted to face your sibling for hours? And still not face forwards like a human, or at least face the rear like a sub-human, but with its compensations?

But Chrysler, ever the outsider, stayed true to the generation-busting RFTSSW formula like this 1972 Fury until it destroyed the genre permanently with its format-busting mini vans in 1985. My parents bought a 1973 mid-size Coronet wagon that was a 9/10ths scale copy of this Fury to replace the ’65. But by then the generation gap was a thousand miles wide: I was long gone, having hitchhiked off into the sunset (a blizzard, actually) a few days after my 18th birthday.

Enough of the generation gap; let’s look at the air gap under the rear-end overhang of this Fury. Station wagons of this era sure as hell weren’t shy about their big butts. And the Mopar “fuselage body” siblings take the badonkadonk prize. Yes, the GM wagons were a bit longer overall, but they rode on an extended wheelbase. The Fury just lets it all hang out behind its wheels.

No badges to give away what’s under this giant hood, but whatever it was, it will look lost in that deep, long cavern. Given what great shape this wagon is in, it was probably owned by a modest, thrifty soul, although the under-dash eight track player brings that into question. Most likely it’s got a 318, which was down to a 150 (net) horsepower by then. Sounds a bit underpowered, no? But the unibody Mopars weren’t as heavy as they look; this wagon clocks in at 4335lbs, exactly ten pounds more than a “compact CUV” 2009 Saturn Vue.

I’ve got a soft spot for these old Mopars, especially after my dash across the heartland in a similar ’69 Plymouth Fury sedan.  Well, that one did have a big block, and wasn’t emasculated by low compression and smog controls. And the ass ends on those sedans were only trumped by the Chrysler Coupes of this vintage. All time big booty winner. I once saw one of these converted into a four-passenger “El Camino”. The bed was at least as large as the real thing. Wish I’d had my camera then.

Europeans generally avoided RFTSSWs. The French had their long-wheelbase Peugeot and Citroen “Familale” wagons with forward-facing third seats. Italians generally just jammed the whole family into whatever they had, but the Fiat 600 Multipla was the brilliant solution to the limitations of the rhythm method. Germans could always fall back on the VW bus. The English knew better (than to have large families). And poorer Europeans walked or took the train. But the Swedes bit, which is surprising, given their child-oriented society.

But their options were limited, and they didn’t generally have very far to drive. Surprisingly, the Volvo Duett, a 544-based wagon that was more like a mini-Suburban, didn’t have a third seat. The Saab 95 is quite likely the smallest RFTSSW ever mass-produced. That seems improbable too, given the Saab’s Beetle-like dimensions. But the miracle of FWD and a simple low beam axle suspended on leaf springs made room for a half-way decent fold-up third seat. Here’s an old tv ad for one: (link). And the Saab 96 CC is here. Let’s just say that that it was a lot more space efficient and economical than the Fury.

Chrysler’s mini-vans and the upsurge of Suburbans and their like brought and end to an era, if you exclude the occasional Volvo and Mercedes wagon. But nobody actually puts kids there long enough for them to foment serious mischief, and the seat belts ended the moonings for good. And according to the studies, inter-generational peace and harmony have been on the upswing since ever since.

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49 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1972 Plymouth Fury and Saab 95...”


  • avatar
    texlovera

    Nice advert drawing of the Ford wagon, but what the hell were they doing racing a fire truck??

    My family had the rear-facing Safari wagon – man it was fun. My friend’s family had the (Chrysler?) wagon with the side-facing rear seats. I wonder now what would’ve happened in a frontal collision…

  • avatar
    rnc

    I fondly remember cross country vacations in our mid-70′s buick wagon (LeSabre maybe), seat belts? The back was like a daycare (didn’t have third row of seats).

  • avatar
    Hank

    texlovera: “Nice advert drawing of the Ford wagon, but what the hell were they doing racing a fire truck??”

    That’s easy. They must be from upstate NY. People around here race the trucks and pass ambulances on the freeway all the time. No kidding.

  • avatar
    Daniel J. Stern

    Perhaps it’s away to deal with the inevitable frustration of riding in the rolling dog house

    …or maybe it’s the instinctive knowledge that when you’re in the wayback, whether in a Country Squire or a Caprice Estate or a Monaco Crestwood, you’re sitting above the fuel tank in the crumple zone.

  • avatar

    I have a 1988 Country Squire, my brother’s kids love riding in the “way-back” though upset stomachs can occur because of the whole traveling sideways thing.

    My dad used to sell the Colony Park versions, and he’d tell the parents “yeah, those seats face each other so the kids can kick the hell out of each other.”

    You may be wrong about Ford succumbing to the RFTSSW as my 1994 Taurus wagon has one (though the Taurus isn’t really a full-size). The kids love that one as well, and I tested it out once, and I fit, all 6’3″ and 250 lbs of me. Wouldn’t want to ride back there for too long though.

  • avatar

    The RFTSSW lived on for far longer than you seem to realize, Paul.

    Among domestics, GM’s A-body and Ford Taurus wagons offered this option until they were discontinued, the latter just a few years ago.

    Among imports, Audi, Mercedes, and Volvo all offered a RFTSSW until very recently. Mercedes might still offered one–it depends on whether the new E-Class wagon offers the option.

    Fastest RFTSSW is almost certainly the E55 AMG, followed by the Volvo V70 R. In both cases the seat was an option.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The Volvo 240 wagons of at least the mid-80s onwards also offered a rear-facing 3rd seat, even as a dealer-installed option. Even as a self-installed option, if you could find a 240 with the 3rd seat in a junkyard. Completely unsuitable for full-size people.

    Thank goodness for minivans.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I see that the big Plymmy has its original license plates from new; that is rare indeed. Oregon (56 up) and California (63 up) are about the only states where this can still happen.

    It’s true that the fuselage-body Mopars weren’t all that heavy. A buddy of mine had a 1970 Fury 3, an old state-owned car, with a 318, and it was quite capable on the highways. The state patrol cars with their 440 4-barrel engines were nothing but 4-door muscle cars. I still kinda wish I’d laid hands on one.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    As ungainly as that Plymouth wagon is, it is probably better looking than any of the 72 sedans or coupes. The 72 Fury has to take the prize as the least attractive fuselage C body. My college roomate bought the Dodge Polara version of this car. My most vivid memory is that the sound deadening was worse than most mopars of the era (and none of them was particularly quiet).

    I would like one of these big Fury wagons if for no other reason to tell people that I have a Suburban and watch the confused look on their faces.

    By the way, I have to disagree about the Ford dual facing rear seats. My sister and I sat in these in Dad’s 66 Country Squire. We would both sit on one seat and fold the other down – it made for a great desk/table for games and puzzles.

    Also, the big GM wagons gave up on the RFTSSW out of necessity – when they went to the clamshell tailgate (the window slid up into the roof and the tailgate slid down into the floor) there was no room for a footwell at the back of the car, so the went to a front facing seat.

    • 0 avatar
      GreyRock

      True, however, the 72 Sport suburban with the right options, trim and color combo is like night and day compared to the plain custom suburban. BTW, the one shown has the ULTRA rare cassette recorder (not 8-track) Available from 1971-1973. I had one in my 73 Charger. It would record from the attached microphone or directly from the radio! what a concept. Other wagon/land yacht favorites as a kid waiting for my drivers license were:

      1972 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser
      1970 Ford LTD Country Squire
      1973 Chrysler Town and Country
      1973 Dodge Monaco Wagon

  • avatar
    cdotson

    “…destroyed the genre permanently with its format-busting mini vans in 1985.”

    …except that Chrysler’s minivans debuted for the 1984 model year. My parents bought a brown 1984 Voyager with faux-wood paneling and a 2.6L four that you could balance a nickel on while idling. I remember being 5 years old and picking it up at the dealer. I thought cruise control meant the car would drive itself and my dad could swivel his seat around backwards and play “go fish” with me.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    jpcavanaugh :
    August 25th, 2009 at 2:05 pm
    Also, the big GM wagons gave up on the RFTSSW out of necessity – when they went to the clamshell tailgate (the window slid up into the roof and the tailgate slid down into the floor) there was no room for a footwell at the back of the car, so the went to a front facing seat.

    Not to contradict you, but I’m contradicting you.

    The ’71-’76 full size GM wagons with the “disappearing” tailgate were available with a rear facing third seat. My mom’s ’75 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon had one. The “downsized” ’77s had them too.

    My kid brothers used to ride in it so they could beat the crap out of each other without Mom getting wise.

  • avatar
    mountainman

    Ford went a different route: tiny twin seats that faced each other in the way back.

    My Mom had a Colony Park station wagon with these seats. They were abominations. If she took off quickly, it would feel like your back is breaking. If she stood on the brakes (more likely to happen), then it would feel like your back is breaking. And if I can remember correctly (25 years ago), I believe I cut myself numerous times on the exposed edges inside the “leg compartment”.

    At least the rear window went down – I loved that.

    If someone makes a modern station wagon with a rear forward/backward facing seat, I would be interested. No crossover, no minivan, no
    SUV – an actual wagon. If it was a Subaru, then all the better. And, please get rid of the fixed rear window.

    Is that too much to ask?

  • avatar
    twotone

    I’d go modern — a Mercedes E55 AMG Estate with the rear-facing third row seat option. I can hear the kids — “Come on mom, lets smoke the Ferrari in the next lane!” And in most cases, it would win. 0 – 60 in 4.2 seconds and top end of 186 MPH (with the limiter re-flashed).

    Twotone

  • avatar
    Logans_Run

    Have nothing but bad (and one funny) memory of rear-facing seated wagons:
    1. Parents old Ford wagon-had the open rear window come down on my fingers on the way to Grandma’s house at age 5. It still hurts 50 years later.
    2. I would throw up in our old Chevy Kingswood Estate every time we went on a long trip due to the build up of exhaust fumes in the rear seat.
    3. The rear bumper fell completely off of my cousin’s brand new 1966 Dodge wagon as we backed out of the driveway.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    FreedMike,

    jpcavanaugh is right. The clamshell tailgate GM wagons didn’t come with a rear-facing third seat. Your memory is playing tricks on you. But, yes, the later downsized GM wagons did, but no clamshell tailgates on them. The lowered clamshell tailgate completely took up the space where the foot well used to be.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    My parents brought me home in my grandparent’s Fury wagon. I don’t actually remember it. It was in terrible shape at the time, apparently, and my grandmother admonished my granddad into buying…

    …a 1976 Dodge Aspen, which subsequently drove my family out of Chrysler and American-branded cars for the next three decades.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    FreedMike
    The ‘71-’76 full size GM wagons with the “disappearing” tailgate were available with a rear facing third seat. My mom’s ‘75 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon had one.

    My only experience in one of these was in a 71 or 72 Buick Estate wagon – seat faced front. I had been assuming that they were all this way. I stand corrected. But where did you put your feet? I don’t understand how you could have a footwell and the clamshell at the same time.

  • avatar
    dmrdano

    The parental units had a ’73 Grand Safari with the side facing seats, each off-set from the other so I could smell my brother’s feet.

    The best EVER (don’t laugh) was the ’89 Colt Vista wagon. Comfortable and easy access 3rd row for 2 small adults. All seats folded flat down for storage or flat back for a bed. Ultimate mini-minivan. Loved it.

  • avatar
    Commando

    Sorry guys. I owned a ’71 Estate Wagon.
    That thing had foward facing third seat.
    I may be old but I ain’t senile…

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Looks like the similarity is the grab handles on the back for climbing up on the tail gate to access the roof.

  • avatar

    We never had a three seater, much to my dismay. We crossed the country, Palo Alto to Boston, in a ’50 Studebaker coupe, Mom, Dad, me (4), my brother (6) and the airedale, all 75 lbs of her. Sometimes she’d take the back seat and my brother would end up on the floor. Then Boston to Seattle when I was 7, and back when I was 8, in the ’57 chevy, mostly with the back seat down.

    then, 2 months around Europe in the ’65 Peugeot 404 wagon (familiale), the way back piled practically to the ceiling with our stuff, my brother 15, me 13, and our baby sister, three and a half. A year after that, boston to chicago and back in a ’63 Chevy II coupe.

    The Saab 95 ad is wonderful, and the ’59 Ford Wagon is a beaut.

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: The 72 Fury has to take the prize as the least attractive fuselage C body. My college roomate bought the Dodge Polara version of this car.

    Interesting view, as our neighbors had a 1972 Dodge Polara four-door sedan, and I always thought it was one of the ugliest cars of the early 1970s. The bilious gold color and black vinyl roof certainly didn’t help matters. Nor did the fact that they NEVER washed their car!

    My grandmother’s neighbors had a dark green 1972 Plymouth Fury III four-door sedan, and while it wasn’t pretty, it was better looking than the Dodge. But all of the fuselage, full-size Mopars were less attractive than their GM and Ford counterparts during the early 1970s.

    Regarding the GM clamshell tailgate – supposedly it was developed in reaction to the Ford “dual action” tailgate, which debuted in 1966.

    GM couldn’t bring itself to copy Ford so directly, so it developed the cumbersome, clumsy and heavy clamshell tailgate as a response.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    geeber: You are right – Comparing the 72 Fury and the 72 Polara/Monaco is like trying to decide which of Cinderella’s stepsisters was the ugliest. I still have to go with the Fury. That sunglasses front end (particularly the 95% without the hidden headlights) is awful. But the Dodge is not far behind in my book.

    My best friend’s family had a black 72 Newport coupe that was actually pretty attractive, mainly due to the lack of a vinyl roof. When his dad put aluminum wheels with white letter wide tires on it, it looked positively menacing. But all in all, whatever attraction the fuselage had in 69-70, it was long gone by 72-73.

    I also agree with you on the clamshell tailgate. I knew more than one family who were normally GM people who bought LTD or Marquis wagons to avoid that miserable clamshell. One more example of GM’s habit of style over function, which is a really stupid choice on a station wagon.

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: Those big loop bumpers on the Fury were ugly!

    The Dodge had the grille and headlights in the bumper, which wasn’t any better.

    Either way, both were ugly ducklings. A full-size Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac were all MUCH more attractive.

    I also remember riding in our neighbor’s Mopars – that 1972 Dodge, and their 1971 Dodge Coronet sedan – and remembering how noisy they seemed compared to my parent’s 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont 88, which was older and had many more miles on the odometer.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    geeber: The mopars were certainly noisy. With that unit construction, they needed LOTS more sound insulation than they ever got. But that unit body was one tight unit. The GMs and Fords, as they aged, had all the torsional rigidity of jello, resulting in squeaks, rattles and cracked windshields. So by the time they were 10-12 years old, the noise disadvantage was pretty much cancelled out.

    My dad got a 69 LTD 4 door, and it was one quiet car (and good looking). He didn’t keep it long enough for the holes to start appearing by age 5. But I still remember the day I saw the brand new 71 Ford LTD 2 door. Even in light metallic green, I thought it was the most beautiful car I had ever seen.

    Want to laugh? The guy with me was older and had a really nice old orange 57 Chevy Bel Air 2 door sedan. He looked at that 71 LTD, shook his head, and said “boy what I wouldn’t give for one of those!”

  • avatar
    Commodore P

    Thanks for writing this, Paul. I haven’t seen one of those Plymouths in the flesh in over 20 years.

    My folks bought a new 1971 Plymouth Fury Suburban with the V-8 but no third seat. Green, with faux wood siding, roof rack, and pretty well optioned out. I recall my mom aiming for armadillos on the Texas highways; they were no match for that slab-sided wagon. My sister and I, both under five, occasionally rode around inside a playpen in the “way back.” Now that’s something you don’t see anymore, right?

    By 1974, the gas price crunch pushed them out of the wagon and they traded it for a 1975 VW Beetle.

    Later, I learned to drive in a 1984 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate, with the third row seat. My high school friends called it the power barge, and we occasionally stuffed 11 people in it. I suppose you don’t see that anymore, either.

  • avatar
    PRND21

    Our family had the 1972 Dodge Polara Station Wagon for eighteen years, it was towed off the driveway after the engine rotated 45 degrees relative to the front sub frame on Christmas Eve, 1990. I can still remember my siblings and I riding home with Dad in the new car on the NJ Turnpike on a rainy day. Mom had to drive the 1962 Ford Fairlane home by herself, everyone wanted to be in the new car! I can also remember Dad’s sad look as it was towed away, the tow truck and the Polara rounding the corner out of sight, his old friend going to that big Dodge showroom in the sky.

    My siblings and I used to play “Garbage Man” on the driveway by standing on the rear bumper step pads and hanging on to the rear grab handles integrated into the D-Pillars.

    Lots of memories as kids in the rear compartment, playing with Legos and Lincoln Logs – no seat belts or child seats. All four of us kids could lay down and sleep in the back with the second and third seats folded down on long trips. As a 6′ adult, my feet still couldn’t touch the toe pan while in the front seat.

    Dad did all of his own mechanical work on the car, and I loved to help. His two favorite phrases when I asked a lot of questions as a youngster while in tight spots fixing something were “Wait a minute” and “Hold this”. That time with him learning a lot about cars led me to be an Engineer.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I’m not sure how it happened, but for awhile, my family stumbled upon some seriously cool cars (cool because I was three–so it was 1974). At any rate, my dad brought home a Vista Cruiser. I don’t remember us having it for long. But I loved that damn thing. It had power everything and the rear seats. Too cool. I’m sad wagons like that perished with the minivan and SUV crazes. Maybe they’ll come back?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    jpcavanaugh :
    August 25th, 2009 at 2:50 pm
    FreedMike
    The ‘71-’76 full size GM wagons with the “disappearing” tailgate were available with a rear facing third seat. My mom’s ‘75 Olds Custom Cruiser wagon had one.

    My only experience in one of these was in a 71 or 72 Buick Estate wagon – seat faced front. I had been assuming that they were all this way. I stand corrected. But where did you put your feet? I don’t understand how you could have a footwell and the clamshell at the same time.

    I dunno, maybe you and Paul are right. I did a google search on these cars, and the only one I could find had a front-facing rear seat (it was a Pontiac).

    Could have sworn it was rear-facing, though…Alzheimer’s setting in, perhaps? If so, then it’s me standing corrected.

    This much I did know about that wagon: it was all ate up with motor. The year before I got the car from my mom (1979), the emissions control systems went bad, and instead of having to shell out a fortune to get them fixed, my dad had them all removed except for the catalytic converter. The thing probably had a HP rating in the mid 200 range, and it had 350 lb/ft of torque standard to begin with. The big thing at my school that year was the Turbo Trans Am, and my Olds killed any number of them.

    Bad news: I got the car in November 1979, right in time for gas to go up 300%, and the thing got all of 8 mpg the way I drove it.

  • avatar

    PRND21–great story, sounds like you had a terrific childhood. But what caused the engine to rotate like that?

    Geeber, I actually much prefer those early ’70s mopars to their GM and Ford counterparts. The last car my parents bought (with my help) before I went away to college was a ’70 Valiant. Simple, clean styling, a real good looking car, and an excellent car to boot.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    The footwells of the RFTSSW, when the seats are closed, are a great place to hide a toolbox & other sundries. I had a series of A-body GM wagons with that feature, and I can count on one hand the number of times I actually forced anyone to sit back there.

    The Fury weighs the same as a Vue? That is unbelievable.

  • avatar
    BeyondBelief

    Our ’69 Ford Ranch Wagon didn’t cotton much to that sissy RFTSSW treatment. The Country Squire was happy to ponce around with its fancy roof rack and faux wood trim package, but the Ranch Wagon was ALL BUSINESS, baby. I suppose the target market was the guy who was forbidden from buying a full size pickup as it pertains to the inability to shlep the family around, yet he needed a vehicle to help him build fences and rope dogies. The second row seats folded flat and the whole rear surface was sheet metal. It was a source of unending pride for my dad that he was able to slide many full-size sheets of plywood back there and still close the hatch.

    In the later years there was an endless parade of guys accosting us in parking lots trying to wrest this classic away from us so they could rip the 390 out and put it in…something else.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    You forgot Ramblers!

    You wrote about station wagons and forgot Ramblers? What station wagons are to Subaru today, they were to Ramblers throughout the 1950s and 1960s, right into the 1970s. Some of the last AMC products produced were four-wheel-drive AMC Eagle wagons. Station wagons were Rambler and AMC!

    Ramblers were big station wagons vehicles because they were inexpensive family vehicles. When Dad had a managerial job, or if Mom also worked, you would see a Pontiac, an Oldsmobile or a Mercury station wagon in the driveway. But if Dad was a blue-collar guy, you ended up in a Ford, a Chevy, A Plymouth or a Rambler – expecially in the Midwest US, where Ramblers were manufactured.

    Rambler was the number 3 US auto brand in the early 1960s, thanks to the popularity of their station wagons. (That’s right, they beat Plymouth!) Coupled with the increasing popularity of smaller, full-sized station wagons, Ramblers grabbed a big chunk of the American station wagon market. Although they seated six, Ramblers had a folding back seat – that faced rearward – and could seat eight or nine, depending on the size of your kids. Just like that Fury you wrote about.

    Putting kids in the rearward-facing seat during the 1960s, was so common, all the major manufacturers attempted to cater to entering and exiting through the rear door. That is why we start to see rear gates open like a door, and often incorporating a rear bumper step when swung open, a-la-car door. Again, all major manufacturers had this option.

    Ford not only had rear seats that faced inward towards one-another, they also had optional mini tables that attached to the floor. These were stable enough to actually use for eating and for playing board games on long trips.

    Vista Cruisers and Sportwagons incorporated bubble-top windows to lighten the rearward seat users. These models were very popular.

    Folks put kids in the back of station wagons, and manufacturers did more than just stitch vinyl vomit-proof upholstery in those seats. They saw an opportunity to market and grab market share by making the rearward seats more than an afterthought. While we as adults look back at the seating arrangements provided to us as children during those times, we have to remember how nice many of those seats actually were, in order to give this topic a fair judgement.

    Finally, to be a real Dad, you have to have a big “woody”!

  • avatar
    geeber

    jpcavanaugh: I wonder if the guy with the Bel Air still has it! Of course, my father traded a 1953 Studebaker Champion Starlight on a 1959 Rambler wagon.

    David Holzman: The early 1970s Mopar compacts were great – easily the company’s best product. But those cars escaped the “fuselage” look that was inflicted on the company’s full-size and intermediate lines. (Although the Duster/Demon/Dart Sport had a hint of it in the rear pillar area.)

    Plus, the Slant Six was quite common in the compacts, and a good fit, but that engine wasn’t too happy lugging around the bigger models.

    Chrysler kept soldiering on with the basic 1967 body for the Valiant and Dart, and they sold because of package’s basic sturdiness and practicality.

  • avatar

    @ BeyondBelief: That variety was probably why Ford wagons outsold both GM and Chrysler wagons — not only did they have the Ranch Wagon and Country Squire, they had the Country Sedan (moderately plush, but no fake wood or Galaxie interior trim) in two- or three-seat varieties. Something for everything.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    VanillaDude : You forgot Ramblers!

    Patience; Rambler wagon CC coming (eventually). Stay tuned.

  • avatar
    Monty

    What great fricken’ memories.

    The “clam-shell” full size GM wagons had either a forward facing third row, or a storage well. They didn’t have rear facing seats; I know, we had two of them when I still lived with the parents in the early 70′s, and then I myself a bought a ’73 Catalina wagon in the early 80′s. My Catalina had the storage well, which was larger than the trunk of the ’86 Corolla we had. The “clamshells” were cool yet at the same time compromised storage. But when you think of how much storage room those wagons had, you were giving up 15% (give or take) of what seemed like 300 liters of space anyway.

    The beauty of the clamshell was that you could crack the bottom door open a little bit, and with the front windows rolled down you could almost generate a tornado of air movement, eliminating the need for having A/C.

    It was a veritable pickup truck, actually. I could fit 37 cartons of paper in my car (3 cartons short of a ton!), and once hauled 36 4′x8′sheets of 1/2″ drywall, plus some compound and several aluminum studs to a building project.

    My dad had a ’72 Kingswood Estate, and that thing was a rocket compared to my ’73, due to all the anti polution controls installed after 1973.

    Good times, good times.

  • avatar
    WildBill

    We had three of these growing up, a Ford, an Olds and a Dodge. Dad briefly had a VW bus in between the Ford and the Olds but it wouldn’t get out of its own way loaded up with two adults and six kids, so the gigantic “Olds Mobil” replaced it. My brother and I killed it after we moved to the country and were no longer using it by taking the engine out in the barn, taking it apart and never putting it back together. We put the engine and parts in the back (with the seat folded down) and had it hauled away. Good times, good times.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    A recent study shows that the generation gap has dramatically narrowed. Parents and kids are now each others’ best friends, or something like that.

    I like my parents and talk to them often, but I’d never consider them my best friends. Otherwise like so many I hear these days, I’d live at home too. But that just makes me sick to my stomach at the thought of…

    Anyway, I recall riding in the back of several ’70s wagons with the rear facing or side seats. That was cool! We had a lot of fun playing back there, and even without seat belts oh my!

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Nice trip down memory lane…as a kid we had a ’68(?) Ford wagon with the side by side seats. They could be folded flat and a metal floor with a square stamped pattern would make a playground in the back. This was replaced with a ’71 Town and Country wagon with a 318, and those dreaded back facing seats. The grab handles on the outside were pretty cool. It also had some interesting features like a “cold” light on the dash. Of course, the “Hot” light was a far more common sight. This car, like all Mopars from this era would overheat in traffic with the A/C on. Otherwise, quite reliable.

    My first car was a ’72 Fury, which I still own to this day. Never sell your first car, ever. These cars were much lighter than their competition, as they had subframes instead of a true body on frame construction. As such, they out-handled the competition as well. Again, reliable but a disaster of a cooling system.

  • avatar

    I’m gonna go against the grain here and declare my love for the ’72 Fury, my favorite of the fuselage years.

    Here’s a Gran Coupe, the top of the line:

    http://www.fuselage.de/ply72/72ply_cover_b.jpg

    Sleek, intimidating, and looks great in blue.

    Yeah, I know, I’m weird. I like it this way.

  • avatar
    PRND21

    @ David Holzman: I think the engine rotated because either the engine mounts separated from the sub frame, or the sub frame mounts seperated from the body because of corrosion on the body and/or subframe. This unfortunate incident was the cause for the demise of the vehicle, much like the One-horse shay . For years, the vehicle was kept running with just replacing tires or the battery or the muffler, always cost-justified.

    Some other memories:

    Fender mounted turn signals – the front outboard leading edge of both fenders were high enough and there was enough flat land on the top surface of the fender to mount turn signal indicators. In today’s aerodynamic age I don’t think this would be allowed to happen. This also had the added benefit to Chrysler of being able to free up two slots in the instrument cluster to be used as as “Door Ajar” indicator light and a “Low Fuel” light without retooling a new instrument cluster.

    The headliner – there must have been nine panels of fabric from bow to stern, huge by today’s comparison.

    Flood lit dahsboard – the dashboard was flood lit with just three light bulbs, easily replaced. On back lit dashboards, you have to do quite a bit of disassembly to change a bulb.

    Instrument cluster labels – no ISO icons. The vehicle was wide enough to spell out “Fasten Safety Belts” “Temperature” “Alternator” “Gasoline”, which then evolved to “Belts” “Temp” “Alt” “Fuel”, just before going to ISO icons.

    My thanks to Paul and all the other contributors who posted for taking me on this great trip down memory lane.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    As a previous poster mentioned, Audi A6 Avants had the RFTS option….what he didn’t mention was the important detail that, to retrieve the ‘donut’ spare tire in the event of a puncture, one must fully REMOVE said RFTS. When it happened to me recently, I initially couldn’t decide if it was genius engineering, or bone-headed lack of common sense.

    Given that I was driving on a beautiful, dry, clear and non-humid early June morning, along a low-traffic country two-laner with a wide, flat verge, when it happened, and since the boot of my wagon was empty, I decided it was genius engineering and a great tradeoff between usable space and utility.

    Had it happened in the dead of winter or during a fall monsoon on a busily roaring interstate, and/or when the boot of my Audi was fully laden, I probably would have cursed the engineers and damned their progeny for fools, robustly and fervently expressing my feeling that they should have been drowned at birth, while lustily opining that they truly may have needed surgery to correct their obvious cases of rectal-cranial inversion…..

    Anyone know how the spares were stored on the two subject vehicles of this arty-cle?

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    Good article I suppose but uuuuuh they definitely weren’t the “last” of the rear-facing 3rd row seat. My ’94 Buick Roadmaster has one. All 94-96 B-Body wagons do…. My niece loves it.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Anyone know how the spares were stored on the two subject vehicles of this arty-cle?…

    Fury sedans put the tire in the trunk. Station wagons had them inside the car, standing upright behind the rear wheel housing. You removed the plastic interior cover and the tire was inside. IIRC it was the passenger side…

  • avatar
    nikita

    Wow! What a trip down memory lane. There are a lot of boomers here with similar experiences.

    I took drivers ed in a white 1969 Plymouth wagon.

    Dad started buying wagons in 1959 with a “batwing” Chevy. Then we got a ’63 Rambler Classic with fold down front seats to make a bed (I was still too young to take advantage of that). It was, however, the first car he let me drive, at age 11. My uncle got the Buick Sportwagon with the skylights in ’64. Dad then traded the Rambler for a ’65 Impala wagon.

    None of them had the third row seats. We traveled with the second seat folded and just used the whole area to play and sleep. I took my drivers test in the Impala and it took us on many adventures, including offroad camping in the desert. It was almost the equivalent to a half tom pickup. Chevy used the same rear suspension setup on pickups back then. We hauled plywood in it. Even the Impala trim level had painted steel and, thankfully, no fake wood. I even took a small sailboat to the lake that fit mostly inside. The rear compartment under the floor(without the third seat)was able to carry my Honda Trail 70.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Hillarious that nobody mentioned the Saab…

    I don’t mind the old European cars but they are much more appealing when all the trim is intact and the paint good. Once pieces go missing, the trim is falling apart and all those little interior bits fail to shine – they are really kind of plain little cars. I have an old Beetle that I really like when equipped with all the factory parts but once the shiny stuff used to distract a person from it’s shape is gone – much of the appeal is gone as well.

    Once again how much interior space the engineers could get in those little European cars is amazing. My aircooled VW Westfalia is similar. MUCH more space inside that the outside implies.

    FWIW I grew up in the 70s/80s and I rode in one of those big 60s/70s wagons ONCE and that once was in the rear facing seat. Everyone I knew first had medium sized cars (muscle car coupes, Corvairs, Caprice sedans, etc – stuff with trunks), pickups, and then later Asian cars after gasoline got “expensive”.

    Feeling like I missed part of my 1970s education…

  • avatar
    DBD

    I’ll mention the SAAB.

    I had one of the little devils in the 80s. It was a ’67 or ’68 with the V4 engine. And the rear facing seat.

    I loved the car, but it refused to love me, causing no end of trouble at JUST the wrong time.

    By the way, the rear axle was simple, but it was U-shaped. And it had COIL springs.


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