By on April 30, 2019

Sometimes car companies have radical ideas that don’t really pan out when it comes time to persuade consumers to part with their money. Today’s Studebaker Wagonaire is such a vehicle. It falls into the unique convertible-wagon-truck grouping, in which the only other member is a GMC Envoy from 40 years later.

This isn’t the first time the Rare Rides series has featured a Studebaker wagon. That honor goes to a peachy Conestoga from 1955. That Conestoga was part of the Champion line; today’s tan beauty is part of the Commander series. Commander was one of Studebaker’s earliest product offerings. Minus five model years, a Commander featured in the Studebaker lineup from 1927 through 1966.

After Stude discontinued the Commander name in 1958, it returned on a line of brand new cars for 1963. The model sat third up from bottom, above the cheapest Challenger and slightly less expensive Lark. Among Commander offerings was the Wagonaire. All Wagonaires were the same four-door wagon style, and all initially featured a trick retractable rear roof.

Wagonaires were based on the Lark wagon, albeit with modifications to its top half. The standard seating count was six, a number which expanded to eight with the optional third-row seat, or shrunk to five or seven with optional front buckets.

Always a fan of saving money, Studebaker management hoped to grow interest and variation in the company’s lineup without spending a lot of cash. The answer came from industrial designer Brooks Stevens, who felt what the customer needed was a unique cargo option on the family station wagon.

The trick roof featured a separate metal panel over the cargo bay. Saving weight and complexity, it was manually operated. Once owners completed an arm workout, the panel was locked into place. The resulting open cargo area at the back meant tall items could be transported easily, offering buyers capability far beyond what a standard station wagon could manage.

But innovation was not without costs. Customers in the first couple of model years noticed that water entered the car around the front area of the sliding roof panel, making for wet journeys. While Stude implemented redesigned seals, it couldn’t ensure that customers kept their roof drainage tubes free of all debris. Studebaker informed customers via informational letters, but the damage was done.

Aware of the problems early on, Studebaker added a fixed-roof Wagonaire to the lineup in early 1964, offering it for $100 less than sliding-roof variants. Fixed-roof models were a custom order, not stocked by dealers.

But blood was already in the water, and Studebaker sank around the time of the Wagonaire. All production at South Bend, Indiana wrapped up, and things moved north to Hamilton, Ontario. Wagonaires were built only in Canada for 1964 through 1966. For ’65, Studebaker’s engines were replaced by General Motors units. The fixed-roof wagon went away for 1965, but returned in 1966.

Visual changes that year meant the Wagonaire was its own model, and no longer a Commander. In its final year, Studebaker produced 618 Wagonaires as the company closed up shop.

Today’s tan beauty is in excellent condition. For sale in Minneapolis with a V8 and a manual transmission, it asks $17,500.

[Images: seller]

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28 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Studebaker Wagonaire From 1964 – aka the Earliest GMC Envoy XUV...”

  • avatar


  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    It has front seat cup holders! What other vehicle of that era offered that?

    And this example looks to be in pristine condition.

    An excellent attempt by Studebaker to carve out their own little market niche. Growing up a friend who was part of a family of 7, had one. Although they were one of the most affluent families in our area, the Studebaker wagon was the all-time family favourite. Three rows and a view for family trips.

  • avatar

    The idea was actually a good one, if not very weathertight. I had a Matchbox model of one of these back when I was a kid and always thought it was a great concept.

  • avatar

    V8 and “3 on the tree” I imagine?

    Although Studebaker was never shy about offering overdrive units from other manufactures as factory options.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, “3 on the tree” which is kind of a surprise for a top-of-the-line Studebaker with a V8. By 1964 most people were opting for the auto in higher end family sedans and wagons

  • avatar

    A nice car to be sure .


  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    That is an aftermarket console and cup holders between the front seats. Like many cars of the era the glovebox had pseudo cup holders.

    Fun fact: The cost cutting went so far that the last Canadian Studebakers built in 1965-66 were equipped with the Chevrolet 194 and 230-6 cylinder and 283 V8 engines.

  • avatar

    Studebaker got so weird toward the end, but this sliding roof was such a good idea that GM offered it up many years later in the Envoy, but it didn’t have many takers then either

  • avatar

    Nice article, first I’ve heard of the Studebaker Wagonaire. Similar in appearance and name to the better known (and 4WD) Jeep Wagoneer. Both designed by Brooks Stevens, per Wiki.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the exhaust gases were vacuumed into the back seat area with the roof off? The turbulence would have been something, not seeing that there are any deflectors.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Vulpine-I had a Match Box as well it was blue–the roof slid open on it. I also had a Corgi Studebaker Golden Hawk. I thought the sliding roof was neat.

    Corey good find. Thanks for the article.

  • avatar

    My mother fondly remembers the Wagonaire they had as a kid. The two things she always remembers is standing up in the back on their bicycles pretending as they drove. They had a homemade wooden box that would go in the back, that is how they hauled coal to hear their house.

  • avatar

    My mother fondly remembers the Wagonaire they had as a kid. The two things she always remembers is standing up in the back on their bicycles pretending as they drove. They had a homemade wooden box that would go in the back, that is how they hauled coal to heat their house.

    • 0 avatar

      People were still using coal for heat as late as 1964? Wow

      • 0 avatar

        In rural western Pennsylvania it remained a heat source for quite a while due to local production and lack of better alternatives.

        • 0 avatar

          I rented a house that had a boarded up coal chute but it was built in the 1930s in “Coal Country” out West.

          Still was heated by radiators and a natural gas boiler. Most expensive to heat place I’ve ever lived in, beautiful Craftsman Style architecture though.

      • 0 avatar

        Coal was the main source of heat for homes and commercial buildings into the 1950s. It was incredibly cheap, and large buildings could accommodate complicated coal feed systems that made it almost automatic.

        That ended when the government responded to awful air quality in big cities by virtually forcing conversion to heating oil. Smaller cities converted later. Pictures of Philadelphia’s City Hall in the 1950s and earlier showed William Penn and the tower coated in black soot!

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