Maybe it’s because absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the once unloved station wagon has found an unlikely place in the hearts of millions of gearheads. They used to be everywhere, and if you were born between, say, 1940 and 1990, chances are you have fond memories from the back seat of mom and dad’s trusty people mover.
Station wagons came to dominate the American landscape once they transitioned in the early 1950s from expensive wood-bodies to mass-produced steel. They continued their dominance well into the 1980s, when the minivan burst onto the scene, largely taking their place. The market for wagons all but dried up in the ’90s, but it’s since seen a resurgence thanks to some incredible performance-oriented models.
In their heyday, there were affordable wagons, luxurious wagons, and — our personal favorite — fast wagons. From the late ’50s to the early ’70s (coincidentally the golden era of station wagons), Americans fell in love with performance and horsepower, and Detroit was more than happy to indulge them, no matter what kind of car they bought. Wagons were built to haul people and cargo, sure, but there were more than a few that could just plain haul. So we put on our rose colored glasses, dove deep into the past, and came up with 10 American wagons that have more than a little muscle car DNA in them.
1. 1955-1957 Chevrolet Nomad
In 1955, the Corvette was still a sales disappointment for Chevy. So while America’s Sports Car was getting its act together, Chevy offered the Nomad, a loaded, two-door station wagon that also had its roots in GM’s Motorama concept car program. For the first two years, the Nomad’s only engine option was a 265 cubic inch V8 (Chevy’s first in over 35 years), which made up to 180 horsepower from the factory. But for 1957, the Nomad’s sole powerplant was the upgraded 283 cubic inch V8. With the rare mechanical fuel injection system, the Nomad could pack as much as 283 horsepower.
2. 1964-1967 Pontiac Tempest
If you’re a big muscle car fan, you might know that the mighty GTO was largely based on Pontiac’s midsize Tempest. And while a wheezy 140 horsepower inline-six came standard in that car (a host of other engines were offered too), you also could opt for the 285 horsepower 326 cubic inch High Output V8. The GTO still had it beat by about 75 horses, but with a little tuning, and an unmistakable resemblance to Pontiac’s ultimate muscle car, the longroof Tempest could really fly.
3. 1966-1968 Ford Country Squire 428
In the late ’60s, Ford’s faux-wood paneled Country Squire was one of the most popular cars in America. Standard power came from a modest 150 horsepower straight-six, but in top trim, you could order the full-size wagon with the same 345 horsepower 428 cubic inch that was just a few modifications away from becoming the “Cobra Jet” mill that powered the Mustang Mach 1, Torino Cobra, and even some later Shelby Cobras.
4. 1966-1970 Dodge Coronet Wagon
Like the GTO, the Dodge Charger was based on the more humble Coronet. And while you couldn’t get a Charger wagon, you could option a Coronet wagon with a big 383 cubic inch, 330 horsepower V8. It didn’t quite go like a hot Charger, but it was nearly identical from the A-pillars forward, and with all that space in the big engine bay, more than a few owners have turn them into Charger clones.
5. 1968-1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser
To many, the second-generation Olds Vista Cruiser is the ultimate wagon. On top of its good-looking, muscular styling, and too-cool plexiglass panels over the second row seats, Olds’ big wagon was only available with impressive V8s: a 350, a 400 (same as the engine found in the 4-4-2), and 455 cubic inch mills. What’s more, you could even option one with a four-speed floor-mounted Hurst shifter, to further blur the line between people mover and muscle car. Olds even built two legitimate 4-4-2 wagons, making them a legitimate part of muscle car history.
6. 1969-1972 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate
At the top of Chevy’s full-size wagon line sat the Kingswood and Kingswood Estate. Like most big GM wagons, they could be had with a range of V8s. But what made the Kingswood remarkable is that it could be had with the big-block 454 cubic inch mill, cranking out 390 horsepower, and scrambling from zero to 60 in under 9 seconds. Drag racers soon caught on to the joys of the big motor Kingswoods; as a result, there were more than a few “Draggin Wagons” that raced professionally throughout the 1970s.
7. 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle SS Wagon
The Chevelle’s muscle car glory days were largely over by the time the midsize SS wagon hit the scene for one year only, but it did the best it could. On paper, a big-block 454 mated to either a HydraMatic auto or four-speed manual and a heavy duty suspension sounds like a dream combo, but in reality power was severely down from a just few years before. In 1970, SSs with the 454 could be had with either 360 or 450 horsepower. By ’73 new emissions controls had restricted power to 245 horses. Still, we wouldn’t kick this wagon out of our garage.
8. 1994-1996 Buick Roadmaster Estate
Despite having a small cult following, GM’s final body-on-frame full-size cars (the Chevy Caprice, Cadillac Fleetwood, Olds Custom Cruiser, and Buick Roadmaster) are largely dismissed as grandma cars. But the massive, bulbous, wood-paneled Buick Roadmaster Estate could be optioned with an LT1 V8, the same engine found in the Chevy Corvette and Camaro. They may have been big, but these Buicks could be plenty fast, too.
9. 2006-2008 Dodge Magnum SRT8
Introduced at a time when the station wagon seemed like it was in danger of going extinct, Chrysler rolled out the sporty Dodge Magnum. And while base cars could be had with ho-hum V6s, the model to get was the SRT8. With its 425 horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi V8, the SRT8 could get you (and your family) from zero to 60 in a seriously impressive 5.1 seconds.
10. 2011-2014 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon
By the end of the 2000s, the Germans showed that they could let loose a little too with muscle wagons like the Audi RS4 and Mercedes-AMG E55 Wagon. So Cadillac had something to prove with the CTS-V Sport Wagon. It wasn’t very practical so far as station wagons go, but it was a 556 horsepower V8-powered beast that could scramble from zero to 60 in under four seconds. If we had to choose between performance or cargo space in our wagons, we’d take performance.