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The History of the Station Wagon

A station wagon (US, also wagon) or estate car (UK, also estate), is an automotive body-style variant of a sedan/saloon with its roof extended rearward[1] over a shared passenger/cargo volume with access at the back via a third or fifth door (the liftgate or tailgate), instead of a trunk/boot lid.

Reflecting the original purpose of transporting people and luggage between country estates and train stations,[4] the body style is called an “estate car” or “estate” in the United Kingdom or a “wagon” in Australia and New Zealand.

The depot hackney or taxi, often on a Model T chassis with an exposed wood body, most often found around railroad stations was the predecessor of the station wagon body style in the United States.[5] These early models with exposed wooden bodies became known as woodies.[6]

In Germany, the term “Kombi” is used, short for Kombinationskraftwagen (“combination motor vehicle”).

The first station wagons were built in around 1910, by independent manufacturers producing wooden custom bodies for the Ford Model T chassis.[30] They were originally called “depot hacks” because they worked around train depots as hacks (short for hackney carriage, as taxicabs were then known).[31] They also came to be known as “carryalls” and “suburbans”.[30]

Eventually, car manufacturers began producing their own station wagon designs. In 1923, Star (a division of Durant Motors) became the first car company to offer a station wagon assembled on its production line (using a wooden wagon body shipped in from an outside supplier).[32][33][34]

The framing of the wooden bodies was sheathed in steel[citation needed] and coated with tinted lacquer for protection. These wooden bodies required constant maintenance: varnishes required re-coating and expansion/contraction of the wood meant that bolts and screws required periodic re-tightening. In 1922, the Essex Closed Coach became the first mass-produced car to use a steel body (in this case, a fully enclosed sedan body style).[35]

The first all-steel station wagon body style was the 1935 Chevrolet Suburban.[30] As part of the overall trend in the automotive industry, wooden bodies were superseded by all-steel bodies due to their strength, cost, and durability.[36] By 1951, most station wagons were being produced with all-steel bodies.[30]

Station wagons were initially considered commercial vehicles (rather than consumer automobiles) and the framing of the early[when?] station wagons was left unsheathed, due to the commercial nature of the vehicles. The commercial vehicle status was also reflected on those vehicles’ registrations For example, there were special “Suburban” license plates in Pennsylvania used well into the 1960s, long after station wagons became car-based.

Wikipedia contributors. “Station wagon.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Aug. 2022. Web. 13 Sep. 2022.