Thursday Trivia

Welcome to Thursday Trivia where we offer up a historical automotive trivia question and you try and solve it before seeing the answer after the jump. It’s like a history test, with cars! 
This week’s question: What brand had the best selling station wagon in the U.S. in 1948?
If you think you know the answer, make the jump and see if you are right!
While not fully extinct here in the U.S. the family-focused station wagon certainly has been overshadowed (both literally and figuratively) by its SUV and Crossover usurpers.
That wasn’t always the case however, and in fact from about the mid-’50s through the ’90s the station wagon was almost a required format for nearly every family car lineup. Then Ford released the Explorer and suddenly everyone seemed to be moving on up in the world. There had been compact SUVs available prior to the Explorer, but no other model had a greater impact on driving the popularity of the class as it did. Station wagon sales suffered as a result. 
The concept of a station wagon, estate car, touring model, Kombi, or Avant if you prefer, dates back to the railroad age as the primary name here in the States is derived from a vehicle designed to transport passengers and their luggage between train depots and fancy hotels. 
The earliest auto station wagons arrived in the 1920s as manufacturers would add enclosed bodies—typically out of wood—to standard auto and truck chassis thus creating the “Woodie” and offering guests a comfortable ride between station and destination. 
The utility of such a vehicle is obvious and Woodie wagons began showing up in the driveways of private residences. They served those who needed the extra carrying capacity or whose efforts at birth control never seemed to pan out.
The jaunty nature of the Woodie sustained even after all-steel construction became the standard after the war. Real wood eventually became replaced with lighter and more durable vinyl appliques, but while symbols of America’s post-war suburban migration, they lacked the class of the true Woodies.
The War took the wind out of the sales of all the American car manufacturers, and when hostilities ended the big car makers started up right where they left off, with pre-war models gussied up with a bit of different trim, or maybe just as it had been left in 1939. This led to opportunities for enterprising entrepreneurs to enter the market with new and perhaps innovative products.
That was just the case with one company that arose after the War. The company sold a type of car-simple, compact, fuel efficient, and with innovative features-that the major manufacturers couldn’t match. Unfortunately it failed in the market as those bigger car makers got fully back up to speed, but not before setting a unique sales record for station wagon sales, spiking the highest number in the year 1948, and beating all of the larger competition.
From the Crosley Auto Club:

Question: What Body Styles were the most popular?
Answer: The Station Wagon out-sold all other body styles. In 1948 Crosley sold more Station Wagons than any other car maker. The Sedan was the second most popular.

How many station wagons was that? 23,489, and that was out of a total production for the year of 25,974. In contrast, Ford sold 430,198 cars in the U.S. in 1948, but only 8,912 were wagons. Chevrolet sold 471,901, with only 10,171 being Woodies. Plymouth sold 419,587 cars, while Dodge managed 260,820, and none of which were wagons. No other car maker had sales anywhere near these makers.
The only station wagons left for sale in the U.S. are compacts from Subaru, Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW. That size is perhaps a fitting end to the format seeing as it got its start from one of the smallest cars from one of the smallest car producers the U.S. has ever seen.

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5 responses to “Thursday Trivia”

  1. P161911 Avatar

    So where do you draw the line differentiating a 4 door hatchback or small crossover from a station wagon? Serious question. Is it just based on what the manufacturer calls it?

    1. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      Well, crossovers are crossovers, and by that I mean that they are typically much taller in section than a station wagon. I consider the Subaru Forester to be a crossover and the outback to be a wagon, even if they compete in much the same class and the Outback is tarted up with plastic fenders and such.
      I think the major difference between a five door hatch and a wagon is the rear overhang and window count. If there’s no side glass behind the doors then it’s not a wagon. Also, if the rear overhang is the same on a three door and a five door it’s also not a wagon.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        My distinguishers for wagon vs hatch are overhang and rear window or hatch angle. If the overhang is the same as the sedan version and it has an upright hatch then its a wagon. A crossover has to have decent ground clearance eg the Outback (I think the VW/Audi Alltrack/roads struggle here!), while a CUV has its own bodyshell eg Forester.

  2. outback_ute Avatar

    I’m not going to say I knew this, but it did pass through my mind simply because all the other wagons were still actual woodies and thus expensive and slow to produce.

    1. Inliner Avatar

      The Crosley came to mind simply because I happened to remember it when I saw the question, and I guessed that the answer to a Thursday Trivia would be generally unexpected.