With the addition of the Wagonaire station wagon for 1963, Studebaker’s innovation continued.
The company brochures promoted the versatile Wagonaire as “A smart family wagon, open-top sedan, and a handy hauler for mile-high loads! Great for work or family wanderlust. Lark models with 6 or 259 V-8 – Daytona has Power Thrust 259 V-8. A non-sliding roof also available.”
For 1962-63, Studebaker instituted a crash-program to invigorate its product line with updates of the Lark and Hawk models and the new Avanti. Industrial designer Brooks Stevens revisions for the Wagonaire were one of the biggest surprises. He redesigned the existing station wagon aft of the A-pillars for a taller roofline.
The Wagonaire was special because of the sliding sunroof in the back over the cargo area. With the help of a one-piece tailgate with roll-down glass, the cargo area could be opened up to turn the Wagonaire into a convertible pick-up truck for carrying over-sized loads. One advertisement showed a refrigerator upright in the cargo area. Interiors boasted new instrument panels with a slide-out vanity that included built-in drink holders and a pop-up makeup mirror.
This innovation preceded the 2004 GMC Envoy XUV’s announcement of a sliding roof section and the 2008 Ford Super Duty’s offering a tailgate step.
Unfortunately, the Wagonaire sliding roof design presented some potential problem areas. Four drain tubes were designed into the channels along the roof opening, but they sometimes clogged sending debris and water into the passenger area. Later on, the weather stripping around the top occasionally developed leaks.
For those interested in a factory muscle car, the purchaser could opt for one of two high-performance engines originally designed for the Avanti sport coupe. The R1 had a high compression 289 V-8, producing 240 hp with the R2 supercharged version yielding between 280 and 300 hp.
From 1963-66, Studebaker produced 19,585 Wagonaires. Nearly 12,000 rolled off the line in South Bend before the December 20, 1963 shut-down. Canadian Wagonaire production continued until March 1966 when some 418 were produced.
Studebaker’s automotive innovation continued for over sixty years with the Wagonaire serving as the capstone to this Indiana automotive pioneer. Occasionally, I used to see a Wagonaire tooling around Indy’s north side. I wonder where it is today.
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