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May1

Rare Rides: A Studebaker Wagonaire From 1964 – aka the Earliest GMC Envoy XUV

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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]

– Rare Rides: A Studebaker Wagonaire From 1964 – aka the Earliest GMC Envoy XUV –

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