By the early 1960s, Studebaker was rapidly fading from the automotive scene, but the car maker continued to offer distinctive and memorable features, including the convertible-roof Wagonaire.
The Wagonaire story actually starts here, with the Scimitar experimental cars created for the Olin Corporation in 1959 by noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens (read about the Scimitar project here). One of the three Scimitars, a pillarless hardtop station wagon (above) that Stevens called the All-Purpose Sedan, used a sliding roof to create an open-air cargo space for tall items.
Stevens also had an ongoing relationship with the Studebaker Corporation, where he designed the 1962-64 Gran Turismo Hawk and a series of facelifts on the familiar Lark platform. His friend, Studebaker president Sherwood Egbert, was always on the hunt for clever, low-cost ways to update and broaden the company’s product line, and at some point it was decided to adapt the Scimitar’s sliding-roof concept to the 1963 Lark Station Wagon, where it would be called the Wagonaire.
Stevens, who also redesigned the Lark’s exterior sheet metal for 1963, seamlessly integrated the sliding roof panel into the four-door wagon body shell, which rode on the South Bend automaker’s longer 113-inch wheelbase chassis. The Wagonaire was available in three trim levels that first season—Standard, Regal, and Daytona—and more than 11,000 units were sold, the Wagonaire’s best year as things turned out.
As you might guess, the sliding panel proved to be nearly impossible to seal against rain and snow, and instead the setup relied mainly on a series of drain tubes to carry water away from the cabin area. A handy folding step was built into the tailgate’s interior panel for improved access to the cargo area. While we can think of a few potential customers for the sliding roof, maybe the most glamorous was Movietone News, which operated a fleet of 30 Daytona Wagonaires as mobile camera platforms.
The Wagonaire feature carried forward into 1964 on Studebaker’s again-revised model line, which now included the Challenger, Commander, and Daytona. When the South Bend plant shut down halfway through the 1964 model year and production was concentrated at the company’s Canadian operation in Hamilton, Ontario, the Avanti and Gran Turismo Hawk were discontinued, but the Wagonaire stayed in the lineup. And the Wagonaire would remain in production through the 1965 and 1966 model years, until Studebaker production in Canada was finally halted for good on March 16, 1966. Only 940 units were built that final year, including an unknown number of delete-option wagons with fixed roof panels.
Article (abridged) courtesy of Mac's Motor City Garage.