Station wagons dated to the dawn of motoring, where they were also referred to as cargo wagons and depot hacks. They generally featured aftermarket bodies mounted on a car or light-truck chassis and were primarily used for what their name implied: going to a railway station to fetch passengers or cargo and delivering them to a customer, a business, a luxury resort, or hotel.
Ford produced its first factory-built station wagon -- basically a wooden box with four doors -- with the 1929 Model A. Those first Ford station wagons were effectively marketed as light-duty commercial vehicles.
Early station wagons were marketed as
light-duty commercial vehicles, with plenty of
cargo space for hauling goods.
Other manufacturers soon followed Ford's lead, and the idea of factory-authorized wagons gradually caught on. Amid the tough economic times of the 1930s, Ford became the sales leader in this new market niche.
Still, production never amounted to much more than a footnote in overall output, even at Ford.
Early haulers were often drafty, always creaking, and combined with the normal external road noise, made for a less than peaceful journey. On top of this, ride and seating comfort often left much to be desired.
Then, too, wagons often were the costliest cars in the lineup, and the bodies required time-consuming upkeep. A few comfort and convenience improvements were made little by little, but by in large, station wagon construction methods remained unchanged through the early post-World War II years.
After the war, growing families started to look to station wagons as the perfect answer to being able to get mom, dad, Fido, and the kids from point "A" to point "B" in just one load. As early as 1947, Ford began promoting the station wagon as a "Family Utility" vehicle, offering suggestions in its advertising for different seating and cargo-carrying arrangements. However, it would take a new generation of Ford cars before people would begin heeding those notions in considerable numbers.
Ford's first all-new postwar car was planned for the 1949 model year. For a company struggling to right itself after years of turning out increasingly antiquated products, the success of the 1949 was crucial, and the path to its creation was difficult.
Initial thinking for a postwar Ford was scrapped in 1946 and a new design program hurriedly begun. But one concept managed to survive fairly well intact, a two-door metal-and-wood station wagon that chief stylist Eugene Gregorie had thought up and Ross Cousins had rendered in 1944. It was in this design that the Country Squire got its start.
The new wagon body was to be shared with Mercury. Indeed, it would go on to serve both makes in the 1949-1951 period. In an effort to give the station wagon its hoped-for quiet ride, Ford started with a steel body capped by a solid metal roof. This acted as a framework into which were set mahogany plywood panels edged in maple or birch (harvested from Ford's own forests) that had a light golden finish.
The tailgate was constructed entirely from wood. It worked in unison with the upper liftgate, a stamped metal framing that held two glass panes. The result was what Ford described as a "traditional station wagon appearance."
The steel bodies were assembled in Dearborn, then shipped to Ford's Iron Mountain facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There, they were painted and made ready for the mounting of the wood trim, which required an extensive process of bonding and pressing thin layers of wood to form the specially shaped framing pieces. Once completed at Iron Mountain, the bodies were carefully wrapped for shipment to various assembly plants around the country.
Like other 1949 Fords, the station wagon shared in the groundbreaking (for Ford Motor Company) shift to independent coil-spring front suspension, Hotchkiss drive, and longitudinal rear leaf springs that delivered more modern ride and handling characteristics.
The new Fords were introduced in June 1948. Their contemporary slab-sided styling and many improvements were well received. During an 18-month selling season (production ran through December 1949), Ford produced 1.1 million cars, 31,412 of them station wagons. In the roughly 18 months the prewar-style 1947 and 1948 Fords were on sale, 25,016 of the boxy, four-door "woody" were run off.
With the concept of the station wagon well proven, Ford enters 1950 with the Country Squire. Learn more on the next page.
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