The bubble-top Oldsmobile Vista-Cruiser had a cousin at
Buick (shown) until 1969. See more pictures of Oldsmobile cars.
The Scenicruiser bus, topped by its window-ringed "Vista Dome" roof over the rear two-thirds of the vehicle, first appeared in 1948 as a prototype for Greyhound Lines, a major General Motors bus customer. (In turn, the dome was inspired by an observation deck atop the cars of GM's predictive "Train of Tomorrow" from the previous year.)
Beginning in the Fifties, GMC built Scenicruisers for Greyhound, great gleaming split-level ranch houses on wheels that gave intercity passengers a commanding view as they crisscrossed America riding high above the luggage hold and running gear.
Then, in 1964, Buick and Oldsmobile introduced station wagons with this same raised roofline feature inset with windows on three sides. But was the special roof of these wagons truly inspired by the Scenicruisers? Maybe yes ... and maybe no.
"I don't think the idea of the wagons came directly from the buses," said Ray Koenig, who was head of GM's Body Development Studio at the time. "Pete Wozena put it together absolutely on his own. He worked in an advanced studio, looking for ideas for wagons. He developed a number of cars, and did some Motorama cars.
"Pete was sort of an offbeat designer," Koenig continued. "He brought his sketch into the Development Studio, where we did the interchangeable sheetmetal for the cars. We converted the sketch into full-size drawings. Buick and Olds bought into it."
Throughout their lifespans, both the Sportwagon and the Vista-Cruiser were built on stretched versions of the mid-size A-body platform used, respectively, by the Buick Special/Skylark and Oldsmobile F-85/Cutlass. Additionally, both wagons offered the availability of forward-facing third-row seats.
Competitors like the Chevrolet Impala, Pontiac Catalina Safari, Dodge Polara, and Chrysler Newport wagons all had rear-facing seats in the third row, while the big Ford wagons had rear seats that faced each other.
Buick offered skylight-roof Sportwagons through the 1969 model year, then kept the name alive for the next three seasons on a more run-of-the-mill Skylark wagon. Oldsmobile continued with the true Vista-Cruiser through 1972. There were Vista-Cruisers from 1973 to 1977, but these cars -- built on GM's new "colonnade" body for intermediates -- no longer had a wheelbase or roofline distinct from those of other midsize wagons in the corporate stable.
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