Sunday, July 24, 2011

Scenes From Childhood

Today is my car club’s annual summer picnic, and we’re expecting a good crowd. It’s also the first year that I’m taking the Pontiac as an almost-antique; with the 2012 models in the showroom, it is one year shy of the 25 years required to be an antique in the car collector world, but who’s counting?

It’s a bit of serendipity to see this article by Mark Phelan in the Detroit Free Press about the American Station Wagon Owners Association having their annual meet in Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit.

Station wagons were the farthest thing from cool when Mike Bonkowski drove his mother’s 1975 Dodge Coronet Crestwood wagon to Detroit Catholic Central High School in 1985.

But a gathering of wagons from the 1950s to the present drew admirers Saturday in Dearborn.

In addition to the Coronet, Bonkowski brought his 2007 Dodge Magnum wagon. He was the only multi-wagon exhibitor at the annual convention of the American Station Wagon Owners Association. It took place in Dearborn in conjunction with the Telegraph Cruise.

The association has about 400 members — including some in Sweden, Germany and Australia — said association president Tim Cleary. He drove his 1988 Mercury Colony Park wagon from Charlotte, N.C. Cleary has owned nine ’88 and ’89 Mercury wagons.

Club members planned to finish the weekend with a car show at a Dearborn motel, cruises with other classics on Telegraph, and burgers Saturday night.

Station wagons stand out at classic car gatherings, said Dave Marchioni, who drove his ’68 Ford LTD Country Squire from St. Clair Shores. “If you take a wagon to any cruise, you’ll be the rare car, not the Mustangs or Camaros,” he said.

A two-tone 1953 Chevrolet Tradesman with a surf board on top of its chopped roof stood out among the wagons Saturday in Dearborn. Gary Koscielniak of Belleville spent about 14 years restoring the Tradesman, his third wagon.

“I like it because of the lowered roof,” Koscielniak said. “The stock model has such a high roof, it looks like an ambulance.”

Prices for classic wagons have begun to rise — sometimes topping those for old convertibles and sedans on eBay, Cleary said. The most sought-after wagons on the association’s Web site are full-size models from the 1960s and ’70s with wood-grain sides, he said.

Growing up in the 1950’s and ’60’s in the suburbs, my family had wagons, including one just like the 1963 Ford Country Squire above. They were standard equipment in the ‘burbs, along with the country club, the madras golf pants, the charge account at Brooks Brothers, boarding school, and the martini shaker. Not to get all pop-psych on it, but maybe that’s why I still hold on to my station wagon; it’s my link to my childhood and fuzzy retouched memories of simpler and happier times, even though they were not that simple, and happiness is always relative.

Whatever. I just think that big old station wagons are cool.

HT to Marquette John.