One of the greatest things about the Great Whales of the past was their names. Today, everything’s alpha-numeric. “X” This and 123 that. All the good names have either been taken, are owned by someone else – or couldn’t be applied to a modern car without inciting rib-cracking laughter.
Real wagons are long gone. Today’s “crossovers” are just minivans in drag – or sports sedan wannabes. Many are quick, it’s true – fully capable of doing figure 8s around an old school battlewagon in terms of what is known as “driving dynamics” in these, the latter days of the empire.
But it was not always so. A time existed when wagons weren’t wimpy crotchfruit conveyances – or SUVs suffering from an identity crisis. No all-wheel-drive, no 21 inch rims – no flat-screen TVs or built-in child seats. Just acres of steel and miles of chrome, with rear-facing jumpseats and no seatbelts for the kiddies – who got to roll around like logs on the flat rear floor as the weight shifted around every corner
It was an experience today’s generation will never know – and which an earlier generation experienced in sheetmetal sauropods such as Chevy’s Kingswood Estate wagon.
It rode on GM’s super battleship “B” platform, the same basic keel used from the mid-’60s through the mid-1990s, when the last of the line (in the form of Buick’s Roadmaster/wagon and the Chevy Caprice/wagon) were finally given the needle.
Though GM (and Chevrolet) had built wagons before, models like the Kingswood would prove the fullest expression of the concept. In the late ’50s, the designation was applied to mid-trimmed wagon versions of the Bel Air just under the well-known Nomad series. Beginning in ’69, the Kingswood designation migrated to the Impala lineup, where checking that option box meant you got a full-sized wagon on the Impala’s chassis, with two or three rows of seats and standard V-8 power flowing to the rear whitewalls via a three-speed column-shifted manual transmission.
Buyers could order a power rear window – or step up to the top-trim Kingswood Estate, which came with it included. Creature comforts abounded – from power windows and locks all around to cruise control and Freon-powered air conditioning that delivered meat locker cold sufficient to frost the chrome-trimmed vents.
But the Kingswood’s signature feature was the outward swinging rear gate – fully carpeted on the Estate – which provided access to the cavernous rear cargo (or kid-carrying) area. In those pre-seat belt, booster seat-free days, young ‘uns were free to flop around back there – protected against injury not by air bags and ABS but thick-cut steel. People under 40 with no direct recollection of these beasts cannot conceive how safe it felt to be cocooned deep within the armored embrace of these magnificent monsters. The distance from the edge of the rear doors to the back of the wagon was easily six feet. The sheet of glass used for the side panels was bigger than the fenders of a new Honda Accord.
Chevrolet’s advertising from the period called them the “walk-in wagons” – and that was no kidding.
And they weren’t just large on the outside. Buyers could choose from a full range of small and big-block V-8s, all the way up to the same basic 396 V-8 that powered muscle coupes like the Chevelle. A few 427 wagons may have been built, too – and in any case, one would fit just as easily. ’70-’71 models could be equipped with the even bigger 454 – as well as dual exhaust and positraction rear.
That’s 7 liters and 425 hp in a two-ton 20-footer.
Put that in your late-model V-6/FWD minivan and smoke it!
Estate Wagon facts
* The 1969 Estate Wagon shared the same basic 119-inch wheelbase as the Impala sedan.
*By 1972, the final year for the model series, the wheelbase had grown to a stupendous 125.1 inches.
* A loaded ’72 Estate Wagon with three-row seating carried a base price of $4,423 and weighed a scale-crunching 4,883 pounds.
* Chevy ran an ad for the ’60 Estate Wagon that showed a pop-up camper on the roof; it’s unclear whether such equipment was ever offered as a factory (or dealer) option.
* Six tail-lights provided ample illumination – and hinted at the Estate Wagon’s Impala origins.
Excerpted from “Road Hogs” (2011) by Eric Peters; see http://www.qbookshop.com/products/147301/9780760337646/Road-Hogs.html
I had a 72 for my college car, i had no idea how tricked out it was, the disapearing rear hatchback. Had a 454 and awesome AC! Looking back i wish i still had her, beatiful sea blue.
That same blue beast was what I drove in high school. At first I hated it, but by the end of high school, I loved it. When I was younger we did many family road trips with me and my sister and brother rotating between the huge back seat and the REMAINING cargo area, which comfortably fit two sleeping bags.
Speak of memory lane. Yesterday I had to go to the Verizon store and then to Wally, a 30 some odd mile trip one way. I pull into town and right off a ’69 Chevelle ragtop, white over blue, perfect everything including top and rally wheels pulls across and I get to see it go by and see the rear. Only place I didn’t see was the passenger side but it had to be perfect like the rest of it. Nice start to the day. A mile or so later past the courthouse I see a ’70 Chevy pickup that’s been shaved and repainted with some nice painted graphics, very smooth and still a pickup, parked across the street from the NAPA store. Sure wish I had pics of both of em.
You want a Canyonero, or maybe a Homer, of which wikipedia states:-
I’ve now decided to remove the whole inside of my 72 kingswood and painted with industrial enamel dark grey and those un paintable hidden areas got oil/gas spray to coat the metal. the reinstall it all a long many month job.painted the carpet to overcome fade. wash the seat belts,new heater core and the box is metal it too now painted everywere under the hood painted the backs of all the body panels even the screws were wire brushed and painted.behind the body trim oil spray,water was getting in so i decided to do the Major on it to compensate it being outside in the shade alot.the interior plastic needs replacing so it may have to be vinal coated.It has no wood trim so it received stainless body side impact mouldings donated from a cadillac fleetwood to replace the banged up aluminum .they are complimented with replaced the plastic inserts with daybright metal reflective white safety tape, its very distinctive.new cars cant ding it anyway to flemsy and if they do it wuill cut their paint and start rust of an obama pod… a 4 note fleetwood train horn. its going to last a very long time now.
Bill-agree wholeheartedly and that variable-ratio power steering was critical for them. Had it go out once and you would not believe the strength it took to turn that cruise ship. If I remember correctly, I was getting about 8 mpg city and about 11-13 on rare occasions where got out from urban/suburban. Today that could become amazing with what we know and maintain the power. Then again, I eventually stepped back to a 97 Nissan 200sx that got 30 city/38 hwy before green was in, but went 637K before a woman totalled her. Now in the 2013 Sentra SR replacement getting 35-37 city and 41 highway if keep my ‘need for speed’ under control. 😉
Love your idea of a current vehicle with remote clamshell and the design components that car had…..already laugh at one of my co-workers who will close my trunk that I open remotely before leaving work – not sure what he’d do with the clamshell…. LOL!! 😀
Those 72 Kingwoods were the best looking wagons ever. Despite the bulk needed at the rear, the shape of the wood paneling seemed to narrow toward the rear which offset the bulk and was beautifully done. It balanced it out.
It had the articulating windshield wipers that sweep more of the windshield.
I think those were among the first with variable-ratio power steering so you could whip around those big cars without twirling the steering wheel several times.
I liked the control panel look of the dash with everything geared toward the driver.
The front end was a baby Cadillac only better looking.
And, the clam-shell rear hatch was awesome. I’d love to have a Kingswood with a remote key so I could open the clam-shell as I approached the car in the shopping center parking lot to the amazement of onlookers.
The 72 Kingswood had it all. They got uglier after that due to the newer bumpers and the square headlights in the 76 model. Yuck. The 1972 was perfect even improved on the good looking 71 which has the ventilation vents visable in the rear tailgate and a coarser looking grill.
I have an 89 Pontiac Safari wagon with the wood trime and it seems like a step backward from the Kingswood in every respect.
I wish I had the $$$$S to do a frame off complete rebuild of a 72 Kingswood adding a lot of the new technology, not just make it original. It would be like a limousine station wagon, quiet, powerful and super comfortable with every accessory availabe, navigation, power everything, great sound system, leather, etc.
I wonder what kind of mpg I could get with the newest GM engine, transmission and electronic everything.
And, then I’d have myself buried in it when the time comes.
I FINALLY GOT MY 1972 GREEN KINGSWOOD STATION WAGON, REPLACED ALL THE WEATHERSTRIPS AND IT HAS A 350V8 WITH HEADERS AND THE MIRROR TINT LOOKS GREAT.iTS THE REAL DEAL AND ITS A 6 PASSENGER THATS PERFECT FOR ME AS I HAVE NO CHILDREN,JUST 15 DOGS LOL AND THEY DONT NEED SEATBELTS OR BOOSTER SEATS OR FLATSCREEN TVS LOL.
Mel – I’m jealous!
I was just looking through one of my old car books – beautiful picture of an early ’70s Olds wagon…. one of these days… so many cars… so little garage space!
We had a 72 Kingswood – what a kid mobile, family car, haul anything, pull anything awesome mobile. It had the 454 in it and when the kids grew up and got their own cars I took the drivetrain and put it in my pick up. If I keep my foot out of it (hard to do) I get 11 miles to the gallon. I love the power; they don’t make them like that anymore. 🙂
I learned how to drive in a 1970 Chevrolet (Green) Impala with cloth (black) interior and “Body By Fisher.” It was a great car to drive and handled very well with lots of power when you needed it. A friend had the 1969 Chevy Kingswood Estate Wagon (that green color with wood grain and Lots of Chrome everywhere including the roof rack. There was a seat that easily fit two teenagers in the very back that faced backward. That was a beautiful wagon and I would love to find one just like it.
The new Malibus and Impalas don’t have the styling that the seventies and sixties Chey’s possessed. What happened to these great cars?
“What happened to these great cars?”
They were outlawed (effectively) by things like CAFE – the federal government’s fuel economy edicts – and also “safety” requirements.
I had an old 1972 Kingswood Estate wagon in 1982 or so. I bought it for 250 dollars because it was not running right. Turned out to be a loose screw in the distributer cap. This land barge would get mpg in town and 15 mpg on the freeway. considering that it had a 402 big block and automatic, that was not too bad.
I bought it because I needed something to haul materials for a house I was rehabbing. I was able to open the electricly powered clamshell in back. The glass slid into the roof, and the tailgate slid under the floor. I was able to shove 4×8 sheets of sheetrock or plywood in there, and still close the clamshell afterwards.
Yes, this was a huge car. Sure it ate gas. I did not need its capabilities, and gas was very expensive in the early 1980s.So I sold it. I can understand why a family with several kids would love this wagon. It was the largest car I ever owned. I miss it.
It is said that the largest dinosaurs came at the end of their reign. Surely the 1972 Kingswood wagon was the brontosaurus of General Motors. Glorious….
15 MPG is better than “not bad” given a carbureted big block V-8 and no overdrive transmission!
I’ve added an OD transmission to my ’76 Pontiac Trans-Am and it now gets about the same mileage, overall, as a large current-year SUV like a Tahoe – and it’s not all that much worse than the Scion tC I have in the driveway, which probably averages around 23 MPG.
Oops. I had meant to write 8mph in town and 15 on the freeway. Yes, not bad for the time. Given the OD transmission you mention, and a homebrew EFI system, maybe 20-25 mpg might be possible. What not to like then…?
My grandmother had a top-of-the-line 1972 Chevy Kingswood station wagon. The best part was the electric rear door. I miss that gorgeous beast and I have been trying to find one for sale. Sadly, a lot of them were destroyed in demolition derbies and are now rare.
I’d also love to find a survivor; they pop up every once in awhile – sometimes for not very much money (less than $10k in very nice condition). Watch the ads on Craigs as well as your local Auto Trader publications. These are where you’re most likely to find one whose owner isn’t trying to get Barret-Jackson money for the thing.
Have you checked cars-on-line under station wagons.1970 kingswood.NickD
Ah yes! The great memories of our ’69 Kingwood Estate are flooding back! It was White with the woodgrain Woody trim and a 396 under the hood. A magnificent cruiser that held our family of eight on long distance vacation trips through the Midwest. A traveling climate controlled cocoon indeed! My Dad would fold down the rear seat and place a huge canvas roll-up camping mattress in the back covered with a Queen-sized sheet, and stack us kids in there like cordwood at 4:30 in the morning. Still in our PJs, we would head for Grandmas house in Topeka. The wagon would lull us back to sleep with an authoritative mellow rumble as we rode across the Plains listening to AM broadcasts from stations like KOMA, 500 miles away. We would roll into Topeka around dinner time, usually with a Thanksgiving dinner and relatives waiting to see us at Grannys. The scene was straight out of Norman Rockwell and would have made a great Chevy commercial!
Nothing better(well, not much) than a big block wagon!
I’m grateful I came along just in time to experience these great beasts … instead of minivans (heaving guts now).
We had a tan ’72 Kingswood estate. It was needed for the 5 boys. It had the faux wood trim on the sides and rear. The last row faced forward. The rear door and window were electric. The door(with window inside) slid into a rear well below the spare tire.
It certainly was a tank and got equivalent gas mileage.
Great car! And, interesting “point of order” –
While it’s true those old wagons ate gas, the news stuff does, too. I’ve had several SUVs and crossovers recently – all of them smaller than the big wagons of the’70s, by the way – that were barely in the double digits in “city” driving and only delivered low 20s on the highway. That’s with all the advantages of modern technology, including fuel injection and overdrive transmissions. I put an overdrive in my ’76 Pontiac, which has a 455 and 3.90 gears – and it’s mileage is now about the same as what you’d get int he typical large crossover!
“*By 1972, the final year for the model series, the wheelbase had grown to a stupendous 125.1 inches.
* A loaded ’72 Estate Wagon with three-row seating carried a base price of $4,423 and weighed a scale-crunching 4,883 pounds.”
Oh, the memories……Our ’72 was in the blue w/dark brown siding – she was the car I learned to drive on; probably the reason I learned to drive so well – they were not easy to control, particularly when loaded. She was my car in the 83-84 range for summers-tranny was shot and needed fluid regularly, but, it could surprise the heck out of folks who didn’t realize the strength of that 400 small block under the hood. Too heavy for 1/4’s (4.6K doesn’t surprise me), but a straight stretch mile, she would win every time.
The ’72 was the epitomy and Dad had gotten it loaded; was only as I’ve aged that I’ve understood his negotiating skill…lol. My seat was always the 2nd row seat on the right side window that tilted forward to allow access to the seating in the 3rd row (precursor to smaller vans and ultimately SUVs).
It was one of the last vehicles that Chevy made before they went cheap and trashy….and yes, w/out that construction, my father would have been dead when a woman decided to take out the front quarter-panel and the driver door to avoid a squirrel. And how neatly the spare tire tucked away in the wheel well and the underfloor storage in the far rear was impressive.
I remember them, too… and miss them like you do.