There must be a Venn diagram somewhere with serious overlap between lovers of old Ford station wagons and patrons of vintage stores. In January of this year, I had spotted and written about an ’88 Crown Victoria LX wagon I had seen in front of one such business. Not long after that essay had run, I had rediscovered pictures of our featured car I had taken four years ago in front of a different retro shop, right after purchasing a pair of never-worn trousers from the ’70s. In both instances, the very existence of each wagon was enough to make me pause and take notice, as one just doesn’t see old, full-sized station wagons anymore. The connection between this ilk of big car and shopping for other people’s former possessions might be that one can fit a lot into the wayback for a complete, throwback shopping experience.
The other thing I noticed when looking through these pictures was just how much better these cars look with the fake wood, which tends to distract attention away from any minor imperfections. That other unadorned ’88 in appliance white was in fine shape, and its owner who had found it on eBay was right to be proud of it. In my mind, though, a big Ford wagon without the Di-Noc is a little like Wilford Brimley without a mustache. The Country Squire’s wholesome, grandfatherly demeanor loses something without the fake wood.
My maternal grandparents were born in the 1910s, and they had raised their young family in the middle of the last century, right around the time that science was developing all kinds of synthetic materials. There’s no doubt in my mind that Grandma and Grandpa believed in the realism of the wood-tone things in and around their house, and in the authenticity of plastic that was molded and textured to look like other materials found in nature. I remember my grandma stating matter-of-factly that the “leather” in their ’88 Mercury Grand Marquis was actually leather, from a cow, that specially treated and not synthetic at all. She didn’t like my use of the term “pleather”, but I shouldn’t have questioned her as an adolescent. She was such a kind, loving person and I still think of her with great fondness. (Sorry, Grandma.)
Nostalgia for old clothes and home furnishings seems to have very little middle ground between those who have a taste for what was in their parents’ (or their grandparents’) houses when they were little, and those who can’t stand it. My living room is furnished much like a more chic version of my parents’ first wood-paneled basement (complete with a shag carpet area rug) where we had lived until I was five. I have friends who immediately take to my home decor, but also a few who question my adherence to the looks of the ’70s.
I suppose it boils down to associations. Younger generations, in finding their own, separate identities, often reject aspects of their parents’ tastes, music, ideals, and even values. I used to hate the very sight of corduroy, reminding me as it did of all the noise my trousers would make when I was walking up the center aisle at church during communion on Sunday mornings. Swish, swish, swish… I already had a little bit of a swishy gait. It didn’t need a soundtrack. My question, I suppose, is at what point did my disdain for things that used to embarrass me turn to warm, fuzzy feelings of that certain adventurous, curious spirit of childhood and the seemingly endless possibilities of what the future might hold?
Judging by the condition of this ’86 Country Squire, it might belong to someone with hipster-ish, ironic leanings as much as it might be the everyday transportation of a Boomer retiree who lives in a walkup not far from the intersection where I spotted it. The only context clues I could find that might lean toward the former might be the pair of red, fuzzy dice barely visible on the dashboard beneath the glare of the reflections on the windshield. What I genuinely love about this car is all of its embellishments that were ladled onto it from the factory: generous swaths of vinyl on three of its sides, the stylized crown hood ornament, the wire wheel covers, and the choice of font on the rear quarter panel. The overall effect, the gestalt, is much greater than any individual element would suggest. It’s like this wagon took all of the postwar, Populuxe-era gilding from my grandparents’ living room and put them on one car… all the way in 1986.
That year, coincidentally, was the last in which there were two distinctly different LTDs for sale at your Ford dealer, with the smaller, Fox-platform car on its way out to make way for the front-drive, radically-styled Taurus. Sales of the smaller LTD, at 72,500, were positively dwarfed by those of the Taurus, which moved close to 236,400 units in its first year. In the meantime, about 124,000 big LTDs were sold, of which only about 20,200 (about 16%) were wagons, with or without the wood. Over at Chevrolet, almost twice as many Caprices (245,000 were sold), which included over double the number of wagons (45,200; 18% of total production).
There was just one engine under the hood of a Crown Victoria that civilians could buy, which was a 302-cubic inch V8 with a multi-port, electronic fuel injection system that yielded 150 horsepower. (Police cars came standard with a 180-horse 351 V8.) This car was manufactured in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, if the results of my license plate search are to be believed. The base price for a non-LX Country Squire wagon like this one was $12,655 in ’86, which translates to just over $35,000 today.
Rasmussen Ford of Storm Lake, Iowa, appears to have been acquired by Holzhauer Motors only six months after I had taken these pictures. The former was a multigenerational store that had originally opened in August of 1920, when many were realizing their car ownership dreams with a new Model T. When Holzhauer took over, the dealership was only months away from having been in business for an entire century under the previous family name. This echoes how the Country Squire badge was Ford’s third-most in longevity at forty-one years, after Mustang and Thunderbird. Getting back to vintage shopping as it relates to the Di-Noc, my purchases usually have to be all-in on that retro aesthetic, or I just keep my money. Any big Ford wagon would be a find today, but bless the hunter who finds one that has been kissed by the mythical forest of plastic trees.
Roscoe Village, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, April 7, 2019.
Brochure photo was as sourced from www.oldcarbrochures.org.