5 vintage muscle wagons to soothe your vintage drag strip dreams
Feeling like the classic muscle car craze—six-figure auctions prices and all—has completely passed you by? Consider this ray of hope: There exists a subset of big-block Detroit thunder that has been largely ignored by the gavel-and-fat-wallet crowd, and although it’s beginning to creep onto their radar, there’s still time to snag one of these bruising burnout machines.
I’m speaking, of course, about muscle wagons. Most people have forgotten that these family-friendly, mid- to full-size haulers often benefited from the same high-horsepower options that were available on sedans and coupes. In fact, automakers often pushed big-block wagons because the extra torque made them more effective tow rigs and cargo carriers, especially when tasked to move an entire herd of unruly kids and exhausted adults to their summer vacation spot.
Wagon weaponry at the drag strip was also something of an open secret back in their glory years, with pros like Tommy Ivo and Don Gay running wagons in NHRA competition.
While far fewer trucksters were ever given the full-on, tick-all-the-boxes performance treatment as their two-door brethren, there are enough of them out there to tempt fans of long-roof style and eight-cylinder speed. Which muscle wagon should you being lusting after? Check out these five appealing choices and decide which one would look best sitting in your driveway with a load of groceries nestled against the tailgate.
From 1966 to 1970, it was possible to purchase the Dodge Coronet in wagon form, packing a 383-cubic-inch big-block V-8 under the hood. Mated to a three-speed automatic transmission and churning out at 330 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque (using the gross ratings system of the time), the 383 had more than enough grunt to shunt the relatively heavy Coronet down the quarter-mile in fewer than 15 seconds—only a second slower than the 440 Six Pack Coronet R/T coupes sitting beside it in the showroom. That’s without the full load of nine passengers that this three-row wagon was capable of carrying, of course.
Fun Mopar trivia: the Coronet 440 was actually a mid-level trim for the nameplate and didn’t actually reference the engine size (although a 440 could be ordered outside of the wagon body style with the Coronet R/T).
For the 1969 model year, Chevrolet introduced the Caprice-based Kingswood Estate top-of-the-line wagon, but it wasn’t until 1970 that it went all out on muscle. Forget wood paneling, though; these days you should be less taken with the Estate’s luxury than you are in the enormous 454-cu-in V-8 and four-barrel carburetor that it had to offer. Like the Coronet, the Kingswood Estate featured a three-speed automatic (or the option of a three-speed manual), but it blew past the Dodge by way of its 395 gross hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. The 454 would be progressively choked by emissions gear each year (with the Kingswood departing the line-up by the 1973 model year), but it’s worth noting that, as with all of the wagons on this list, go-fast parts are easily bolted on to boost vintage output to equally eye-popping net numbers.
For 1966, Dodge actually did a bit of a flip-flop with the Coronet and Polara nameplates, pushing the latter up into the full-size segment while introducing the Coronet as the new mid-size choice. As a result, the Polara wagon gained access to the vaunted 440 cu-in V-8, what with its 350 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Although a bit slower than the somewhat lighter Coronet, the Polara party you want to invite yourself to starts with the 1969 model year. This gives you the best mix of style and performance, but sadly, like the Kingswood, it was all over by 1973.
4. 1966–68 Ford Country Squire
Ford’s 428-cu-in V-8 was a lethal weapon in the hands of muscle car tuners, which made the Country Squire that much more appealing to gearheads. Borrowed from the Thunderbird and dumped into the full-size wagon between 1966 and 1968, the 428 was good for 345 hp (a full 70 ponies more than the next-step-down 390) and 462 lb-ft of torque. If you can find one of the rare 428-equipped Squires, you might also luck into one that was equipped with a four-speed manual gearbox instead of the more common three-speed automatic. Top speed for the Ford was a lofty 120 mph, made all the more terrifying by the vehicle’s 4300 lbs of curb weight combined with its standard four-wheel drum brakes.
This entry is a twofer, giving you a couple of cracks at the 455-cu-in V-8 engine produced by both Buick and Oldsmobile at the tail end of the ’60s. The 1970–72 Vista Cruiser didn’t bother with the six-cylinder entry-level mills found in its competitors, keeping things simple with an all-V-8 line-up topped by a 455 that roared with 390 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. Car and Driver logged a 14.7 second quarter mile with the Olds when it tested a 1969 model outfitted with 4-4-2 heads from the factory, and 4-4-2 clones are by now semi-common (although only a pair of actual W30-spec wagons ever left the assembly line). Modern builders like Lingenfelter have even used the Vista Cruiser as a platform for over-the-top LS-based hot rods like this 650-hp monster.
The Buick Estate was a just-for-1970 oddball that featured 370 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque from its own 455-cu-in V-8. In fact, that was the only engine it was ever sold with before it stepped up to the full-size Electra platform the following year. Performance was similar to that of the Oldsmobile, with the added cachet of its uncommon single year of production.