The Studebaker Wagonaire was a station wagon produced by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana, from 1963-1966. It featured a retractable sliding rear roof section that allowed the vehicle to carry items that would otherwise be too tall for a conventional station wagon of the era.
Studebaker Wagonaire's roof design was the invention of industrial designer Brooks Stevens, who was charged by the automaker's president, Sherwood Egbert, to expand the company's limited model range without spending vast amounts of capital on retooling. Stevens was also the designer of the similarly named Kaiser Jeep Wagoneer, a truck-based sport utility vehicle (SUV) that was also introduced along the Wagonaire for the 1963 model year. The Jeep model remained in production almost unchanged on the same platform into 1990s, making it the longest continuous automotive production run in U.S. automotive history.
The Wagonaire roof design was inspired by Stevens' 1959 Scimitar concept car built in Stuttgart, Germany by Ruetter for the Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation. There were three full-sized Chrysler-based vehicles built for dispay at the 1959 Geneva Motor Show to promote use of aluminum in building cars. One of these was a hardtop (with no "B-pillar") station wagon with a sliding roof panel.
The Studebaker Wagonaire was based on the standard Lark station wagon body that was modified above the beltline. The roof was designed with a panel over the cargo bay that manually retracted into and then locked into position in the forward section of the roof above the rear passenger's seat. This configuration allowed Studebaker to boast that the Wagonaire could transport items (such as standard size refrigerators) in an upright position.
Wagonaires seated six passengers (five with the optional front bucket seats). The car could seat eight when equipped with a rear-facing third-row seat, which was available as an option through 1965. When the third seat was ordered, the cars were fitted with special "Captive-Air" (puncture-resistant) tires, as the additional seat took up the space required for a spare tire and wheel.
Early buyers soon found that their new wagons' roofs leaked water near the front of the sliding section. This problem was addressed — with limited success — by the factory. As a result of the leak problem, fixed-roof station wagons were rushed into production alongside the Wagonaire and became available in January 1963. These sold for US$100 less than the sliding-roof wagons, but it was technically a "delete option", meaning that if the buyer wanted the fixed roof versus the slider, it had to be specifically ordered that way by the selling dealer and was not a separate model.
When Studebaker closed its South Bend, Indiana, assembly plant and continued production at its Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, plant, the company eliminated its "halo" models, the Avanti and Hawk, but continued to build Lark-based sedans and Wagonaires.
The 1964 models, which were built only in Canada after December 1963, were the last to carry Studebaker's own engines. Beginning with the 1965 models, General Motors supplied engines based on the Chevrolet six-cylinder and V8 designs. The 1965 models were available only with the sliding roof.
The fixed-roof option made a return for Studebaker's final model year in 1966, but the third seat was no longer offered. In addition, the 1966 Wagonaire finally was made a model in its own right, blending the exterior features of the Commander with the interior trim grade of the sporty Daytona. A total of 940 fixed-roof Wagonaires were built for 1966.
The 1963-64 Daytona version of the Wagonaire could be equipped with a V8, Carter 4-barrel carburetor, and a column mounted shifter manual transmission with overdrive. The Wagonaire could also be ordered with any of Studebaker's available "R-series" high-performance Avanti V8 engines and the four-speed floor-shift manual transmission.
Matchbox-Lesney made a miniature Wagonaire that included a sliding roof section. The scale model was available for many years after Studebaker stopped production of the actual vehicle. Husky Toys also manufactured a model Wagonaire that was similar in size to the Matchbox product.
Revival of the concept
The concept of the retractable roof was picked up by General Motors for a model in its GMC Envoy line in 2003 as a 2004 model. Ads for the new Envoy XUV incorrectly touted the feature as "first ever." One feature that GMC did adopt that Studebaker never did was power operation of the roof section. The Envoy XUV model was discontinued in 2005.