It’s not a novel idea. We know we are not alone in loving them, but I come from a generation that is well-qualified when it comes to wagons. Many of our readers grew up in SUV’s and minivans. Poor souls. They will never know what the “back-back” was, will never know what it was like to hold onto the inside of the tailgate and let go right as dad hit the breaks, sending you and your brothers rolling into the back seat. They will never know what it was like when wood-paneling wasn’t a novelty, but a norm.
That is too bad. But even having missed those days, we are sure those unlucky readers agree with us that wagons are supercool. Whether the classic American behemoths, or the functional beauties from the wagon-obsessed Japanese, or the sleek sport wagons from Germany, wagons rule.
I grew up in two wagons, first a 1978 Ford Station Wagon (snazzy headlight covers!), and then a 1984 Mercury Grand Marquis Wagon. Yes, both sported wood side paneling. I even spent my early driving years in the Grand Marquis, and everyone loved the party mobile. It seated 8 legally, 12 not-so-legally. So there’s that.
I was clearly influenced heavily by my parent’s automobile choices. I have already documented that my obsession with Japanese cars started in 1981 when my father bought a Honda, and the same can be said for wagons. I always thought they were cooler than SUV’s, and I still think that. I remember living in Brazil in the mid-90’s, wandering through an Audi dealership and obsessing over the RS2 Avant for sale that I had never seen in the US (for good reason), thinking how much cooler it was than the SUV’s and minivans that had taken over.
So from the wood-paneled land boat, to the sleek turbo charged German grocery getter, to the outdoorsy-declaring Outback, and to everything in between, I am all in on the wagon. And I will always make sure the Lamley minicar collection reflects that.
Thankfully makers of little cars are catching on. Matchbox has always been on the bandwagon (get it?), and Hot Wheels has figured it out too. Tomica Limited Vintage has its share, and we couldn’t be happier with the Wagons Auto World has decided to make.
So it is time to dedicate a section of the Lamley Blog to the coolest of cars around. Welcome to Wagon Wednesday.
This does not mean we will show a wagon every Wednesday, but if there is a Wagon to show, you know the day. And there are a lot. We have plenty to show from the Lamley collection, and we know more are coming. We would also love to hear what you would like us to show.
So to start Wagon Wednesday, we needed a model that would get us off on the right foot. It seems there is a classic 1971 Wagon produced by Mattel that has a slew of fans. And no, it’s not that one. It’s this one:
The Matchbox 1971 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser. A wagon’s wagon.
We should start by pleading with Matchbox to bring this gem back. It’s lifespan was way too short. It debuted in 2009, and the last we saw of it was 2011. That is way too long. And yes, maybe it falls a tad outside of the direction Mattel is taking with Matchbox, but there are plenty of models in the lineup right now that are worse fits then the Olds. This model is just way too cool to sit unused on the shelf. Find a place to use it, and…USE IT!
Now that we have said our peace, we can move onto the versions already done. We hopefully don’t have to explain why we love the Vista Cruiser so much. We already explained our love for wagons, and wagons don’t anymore wagon-y than the Cruiser.
So let’s talk a little about the model itself. We should start with the dogs. Why the dogs in the back-back? Well, first of all, why not? Second, they serve a very specific purpose: they hold the rear rivet. With the placement of the wheels along with the sloping rear, the designers had no way of putting a rear rivet in the rear. Normally they would create a column to use of the rivet, but they could not because of the rear window and sloping back. Without a way to put on a rear rivet, the model could not be made. That is where the dogs came in. Using that extra plastic, and placing the dogs right behind the tailgate, with their heads going straight up and out of the back, they had enough space to place the rivet. They pay homage to the old Matchbox Cougar Villager Wagon, but more importantly they allow the model to be made. Cool, eh?
The Vista Cruiser has also been a variation collector’s paradise. Like we said, it debuted in 2009, in two colors – green and white. But they didn’t stop there.
The first color was green, and the first few released did not arrive in the green Matchbox intended. The first few appeared in what collectors lovingly referred to as toxic green, instead of the correct metallic green:
Mattel caught the error, and had the correct color used, but not before a large number were already released. But even the correct color had two major shade differences:
There was bright green and mustard green. Usually we don’t collect shade variations, but this one was so distinct we brought both home.
So with only one color, there were already three variations:
But it didn’t stop there. During that time there was a shortage of Matchbox trispoke wheels. And as it is at the factory, wheel shortages don’t stop production. If you don’t have one wheel, use another. And they did:
All of a sudden the green Cruiser was showing up on very inappropriate 10sp wheels. They were so inappropriate, I actually loved it. Why not bling out 70’s mom’s car? And if that wasn’t enough, the shade variations showed up on the 10-so models as well:
The trispoke wheel shortage even continued into the production of the white version:
And to be outdone, even the toxic green version had a wheel variation, with one showing up on disk wheels, which I was lucky enough to acquire from a collector in the midwest. It is still the only one known to be found:
So technically two colors, but 10 distinct variations. We even found some errors:
Yes, that is a Hot Wheels whitewall on the front of the version above. I actually pulled that model at a nearby Walmart. It remains my favorite Matchbox error.
After that, the Vista Cruiser hung around for two more years, and then it was gone. Here is the family, as it has been for 3-plus years:
Out of the seven versions, four have the wood-paneling, one only the trip, and the other two nothing at all. The red 5-pack version it completely plain, while the blue has a “for sale” sticker on the windshield:
It is apparent the designers loved doing this model, and always had a little fun with it. I am sure they would love to bring it back, and hopefully they will.
Our favorite? The black Lesney Edition:
There are probably a few of you who jumped into the collecting game after the Vista Cruiser had its run, and you are only now thinking it is worth collecting. It totally is, and most versions, and some variations, are relatively easy to acquire.
You may be door-warming your local Target for that other ’71 Wagon, but no collection is complete without the ’71 Vista Cruiser…