There was a time at which much of the common man’s life, aspirations, and disposition could be determined simply on the basis of which Chevrolet he owned. Before the days of meaningless trim levels like ST and GLX (grand luxury excitement?), a car’s equipment level and often its bodystyle were directly affected by the name carried on its flank.
I’d venture to say that everyone’s pretty familiar with the sedans by now. The Bel Air had been the name of GM’s full-size car since 1950; in ’58, the lesser Biscayne was first offered for the budget-conscious, and in that same year the Impala name came to represent their halo model, complete with the six-taillight design that would come to represent the Impala for years. 1965 brought the Caprice, an even more high-zoot model than the Impala, and a nameplate that would stick around, for better or much worse, until 1996.
The Impala was the best-selling of all the models, still cheaper than the equivalent Olds, Pontiac, Buick, or Caddy, but well-equipped. Think of it this way: most of the Camrys you see clogging up our roads are LE models, which falls nicely between the DX/CE and the XLE as the mid-range, reasonably well equipped trim; this is exactly the role the Impala filled four decades ago. A man who drove a Bel Air just wanted a standard family sedan on his modest means; a Biscayne owner was a no-frills kind of dude who didn’t need eight cylinders or power brakes; a Caprice man was either aspirational or a Chevrolet executive that couldn’t be caught driving anything else. Got a family? Get a wagon. Simple.
Well, that changed in 1969.
You see, in that year, Chevrolet thought it prudent to give entirely new names to the full-size wagons. The spartan Brookwood complemented the Biscayne, the Townsman was counterpart to the Bel Air, the Kingswood was a wagon-shaped Impala, and the big-money Kingswood Estate, replete with wood paneling paneling wood paneling and a slightly upgraded interior. Everything but the Brookwood was V8-only, as is appropriate. This one looks like it could use a 427.
Power rear windows, three-row seating… it’s a shame more Average Americans don’t see these old wagons, shift their desires, and lobby and focus-group Detroit into giving us proper family cars again. It’s about time.