Story and photos by Angelo Van Bogart
While nearly every other 1960s teenage boy was dreaming of two-door muscle cars with mag wheels and loud pipes, Tom Murray was ogling cars with more doors and long roofs. The St. Paul, Minn., resident suggests that his early love for station wagons placed him in the uncool set, but in reality, maybe he was just ahead of the curve.
“I have always been a Ford station wagon fan,” Murray said. “My first car was a 1958 Ford station wagon. I was probably not cool, that is why I like station wagons.”
Today, that station wagon stigma is gone and Murray is one of the coolest cats at car shows with his 1960 Ford Country Squire, a car he’s been drooling over since 1967.
“I was just in love with the car since I was 16 years old, and I was always in awe because it was yellow with the woodgrain,” Murray said.
The Country Squire was bought new by a St. Paul banker who had the car serviced at the Highland Village-area DX gas station where Murray worked. He was just a high school sophomore at the time.
“I knew the original owner,” Murray said. “It was his wife’s car and she didn’t drive it very much. I know it was never driven in snow.”
The original owner of the Country Squire was so particular, Murray never had a chance to drive his dream car when it came into the station for service.
“He wouldn’t let any of the kids pull the car into the garage — it had to be the owner or the mechanic,” Murray said. “He was very fussy who he let drive the car into the garage.”
Murray wasn’t the only one with his eye on the Country Squire — the station owner also knew a gem when he saw it, and he pestered the original owner to sell it. By the time the banker and his wife parted with the Ford in 1973 or ’74, Murray estimates it had just 7 or 8,000 miles.
The DX station owner drove the Ford a bit more and doubled the mileage to about 16,500 miles during his stewardship. Meanwhile, Murray was building a budding Ford collection and he wanted that wagon as badly as he had as a teenager.
“Every time I would walk by the station I would say, ‘When are you going to sell me that car?’ Then one day he said, ‘I am thinking about selling it; I want my garage stall back.’ He said, ‘I have to ask my kids first’ and I thought for sure they would want it, but a half hour later he called back and he said it’s yours.”
That fateful day came in November 1991 and Murray was so excited to have bought the car, he immediately drove it home despite a snowstorm — lest the owner change his mind once the snow melted.
Once he got the Country Squire home, Murray had a chance to look it over more closely. He noticed it had a little bit of “hanger rash” because the second owner wasn’t quite as careful as the first, yet Murray remained happy to finally own the wagon. After all, where would he ever find another, let alone one with as few miles? Murray says in 40 years, he’s never seen another in his home state of Minnesota.
The rarely seen ’60s
For some inexplicable reason, 1960 Fords are hard to come by today. In the case of the 1960 Country Squire, production accounted for a solid 22,237 of the total 171,824 full-size station wagons built for the year, yet they are rare as hen’s teeth. That figure made the Country Squire the second-least popular full-size Ford wagon that year. The Country Squire’s low spot on the production totem pole was more due to its price rather than its beauty. For the V-8-equipped 1960 Country Squire’s $3,080 base price, buyers received woodgrain paneling that was exclusive to the model, as well as nine-passenger seating. Base prices for the other four V-8-powered Ford full-size wagons for 1960 were each below the $3,000 mark and included the nine-passenger Country Sedan four-door at $2,950; the six-passenger Country Sedan four-door at $2,865; the four-door Ranch Wagon for six passengers at $2,769; and the two-door Ranch Wagon for six passengers at $2,699. For wagons with the base 223-cid six-cylinder, prices were $113 less.
All 1960 Ford station wagons were the latest and greatest in a long, proud line of Ford station wagons that went back to 1929. That year, Ford became the first American manufacturer to catalog its own mass-produced station wagon. The bodies were constructed of wood from forests in Iron Mountain, Mich., and assembled by body builder Murray, which built many bodies for Ford.
(Cleveland’s Baker-Raulang Co. also assembled some early Ford station wagon bodies when Murray could not keep up with demand.) All Ford station wagon bodies would be built of wood through the 1930s and 1940s and even through 1951, the last year for the wood body and the first year for the Country Squire name on a Ford wagon. When 1952 rolled around, Ford offered all-new all-steel station wagon bodies, but only the top-line Country Squires featured the woodie treatment.
That now meant wood plank-looking decals trimmed around the perimeter with real wood, all of which was fastened to the steel body. The wood was now just for looks, rather than the an integral part of the station wagon’s body structure. Meanwhile, competing station wagons to Ford’s Country Squire ditched the wood look. Woodies were gone by 1951 at Plymouth and 1953 at Chevrolet.
By 1960, the faux wood-trimmed Country Squire was about as "yesterday" as a station wagon could be trimmed, yet the body was thoroughly tomorrow. Ford touted its all-new 1960 models were part of “a wonderful new world of Fords” that had “Classic Thunderbird elegance” and “spirited performance” from its line of engines, the only significant component of the cars carried over from 1959. When selling the Country Squire, which Ford called “America’s most famous wagon,” the company said it hit a “new high in wagon elegance.” The features that made the “newest edition of the most distinctive station wagon ever built” so popular were its simulated mahogany side paneling and its “hardtop-thin roofline.”
What Ford didn’t mention were the 1960 Ford’s new horizontal rear tailfins, its most notable design features that were clearly inspired by the wings of its Chevrolet competitor. The new Fords (wagons included) could tout one thing Chevrolet could not for 1960: no more dog legs from the windshield frame.
Ford wagons also touted “truck size brakes” that were 30 percent larger than in 1959, making them the biggest in Ford’s field, and a new “no squat... no dive” rear suspension. Using 5-foot-long rear springs with the axle well forward to give a levelized, variable rate suspension, the Ford wagon anti-dive control and anti-squat control suspension “damps out bumps like magic and makes even ‘washboard’ roads seem smooth,” the company stated.
Caring for a Country Squire
With so much to love, it’s hard to believe Murray’s 1960 Ford station wagon was used so little in its life. The effects of this sedentary life had come to a head by the time he bought it, and the wagon needed some love despite the fact it had been previously been owned by a service station owner. The Cruise-O-Matic Drive three-speed automatic transmission was leaking from sitting, so he had it rebuilt and overhauled. The rear end also leaked and there were noisy bearings that also had to be addressed. The belts on the wagon’s optional two-venturi 352-cid V-8 and tires had been replaced at least once by previous owners, but otherwise, the car remained original down to the paint and interior, and it remains so.
Using skills he learned at the DX station where he drooled over this wagon as a kid, Murray has kept the Country Squire working well over the last 25 years. He’s also had some maintenance done that couldn’t be learned at a corner service station.
“I had the woodgrain refreshed on it last summer, because it was just starting to take away from the appearance of the car,” he said. “A fellow does air brushing, and he did a marvelous job refreshing it” by restriping the paneling on the doors and the fiberglass rails that surround it.
“I didn’t want to redo it because I wanted it original. Like a lot of the Country Squires, the woodgrain, it just doesn’t have the resilience of the new stuff, and the you have to consider how old the car is....”
Although the woodgrain was refreshed and the odometer may have changed, most things about this 21,000-mile original haven’t. It’s stunning yellow paint and woodgrain trim are attracting a new generation of droolers who won’t stop asking if it’s for sale, much like Murray and the owner before him.
“I have one fellow that every time I see him, he asks when I am going to sell him that car,” Murray said. “I tell him, ‘It won’t happen, so don’t even think about it.’”
After all, what’s cooler than a vintage station wagon?
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