For many of the following century, the property automotive did its responsibility. Half instrument, half household pet, it obediently carried you, your loved one, your offspring and something they required from A to B and again. Boots grew and shrunk. Doorways and seats have been added, or taken away. However the versatile brilliance of the wagon – the Swiss military knife of motoring – by no means diminished. Not right here, anyway.
Images: Webb Bland
In America, the place the SUV gold rush started, the wagon has been beneath siege because the early Nineties. As soon as, each single producer from AMC to Oldsmobile, Plymouth and Pontiac made a wagon. These days, none of these manufacturers even exist. And have you learnt what number of property fashions are supplied by the mixed would possibly of Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Ford, Dodge and Lincoln immediately, in 2023? None. Not a single one. The station wagon has hit the buffers.
In the event you’re a long-roof fanatic within the USA, you’re downright eccentric. Even the soccer mother jibes have ceased, transferring on to deride Volvo XC90s and the rejuvenated Chrysler minivan. To thirst for the wagons that we take as a right in Europe, you’re only a weirdo.
I like oddball automotive subcultures, the place diehards swim towards the tide of indifference. And listening to that Audi supposed to launch a quicker evolution of the RS6 Avant in San Francisco, I hatched a plan to welcome a handful of the West Coast’s most obsessive wagonistas to a protected house. This turned out to be a backstreet parking zone simply north of Oakland, broadly recognized to locals because the automotive break-in capital of America. However to not me. Whoops.
This concept had been brewing because the present RS6 was revealed within the autumn of 2019. Audi binned the shape e book and introduced its new twin-turbo 592bhp monster can be made obtainable in North America – the primary RS6 Avant to move stateside in 20 years. I’d pitched to ship the primary one off the boat into the US, and prepare some kind of homecoming get together. Anyway, COVID occurred and the RS6’s ticker tape parade didn’t.
Quick ahead to summer season 2023 and I’m rumbling throughout the Golden Gate bridge in an inky black RS6 Efficiency. Higher late than by no means. That is the substitute for the boggo RS6, so naturally the Efficiency has extra poke. Larger turbos nestled within the 4.0-litre V8 get pleasure from increased enhance stress, lifting energy to 621bhp and dropping your 0–62mph dash by two tenths to a potty 3.4 seconds.
Gorgeously dished, slender spoked 22in rims save 5kg of unsprung weight every, doing the experience consolation massive favours, and 8kg of soundproofing materials has been ripped from the entrance bulkhead to encourage a bit extra V8 bellow into the immaculately trimmed cabin. Get pleasure from it when you can – the following RS6 is prone to be electrical.
The ‘Efficiency’ doesn’t announce very exhausting that it’s the most recent, biggest RS6. There are not any badges or plaques. The seats stay criminally unbolstered, and solely on half throttle whenever you flex a giant toe on the off-ramp from the 101 do you detect a smidge extra V8 burble. Struggling to know why the value has leapt by £15k to £110,000? I used to be too.
The reply got here the next day, out of the town on the extra sweeping roads that wind into the hills of Napa County. This RS6 has a dealing with darkish aspect. Eventually Audi has conquered its cautiousness with the energetic rear differential, and injected a streak of hooliganism into an RS6. It’s not a looney M3 Touring-esque yob, nevertheless it’s not an understeer chariot both. Eventually, we now have an RS6 that may do all of it.
I settle the RS6 into its cushiest consolation setting to take the scenic route by way of San Fran. The wiggly weirdness that’s Lombard Road – “America’s crookedest avenue”. Doing a Frank Bullitt impression whereas lumping a two-tonne über wagon up the inclines immortalised in Bullitt? Accomplished it mate. Alcatraz? Seen from a distance, however I’ve obtained a celebration to get to.
Head east over the Oakland Bay bridge and also you’ll land in Emeryville. Unusual place. That is the house of Pixar, the animation studio behind Toy Story, The Incredibles and Discovering Nemo.
Its HQ – designed by Steve Jobs – full with gigantic lamp mascot exterior, is down an unassuming avenue, close to an nameless motel and a gargantuan Ikea.
Not far away is a bluff single storey constructing known as Fantasy Junction, which makes it sound like a strip membership on the Island of Sodor. Fortunately, it’s a bafflingly unique basic automotive dealership. In amongst umpteen 911s and E-Sorts there’s Aston Martin and Lola racing automobiles, a GT40, a pre-war Bentley, Alfas, Vettes plus a one-off Maserati Indianapolis Coupe up on the market at $1.4million. Oh, and a Volvo.
That is what drew me to Fantasy Junction. Whereas scouring the net for a pleasant house to entertain wagonistas, I occurred throughout a Volvo V70R itemizing among the many Italian aristocrats. Turned out it belonged to Spencer, one of many dealership’s staff, and he was completely satisfied for his parking zone to host some fellow nerds.
Right here’s the place I owe an enormous thanks to Adam Cramer of Avants.com, who I sought out by way of Instagram because the organiser of, amongst different gearhead pleasant occasions, the annual Pacific Northwest Wagonfest. He leafed by way of his little black e book of wagon people, and aimed to supply 4, perhaps 5 house owners keen to surrender a Thursday afternoon to satisfy a whole stranger close to a smash and seize hotspot. We obtained 10. Fanatics? Fanatics extra like.
They arrive early. The brooding RS6 is joined by a pair of friendlier trying Audi S4s. A few late Fifties two-door items of chrome clad Americana. Is that the automotive from Ghostbusters? And a monster truck. Enable me to introduce you.
WE REVELLED IN A MUTUAL ADORATION OF THE HUMBLE WAGON
Retiree Henry is busy laying out show articles that includes his beloved Chevy Bel-Air. He’s a automotive present common. “Nearly each weekend I’m driving out to occasions,” he smiles. “I simply comply with the youthful crowd. They paved the way and say ‘Observe us, don’t get misplaced’.” I’m too bashfully British to ask his age, however one in every of his associates later lets slip Henry was born earlier than his Chevy left the manufacturing unit in ’56.
“This automotive sat on my driveway from 1988 to 1998,” he explains. Henry engaged the providers of customized automotive and bike builder Cole Foster “to get it operating, however look what I obtained”. It’s clinically immaculate: the surgically pristine engine bay is mesmerising. He ushers me spherical to the cut up tailgate to unload the trunkful of clippings he’s acquired sharing this veteran with a brand new era of fans.
It’s a broad church. Tesla engineer Khoa’s actual ardour is Audi Avants. He and his spouse Melissa personal 5. And once they couldn’t determine which to carry, they got here in separate automobiles: a close to inventory yellow instance and his air-bagged low-riding purple pleasure and pleasure. The youngsters wait very patiently whereas mother and pa get geeky.
“I used to comply with this automotive once I was stepping into the scene,” Khoa explains. “It’s a well-known automotive throughout the US, as a result of it’s a transformed widebody.” Stanced automobiles aren’t actually my factor, however one thing about Californian night gentle (and an proprietor cool sufficient to drag it off) has me transformed. And I just like the informal, throwaway method by which Khoa describes the automotive’s mods. “Driving on the BBS LMs, nothing large, simply upgraded to RS6 turbos. This can be a cruiser.”
His spouse prefers a extra refined household automotive, mustard paintwork apart. Melissa’s S4 is extra gently lowered, topped with a streamlined roof field. “At first it was for my son, however I kinda took it as a result of I actually preferred it.” Mom is aware of finest.
The OG Audi superwagon is represented by an RS2 Avant. Gentle beer fanatic Kirk describes it as his dream automotive: one he was so eager to personal he purchased it unseen and drove house throughout three snow coated states in a single hit. “The factor did superior – the final word quattro expertise,” he grins. This wasn’t shocking, since Kirk is barely, splendidly mad. He drove 14 hours from Seattle to be right here immediately, however obtained his mate to carry the RS2. Kirk was too busy helming the Quattromog.
“I actually like silly tasks, and I had a imaginative and prescient earlier than I had youngsters of getting a lifted Audi,” he causes. “When she obtained knocked up we wanted one thing that’d maintain automotive seats, so I appeared for a automotive with a salvage title and a blown engine.” A brand new motor and a few customized lengthy journey suspension later, you could have the world’s gnarliest A4, full with bull bars, winch, roof-mounted zombie axe and scars of journey. It’s fabulously freakish. Solely in a rustic that doesn’t have yearly MOT exams might this be your every day driver household hauler.
Or an ex-grandma Chevy Malibu, engine swapped to the tune of 700bhp. Proprietor Andrew mentions the McLaren-sized energy output so nonchalantly he seems quizzical once I nearly faint with shock. “This little outdated girl had owned it and stored a logbook of all over the place she ever went and obtained fuel and what she’d paid for it. Nevertheless it wanted some efficiency, so I left the unique patina’d paint however mounted it on a brand new Speedtech chassis, LT4 V8 and a 10spd automated. The automotive simply rips.”
A degree he proves when leaving in a while, thundering away from the lights in somebody’s grandma’s wagon. It’s the artwork of the Q automotive, executed to perfection. For all the RS6’s menace and malevolence, it’s a disgrace it’ll by no means fly beneath the radar like a supercar-humbling Malibu.
If extrovert’s your factor, you’d like Adam. Tropical shirt, sturdy handshake, and a 5.8m lengthy Buick full with surfboard that “suits in my storage – barely”. His pleasure and pleasure is his 1960 LeSabre seashore cruiser. It’s emphatically not the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 which individuals usually mistake it for – that was a Cadillac. When there’s some massive wave in your neighbourhood, who ya gonna name?
“A gentleman in New Jersey traded me my ’36 Dodge for it, and when it arrived I made a decision to make a seashore cruiser.” It’s a mammoth machine, reeking of an period when American automotive design led the world in no limits blue sky considering and the entire nation surfed a swell of post-war financial, political and technical optimism.
Operating it shut for my private finest in present is the pea inexperienced Pontiac Safari of Jay Ward: artistic franchise boss simply throughout the highway at Pixar. I ask why this fabulously characterful two-door wasn’t a outstanding character in Automobiles. “I used to be engaged on Ratatouille once I purchased this automotive, however there are some cool scorching rods in [Cars] too, a lot of good Fifties automotive references.” Jay purchased the Safari as a rusted out wreck when his household was rising and spent three years lovingly restored it, bidding for uncommon spares on eBay and following tip-offs from the wagon ‘community’ as he calls it. “They solely made 1,292 of those, which is a minuscule quantity for Basic Motors within the Fifties.”
The RS6 is enthralling the gents representing the fashionable finish of the tremendous property spectrum. Steven and his son have arrived in an equally murdered out Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon – in all probability the final, and quickest, American property automotive. Basically, a retuned Corvette ZR1 V8 with an edgy wardrobe swallowing shell. Steven says he went to the dealership to purchase the sedan, “however the most effective salesman on the planet confirmed me this, and I couldn’t imagine such a fantastic automotive might exist. The salesperson was devastated, saying he’d miss trying on the automotive every single day.”
Additionally keen to commerce is Sebastian, whose delightfully subdued, manufacturing unit spec E55 AMG is a literal sleeper. “I take it fly fishing within the Sierras, and I sleep within the again,” he explains. “It’s obtained 600lb ft and I simply adore this automotive. Each time I get in and go, it places a smile on my face.” It’s a world away from modern tech-infested, shouty trying AMGs with hybrid this and haptic that. The wheels look comically tiny nowadays. Supercharged V8 get together within the entrance, and large house enterprise within the rear. Terrific.
Because the solar sank beneath the bay and the sound of the night commuters melted away, we stood round consuming doubtful carbonated drinks and revelled in a mutual adoration of the standard wagon, in its many types. Then one after the other, we shook arms and headed off to unfold the nice phrase far and extensive. Outnumbered by SUVs? Positive, however that’s a cult, not tradition. Want some junk in your trunk? I like massive boots and I can’t lie.
Meet the Estates
Automotive: Chevy Bel-Air
Inform us why you like your wagon: It is refined, and it is timeless
Automotive: Chevy Malibu
Inform us why you like your wagon: I simply all the time preferred that lengthy, modern look
Automotive: Audi RS2 Avant
Inform us why you like your wagon: It is my dream automotive, the final word quattro expertise
Automotive: Buick Le Sabre
Inform us why you like your wagon: A wagon is simply the seashore cruiser to have right here on the West Coast
Automotive: Pontiac Safari
Inform us why you like your wagon: It is kinda like having somewhat insider’s membership, there is a community of people that love wagons
Automotive: Audi S4 Avant
Inform us why you like your wagon: There’s sufficient house for the household, the canines, we are able to match the youngsters within the again
Automotive: Audi S4 Avant
Inform us why you like your wagon: Right here within the US there’s not plenty of wagons, and we needed to be somewhat bit totally different
Automotive: Mercedes E55 AMG
Inform us why you like your wagon: I like property automobiles as a result of they’re the proper mixture of efficiency, consolation and practicality
Automotive: Cadillac CTS-V
Inform us why you like your wagon: There’s nothing else on the market like them!
Proprietor: Kirk (once more)
Inform us why you like your wagon: It is kinda like a truck, however one which your mother drives