PNW Wagonfest: Wagons at a Rally School?
Car shows are often cliquey, polarized events. Usually set on a single theme, marque, or even model, most shows tend to produce a homogeneous scene. Both the cars and the people in attendance are often all from a single car clique:
Datsun shows are full of Datsuns (the bulk of which tend to be 510s, Zs, and 620 trucks). Most of the attendees also hail from two categories—the old guard (gurus of the 80s and 90s Datsun tuning scene) and the new blood (SR and KA swap-happy millennials searching desperately for a safe space from the computerized future of the automobile).
BMW shows tend to be full of late-model 3 and 4 series cars. The attendees tend to be young and hype-beasty (if you think I’m wrong, try going to Bimmerfest next year).
Even more “diverse” classic car shows tend to only have American muscle attendance. The attendees… well, lets just say they aren’t the most accepting of younger generations desire to “change” the car scene. Often Japanese classics are turned away at the door and younger enthusiasts have a hard time getting behind cars that hail from an era of American “greatness” that we never experienced.
This is one of the reasons that Cars and Coffee events make up the bulk of my show calendar. They’re more laid back and attract a more diverse automotive scene.
But after attending PNW Wagonfest this last weekend I was reminded of something. There is one automotive genre that seems to transcend generations, scenes, and brand loyalties: wagons.
Short Suspensions and Long Roofs
On a whim, my girlfriend, Sarah, and I decided to make the three hour trek from Portland to Snoqualmie—just east of Seattle. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, having just found a Facebook post about the show the night before. But I’d heard of the organizers and the venue. Most importantly, I knew that I had to go to a wagon show at least once with my 510 wagon.
Put on by Avants Seattle and Dirtfish, PNW Wagonfest brought together the eclectic nature of wagon owners and their rides. All walks of automotive life seemed to be represented there: rally, grip, stance, street, modern, classic, JDM, Euro, domestic, and even exotic.
From American standards and (dead subsidiaries) to every breed of Volvo wagon under the sun, PNW Wagonfest delivered a mixed bag unlike most any car (sans coffee) show I’ve ever been to.
The first car I noticed as we were pulling into the show, peaking out from between the people and cars, was a mystery to me. That itch began in the back of my mind: “I have to find out what that is.”
Sitting low, the car actually hid behind more modern machines between me and it. When I finally rounded the last Volvo dealer vehicle, I was greeted with a new-to-me encounter: a Nissan Stagea. With an RB26DETT. This was only my first pass, so I quickly moved on to take stock what else was hanging around the show before coming back to take a closer look.
Along the way Sarah and I chatted about the history of Stageas. How they didn’t actually come with the RB26DETT that was sitting in this one—but it was a common swap to basically turn them into wagon versions of the infamous R33 and R34 GTRs.
After a quick chat with the owner I was re-educated on my limited Stagea knowledge. As it turns out, Autech—at the time working as a factory tuner for Nissan (think Japanese AMG)—actually did ‘factory’ R33 drivetrain and suspension swaps on about 1700 Nissan Stageas. Literally, a factory GTR wagon.
The want is real.
The Stagea was easily one of the stars of the show—partly because of its presentation. Between showcasing the bizarre rear windows and a cleverly selected plushee, the owner was obviously well versed in giving people like me the full JDM effect.
Even a couple days after the event, both Sarah and I are discussing the possibility of Stagea daily in our stable’s future—once they become legal to import in the US of course.
Can’t Forget About the Euro-Wagons
It just wouldn’t be a wagon show without a hefty dose of European five doors. After all, the Europeans have dominated the modern wagon market in an age when American buyers decided being high off the ground was ‘safer.’
But modern wagons weren’t the only Euro turnout for this show—some owners braved the morning showers to bring some class back to us young’uns.
Some of you might actually recognize this car, as it’s made quite the digital splash on the internet. Essentially, it’s only a Volvo 122S Amazon body—the rest of drivetrain and suspension are pulled directly from underneath a BMW E30.
While I personally don’t care for the oversized wheels and slammed-ness, it’s hard to argue with the execution of the build.
On a purer side, some of the Euro-goers were perfectly happy to let their estates sit pretty and original. Classiness has stood the test of time for this W123 wagon—I’d argue that cars like this continue to hold the interest of a small, cultish enthusiast circle from younger generations.
They’ve even started to grow on me. Like a fungus from the Black Forest near Stuttgart.
Must… resist… elitist… desires…
…aaaahhh. That’s better.
‘Murica: Where Wagons Were Born (and Died)
With a motoring legacy of family road trips across enormous transcontinental highways, it’s no wonder that America gave birth to the spacious, utilitarian station wagon. I mean seriously, look at this thing. You could take your couch on the trip and still have room for a cooler dedicated to beer.
But terrestrial barges aren’t the only great thing to come from American wagoneering…
You are about to see perhaps the greatest accomplishment of modern American automotive engineering:
Behold, the Cadillac CTS-V Wagon. A marvel of ridiculous pushrod V8 simplicity married to stupidly complicated, yet brutally efficient adaptive magnet suspension. Seriously, it has a motor whose design has essentially stayed the same since the 1980s—but then GM decided to make its computer adjust the suspension dampening with tenth-of-a-second-or-less calculations? And magnets!?
In a wagon?!?!
Seriously, it’s like they built a wagon just for me. You know, if I could afford one.
Which brings me to the death part of that sub-header. If you are familiar with the CTS-V wagon, you’re also probably familiar with the fact that GM didn’t make the wagon in concurrent generations. Because, you know, they hate fun.
But also because the consumer demand doesn’t justify wagons in an American buying market—let along fast wagons. The SUV came, and then shrank with rising gas prices to give birth to the monstrosity that you now see literally everywhere in the Pacific Northwest: the CUV. Really, we’ve done this to ourselves.
So you’ll have to say goodbye to this once magnificent car, because I highly doubt we’ll ever get another one.
But There is Hope…
When I mentioned that wagons transcend the boundaries of generations, I wasn’t kidding. The show was flooded with something that seems to be unique to this particular strain of automobilia—families.
Everywhere you looked there were kids, dogs, and strollers. While I didn’t really think much of it at first, looking back it’s become the most significant part of the show in my eyes. It makes me hopeful that the torch will be carried on, and that wagons will make their resurgence among yet another new generation of enthusiasts.
With that, I leave you with a final image, of a girl who I hope one day goes on to own her own Stagea: