Earlier this year, the Ford Motor Company opened up the Ford Heritage Vault. The website contains more than 5,000 pieces of literature and photographs from the company’s first century of history. In it, you can explore all sorts of old car history, including forgotten concepts. One concept caught our attention, and it’s a 1959 Country Squire Station Wagon. But this isn’t just any old wagon with glorious simulated woodgrain, but one that transformed into a camper at the touch of a button.
I will warn you right now, if you are a Ford fan and want to access the vault, it’s going to take you a very long time. It took me over an hour just to download the pictures for this article. And pages load so slow that you sometimes get timed out before loading finishes. It’s frustrating, to say the least. But, FoMoCo is aware of the site’s technical glitches, so hopefully this gets fixed in the future.
I’m glad I did stick around through the loading because this concept car is pretty neat. It starts with a standard Country Squire. Sold from 1950 to 1991, this full-size family hauler was Ford’s flagship wagon. As our Jason Torchinsky wrote a decade ago, the “Station Wagon” term dates back a century, when custom wood body Ford Model Ts and Chevrolets were used to carry people and cargo to train depots. They were called “Depot Hacks,” a reference to “hackney” horse-drawn carriages. Station Wagon is just another way to say Depot Hack.
Those early wagons developed from utility vehicles and buses and featured wooden bodies. Eventually, wagon designs evolved to incorporate more steel. In the 1950s through the 1970s, the station wagon became about as much of a family car as the minivan was in the 1990s and the crossover is today.
The first couple of years of the Country Squire did have wooden wagon bodies. But from 1952-on the Country Squire was metal. Ford kept the woody wagon look going with the application of simulated woodgrain along the side. By 1959, the Country Squire had features like Lifeguard Double-Grip door latches that were supposed to prevent passenger ejection in crashes. It also had safety taillights, power windows, a power front seat, and seating for nine.
Ford had a whole lineup of wagons, but the Country Squire, with its simulated wood, signified the top of the line.
During this time, Americans sought to take adventures out on the open road. RV pioneers were cranking out novel ideas for people wanting to get out and go camping. It was around this era that Raymond C. Frank even coined the term “motorhome.” Ford took note of America’s growing desire to camp, and launched its own concept.
In an archived July 3, 1958 issue of the Washington Post, a 1959 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon is presented as a “pushbutton camper” concept. At first, the Country Squire looks like any other, with what appears to be an upturned boat on its roof. But then, with the push of a button, a motor lifts the boat up and rolls it out to the right side of the car. A person could then remove the boat from the vehicle and launch it.
With the push of another button, a tent would then rise out of the space previously covered by the boat. Inside of that tent was a double bed already covered with a blanket and featuring a reading light. It slept a total of four, with two people in the tent on top and two more in the car.
There are more features still, with a third button deploying a kitchen out of the trunk. It’s a pretty well-equipped kitchen with an electric refrigerator and two-burner stove. Also popping out of the trunk is a work table, meat cutting block, and a sink with running water. There was even a water heater.
Ford’s camper concept included a shower and curtain that deployed from the roof, too. It’s almost perfect, but it seems Ford wasn’t able to figure out how to give the wagon a toilet.
It isn’t said what’s under the hood of this Country Squire, but there were a bunch of engines available for the wagon. The smallest is the 223-cubic inch Mileage Maker six making 145 HP. Also available were a 292-cubic inch Thunderbird V8 making 200 horses and a 332-cubic inch Thunderbird Special V8 making 225 HP. At the top of the range was the 352-cubic inch Thunderbird Special V8 making 300 HP.
Unfortunately, while Ford was happy to show consumers just what the big Country Squire could do, it didn’t leave the concept stage. In the archived issue of the Washington Post, Ford noted that if there was enough interest in a Country Squire camper, third party companies were welcome to develop something that would be installed at a Ford dealership. So far as I can tell, nothing like this was ever put into production.
Still, it seems Ford really maximized the practicality of the Country Squire with this concept. Sure, it wasn’t luxury accommodations. But it was a setup that you could use to go fishing out on the lake in the morning, cook burgers in the afternoon, and sleep under the stars at night. Not many camping setups have that kind of flexibility, even today.
[Correction: An earlier version of this article listed engine options for the Country Squire in a different market. They have since been corrected. Thank you for your eagle eyes, readers!]
Near, far, in our motor car
Oh! What a happy time we’ll spend.
Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine four fendered friend.
Bang Bang Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Our fine four fendered friend.
You’re sleek as a thoroughbred.
You’re seats are a feather bed.
You’ll turn everybody’s head today.
We’ll glide on our motor trip
With pride in our ownership
The envy of all we survey.
Oh Chitty You Chitty
Pretty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
We love you.
Is that true butcher block on the tailgate?
The original Overlander. But with some style and color. (Neon green recovery hooks don’t count as style or color.)
Anyone hear the “Chitty-chitty-bang-bang” theme song while looking at this?
It seems like this concept could totally work today with electric vehicles. Incorporate some solar panels in all that folding crap and you could have a car that charges itself off the grid. Run out of power in the middle of nowhere? No problem. Fold out your large roof solar panels and let the car sit for a few hours to gain enough juice to maybe go another 50-100 miles. Or use the solar panels to power your little fold out kitchen appliances while you’re at the camp site.
Oh my God! Take my money and make me one now!
Can’t you see one with custom wheels and tires going through the motions at the lake today?
why does that thing remind of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!
Well it’s late here, but I gues you could get a pretty shitty bang in that roof tent..
In Europe, you would just pull out all the motorized stuff by hand, and the whole thing would weigh about half as much. Think of the Westfalia VWs.
In Freedomland, we motorize all the things. We didn’t win the war so we could use hand cranks. Why worry about excess weight in a wagon that probably weighed 5,000 pounds before you slapped a pop up house on the roof?
It really doesn’t matter that our stuff weighs half as much and gets double the mileage, because gasoline costs 4 times as much. So yes you win again 🙂
Parked in the right spot, this would make a Fine Old Rural Dwelling.
I see what you did there.
I like how the kitchen setup was also given a streamlined/space-agey design, like, it didn’t need to be styled, could have just been purely functional, but they figured why not make it look good, too. That isn’t really done all that much today.
Is it just me, or do the colour pictures look like a model, something about 1 : 24? In the film we only get some carefully edited idea of the thing. I love it, but wonder if it ever really existed.
I have a suspicion the the boat and it’s davits might have pulled the car over without some sort of counterbalance?
Is that 1928 Chevrolet Depot Hack a full-size vehicle or a model? Because I look at it and I see a really skillfully done model but I could be wrong.
That thing is the absolute bee’s knees, and I want one.
No edit, so I’ll add that the fantail out back is a bit Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
More like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a bit 1959 Ford Country Squire!
Good point considering that the film was released in ‘68. The car(s) were quite popular, with several of the movie cars and at least one hand-built replica being exhibited. There’s apparently lots of old info on them out there, but I have little interest in diving into this rabbit hole to try to find out if anyone involved references this Country Squire.
Well, that’s just delightful. And I love the crazy color scheme.
Boats also make excellent roof racks.
They would sell millions of these today! Put it on top of a Bronco and they’d be set.
Except that today it would have to be all powder-coated matte black, and the tent would be desert camo, and you’d have to call it the “Extreme Overlander Package” or something.
All too true, sadly. We sure are skipping gleefully toward our post-apocalyptic dystopia, aren’t we?
Close, but you left out “Tactical”. 😉
I AM amazed…
Sigh… The 1959 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon “pushbutton camper” is the America I dreamed of as a child….
Putting all that back together in the right order would be like folding up a world map! It would be super cool to have though.
“…the top of the range was the 361-cubic inch Thunderbird Special…”
The 361 is an Edsel engine. For Ford cars, the top of the range for ’59 was the 352, which is what’s in my Skyliner.
To complete the list, the other Ford car engine available that year was the 292 Y-block, one of which was in my first car, a ’59 Custom 300 four-door sedan.
So, your comment made me look again at the brochure that I downloaded from Ford’s site. I generally pull directly from the manufacturer for historical data. That brochure from the Ford Heritage Vault mentions the 361 as the largest optional engine for ’59.
However, I just noticed that the print at the very bottom says that the brochure is for *Canada*. And of course, boilerplate language that specs can change from publishing. Either way, you’re right! I’ll fix!
Ah, I’d forgotten that the Edsel 361 was indeed available for ’59 Fords and Meteors in Canada. Still, thanks for the update!
That tent is an abomination, but the shell design isn’t bad at all. Probably weighs a ton though. I mean, that folding davit is brilliant. The probability of finger’s being taken off is high, but it looks rad.
This still exists today, just not as a complete unit. I’ve been trying to figure out a reasonable excuse to get a boat lift for the cruiser. I’ve got a 12 foot shallow draft aluminum boat and 9.9 hp outboard I would love to put up there for some light waterway exploring.
Yeah, my first thought was, ‘Wow: that concave tent roof is >really< gonna suck when it rains!’ But I enjoy the Future World look of the setup. Would like to see a video of the whole shebang unfolding.
Well, duh: click on the video. Derp!