The Vista Cruiser is an interesting detour in the concept of the family hauler. General Motors always struggled a wee bit with the concept of the station wagon (and the minivan and SUV crazes that followed) compared to Ford and Chrysler.
While Ford had no problem not only selling plenty of Country Sedans and Country Squires, even their Ford wagons had a snob appeal that belied them sharing floor space with the most basic of Henry’s vehicular grandchildren.
GM tried low priced to luxury, 4 door hardtop and sporty station wagons with names like Fiesta and Nomad. Although those wagons have become collectors items in the current, they weren’t exactly prized in the past. Buick and Oldsmobile, in particular, passed the baton from their Full Sized wagons for a good half decade, relying on scenic-cruising bus inspired family haulers based on their intermediate platforms for that certain level of panache for suburban driveways. We celebrate an icon in the sunset of its years as the dog days of summer settle in.
The Vista Cruiser debuted for 1964 while Oldsmobile still fielded a full sized 88 based Station Wagon. Compared to the normal F-85 Wagon, the wheelbase stretched 5 extra inches to a lower end of the full size spectrum of 120 inches.
This allowed for the 3rd row of seats to be forward facing, compared to the side saddle arrangement popular in Ford Full Sized Wagons, or the default rear-facing 3rd seat in most other station wagons.
It still might have been the worst seat in the house, but the Vista Cruiser, and its Buick Sport Wagon sister ship gave some extras to allieviate the pains of participating in the family road trip. The vista windows over the 2nd and 3rd seat and cargo area allowed eyes to wander to the scenery above one’s head.
If not interested, a visor could be flipped up to hide out the harsh sunlight for the 2nd row passengers. The 1972 model featured a one piece Vista light for forward facing passengers.
By the time the Vista Cruiser was redesigned for 1968, it ballooned to traditionally full sized proportions. Now on a 121 inch wheelbase, the Vista Cruiser stretched nearly as long as an early 1960’s Ninety Eight. As time marched on as well, the Vista Cruiser was offered with more and more muscle.
While the initial 330 cube V8 of 1964 was adequate for the demands of a family wagon, by the time we reached our 1972 subject car, most every option in the Oldsmobile V8 arsenal was available. Granted, by 1972, the SAE net ratings and lowered compression ratios had dulled a bit of the brute force of Oldsmobile’s engines. However, if you needed more than the 455 Rocket V8 provided, one doesn’t know what could satisfy your thirst to get to Yellowstone or the Mall more.
The Vista Cruiser, due to market position, didn’t sell in the numbers of the Country Square or a number of other station wagons. It decidedly cultivated a loyal following, averaging +/- 30,000 units throughout its run. For 1972, a small uptick to just under 32,000 was recorded.
It was more or less the beginning of the end. The introduction of the behemoth C-Body Custom Cruiser, with its clamshell tailgate, ate some volume from the Vista Cruiser. When the Colonnade based Vista Cruiser debuted for 1973, it was downsized, if one can really say that, and decontented. Now on a 116 inch wheelbase, it became a higher trimmed Cutlass Wagon with a pop-up Sunroof replacing the raised Vista Rood skylights. As Ford committed a diverse rally of wagons across their full product line, and Mopar made the vow to re-commit in the late 70’s, GM let one of their legendary efforts in family hauling wither on the vine.
Whether the Vista Cruiser is a raisin or a fine glass of wine in the history of how America got around is up to your interpretation.