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Ford Aurora

Station wagons are a bit out of fashion these days, their role as middle-class family truckster now largely filled by minivans and minivans with plausible deniability SUVs and crossovers. Even so, they are still in production in the twenty-first century. Maybe it's just my age showing, but I always thought that twenty-first century station wagons would look like, y'know, something from the twenty-first century. There's nothing wrong with the styling of a Subaru Outback or a VW Jetta SportWagen or an Acura TSX, but none of them look truly "space age."

If you want a big old traditional family station wagon with that twenty-minutes-into-the-future vibe, you have to go back in time to 1964.

The Wagon Mrs. Robinson drove Will and Penny to school in.

The Ford Aurora station wagon was built as a show car for the 1964 season, in part to test public reaction to proposed new features, and in part to give the designers a chance to run wild and get in touch with their inner George Jetson. Under the sheetmetal, the Aurora was a dead conventional Yankee road barge with a carbureted V-8 and a live axle rear end. But oh, that sheetmetal!

"The Car of the Future is here today!"The basic profile is reminiscent of the 1960-64 generation Ford wagons with a touch of 1961-63 "Bullet Bird" in the front quarters. The front end character line that cuts across the wheel well makes the front end seem to be sitting a little higher than it should, but that's a minor flaw. In place of the usual two or four big sealed-beam bulbs, we have a bank of twelve one-inch headlights to light up the road ahead--an arrangement that would not have been street-legal, but made up for that in sheer coolness. The chrome side spear had an "electroluminescent" lighting system "for better night-time visibility." It had the important added advantage of protecting the sides from being smothered by optional vinyl woodgrain trim.

Auto shows looked like this in 1964.Not that you'd ever want to mess up a spaceship like this with vinyl woodgrain side trim. The wrap-over side windows with their ultra-thin C- and D-pillars look like they came straight off the Space Family Robinson's Chariot SUV. Like the Chariot, the Aurora also had a glass roof, but only the Aurora's roof had a power-operated polarizing sunscreen. Put a translucent Lexan roof rack on the options list, and it would be perfect.

Inside, the outside-the-box thinking continued. In place of the usual cargo bay was a rear-facing "children's seat" accessed by a clamshell tail gate. The second row was a wraparound sofa for three adults, accessed by a suicide door on the passenger's side. (There was no second-row door on the driver's side.) The front passenger had a captain's chair which could be spun around to face aft.

Martini bar on wheelsNext to the sofa, just behind the driver, was a combination stove and refrigerator mini-bar which turned the mid-section of the car into a swank cocktail lounge--or would have, if it weren't for the open container laws. There were also three separate sound systems and provision for a plug-in TV so the second-row passengers didn't have to miss the latest episode of Rawhide, Perry Mason, or The Secret Storm just because they were on the road.

It would be even cooler if it actually worked.The driver didn't get to watch TV, and we hope he wasn't imbibing cocktails while driving, but he did have some neat space-age gadgets of his own to play with: an airplane-style "steering bar" connected to a super-quick ratio steering box (one half turn lock to lock!), cruise control, and a "moving map" navigation system.

Unfortunately, the moving map thingy was just there for show. GPS was decades away, which meant that you would have had to rely on LORAN, TACAN, or VOR radio signals (or sextant sightings, maybe?) to determine your position. There were computers in 1964 which could take data from such systems and plot the position of a moving vehicle (give or take a mile or two) on a real-time map display,  but they were nowhere close to small enough to fit into an automobile--and there really wasn't a screen available back then that would be both small enough to fit in a dashboard and have high enough display resolution to be of any real use as a map.

It would be easy enough to dismiss the Aurora as retro-future fantasy, but if you think about it, it proves to have been quite prophetic. Here in the 21st century, back seat DVD systems and panoramic glass roofs are a luxury selling point, and navigation systems with capabilities unimaginable in 1964 are available straight from the factory in fairly humble cars, or even as pocket-sized units that run off the cigarette lighter and cost under a hundred bucks. Even the conversation pit/cocktail lounge theme reappeared in recent years in Chrysler minivans with second-row swiveling captain's chairs and a fold-out game table.

Ford never quite gave up on that idea, either; in 1969, the Aurora II show car installed the original Aurora's seating arrangements in what was otherwise a dead-stock LTD Country Squire, complete with fake vinyl woodgrain side trim.

This is not your father's car of the future.Sorry; it's just not the same.

It's also interesting to speculate what a production Aurora might have looked like. For reasons of regulatory compliance, Ford would have to replace the nonstandard headlight arrangement with something more conventional, along the lines of the grille and headlights from a Bullet Bird. It would also probably have had conventional steering gear. The street version would go without the pretend navigation system, and some of the more "edgy" details like the light-up side Swank, baby!spear and the chrome "suspenders" on the hood might have fallen victim to production cost concerns. It would also have third-row seats that fold down so the rear end could be used for luggage, and the second row sofa might have been made removable to accomodate the occasional 4x8 sheet of plywood. In base trim, it would be a plausible family hauler; an upmarket version with the mini-fridge might make for a swank airport limo or executive car.

If nothing else, it would have been way cooler than a plain old Country Squire.

It might even be possible to assemble a pseudo-Aurora out of old early-60s Ford body parts, so if any ambitious customizers are reading this, consider yourselves triple-dog-dared.

--Cookie the Dog's Owner

The scanned magazine article comes from highdefforum.com. All other illustrations are old Ford PR images, obtained from the Station Wagon Forums, carstyling.ru, and the Ford Concept Cars site.

twenty-first century

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For a trip into the semi-rareified world of concept/design,it is great. From a marketing standpoint, it shows the consuming public that Ford is thinking about them (for the future) and their ever-present creature comforts.
The third seat facing backwards was a brief feature in a number of GM station wagons and was just OK. At night, the passengers would be facing headlights, which could be very distracting. The lower half of the tailgate was a good feature that allowed long cargoes to be carried (aka the capacity for the 4 X 8 sheeetsof plywood or drywall). I heard a number of observations about the upper half of the tailgate, that when driving with the glass open, a suction could be created that might pull carbon monoxide into the passenger area.

Actually the disappearing "clamshell" tailgate design of the GM B-body (and C-body, Buick Electra and Olds 98) full-size wagons was quite ahead of its time - surely at that time the design added much weight and was at times trouble-prone, but when it worked properly it was quite a nifty idea.

Also the 64-72 Buick and Olds Vista Cruiser A-body wagons (Skylark, Cutlass) with their built-in skylights were an idea a bit ahead of their time as well - not to mention they were just ultra-cool.

We actually have a couple of really cool wagons on the market today, the Cadillac CTS-V wagon (or whatever it's called) for example. Mercedes and BMW also have a couple of interesting ones. The Dodge Magnum SRT8 was certainly a cool idea as well, it's a shame that one didn't stick around very long.

Like numerous car concepts from the 60's, 70's and even the 80's ideas like these were valid and definitely ahead of their time.

Unfortunately, the technology wasn't available to really make them work reliably. Witness the Cadillac V8-6-4 (L62) engine from 1981, or Ford's massively complex 1957 Ford Skyliner Convertible with countless relays and hydraulics. Auto dimming headlights, mirrors, electronic remote radio controls, etc.

Today, these ideas are almost commonplace and pretty reliable. Back then... nightmares.

Besides the transplanted Aurora to Country Squire interior, I believe Ford did recycle the concept once more into a Mercury Parklane wagon for the 1966 Matt Helm movie "The Silencers."

Considering Ford never built the Aurora they sure got a lot of "mileage" out of it...

I want one. I want one tomorrow. I want it exactly like the 1964 version, with LED headlights, EL side spears, clamshell doors, fridge, steering yoke, and polarized roof. I want the thin pillars, wraparound seats, fridge, and a GPS with real chrome and knobs. And I want it made of lightweight materials and powered by an efficient v6 hybrid.

Come on, Ford. Step up to the plate. You built the car of the future: well, it's the future. I want my car now.

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