The Best Vintage Dad Cars of All Time
They may not have been cool at the time. But, damn, are they now.
There’s an unspoken rule that anything a dad embraces soon becomes uncool. A more succinct way to say this: All fads end with dad. But what was often declared uncool often becomes cool again in hindsight. Ankle socks. Those clear aviator eye glasses. And family cars. We wanted to take a look at the latter, which is why we arrived at this list of our 10 favorite vintage dad cars of all time. Whether you were a child in the 1960s or 2000s, these rides are undoubtedly familiar to you. Maybe you grew up with your dad driving— or with him talking about how he wished he had. Either way, this list of mostly, but not entirely, “not-rods” is, heavy on wagons (cool again), light on minivans (will never be cool sorry), and full of nostalgia.
Now, because wagons, and some previously overlooked vans and sedans of the 1970s and 80s are popular in the collector space, we’ve been careful with our selection across the board. Vintage AMG Mercedes-Benz wagons are beautiful, sure, and will fetch a mint on the collector market. But not a lot of kids got carted to school in them. So this compendium is bent toward quirkier, stranger, and more affordable iron. Also, as our recent safety column indicated, we’re not fans of putting kids in these cars today, even if you lived through the experience, or your dad did. Buy the newest car you can afford for that; get one of these for tooling on the weekends.
1970s Ford Galaxie / LTD Country Squire
Ford, like all American carmakers in the 1970s, sold wagons in massive volumes in the early part of the 1970s, and these were the wagons that late-era Baby Boomer kids and early Gen-Xers came to loathe — perhaps as much as their fathers did. In hindsight, however, they’d be pretty cool to own today, and the website Hagerty
Mid-1970s AMC Pacer
If your dad was cool enough to not drive a wagon in the 1970s and strange enough to think the Pacer was “the future,” you were exposed to all sorts of derision getting picked up after Little League practice in this lime green or bright orange ride. Yeah, and where are all those loser kids today, huh?! (Well, maybe their dream rides will never be the Pacer, and in some ways, they were right all along.)
Neither V-6 nor V-8 versions had enough muscle, and despite the concept’s effort to make a smaller American car feel roomy—with an inverted glass-to-metal ratio of most cars of the time—the Pacer was a sales dud. It was simply ahead of its time, and today, like stablemate Gremlins, Pacers are “back” in vogue among a certain segment of collectors, even though Hagerty rates average value at about $4,500. No, the two-door design was never ideal for getting little kids in and out, and, in the Sunbelt, you might be able to cook food on the vinyl seats in summer, but that’s really not the point. If you’re going to buy a Pacer you’re also going with very wide-lapel suits and cowboy boots—in Manhattan. Blending? You are decidedly
Mid-1990s Buick Roadmaster / Caprice Classic Wagon
Even while Chrysler and Ford had long-since shifted to making minivans, GM wrongheadedly soldiered on with wagons deep into the 1990s. And lord love them for it, because today both the faux-wood-sided Buick Roadmaster and its perhaps even more bulbous twin, the Caprice Classic Wagon, can be found in all their V-8, rear-wheel-drive glory for less than $10,000. Dig for one with the Corvette, LT1 V8: It was detuned for wagon duty, but still gives your boat more giddyup. Note that such a motor, even when these were new, will quickly overwhelm the meek suspension and brakes, so any circa 2019 dad should perform upgrades, stat.
Late 1970s-early-1980s Jeep Wagoneer
If the “wagon” in your family was this awesome predecessor to Jeep Cherokees of today, you were cool way before you knew it. Today, Grand Wagoneers, the more luxe version of the Wagoneer that was sold into the early 1990s, garner a pretty penny — almost $20,000 for mint versions. But the blue collar standard Wagoneer, which still came with venerable straight-six or V-8 engines and 4WD, can be had for well under $10,000. Dig around for one with the Limited package, which was nearly a Grand Wagoneer, featuring “fancy” mod-cons like air-conditioning, leather seats, and electric window controls.
Mid-1990s Chevy Suburban
The Suburban name dates to the mid-1930s, and it’s a stalwart on the American landscape for good reason: it’s always delivered value and toughness. And while older, 1960s-1980s versions are, variously, more collectible, if you don’t have money to throw at keeping carburetors in good tune, buying a less-old edition still delivers strong value from the venerable small block, 5.7-liter V-8, and by 1995 options even included a driver’s side airbag. Search for one with 4WD and you should be able to find a fairly clean edition for under $15,000, and parts are plentiful.
1980 AMC Eagle Wagon
The Eagle came in many forms, but the wagon would undoubtedly have been the version your pops would have owned—especially maybe if you lived in a place frequently coated in snow and ice, like Maine or…Alaska. That’s because they were lifted, and early versions had full-time four-wheel drive. Naturally, many also had fake wood siding, too, because: America! But the real point of these 4.2-liter straight-six beauties was that they could go places only Jeeps and Ford Broncos would go, but they weren’t trucks, they were cars, and had all that capability long before the rest of the nation decided 4WD was shorthand for machismo.
Mid-1980s FJ60 Toyota Land Cruiser Four-door
While FJ Land Cruisers are no longer hidden gems (they’re not hidden at all), the bulk of the speculation has been towards taking older FJ40s and totally reworking them—then selling them for the equivalent of a mortgage down payment on a $1 million home. The more humble, later FJ60 is both more modern and more everyday drivable than the FJ40s, and according to Hagerty are only fetching $14,500 on average, which dovetails with average price
1996 Volvo V70 Wagon
The V70 isn’t as much loved by collectors as the older square-square-shouldered 240s from the 1980s, but don’t forget, they also didn’t offer AWD way back then. And if you hunt for the Cross Country versions of the V70, you’ll be chasing a lifted Volvo wagon that happens to be a lot cooler—and safer—than the older Volvos. Or you could look for one of the V70 R wagons. These hotter models had stiffer suspensions and produced up to 250hp, and if you can find one with the manual gearbox, that’s a super tempting “dad” car. Of course it’s funny today to think of 250hp as being “hot,” but if you’re into a reasonable quick, reasonably comfortable, and quite huge vintage ride, there’s not much to argue with. And
2000 Audi Allroad
The present-day Audi Allroad is a lot less special than the original; it’s neither especially lifted or gifted. But the gen-one Allroads had multiple lift modes via an air-suspension that raised the A6-Avant-based family hauler to do a reasonable imitation of an off-roader, with up to 8.2 inches of ground clearance, and of course, quattro AWD. Also: You can find them with six-speed manuals. The Allroad was an ideal family boat because it could tote 72.3 cubic feet of gear, which, even today, puts many crossovers to shame. Kelley Blue Book prices them cheap, too, at well under $5,000—though buyer beware. Neither the 2.7T nor the 4.2-liter V-8 are painless or cheap to repair, so you want to do your homework on what’s involved. Still, well-maintained Allroads drive like modern, sporty European cars — they’re fast, nimble, and quiet.
2006 Subaru Forester XT Limited
Sure, the all-time Subaru dad car is almost surely an Outback. But the one to chase? The XT version of the Forester with its 2.5-liter flat four pushed to 250hp. Note that these were perfectly good family carters, too, just like the Outback of the same era, with tons of room and a utilitarian, nearly Jeeplike vibe meant for flying through the woods. The good news: They have Subaru’s vaunted all-wheel drive. Bad news: They weren’t given all the goodies from the WRX toy box out of the gate. So better brakes and a stiffer suspension were often necessary add-ons from the aftermarket.