A 1964 Olds Vista-Cruiser offers expansive overhead views
Station wagons occupy a special place in the hearts and minds of many who grew up with them as their family car. General Motors, like other automakers, was keenly aware of the lucrative market segment in the 1960s, so when the new A-body intermediates were developed for 1964 to replace the smaller Y-bodies, station wagons remained in the program.
Oldsmobile and Buick took the concept a step further by offering their higher-line midsized wagons with the new Vista-Roof (Skyroof at Buick). The feature added a series of tinted windows in a raised top section over the rear seats and cargo area, and evoked the observation windows of certain rail cars and buses.
The new attraction increased headroom and “hatroom” and provided “easier access to the rear compartment,” said Oldsmobile, which christened its special wagon the Vista-Cruiser and released it in February of 1964. Two-seat and forward-facing three-seat variants were offered for $2,938 and $3,072 respectively, in standard form.
Upscale Custom Vista-Cruisers cost $3,146 and $3,270 and came with additional body brightwork and more luxurious Deluxe interior with all-Morocceen or Morocceen-and-pattern-cloth upholstery; foam-padded seat cushions; bright metal front seat moldings; deep-pile carpet; instrument panel pad; Deluxe steering wheel, door and window regulators, and chrome-base armrests with ashtrays for the rear; dual upholstered sun visors for the Vista-Roof; and automatic front-door interior-lamp switches.
A 230-hp, 9:1 compression ratio, regular- fuel, two-barrel version of Oldsmobile’s rugged 330-cu.in. “Jetfire Rocket V-8” was standard. The 10.25:1 high-compression, premium-fuel, four-barrel, 290-hp 330 “Cutlass V-8” was optional.
New for the 1964 model year, the 330-cu.in. engine featured a 3.9375-inch bore and 3.3850-inch stroke. Though it shared the same bore spacing with the larger 394 engine, the 330 was a more modern design that employed thin-wall casting techniques among other advances. Its shorter deck height and additional weight-saving measures resulted in a more compact package that was also about 100 pounds lighter than its big brother, according to published reports.
The three-speed manual transmission was standard and a four-speed manual and two-speed Jetaway automatic were optional, as was an Anti-Spin (limited-slip) rear end.
Oldsmobile’s Guard-Beam perimeter frame with torque boxes was the foundation for a short/long-arm front suspension system with an anti-roll bar, and a four-link rear suspension. Coil springs and shocks resided at both ends, as did 9.5-inch diameter drum brakes (2.5-inch-wide drums front and rear for wagons, other models used 2-inch-wide rear drums) and 7.50-14 tires.
The Vista-Cruiser’s 120-inch wheelbase provided ample rear seat leg room, longer rear doors, and cargo capacity that exceeded 100-cu.ft., including 7.5-cu.ft. of hidden storage under the load floor, with two-seats and 3.5-cu.ft. in three-seaters. All the rear seats folded down to provide a flat floor. The “level opening” tailgate had a retractable window. Overall body length was 208 inches.
Conversely, the lower-cost F-85 station wagon (standard or Deluxe) was 203 inches long, rode on the shorter 115-inch wheelbase of the two-door coupes and convertible and four-door sedans, and had less cargo capacity at 87.8-cu.ft. The Vista-Roof and third seat weren’t offered, and the standard engine was the 155-hp, 225-cu.in. Econ-O-Way V-6 provided by Buick, with the 230-hp and 290-hp Oldsmobile 330 V-8s optional.
Jim Schultz of Chino Valley, Arizona, houses his private collection of 36 Oldsmobiles at his “Rocket Ranch.” Model years range from 1940 to 1989. This Provincial White 1964 Custom Vista-Cruiser two-row station wagon is particularly special to him, as his dad took delivery of a tan Custom three-row version new in April of 1964 and the family traveled in it from Vestal, New York, near Binghamton, to attend the World’s Fair. “I remember being in the back seat and going down the streets of Manhattan and looking straight up at those buildings through the roof of that Vista-Cruiser,” he says. He would take his driver’s test in it before his dad sold it around 1966.
Jim found this 49,000-mile Custom in 1985, after it was traded in to Edward Oldsmobile in Phoenix. It was equipped with the optional 290-hp engine and Jetaway automatic with a 3.08-geared rear end. Additional extra-cost items included power steering and brakes, A/C, pushbutton radio, reversing lamps, rooftop luggage carrier, Deluxe wheel covers, tinted glass, and more.
It served faithfully as a driver until the right rear quarter panel was damaged by an altercation with a minivan in 2004. Since the Olds was too special to sell, Jim decided to restore it in time to make the Oldsmobile Club of America 2005 National Meet. It won First Place in its class, and GM showed interest in acquiring it for its Heritage Collection, but Jim politely declined.
He still owns the Vista-Cruiser today. This isn’t surprising, as they remain a favorite among station wagon enthusiasts, due to their appealing styling, driveability, utility, and, of course, those eye-catching observation windows in the raised roof.
Engine Oldsmobile small-block V-8; cast-iron heads and block
Horsepower 230 (Jetfire Rocket V-8); 290 (Cutlass V-8)
Fuel system Two-barrel carburetor, cast-iron intake manifold (standard); four-barrel carburetor and manifold (optional)
Transmission Three-speed manual (standard); two-speed automatic and four-speed manual (optional)
Brakes Drums (front/rear)
Wheelbase 120 inches
Length 208 inches
Width 74.3 inches
Curb weight 3,781 pounds (Custom, two row)
Production 1,305 (two row); 2,089 (three row); 3,320 (Custom, two row); 7,286 (Custom, three row)