What is it about station wagons? Remember when these suburban family movers were the last automobiles any real hot-rodder would look at? Well, times have changed and we think for the better. Today wagons are the going deal, if for nothing else than because they represent a breath of fresh air in a hobby that's often noted more for Challengers, Chargers, and other popular musclecars.

One of the slickest wagons we've seen lately is an Antique Buff '63 Belvedere owned by John and Jeannie Smith of Gloucester, Ontario. John has been a Mopar fan since birth; he says his interest began when his parents brought him home from the hospital in a '46 Plymouth. Since then, John has possessed a Grand Coupe convertible (purchased new in 1970), a couple of B-Bodies, a Hemi 'Cuda, a Hemi GTX, and a '63 Max Wedge, which he still owns. But by far, he says, this wagon is the most fun of all the cars he's owned.

The Belvedere was purchased by a friend while attending the Chryslers at Carlisle event in 1995. The friend-the second owner-put the car in storage for eventual restoration. With only 58,000 original miles on the 318-powered automatic beast, John took a shine to the wagon. After a couple of months of pestering his friend, John finally made the purchase.

"The wagon was complete and very original," says John, "having the usual nicks and scratches, and it had one damaged fender, but a pair of spare fenders came with the car. The original engine and transmission worked well, and the interior was mint. Everything on the car worked well-all the lights, the radio, and the rear power window, among other things. Not cherry, but a very clean, original car."

Almost immediately, John set out to give the wagon a refurbishing. He removed all of the trim, which, due to its excellent condition, only needed to be buffed and reinstalled. Afterwards, John trailered the car to the shop of Kevin Blair and Scott Douglas for a bit of bodywork and a new paint job. By January 1996, the wagon was reassembled and ready for the road.

"Two miles from home," recalls John grimly, "on its maiden voyage to a friend's shop for a tune-up prior to a trip to Florida, I hit black ice and spun out. I was hit by a Cavalier and mangled the left front. Within a couple of weeks I was able to acquire a replacement grille, headlight bezel, bumper, and lower valance. Then it was back to Kevin and Scott for repairs."

John successfully sent the Belvedere on its 1,500-mile trip to Florida, but on a trip 150 miles from home the following summer, the 318's rear seal blew.

Back home, John says, "I decided against just replacing the seal and decided instead to install the freshly rebuilt big-block 383 I had sitting in my garage from a previous project. It was quite a simple swap using big-block mounts. Efforts were made to have this swap appear as factory original as possible, but I added an electronic ignition, as this vehicle is meant to be driven."

The engine swap, along with a rebuild of the push-button 727 tranny, was handled by Doug Miller of Fireball Performance. Also assisting in this process was Ray Dupuis. To top things off, John added a set of Torq-Thrust wheels to augment the nostalgic look and to accommodate larger Michelin P195/70 tires up front and P235/60s in back.

"The wagon is used primarily for shows and cruise nights," says John, "and it's a ball to drive. It's the type of car everyone can relate to, and everyone has a relative who had one like it back then."

Maybe that's why the old five-doors are so well received by the hobby today. Maybe it's because in modified trim, these beasts are grocery-getters and head-turners all at once. Or maybe, just maybe, it's because wagons are finally just plain cool.