CHICKEN WAS A LUXURY in 1900. It was meat for special occasions only. Working-class people ate quail more often than chicken; small, bony, fiddly quail. But because chicken was luxurious, it became profitable to breed chickens and by 1930 chicken farmers were raising 50 gazillion chickens a year.
With increased supply, prices dropped, and now we’ve gone from a twice-a-year delicacy to buying a 44-gallon bucket of chicken bits for five bucks. Chicken isn’t luxurious any more, it’s blue-collar food. And rich people don’t want blue-collar, they want exclusivity. They want scarcity.
So the rich started eating the poor people’s quail, which the poor people weren’t eating anymore because they were all eating the rich people’s chicken. The scarce option became the common option, and the common option became the scarce option.
The same thing happened with vinyl records and CDs. And with digital and analogue watches. It’s going to happen with SUVs.
I read recently about the impending death of the station wagon. “Station Wagon, I have come for thee,” the automotive Grim Reaper has allegedly intoned, reaching out with one bony finger to condemn all big-booty family cars to the parts yard of history. But is he really coming?
Last year, station wagons accounted for just three per cent of all new cars sold worldwide. Two-thirds of those sales were in Europe, and most of those were in just a fistful of countries: Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland; all the big vodka nations. I wonder if anyone has ever studied the link between vodka consumption and station wagons. Maybe they’re just easier to sleep in the back of when you accidentally get plastered on the way home from the bottle shop. Skol!
In the US, station wagons make up barely one per cent of new cars sold. VW America is converting its last Golf Wagon and Golf Alltrack factories in Mexico to produce SUVs and crossovers instead; the Germans have decided that in America the station wagon is effectively extinct.
And as the US goes, so goes Australia - for family hauling, it’s all SUVs, crossovers and monster-sized pick-ups from here on. Right? Well, maybe for the chicken-eating classes. But the wagons that remain are not for the chicken-eaters. They’re for the quail-eaters.
Wagons are not hauling kelpies and footy gear anymore. They’re hauling Italian truffle hounds and polo mallets. Or whatever rich people do for fun now. Probably hunting Centrelink clients in their pinot cellar using solid-gold shotguns and night vision.
So for wagon devotees grieving the coming wagonpocalypse, you can thank the Kardashians for saving the segment. Once the Real Housewives of Whatever start driving something, you can bet the real millionaire wives start looking for something else to be seen in, tout de suite dahling. The old-money bourgeoisie don’t want to be mistaken for the nouveau riche in their identical Rangie. It’s straight into the Alpina Touring instead. They just won’t call it a station wagon anymore. They’ll call it a “shooting brake” or an “estate car”.
And instead of car makers switching to SUVs, you’ll see SUV makers switching to station wagons. You scoff now, but when Range Rover releases an estate car concept you’ll choke on a quail bone in recognition. You may be choking on a quail bone already. Goddamn fiddly quail.
Then the whole cycle will begin again. Socially aspiring chicken-eaters will covet Psalm West’s Avant. Motoring journos years from now will be mourning the impending death of the SUV, as every factory outside the Post-Nuclear Mutant Zone is retooled to make station wagons.
If you want to look rich in 2040, you’ll be driving a station wagon. On your way to pick at some brunchtime quail. And listen to a vinyl record. And play with your Tamagotchi. That’s gonna make a resurgence too. Invest your super accordingly.