There are plenty of iconic film cars, from the Back to the Future Delorean to Christine’s ’58 Fury to James Bond’s ever-evolving collection of Aston-Martins. But the only one that made an active commentary on the (then-dismal) state of automotive design was the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s 1983 Vacation.
The car was written into the script as a simple gag: Family patriarch Clark Griswold is bait-and-switched by an unscrupulous car salesman, shafted out of getting the “Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with the Rally Fun Pack” he’d wanted. The alternative had to look unappealing, and the Warner Brothers prop department responsible for creating the car didn’t have to stretch their imaginations to summon up the very worst American automotive styling available in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Thus the color of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster was “Metallic Pea.” The fake wood paneling extended to the hood. It had eight headlights, each side ringed by an obnoxious eight turn signals. In a nod to poor ergonomics, the fuel inlet was located in the hood—on the passenger side. There were faux intake vents located above the rear wheel wells, as if it were a Countach, and a gaudy metallic logo on the cartoonishly-large C-pillar. The beltline ends abruptly at said C-pillar and with a second, higher beltline materializing to connect to the D-pillar. You might not have thought it was possible to make a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon more ugly than it already was, but Warner Brothers pulled it off.
What’s strange is that the fictional Wagon Queen Family Truckster spawned a cult following. It’s got its own Facebook page, there are artist-created die-cast models and Lego versions of it. But even stranger is that a real-life Griswold family—Steve & Lisa Griswold of Georgia and their brood—decided to build a driveable replica to use for real-life family vacations.
“We are the Griswolds, and, yes, we are heading on vacation,” writes Steve. “I have been hearing jokes all my life but love the National Lampoon Vacation movies. So we decided to create our own Griswold Truckster so we can take the kids on some awesome road trips.” The Griswolds started with an only slightly-more-modern LTD Country Squire—this one an ’84—and turned it into this beast:
These real-life Griswolds have documented the intensive process of transforming the car here.