Happy 35th to “Vacation” and the awful Wagon Queen Family Truckster

It was nauseatingly awful, and that made it a star. Thirty-five summers ago, Americans became oddly fascinated with the fictional Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a Metallic Pea-painted, faux wood-paneled, eight-headlight monster of a station wagon that required a strong constitution to look at and a tremendous amount of courage (or total lack of ego) to drive.

The car, a heavily modified 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire wagon done by none other than Kustom Kar King George Barris, was Clark Griswold’s automobile of choice in the hit comedy film National Lampoon’s Vacation, released on July 29, 1983. OK, so the butt-ugly Truckster wasn’t exactly Clark’s car of choice. The lovable buffoon (played by Chevy Chase) actually ordered an Antarctic Blue Super Sports Wagon with CB and optional Rally Fun Pack. But faced with a six-week wait for the car he really wanted, a cross-country family road trip to California’s Walley World set to begin the next morning, and his trade-in wagon already crushed by the dealership, “Sparky” Griswold had little choice.

“This is a damn fine automobile, if you want my honest opinion…,” car salesman Eugene Levy assures him. “You think you hate it now, but wait until you drive it.”

Critics hated the movie, but the Warner Brothers production was an instant hit. The road-trip farce storyline vaulted Chase, director Harold Ramis, and writer John Hughes to new heights, and a string of Vacation movies followed, including the holiday classic Christmas Vacation.

There were reportedly five Wagon Queen Family Trucksters built for filming, each altered (wrecked?) to account for the vehicle’s never-ending string of bad luck. The Griswolds’ Family Truckster survived vandalism, an incredible jump (and breakdown) in the desert, dishonest mechanics, and the untimely deaths of Dinky the dog and dear sweet Aunt Edna, whose body was inconspicuously strapped to the roof before being left on her relatives’ front porch.

Even multiple appearances by flirtatious Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari 308 GTS couldn’t keep the Truckster and its passengers from finally reaching the Holy Grail: the Walley World amusement park. Vacation was Forced Family Fun at its finest, and the Truckster was integral to the hijinks.

National Lampoon's Family Vacation
National Lampoon's Family Vacation Warner Brothers

Mecum offered one of the movie Trucksters at its 2013 Houston auction, but it was a no-sale at $35,000. The wagon later showed up on Hemmings with a $39,900 price tag, and the owner claimed it was acquired from Mecum in 2014. We haven’t seen it since.

Over the years we’ve featured the head-turning Wagon Queen Family Truckster in stories about the top movie cars and best road trip cars, and we even created a video about a home-built Truckster tribute car—complete with a Lou Glutz Motors license plate up front—that we spotted at the Woodward Dream Cruise. But this is the first time we’ve given the Truckster the salute it truly deserves.

Happy 35th Birthday and thanks for the laughs, you ol’ puke green Vacation crap can. You and Sparky were a match made in heaven.

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    Just shows how often movie “critics ” get it wrong. The Family Truckster will always have a fond memory for me !

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