Welcome to Fraser Fast Facts • Vol. 1, Issue 15
Wagon Queen Family Truckster
Meet the unlikely star of National Lampoon's 1983 movie Vacation.
“You think you hate it now, but wait until you drive it.” - Ruben, the car salesman
Nothing screams Forced Family Fun like the Griswold’s 1983 Ford Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
Drawing a blank? It’s another unsung hero actor, and the awful cross-country transportation for Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and family, in the first of the National Lampoon Vacation movies.
Our star is a metallic avacado-green station wagon, with faux wood paneling, eight headlights, four taillights, a hood-mounted gas tank filler, and a signature airbag made with a trashbag.
Five Wagon Queens were built for the movie, primarily to be wrecked for the vehicle’s never-ending series of mishaps. For the iconic ‘turn off the highway scene’, stunt coordinator Dick Ziker made a bet against other crew members that he would be able to jump the Family Truckster more than 50 feet before crashing into the desert floor. Ziker won the bet.
The Wagon Queen had every tacky design element you could exaggerate past the boundaries of good taste, (including 70%-coverage in faux wood paneling,) which created the world’s greatest, and most unattractive, vacation road-trip vehicle in history. So horrible was the stigma this station wagon created, that after the movie’s release, station wagon sales, on a whole. plummeted, and the vehicles disappeared, unanimously replaced with minivans, as the family favorite.
In the gas station scene where Clark can’t find the gas cap on the rear of the Truckster, (because it’s mounted in the hood,) Chase didn’t mean to throw the plate when he pulled it off. It flew out of his hands, nearly hitting the actress standing behind the adjacent car. Chase’s serious look of concern was genuine.
In the ‘Art Imitates Life’ department, Director Harold Ramis noted the “dog tied to the bumper as the wagon drives off” gag, however morbid, in the movie, was inspired when the film crew actually observed and stopped a family pulling out of a hotel parking spot with their dog still tied to the bumper.
And as for the upright, tarp-covered lump on the roof-rack for part of the movie. Well, that was Aunt Edna. Watch the movie to learn more.
In the 2015 film Vacation (a miserable sequel to the original), the Wagon Queen Family Truckster reappears courtesy of real-life humans Lisa and Steve Griswold, who painstakingly re-created the film-star, to take family trips in, with their two daughters. In July 2014, the actual Griswolds drove across the country, from Atlanta, Georgia, visiting the locations featured in the original film, and ending their journey at the gates of Walley World (Six Flags), in Valencia, California. (Here is their re-construction story.)
COOL Fraser Fast Facts include:
- A meticulous replica just sold for $100,100 at a 2020 Barrett-Jackson Palm Beach auction.
- The movie was based on a short story written by John Hughes, inspired by a road map he was stuck pondering over during a blizzard in Chicago.
- The film cast and crew went on a real road trip, filming in 15 different locations across four states.
- In no other movie could you cast supermodel Christie Brinkley in a red Ferrari 308 GTS, and still have a hideous station wagon cast a full shadow on her.
- Vacation debuted at number one when it was released in the Summer of 1983, muscling out sequels to Jaws and Star Wars—both of which had been out for some time—from the top spot. It was the year’s third highest-grossing comedy, earning $61.4 million.
- While all the shots of Walley World were matte paintings editing into the film, there is a real Wally World, several actually. But the best one is in Liberty, Indiana, which offers go-kart rides and sells power tools. A Clark Griswold dream come true.
- The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon and the Roots parody the Family Truckster cross-country drive in the Wagon Queen. (Here’s the video.)
If you want to trick out a vintage Ford Station Wagon of your own, bolt in a world-class FRASER remanufactured engine and hit the vacation road!
Thinking about building a replica with an american-made engine? Fraser has the right engine ready for you!