Theme: Film – National Lampoon’s Vacation

Usually cars in films are a background detail. Occasionally they have a more important role.

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For the 1983 cinematographic production “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, a Ford LTD Country Squire was transformed into a Wagon Queen Family Truckster. The production designers could almost have taken a stock car as it was, so grotesque had some American vehicles become by the time the film was in production.

The producers of the hit comedy probably had this kind of thing in mind:

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1974 Ford LTD Country Squire: source

What makes the Vacation car a little different from other movie cars is that it isn’t merely a detail. That makes it more like James Bond´s cars, the Batmobile or Christine in the cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. As always, what is once the subject of criticism can come back into favour. The vinyl-covered estate cars of the 1970’s and 1980’s are now viewed with nostalgic affection, much as Victorian architecture now is. A car like this is highly likely to fetch a good price:

1985 Chevrolet Caprice estate: theatlantic.com

The interesting thing is that the shaky aesthetic judgements that take one to faking wood-panelled estate cars are still with us. The modern equivalent is the use of carbon-fibre effect appliqués both inside and outside cars. And even if real stone is being used, Bentley will offer customers veneer that signals kitchen work surfaces and ceremonial architecture. It is even more semantically inappropriate than the vinyl that at least nodded to a historic use of wood on car bodies.

[Slide show images: Wagon Queen Family Truckster, 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “Theme: Film – National Lampoon’s Vacation”

  1. I despise that unfunny film, both for the ham-handed George Barris customization of the wagon and for the fact that Griswold’s Olds Vista Cruiser trade-in is crushed (off-screen? I can’t remember).

    Ford’s “Panther” wagon was made until 1980, by which time it had long since become a rolling anachronism. My ’89, pictured below if I figured out, has about 85K miles on it and runs wonderfully. But here in California, it’s either ignored or attracts scorn; I imagine it’s only worth scrap value (but I certainly won’t let that happen!).

    I might not have the Di-Noc but I do have the optional vent windows, offered here for the last year on any Ford car.

  2. Since I met with success, here’s the rear. One can see that at the very least, the bumpers discourage tailgaters.

    1. I have no experience of the Caprice so I can’t comment knowledgeably. I do know that the curvaceous last generation (“whales”) has a following, not least because some (along with the similar Buick Roadmaster) are powered by a somewhat-detuned Corvette engine.

      The Fords like mine seem to have no constituency at all, but I don’t mind. Mine must have been one of the few sold in California, because by that time people here had long since turned to imports and/or SUVs. (Ironically, my car was actually built in Canada.) I can honestly say I wouldn’t accept an SUV even as a gift …

      We’re constantly being told by car magazines and blogs that people dislike wagons (to use the term “estate” in this context would seem wrong), and now minivans, because they are reminded of what their parents drove them around in. I don’t understand that logic — am I the only one who had a happy childhood? I bought my wagon in 2012 when my mum was dying and derived comfort from it, as did she (“thats a real luxury car,” quoth she), and I still get a motherly vibe from it.

      Unfortunately I consider it too nice to do most of the schlepping it was originally meant for, and acquired another Ford for that — the first-gen Transit Connect, which I consider a design classic (styled with a straightedge) …

    2. Jonathon. That is a fine looking wagon. Here in London it wouldn’t attract scorn (from me at least) and it certainly wouldn’t be ignored. Too damn big to ignore!

      I’ve never seen the film, nor wished to, since I think I’d agree with your view. I didn’t realise that George Barris did the ‘customising’. I just assumed they got some studio hand to knock something up in a hurry. It’s neither ridiculously baroque nor backyard Mad Max enough to be funny. I wrote a short piece about Barris when he died and I mentioned, though wanting to be reasonably affectionate in tone didn’t emphasise, that he often wasn’t that choosy about what he did, or how well he did it, once he’d discovered Hollywood money.

  3. Thanks, Sean.

    When I lived in London several decades ago, I ran a 2CV, which I found quite large enough. I imagine that with the wagon, I’d have to apply for planning permission in order to park it!

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