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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Griswold's "Vacation" station wagon completes third Hot Rod Power Tour

The Griswold's Wagon Queen Family Truckster, a tribute to the station wagon made famous in the "National Lampoon's Vacation" movie, completed its third Hot Rod Power Tour this year. The car's builder, Eric Wise of Independence, Missouri, was spotted taking a break from the heat inside the modified, green 1985 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon. It's hard to look cool in a replica of inarguably the ugliest vehicle to grace a movie screen. Camera-happy onlookers peppered Wise with questions, giving him little chance to rest inside the back of the distinctive station wagon.
Why ask why?
Building a quality, custom station wagon is no easy task. Wise removed sheet metal from a donor station wagon and welded it to the top edge of rear quarter panels on his Truckster. This created smaller side windows and a place for the snazzy Wagon Queen crown emblem. The movie wagon also had the gasoline filler door in an odd place – on top of the hood! Not to be outdone, Wise crafted a mock gas door on the hood of his wagon and placed the "real" gas door behind a custom-built, swing-out driver's side tail light. The factory gas door was located on the driver's side quarter panel. Wise welded it up and smoothed it out. Leaving no trace. Some guys love challenges to test their skills.

Crown hood ornament, nice woodgrain.

Griswold wagon gets better every year
Wise completed the Truckster in time for the 2008 Hot Rod Power Tour and posted his progress on ls1tech.com. That exposure garnered rave reviews as well as some helpful suggestions. Wise added green wall tires, "honky lips" graffiti and "Dinky's" dog leash now hangs from the rear bumper. To top it off, the correct luggage ensemble rides on top of the super-long luggage rack. "There are three of these wagon replicas in the U.S. that are close to this quality," Wise said proudly. "But, a lot of them don't have this much attention to detail." Power Tour crowds loved Wise's wagon. The spot-on movie car clone was like seeing a Hollywood celebrity in person. 

Ouch! Not Ford powered, a GM 5.3L LS engine is under this Truckster's hood.

What makes it run?
Wise, a true hot rod enthusiast, installed a 5.3L GM LS engine in the Truckster. He's managed to get more power and better gas mileage, 22.4 mpg on the highway, with the updated drivetrain. That fuel economy dropped a bit on the Power Tour. "It's hard to keep your foot out of it when there's so many other people haulin' ass!," Wise said. Despite the modern engine, Wise claims he hasn't spent much money on the wagon. "I don't have that much in it really, it's a $700 car. I sold the 302-V8 and automatic overdrive transmission for $300, and I do all my own work," says Wise.

When 4 headlights won't do, a Truckster has twice the light!

Truckster history
The original Griswold wagon was designed by custom car guru, George Barris for the 1983 "Vacation" film. Barris was famous for creating the original "Batmobile," "Munster Koach," "The General Lee," "KITT" and many other iconic  vehicles for television and movies. Legend has it that the three Trucksters used in filming "Vacation" were destroyed and/or parted out several years ago. Recreations like Wise's keep the movie's memories alive and on the road for all to see.

What's a Wagon Queen Truckster without a crown molded from the original movie emblem?

Why do we like it so much?
Crowds laugh out loud as the Truckster draws attention away from show cars costing ten times as much. Families crowd around it for photos. Everyone wants to get a look at the over-the-top, goofiness and excess of the dare-to-be different Truckster. Viewers knew Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, could be suckered into a bad deal, just like anyone else. He was imperfect, the everyman, who could smile through it all and we could laugh with him and at ourselves. Ride on Griswolds, everywhere.

FYI – In the "Vacation" movie the hubcaps were stolen.

Aunt Edna and Dinky were not harmed during the building of Wise's wagon.

Wise placed a Lou Glutz window sticker in the back seat of his Truckster.
(In the movie Eugene Levy sold the wagon to Chevy Chase at Lou Glutz Motors)

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