Originally appeared in Old Cars' April 10, 2014
Story and photos by Al Rogers
High Schooler replicates the ‘Family Truckster’ movie car
Like many teenagers, Corey Toth of Illinois enjoys car shows and cruise nights, and his dream was to someday attend an event in a car of his own. However, it had to be different; it had to stand out from the pack.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Toth said, “I like muscle cars, hot rods, customs, Classics just as much as the next guy, and wouldn’t mind having one of my own, but there are lines upon lines of these types of cars at events. They tend to blend in with the rest. Drive up to these events with something unique and you tend to stand out from the crowd.”
One day, Toth was flipping channels and came across the 1983 comedy film “National Lampoon’s Vacation” starring Chevy Chase, who plays the overly stressed father figure Clark Griswald. Griswald buys the Wagon Queen Family Truckster and plans a family vacation that turns out disastrous. Toth had seen this movie multiple times before, but this time, it got him thinking about the possibilities of having his own Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
Intrigued with the idea, Toth took screen shots of the Truckster from the movie and put together a plan to create his own. The Truckster was based on an early-1980s Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon altered with a custom-made header panel and reduced-size rear side windows, among other modifications. With that knowledge, Toth began to hunt for a base car upon which to build his own.
Toth looked at countless station wagons over two years in search of the right Country Squire. Working with a limited budget, his project vehicle would have to be in decent shape with the correct tan interior. He finally settled on a 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria Country Squire. The Truckster was based on a 1980 model, but the body style was used by Ford Motor Co. from 1979-’91, and there is little difference from Toth’s 1986 and the 1980 used for the movie car. The engine and drivetrain in Toth’s Truckster replica is the factory-installed 1986 302-cid V-8 with fuel injection first installed by Ford Motor Co. during that model year. For his replica, Toth left the factory drivetrain untouched.
Toth purchased the car from the original owner, an 86-year-old woman who no longer drove. The car had just 48,000 gently used miles on the clock. Toth immediately drove his low-mileage find home and began his quest for the correct parts to build a Truckster.
While compiling a parts list, Toth realized a need for extra Crown Victoria parts to accurately replicate the Truckster. A second header panel and second luggage rack, wood paneling trim and a 1980 front bumper were tops on his list. Station wagon parts from this era are hard to find since many wound up in demolition derbies or were left to decay in salvage yards.
Once Toth acquired all the necessary extra parts, fabrication began. As a junior in high school, Toth had never done this type of work before, but thankfully he counts Trevor Coriell among his friends. Coriell is a welder-metal fabricator who specializes in custom-car builds, and also serves as a mentor to young hobbyists such as Toth. During the project, he taught Toth to weld so that additional metal could be added to the station wagon’s side windows.
Next up was the header panel. Toth hand built the header panel by bonding two Crown Victoria header panels with fiberglass cloth. Then he proceeded to add the correct side mirrors, the second set of tail lamps, a handmade luggage rack and the wood paneling.
Toth said adding the wood trim was the most difficult and tedious job. Since the wood paneling trim on the Truckster was excessive, replicating it required trim from four Country Squire station wagons. He simply took the best pieces from each and assembled them to complete the finished panel. The trim on the original Truckster was uniquely positioned for the movie, thus requiring the majority to be trimmed and modified to fit. Toth hand built nearly 60 of the 90-degree trim corner pieces for the wood trim.
Initially, Toth assembled all of the trim to make sure it fit properly and had the correct look, then he removed each part for the body and paint preparation.
Toth had never before done body work, but once his passion and vision kicked in, he turned himself into a self-taught builder. The majority of the Truckster’s bodywork was done by Toth, but a good friend at McBride’s Collision Specialist in Lockport, Ill., applied the pea green paint.
During the build process, Toth met a man who was in the process of building his own Truckster. The individual had been on the set of the movie and owned an original example of the crown emblem used on the Truckster. The man cast a mold from the original and worked out a deal with Toth so he could have one for his own Truckster. Upon further examination, Toth noticed the crown emblem had remnants of the original Truckster’s paint on the back side and he used it to match the correct metallic pea green color when spraying his Truckster.
With building the Truckster, Toth set a goal to build a unique car that looked exactly like the Truckster Clark Griswald picked up from the lot of Lou Glutz Motors, right down to the unique wheel covers. As an added bonus, Toth added period-correct accessories, such as an old Kodak camera, 1983 road map and suitcases for the roof. Griswald may have forgotten Dinky was tied to the back bumper in the film, but Toth remembered to include his dog leash on the back of his replica.
Since his Truckster’s completion, Toth has been surprised by the recognition it receives. He says it’s a blast to drive, and it’s not unusual to see someone hanging out the window with their camera as he drives by. Others honk their horn and wave while passing him, or stop him at a traffic light to ask questions.
The majority of first-time lookers recognize it as the movie Truckster, but Toth gets a kick out of watching the bewildered few who have to look at twice. Of those people, he said most think it’s a Chrysler.
Toth’s Truckster made its “day view” at the Morris Cruise Night in Morris, Ill., where it took best of show from a field of 746 cars, and it continues to draw audiences at each car event. Most people assume a professional built the car and are surprised to discover it was built by a passionate and driven teenager during his junior and senior years of high school.