One of the highlights of the original wacky-elderly-realtive-and-pet-death-family-trip movie, National Lampoon’s Vacation, was the car specifically made for the film. That car was a biting and clever commentary on American cars of the early ‘80s. Now there’s a new Vacation movie coming, with a new car. There’s a lot to think about with this new car.
The original 1983 movie’s car, the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, was really a masterpiece of comedy-via-vehicle-design. The car was so influential in the soft, quivering minds of gearheads that people are still building (and racing) replicas of the car to this day.
What made the Family Truckster so great was that it was a perfect send-up of the inane excesses of the worst of the American car industry at the time. It was huge, overdone, way over-ornamented, a lumbering, wood-paneled, gold-crown-badged, eight-headlight dinosaur. It took all of the ridiculous conceits that American car companies were still mired down with and amped them up and slapped them onto one poor Ford LTD. That car maybe said more about how the US car industry needed to change than hundreds of auto journalists’ essays on the subject.
Plus, it was pretty hilarious to watch drive and crash.
In this new movie, set to come out later this year, the idea of creating a car just for the movie has been happily retained, and the car is just as ridiculous, just in a very different way. The car is a 2015 Tartan Prancer, which is described in the trailer as being “The Honda of Albania.”
Here’s star of the movie Ed Helms (playing Rusty, the son from the original movie) tweeting about this sweet ride:
As you can see in the trailer there, the Prancer is a quite modern-looking minivan. It looks to be based on a Toyota Previa, and sports huge Land Rover headlights both front and rear, confusingly.
Based on an initial look at the design, I won’t lie, I kind of like the Prancer. Then again, I’m partial to weird vans, and if there actually was an Albanian-made minivan, I’d be as interested in that as my dog is to a pair of my underpants soaked in A1 sauce.
Genuine interest, of course, isn’t the point of this car. Like it’s Wagon Queen forbearer, this car is built for laughs, and the way they get those laughs I think is very telling about the state of the car industry in America, and our own mentality.
The most obvious thing is that the Tartan Prancer is not American. It’s Albanian, a country not exactly known for it’s auto industry. We’ve moved away from poking fun at ourselves to poking fun at a country who’s never even tried to build a car. Hell, screw building cars — Albanians were forbidden from even owning cars until the 1990s.
So why the change? Well, the good news is that American cars are just a lot harder to make fun of today. The US isn’t building colossal, wallowy land yachts slathered in chrome and wood stickers anymore — the US builds cars that are as well designed and built as almost anything anywhere. And when we do get all crazy-American, it’s the fun kind of nuts, like 707 HP engines in family sedans.
Also, Eastern European cars aren’t really known generally in the US, and the novelty of that can translate as funny. Plus, who’s going to be offended by poor portrayal of Albanians? Almost nobody in the US, so they’re a safe target. And, maybe as we’ve gotten more confident since the tail end of the Malaise Era, we’ve gotten a bit meaner, too? Maybe we’re just less willing to poke fun at ourselves as we are willing to laugh at some backwards-ass central European country that’s never even been involved in the car business?
The Tartan Prancer also appears to be quite technologically advanced, in ways that are over-complciated and absurd, which is always a good path to the funny. Look at this — it has three fill-up ports — one for gas, one for what I think may be diesel, and an electric charger socket. This seems to be a joke about new hybrid, electric, and plug in cars, and visually, it’s pretty funny, I think.
There’s a clip in the trailer that shows an inside control panel, a grid of innumerable, incomprehensible buttons and icons. One swivels the driver’s seat around, which, while played for comic/danger effect, I think could be very cool. If, you know, it had a motion lock-out.
The overall design of the Prancer I think is pretty good — it seems, like the Previa, to be a cabover design, and the entire length of the van seems to be usable space. There’s a rear-view mirror at the rear as well, which I can only guess is to help with the is-it-coming-or-going confusion gags. I think the choice of making it a van is to play on the perceived emasculating qualities of a minivan, and to be the modern equivalent of a station wagon. Personally, I see no shame in a van, but I know what the general perception can be.
Those types of gags would also be supported by the identical headlight units at the rear — that just seems implausible and lazy joke writing. Of course that shit wouldn’t fly. Maybe it’s a commentary on those taillights that are clear/white until they illuminate red? Maybe one of the writers had a real beef with those? I get it. I prefer my taillights to be unashamedly red (and amber).
The logo of the Tartan Prancer is pretty much a dead ringer for the one Eastern European car people in the US might know — the Yugo. Here, look:
Was that intentional? Maybe?
I know I’m not supposed to, but I do like the Tartan Prancer, and with a few modifications, I think I could totally daily one of these fictional vans. I can’t make any predictions about the quality of the movie, but I am curious to see what fictional car-based comedy is in 2015.
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