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'Family Truckster' lives, thanks to Wheaton man
Iconic station wagon will reappear in Super Bowl commercial
By Robert Sanchez | Daily Herald Staff

Gary Schneider, above, and his dad, Jerry, spent more than a year creating a replica of the Family Truckster, the station wagon driven by Chevy Chase in the 1983 movie "National Lampoon's Vacation."

 

Courtesy of Gary Schneide

Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo have reprised their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold for a commercial and short film created for HomeAway. The vacation-rental Web site bought the Truckster replica from a Wheaton resident for its advertising campaign.

 

Courtesy of HomeAway

The replica of the Family Truckster from "National Lampoon's Vacation" that HomeAway bought for its national advertising campaign was created by Gary Schneider of Wheaton and his dad, Jerry.

 

Courtesy of HomeAway

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Published: 2/5/2010 12:01 AM

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After a decade of learning how to replicate Hollywood cars, Gary Schneider wanted to do something different.

A perfect copy of the modified Dodge Charger from "The Dukes of Hazzard" sat in his Wheaton garage. But it seemed everyone had a "General Lee."

So Schneider decided to recreate Clark Griswold's iconic station wagon from the 1983 movie "National Lampoon's Vacation."

"I wanted something that was original and that nobody has ever seen," said Schneider, who spent more than a year creating a version of the fictional Wagon Queen Family Truckster.

What Schneider never dreamed was that his handiwork would be seen by about 100 million people as part of a Super Bowl commercial.

Vacation-rental Web site HomeAway, Inc. bought Schneider's Family Truckster and will use it as part of a multimillion dollar national advertising campaign based on the "Vacation" movie.

In a commercial that will be shown during the third quarter of Sunday's Super Bowl, Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo have reprised their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold. The 30-second spot is a mock movie trailer giving a sneak peek of a 15-minute film about the Griswolds' latest misadventures in traveling. The short film will be available to watch at Homeaway.com.

HomeAway founder and CEO Brian Sharples said it took months to get the movie rights and negotiate with the actors. He said getting the replica of the Truckster helped seal the deal with Warner Bros. and Chase.

"I remember when we first started talking to Chevy, his agent called me up and said, 'He can't believe you actually bought the Truckster. He thinks that's great.'"

Schneider's inspiration to remake the Truckster dates back to 2000, when the replica of The General Lee he built was part of a tour for "The Dukes of Hazzard." Schneider met a man in Georgia who worked on the "Vacation" movie.

That man, Don Schisler, gave Schneider one of the only known remaining crown emblems used on the original Trucksters. According Schneider, all the cars used in the film were either destroyed or had their modifications removed.

When he decided to make his Truckster replica, Schneider spent $500 to buy a 1986 Ford LTD station wagon in Kansas City. Then he enlisted the help of his dad, Jerry.

The pair spent more than a year and hundreds of hours adding all the car's over-the-top features, including eight headlights, extra long luggage racks and an excessive amount of fake wood paneling.

"This is the closest to the original you can get," said Sharples, adding that the car even passed muster with Warner Bros.

And when people see the car on the road, they immediately associate it with the movie.

"If you drive around in a brand new Corvette, it's a nice car," Schneider said. "But there's not people trying to get you to stop and hanging out the window taking pictures of it as you go by."

Last June, Schneider, his wife and parents drove the car to North Carolina on a vacation. While the car ran great, they quickly learned it attracts a lot of attention.

"It would take 30 minutes to put gas in it because people would want to take pictures and ask a bunch of questions," he said.

HomeAway officials are hoping to get similar reactions in late spring when they take the Truckster replica on the road to visit popular vacation destinations.

When asked how much HomeAway paid him for the car, Schneider simply said, "They made it worth my while to sell it. Let's just say I doubled my money. I made enough to build two more."

Whether or not Schneider builds another Truckster remains to be seen. Meanwhile, he admits he misses the eye-catching green behemoth.

"It's going to be even worse when summertime gets here," he said. "That's when I loved driving it around. I guess I'll have to go back to The General Lee now."