Recently I read the reposted CC article on the 1986 Chrysler Lebaron Town and Country. As soon as I saw that wood panelled Lebaron, the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles instantly popped into my head. This movie has long been a family favourite that over the years we ritualistically watch during the holiday season. This movie was written, produced and directed by the late John Hughes. Along with this movie, Hughes had a hand in many great 1980’s comedies. He seemed to have a knack at writing comedies that were hilarious, while still being family friendly and generally having an underlying positive message.
John Candy, John Hughes and Steve Martin
I am not sure if John Hughes was any sort of car enthusiast, but I can say that he certainly had a talent for selected remarkable vehicles, which often times became characters themselves. Along with the aforementioned Chrysler, Hughes has had many other memorable movie cars to go along with his memorable movies. So let’s take a trip back to the 1980’s to look at some of my favourite John Hughes’ movies and the curbside classics he used.
Since I already mentioned Planes, Trains and Automobiles, we’ll start with this movie, which is also my all-time-favourite Hughes movie. The movie was released in 1987. It starred Steve Martin as Neal Page, a successful but somewhat uptight suburban family man, and John Candy as Del Griffith, a struggling but optimistic shower curtain ring salesman who can be annoying but has a heart of gold. The two strangers cross paths as they both attempt to travel from New York City to Chicago to make it home for Thanksgiving. A major snow storm causes their plane to be diverted to Wichita, Kansas and the two characters team up to make it back home, using any and all methods of transportation.
For the latter half of the movie, they rent a car, and end up with a 1986 Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country convertible. Of course like the characters in the movie, the car undergoes number calamities that are both funny and tragic. This includes a malfunctioning power seat recliner, getting sandwiched between two transport trucks and nearly burning to the ground. Despite all this damage, like the characters in the movie, the car perseveres and continues on.
The car itself is a caricature of all that was wrong with Detroit automobiles. In fact, the car suffers so badly and comes off as such a bad vehicle, all Chrysler name plates were removed from the car. Instead the car is called a “Gran Detroit Farm and Country”. It’s clearly out of date and tacky, with its wood grained sides, its oversized wobbly fake wire wheel covers, and its big hood ornament. While the woodgrain appears to be the factory installed work, the pea-green paint is a non-factory colour and the tail lights are from a Dodge 600.
“They’ll be able to buff this out.”
At least the characters lucked out in that they got the 2.2L Turbo engine, which pumped out a healthy (for the era) 146 net hp. With only about 2700 lbs to haul around, the car would have decent performance. That’s probably part of the reason why when the characters are only a few hours from home, the clapped out Mopar gets clocked at 78 MPH by the police. This ultimately is the end of the road for the car, when it gets impounded for being an unsafe vehicle.
While the pea green wood grained Lebaron was definitely one of the more memorable John Hughes cars, it wasn’t the first time this colour combination was used. In fact, many would argue that poor Mopar was a tribute to Hughes earlier move, National Lampoon’s Vacation, released in 1983. This was one of John Hughes earlier works and the first in the series of the adventures with the Griswold family. Chevy Chase plays Clarke Griswold who decides to take the proverbial cross-country family vacation to the fictitious amusement park, Wally World. But first, he has to go pick up his brand new fuel-efficient Antarctic Blue Super Sports wagon and trade in the old gas guzzling ’70 Olds Vista Cruiser. However, the slick salesman ends up railroading Clarke into exactly what he didn’t want, another big gas guzzling wagon, the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
This fictitious car show how the big out of date American station wagons were anything but cool in 1983. The car itself is a modified 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon. Who modified the car doesn’t seem to be clear; some sources say George Barris, while others say it was done by Warner brother’s studio. Who knows, maybe because it was so hideous, nobody wanted the credit? The modifications include the pea green paint, the over the top wood grain panelling (including the top of the hood), the twin sets of headlights with lowered bumper and custom grille, the modified rear side windows and the extra set of tail light lenses.
The big wagon suffers a few misfortunes as the Griswold’s travel cross-country, but it does eventually get them to Wally World. Let’s hope the old car at least had the 138 hp 351W instead of the 129 hp 302. This movie always hit home for me personally, as growing up we had a full-size family wagon that did several “memorable” cross-country trips. Our family trip we took down to Oklahoma City one year during March break was definitely one and it had a few similarities to the Griswold trip.
The replica Wagon Queen Family Truckster owned by the real Griswolds
Interestingly, there is a real Griswold family who actually made a replica Family Truckster out of a 1984 Country Squire and have used it for family vacations. At least by 1984, these cars had CFI fuel injection, which increased the 302’s output to 140 hp, rather than the previously used variable venturi carburetor. You can read about the replica here.
John Hughes with the main cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
John Hughes was well-known for his teenaged and coming of age movies, such as the Breakfast club, Sixteen Candles and Weird Science. However, my favourite that fell into this genre was the cult classic Ferris Bueller’s Day off. The movie stars Mathew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, who is a spoiled upper middle class teenager, but is quite clever and charming. Ferris comes up with an elaborate ruse to take the day off school accompanied by his best friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloan Peterson (Mia Sara).
Unfortunately, our well off protagonist laments about not having any wheels for his adventure. However, his best friend Cameron does, a 1978 Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan. And while it’s probably not a bad car for some teenagers to be cruising around in, Ferris has bigger plans. Cameron’s father owns a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California. With a little arm twisting, Ferris convinces Cameron to take the Ferrari.
The Ferrari gets used to transport the main characters to downtown Chicago where much of their adventures occurs. It’s here where the sleazy garage operators “borrow” the Ferrari for joy ride, which includes it becoming airborne. Eventually the car is returned home, and it’s realized they put a ton of mileage onto the car.
Their plan to roll back the odometer by running it in reverse doesn’t work. And this results in Cameron losing his cool, and literally kicking the crap out of the car. For him the car represents his father’s misplace priorities in life, a man who loves his car more than his son. Ultimately the care falls off the jack and is destroyed when it launches out the back window of the garage.
A Ferrari 250 GT California SWB is one of the more valuable Ferrari’s , with the record sale price being just under $11 million in 2008. Even in 1986, these cars were highly valuable, and the car used in the movie is actually a replica made by a small company called Modena design that was run by Mark Goyette and Neil Glassmoyer. The story goes that John Hughes originally specified a “Mercedes AMG” in the original script. Later, he came across a copy of Car and Driver that tested the Modena Ferrari Replica and he was instantly smitten. He made arrangements for the company to bring a car for examination, and decided instantly it was the car for the movie once he laid eyes on it.
Modena was giving four weeks to produce three cars. Two were “hero cars” that were used for the close-up action shots and one was a rolling chassis later used for the destruction scene. The cars themselves had fibreglass bodies and a rigid square tube chassis designed by Indy car maker Bob Webb (some sources say it was based on MG chassis). While the original Ferrari was powered by a glorious 3.0L V12, the replica’s used a Ford 289 V8. Hughes claims that a real Ferrari 250 GT California was used for some of the close up detail shots.
The restored Modena Ferrari 250 GT California Replica
One of the three cars used in the movie has survived until today. It has been since fully restored and included upgrading the 289 to a 351W stroked to 427 cubic inches. The claim is that the new engine pumps out 500 hp and the 2620 lb car outran a Dodge Viper. It sold at Mecum auctions for $235,000. Here is the listing with the full details on the car.
The last John Hughes movie car I felt deserving of being mentioned is probably closest to be an actual Curbside Classic. Well, at the very least it’s in the same league as PN’s first CC, the 1972 Cadillac.
The movie in question is Uncle Buck, and yet another John Hughes comedy with John Candy. In the movie, Cindy and Bod Russell have three children and are a typical middle class suburban family. A family crisis occurs where and they need someone to look after their three kids. The only person capable of coming on short notice is Bob’s bachelor brother Buck Russell, played by John Candy.
Buck is unreliable, can’t hold a job, he smokes, he drinks, he gambles, he’s a slob and is generally the total opposite of his seemingly successful brother. While Buck is able to charm his 6 year old niece and his 8 year old nephew he has a hard time with his rebellious 15 year old niece, Tia. In the end, although Buck seemingly has it out to embarrass his niece in every way possible, he eventually wins her over she sees he has her best interests at heart.
And what pray-tell does Uncle Buck pilot? A slob of a car that smokes, drinks copious amounts of gas, and like Buck is a relic from a the past. That car is a beat-up 1977 Mercury Marquis coupe. Some sources claim it’s a 1975; nevertheless it’s a 1975-78 Merc which were all pretty well the same anyway. It didn’t quite make PN’s longest coupe list, but at 229” it’s a contender. Although this particular example is only about 12 years old in the movie, it’s heavily rusted, the interior is falling apart, the car wallows almost uncontrollably on the highway and of course it smokes like a chimney. To top it off, every time the car is shut off it backfires. This Merc was a big part to poor teenaged Tia’s embarrassment by her well-meaning uncle.
The big Merc is quite the extension of John Candy’s character and was perfectly cast for the role. While this old tank of a Merc is not a car I’d ever have any interest in owning, it does remind me a of a time in my past when these big 70’s barges frequented the streets as beaters. While they often were thought of as a dinosaur from another time, many people that I knew of limited means were transported reliable and relatively cheaply by these olds beasts for many years. There is something about an beater; they just have more character than a new car.
While that cover’s off John Hughes’s more prominent vehicle characters, I will finish of this article by noting that Hughes seemed to be quite fond of wood grained vehicles. So here is a collection of some of his other movies and the woodies he cast.
Mr. Mom – 1983 Ford Country Squire
Home Alone – Buick Estate Wagon
Beethoven – 1983 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser
Christmas Vacation – 1989 Ford Taurus (woodgrain applied for the movie)
Great Outdoors – Jeep Grand Wagoneer
National Lampoon’s Vacation -1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser
Ferris Bueller – 1985 Chrysler Town and Country
Great article. Stirred up a lot of dusty memories, as I saw all of these films as a kid and teenager.
Awkward confession: In ’84, in another country, I didn’t realise the wagon in the original Vacation was a mock-up. I just thought it was a rather ugly American thing. Which must say something about the state of US styling in that era.
An outsider position that has not changed is my reaction to your description of the films being “hilarious” but “family friendly”. The latter is undoubtedly true, but the first – I always found them saccharine and the humour very intermittent. A true cultural difference from a small country that has absorbed a great swathe of American culture but whose idea of humour remains quite distinct, very dry and acerbic in comparison. More savage, some might say. I hasten to add that these films did well here, but more as genre pieces than hilarious ones.
I wonder if the forests of woodgrain that you’ve pointed out possibly had meaning for Hughes. It is associated with wagons, families; perhaps conservatism (meant unpolitically), everydayness, as befits his themes?
Only on CC could I end up pondering such stuff! Love it.
I grew up in the US, and the first time I saw Vacation as a kid I too thought the Family Truckster was a real car. For years I wondered what kind of car it was (I apparently missed the fact that they called it a “Wagon Queen Family Truckster” at the beginning), having never seen a car like that in person before and that being the days before the internet. I think at the time I was just too young to realize that it was possible to build a custom car just for a movie, so I assumed it had to be a real car.
Uncle Buck and Home Alone I enjoyed but I never cared for the Vacation films and I loathed Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller. The others I haven’t seen except for Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Long my mother’s favourite film, I finally watched it last year and was surprisingly disappointed, even though I’m a Steve Martin fan. My mother’s favourite scene is when they get pulled over in the Town & Country.
Oh, thank god! The whole Ferris Bueller cult passed over me too. I just saw a narcissist (teenage, I get it) but I also saw a bully, which I don’t think was intended.
Plane Trains and Automobiles is typical of Hughes to me, very intermittently funny. What I didn’t say above was that some of the intermittent funnies could be very bloody funny indeed; my favourite is where the Steve Martin character finally loses it with Candy’s, and amongst other things, says something like “..and when you tell a story, have a point to it. People like that.” A line I still use.
The exact line was, “By the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories. Here’s a good idea, have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener!”
Probably one of those lines or speeches form a comedy movie that just worms its way into every day use for you. For me, one of those was the “I award you no points” speech from Billy Madison which I’ve pretty much memorized line for line. Amazing how out of all the memorable lines spoken, the ones you use in day to day vernacular tend to be from comedies. Or at least, that’s just the trend I notice among my friends, since if we quote something in normal conversations, 95% of the time its from something comedic in tone.
Of course, there is an idea of what works better, intermittent comedy or continuous comedy. I guess it all depends on what movie and style you’re going for. Some of my favorite comedies are Intermittent style and some of my favorites are Continuous style. Certainly a case can be made for both, and I think Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is one of the best Intermittent style comedies there is, at least for me.
I knew someone would know the line accurately! I’ll try and worm in the proper version now.
As I mention below, try the film Say Anything by director Cameron Crowe (circa ’89), to me a John Hughes film without saccharine. I’d be quite curious as to what you think.
Intermittent comedies make for better movies frankly, they tend to be more relatable because the situations aren’t so surreal. The jokes in planes trains and automobiles may be spaced out but they ALL land and are actually relatable and memorable to the viewer. I hate to use the awful term “dramedy” but that’s kind of where John Hughes movies tend to be.
Continuous comedy movies with joke after joke after joke are usually awful. Only a few peter sellers Pink Panther movies(a shot in the dark and return of the pink panther specifically), Monty Python movies and a few Mel Brooks movies can have me laughing all the way through. Sit me in front of a newer Adam Sandler movie or the hangover movies though and it’s like throwing punchline darts. It takes better writing, timing and acting to pull this kind of comedy off.
I loved the Ferris Bueller character. Of course I also thought Leave It To Beaver’s Eddie Haskell was one of the greatest TV characters of all time.
Sad as well, as actors such as Chevy Chase were capable of so much more.
Equally sad that some view these ’80s insults-on-wheels as classics, or even worth mention.
Perhaps I take Curbside “Classics” too literally.
I’ve always had the feeling that Hughes went for the wood grained cars because of the tackiness they projected. By the late 80’s, wood grained cars were definitely the height of uncool.
Justification? Look at the car Molly Ringwald is delivered to Saturday detention in The Breakfast Club. A high end BMW (can’t remember if it was a 7 or 8-series.)
We also must not forget the Saab 9000 driven by Clark Griswald’s uptight yuppie neighbors (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Nicholas Guest) in Christmas Vacation.
Somehow I feel like a BMW would have been more fitting, given their snobby nature.
RE: “The Breakfast Club”, Ally Sheedy (Allison) is delivered in a 2nd Generation Cadillac Seville, Cooler character, more interesting car. IMHO ?
Probably the John Hughes movie I most associated with was Uncle Buck. I’ve never owned a car quite as decrepit as Buck’s Mercury, but I’ve often wondered if my nieces and nephews look at me as their version of Uncle Buck.
For the 1st year or two of U. S. production of the Ford Escort it was available with a “Squire” like package (would like to find one with a manual transmission…a true unicorn) and I often thought a similar Woody Focus wagon would have been interesting. Never saw Christmas Vacation, but I actually like that Woody Taurus.
Someone did do an aftermarket woodgrain package for the Focus wagon.
I rather like this! Wonder how that wood would look on my silver grey ’07 Focus wagon?
My fave John Hughes car (Vista Cruiser notwithstanding)…
Nice piece Vince
I agree with you. I also didn’t like when Ferris referred to Cameron’s Alfa Romeo Sport Sedan as a p.o.s. but I completely understood when Cameron got mad when it wouldn’t start.
Hells yeah. Great Alfa!
Had a coupe version. Drove amazing.
50/50 weight distribution with the rear DeDion trans-axle.
High time someone finally got around to this.
I just watched Ferris Bueller the other day for the first time in perhaps a decade, and loved it. My favorite car in the film is Mr. Rooney’s baby blue Plymouth K-car. What a perfect choice for the buttoned down, hapless dipshit that Rooney is.
One of the things that bothers me about modern period-piece movies set in the ’80s is the lack of Chrysler K-cars.
I’ll bet even even big movie studios with plenty of resources would have trouble finding a K-car in any kind of reasonable shape these days.
Maybe they could CGI one?
Why not? They seem to cgi EVERYTHING else.
As a Euro kid born in ’86, K-cars were only “those awkward-looking small cars in 10+ year old American films” to me (although sometimes seen near the since-closed US base).
Which makes the absence of the things in Stranger Things quite notable –
moreso than an early 80s BMW 7-series being included. Great series though.
While we’re at it, how about this one? Jake Ryan’s red Porsche 944 from Sixteen Candles.
This was very enjoyable to read. And somehow, I’ve never seen Uncle Buck — so I’ll have to add that one to my rainy-day-things-to-do list. That Mercury Marquis really seems like an embodiment of John Candy.
As many times as I’ve seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles, I didn’t remember that the Town & Country was renamed the Gran Detroit Farm and Country. Very clever.
Great way to start the week!
I also didn’t notice!
Excellent article, thank you. These are classic well crafted movies and the car-casting is perfect. It’s hard to believe the Town & Country, so thoroughly ridiculed in the film was a current model when filmed.
As for Uncle Buck’s car, I own a 77 Mercury Marquis and, even though it’s blue, a couple of people have made the Uncle Buck reference. Had it been brown, like the movie car, I wouldn’t have bought it.
Mike, you’ve mentioned your Marquis a few times. You should post some pictures, I’d love to see it. I actually saw one today for sale on the side of the highway, a white one with skirts. It looked like a nice solid original car.
A great walk through many movies I have seen, but none recently. I will have to re-watch some of these. They will surely be a completely different experience some 30+ years removed from the 80s. But somehow I have missed Vacation.
Uncle Buck is my favorite John Candy movie of them all, and that old Mercury was perfection in car casting.
Enjoyable read! I’m a fan of most of John Huges’ works, and many of his films are among my favorites.
Speaking of woodgrained wagons, there was also the M-body LeBaron Town & Country driven by Molly Ringwald’s mother in Sixteen Candles.
My favorite Hughes car is the Volvo PV544 (I think) that Kevin Bacon drives in “She’s Having a Baby”. Not a really great film but good car choice.
**Edit, nah, that’s not the right movie…**
Hard to believe that it’s 30 years since Planes Trains and Automobiles….
Has anyone ever noticed in National Lampoon’s vacation that Clark Griswold drove to the dealership a 1970 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser in trade for the Family Truckster but after refusing delivery of the new car got back a crushed 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser?
What about Gary’s 928?
“Who the hell is this ‘Gary’ character?”
Ferris’s clueless father’s Audi 5000 – truly the Buick of the 80’s.
Every time I see a Lincoln Navigator I wonder if the tail light design was inspired by the Wagon Queen Family Truckster.
With all the remakes, sequels,prequels, franchises, tv into films, CGI , and way, way,WAY too many superhero films, the films of John Hughes look better and better every time you watch one. Hughes really captured the essence of middle class America and family life like no other director-even early Speilberg could.
Back in the day I had the biggest crush on Molly Ringwald. She was perfect! In “Pretty in Pink” she had the perfect car, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I’m not sure if it was very realistic for a teenage girl to be driving around in a late ’50s Karmann Ghia in the 1980s or not, but the car was an excellent choice for her demonstrating class and a definite Bohemian streak in the character she played.
Great piece Vince! If anyone’s interested, the original Vacation movie was based off this Hughes short story:
Minor point of correction: the woody Taurus was from Vegas Vacation, IIRC.
The Griswold Family Christmas Tree being driven home, via the Taurus Woody.
Ah, OK, I stand corrected, thanks!
For those who thought that the ‘Wagon Queen Family Truckster’ was a real car, well, the original version was (of sorts): Plymouth Fury Sport Suburban Six.
I loved all these movies. Hughes certainly had the magic touch, didn’t he?
I beg to differ, I’d love to have Uncle Buck’s Merc. The last of it’s kind. I even have a place to park it now.
As I commented in the thread about the Le Baron Town and Country, I had heard that the car in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was painted pea green as a tribute to the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from Vacation. So I assumed that the wood paneling was added for the same reason. But apparently I was wrong, and Chrysler actually offered the car with that ridiculous amount of fake wood.
And regarding John Hughes movies being family friendly, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles actually had an R rating. Supposedly the only reason it got that rating was because of the number of f-bombs Neal drops in the car rental scene:
“Car Rental Agent: How may I help you?
Neal: You can start by wiping that f—ing dumb-ass smile off your rosey, f—ing, cheeks! And you can give me a f—ing automobile: a f—ing Datsun, a f—ing Toyota, a f—ing Mustang, a f—ing Buick! Four f—ing wheels and a seat!”
That scene had the only cursing in the entire movie. Had the toned it down they probably could have gotten a PG rating, but they left it in, and it’s probably the funniest scene in the movie.
Oh, and that dirty Peterbilt in the shot of the woody Taurus totally reminds me of the truck from Spielberg’s Duel. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was intentional as well. I haven’t seen Christmas Vacation in ages, so I have know idea if there are other Duel references in that scene as well.
“Car Rental Agent: How may I help you?
Neal: You can start by wiping that f—ing dumb-ass smile off your rosey, f—ing, cheeks! And you can give me a f—ing automobile: a f—ing Datsun, a f—ing Toyota, a f—ing Mustang, a f—ing Buick! Four f—ing wheels and a seat!”
Funny scene. I recall the actress playing the Rental Agent was best known as Cordoba-driving Herb Tarleck’s wife from “WKRP -in Cincinatti”.
Her final reply, after taking 10 minutes of Neal’s abuse was “You’re f-ed”.
Definitely my favourite scene in the movie.
Wasn’t that actress Edie McClurg? She stole every scene she was ever in. Loved her as the secretary in “Bueller”. (“They all think he’s a righteous dooood!”)
Yup, it was Edie McClurg for both movies. That rental car scene was always a favourite in our household.
Maybe my favourite too, largely BECAUSE of the language! Mind you, it works because the tirade is isolated in an otherwise “clean” movie, I suppose.
That and the scene where they wake up cuddled in bed with Candy (or Martin?) saying they have their hand “between two pillows” Pause. “Those aren’t pillows!”
If you’ve ever watched that scene censored for TV you quickly realize how well the foul language worked in that scene.
Great articles about a great Director .
Wagon Queen Family Truckster is the greatest!! I didn’t realize that the T&C Convertible in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was a homage tot he WQFT… but seeing them together (including that metallic pea paint) it is very clear.
This is on my desk at work. 🙂
Excellent ! .
I had no idea anyone made models of the Wagon Queen Family Truckster…..
I believe this is either Auto World or probably Greenlight.
Which reminds me…is the gentleman that reviewed miniatures still writing articles here?
I think John Hughes was a masterful director, and his strength was taking middle- and upper-middle class values and skewering them, sometimes subtly, sometimes not. I think he was very careful and thoughtful with his car casting. However, from what I’ve gathered, I don’t think he was actually a “car guy,” but rather very much attuned to the statements cars make about their owners/drivers. Given that so many of his movies were set in suburban Chicago (where he lived), he could see first hand the sorts of cars different “types” of people would have and then he set about spoofing them. On the North Shore of Chicago in the 1980s, I think it was very typical to have mom in a late model domestic wagon and dad in an import, preferably German high-end. It was just “what you drove” at the time–the suburban moms didn’t likely care that much about their family hauler except that it needed to be “nice” and “not cheap,” while dad likely had no idea what his German car could actually do, but it was expensive and considered cool, so therefore that’s what he bought. Today, these same folks are still abundant on the North Shore, only now the wagons are SUVs (Audi, Acura, Escalade/Suburban/Denali, Explorer) and while BMW and Mercedes-Benz still thrive, the new ultra-a**hole status symbol is the Tesla, driven by people who absolutely don’t give a s**t about the environment but love virtue signaling. Were Hughes alive and making movies today, I think he would have a blast lambasting these people by creating a plug-in “Silicon Sultan EV2050 Blue Earth Ludicrous Edition.” Oh wait, that’s right, there already is a Ludicrous Mode for a certain car….
Of late, he’s been compared with Preston Sturges and Frank Capra – all comedy directors with the slightest edge of grit in their stories.
Hughes was in advertising before he got into films, so would most certainly have been aware of the value and positioning of brands – cars or otherwise.
Personally, I’m damned if I can see a master, but there are plenty of proper film people who agree with you. I do agree that he was a careful filmaker, so it’s doubtful any car placement was accidental.
As for slight edge of grit, I prefer mine to leave cuts. Give me Billy Wilder, any time. Or, say, whoever wrote/directed something like the original Bad News Bears in ’76, from that brief decade when America simultaneously produced her worst cars, and, freed of censorship, some of her best films, before blockbusters and financial safety took over.
Billy Wilder is definitely more my flavour. If you can ever find it, there’s a book called ‘Conversations With Wilder’ by Cameron Crowe which is an absolute hoot to read. Billy spares no-one, loves his own oeuvre (justifiably) and gives great anecdote after great anecdote.
Oh, now that I will definitely look out for. Cameron Crowe made Say Anything, a delightful little film, which for me personally was like a John Hughes film made right. Bittersweet, realistic-feeling, drily funny, characterful.
Well, its certainly interesting to read. I’ve seen plenty of John Hughes films, and I’ve liked most of the ones I’ve seen. For the past couple of years, one of my traditions is during December is my dad and I watch Christmas Vacation. It’s still funny every time I see it, and I think it might be better than the first Vacation movie. So is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I honestly feel like his whole teen films are just okay, I like the Breakfast Club, but I don’t consider it the most classic teen film ever and Ferris Bueller is just okay. I haven’t seen Uncle Buck and its been ages since I saw the first Home Alone, so I have to take time to watch those. Certainly, the man had a love for his wood paneled wagons, I have a t shirt of the famous image of the uprooted Christmas tree on the Griswold’s Ford Taurus.
Although, looking at this, it just reminds me of how much I miss John Candy. He went far too early and I would’ve loved to have seen him in more movies during the 90s, certainly a talent that just can’t be replicated.
(Yeah I know I didn’t talk much about cars, but any time someone brings up movies or TV, I always can’t resist talking about them. In middle school I actually wanted to be a film critic and I kept reading Roger Ebert’s reviews until he passed, so I love discussing Film, television, and video games in anyway.)
It might be a generational thing that you don’t relate to the teen movies as much. A lot of the themes are very Gen X oriented (i.e. cynicism, skepticism, Gen X malaise, latch key kids, distrust of clueless parents/adults/authority, etc). Being a Xenial (borderline X/Millenial), I related to these movies/characters a lot, but I wonder how well some of them have dated with time. Some of the teens’ attitudes/values are always going to hold up, but characters like Bender or Jeannie (Ferris’ sister) just scream “Gen X” to me. None of this is to say that Millennials or Boomers can’t relate to John Hughes’ archetypes – just that they reflect the values and attitudes of the times (inasmuch as the cars!)
Yep, totally generational. As someone born on the previous cusp of Boomer and X (1962), Hughes films about teens worked for me, but I was already older and wiser (hopefully). Gen X was all about angst. Loss of innocence, but not much gained in the process. Seeing that people said one thing, but did just the opposite, and never saw the hypocrisy. Kids with every financial advantage, but parents that were not really involved in their upbringing otherwise. Thus, you end up with a bunch of kids that ended up figuring out things on their own terms, and a lot of unresolved anger issues kept inside.
+1 on John Candy. Do yourself a favor and find SCTV clips on YouTube one night, he was a beast of a comedic actor! (that whole show and cast was an overlooked gem actually).
I didn’t really care for any of the John Hughes “teen” movies. I liked all of the John Candy ones but even Uncle Buck has too much teen angst bs. Ferris Bueller I enjoyed though, it’s more silly than the other ones, and as a class skipping bad student from a Chicago suburb myself that movie is an enjoyable fantasy that transcends generations.
Nice write up
I don’t find the fake wood on the Taurus to be that bad looking, the thing that makes it look odd/awkward is the missing roof racks. I know that the roof racks were an option for the first years of the Taurus and then they just became standard but most of the Taurus wagons I saw growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s had them and the ones that did not looked odd.
I’ve always thought that John Hughes must’ve been a real car guy – and for me, the biggest proof of that was the parking lot of the Braidwood Inn, the Wichita hotel that Del and Neal spend a night at in Planes, Trains & Automobiles. That scene – talk about a sight for sore CCers’ eyes. What I remember most of all is a “morning after” aerial shot of the lot (the main characters arrive at the hotel the night prior), which clearly shows it to be filled with one of the most impressive collections of clapped-out, rust-infested Midwestern beaters possibly ever assembled for the silver screen. The attention to detail here is amazing, and it’s also exactly right for the film. The hotel, the location and of course the whole situation are meant to be depressing – and the cars here truly seal the deal. And what’s always been most impressive to me is that every car shown appears to be the genuine article – these are true, authentic, pray-this-thing-gets-me-through-another-winter wrecks – not your typical Hollywood-ized versions of what a beater vehicle is, which more often than not just means some late-model car with a dent hammered into the fender and dirt smeared over the paint and chrome. Every car guy sees through that stuff in a heartbeat. I’m convinced Hughes did too, and he would never have abided such sloppiness in his own work.
The only shot from the movie I could find online is this one, from the night of the guys’ arrival at the hotel. What you see here is just a small sampling of what’s shown in the wider daytime shot (as I recall), but this at least gives you a taste – check it out: that is REAL rot on the Caddy in the foreground, and that Colonnade wagon behind it, well it sure doesn’t look much better. Malaise-era magic, and even the darkness can’t hide all that beige and brown. Absolutely perfect. And of course, the whacked-out ’68 Pontiac taxicab (seen approaching in this photo) that the boys pull up in isn’t at all out of place in this environment, either.
Maybe Hughes just had a really good prop guy. Whoever it was, they did an amazing job when it came to the cars — not only in Planes, Trains & Automobiles but in pretty much every John Hughes movie ever made.
I liked Rudy’s Taxiola too ! .
For a certain element this movie was close to a documentary….
I remember that scene you describe, it certainly was a long way from the leafy well to do suburbs that often featured in John Hughes films
I’ve been to the actual hotel too, It’s currently called the Sun Motel directly off i55, and it’s every bit as run down and seedy as it’s presented in the movie, even 30 years later.
I always noticed how authentic the cars in that parking lot looked. I also thought that the ’68 Pontiac Taxi and the old beat up ’69 Chev truck were well cast. I was actually going to mention some of these cars in the article, but my short article had already grown prettty long.
Here are a few of other shots from the parking lot:
Here’s the Chev Truck and the other side of the parking lot.
Now that’s the kind of geniune rust I remember on these 1970’s cars. When’s the last time you saw a pickup with a slide in camper and the spare on the front?
I love this stuff, you can’t make it up =8-) .
People occasionally ask me why I never plan to move back East again, this is why .
Haha. My guess is they just went around town and offered to rent people’s cars for a couple days. Those beaters are probably as authentic as you can get.
Wow. The Braidwood Inn parking lot is even better than I remembered it – I really do need to make a point of watching this movie again. Thanks for finding and posting these photos (and for putting together such a great article, as well).
It occurs to me that the Braidwood lot could make for a fascinating CC article all on its own. (Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?) There’s just so much here to study and discuss. Look closely at the driver’s door of that Cadillac, for example – the bottom of it appears to be sticking out way further than the rest of the bodywork, which means it’s probably so rust-addled that the panel itself has separated from the substructure of the door, and may literally be flapping in the breeze as the car goes down the road. Anybody who’s spent time in the Rustbelt in the ’70s or ‘80s can no doubt picture just such a scene. No “Hollywood rust” here, that’s for darned sure. And – my gosh – is that an Opel Manta in the foreground??
Agreed too that that ’69 Chevy pickup is perfectly cast for the role. It’s also a lot rustier and more beat-up than I remember it. Great job again, Mr. Hughes.
Yes it’s a great selection of cars and that is an Opel Manta. This is the condition I remember these cars being in around this era. And I agree that the Caddy likely has the door bottom that is so rusted that the exterior sheet metal has separated from the inner door structure. I bet most of that metal is gone at the bottom of the door. And I remember cars even worse than these on the roads. Huge rust holes in the body, trunks and floors.
Now look at DougD’s Focus which as older than most of the cars in these pictures. We’ve come a long way.
I just loved starting my day out with this post. Very nice work, Vince. I’m kind of feeling like I need an ’80s fix before too long.
In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, didn’t Ferris’ sister have a Fiero?
Yeah, Ferris lements how she got a car and he got a computer (which he uses to alter his attendance record).
Thanks for the great feedback. Some of the comments mention other cars in John Hughes movies, all of which I was aware of. However to keep this article from getting too long I had to cut them somewhere, so I tried to focus on the most memorable (at least in my view). But feel free to keep posting more pictures and comments.
“Donggggg??? Dong? Where is my ‘automobile’?”
Auto-mo-bile? Ha hahahahahaa, rrrrrrrrrrrrr, RRRRRRRRRRRR, Screeeeeech SPLOOOSH! Lake, BIG Lake. ?
Man, coming back to this post and reading all the new comments has been a treat. As a kid I wasn’t a big fan of Hughes films (except for PT&A which is one of my favorites of all time, and of course Vacation) because, I think, in a kind of chip-on-the-shoulder way, the Hughes idealized Chicagoland area was certainly not the one I grew up in. It seemed at the time like a lot of whiny privileged teens bitching about nothing. Looking back now while approaching middle age, though, another commenter (I believe it was GN) has a good point- these movies weren’t always celebrating upper-middle-class values and sensibilities. This thread has definitely given me a reason to go back and revisit Hughes’ works. Thanks all!
Don’t forget the 1990 Lincoln Town Car destroyed in Dutch with Ed ‘O Neill
Great article! I love John Hughes movies. When sitting down to watch one, I know it’s going to be alright with the world for at least 2 hrs. Comfort food for the soul.
The car that stands out for me is indeed that pea green LeBaron at the top of this article featured in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It goes so well with that loopy song, Red River Rock.
I recently discovered a YouTube channel, ‘The Automotive Art of Danny Whitfield’, which includes a good number of films from the 1950’s thru ’70’s shot on location, with resultingly good period city and car scenes. Worth a look.