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The Top 5 Nightmare Family Road Trip Movie Cars

by Staff

A year ago, we shared our picks for the 5 Most Memorable Holiday Movie Cars, emphasizing the bread-and-butter cars cast in important roles by the creators of those films. The everyman nature of those cars meant that the Grosser from “Trading Places” (yes, it’s a holiday movie) had to be excluded, sadly, but the holidays are also about long road trips with family members… and most of us know that sometimes those trips can take dystopic turns.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

That means that great films featuring such road trips are available for our viewing schadenfreude (and, sometimes, heartwarming redemption), and it’s time for us to admire the cars that starred in them.

1961 morris minor in nuts in may


#5: 1961 Morris Minor 1000 Convertible, “Nuts in May” (1976)
Technically, Mike Leigh’s film about a maddening couple going car-camping in the English countryside was an episode in a long-running BBC TV series, but it made its way to movie theaters eventually and thus qualifies for this list.

The Morris ragtop is such a happy little car, so how could a trip in it be a nightmare? Does the Prince of Darkness cause its electrical system to play up? You’ll see!

1985 plymouth reliant wagon in pieces of april

United Artists

#4: 1985 Plymouth Reliant Wagon, “Pieces of April” (2003)

The semi-outcast daughter of a suburban family has moved to a gritty New York City neighborhood and wishes to host Thanksgiving dinner for her relatives. With some dread, they climb into their 18-year-old K-Car and head to Gotham.

1985 plymouth reliant wagon in pieces of april

United Artists

What could possibly go wrong? Patricia Clarkson won an Oscar for her role as April’s ailing mother.

This film stands as one of the greatest Thanksgiving movies of all time, right up there with “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” And the Reliant wagon was an inspired casting choice, if I may speak from my personal Reliant Nightmare Road Trip experiences.

1975 mack truck in road warrior

Warner Bros.

#3: 1973 Mack R-Series, “The Road Warrior” (1981)

Speaking of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” I thought of including the incomparable Doobby’s Taxiola 1968 Pontiac Bonneville in this list, reasoning that the John Candy and Steve Martin characters might as well be considered brothers by the time the end credits roll and thus qualify for the family part of this list.

1975 mack truck in road warrior

Warner Bros.

But that line of thought led immediately to the adoptive father-son relationship between Max and The Feral Kid in “Mad Max 2,” which was released as “The Road Warrior” in the United States and shoves “P,T&A” (and its LeBaron convertible, which I find a lesser movie car than Doobby’s Taxiola in any case, despite its unimpeachable awesomeness) off the Top Five in my book. Hey, some of you are still mad about Best Movie Car lists I made in 2009, so here’s your chance to rekindle that rage!

In Max’s post-apocalyptic world, everything hurts out there, and so Max and Feral Kid’s family road trip is a bit more nightmarish than the others in this list. Still, if you want to become the leader of the Great Northern Tribe someday, you have to pay your dues.

1978 volkswagen transporter in little miss sunshine

Fox Searchlight

#2: 1978 Volkswagen Transporter, “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)

There’s some heavy-duty acting talent working in this film, and they chew the scenery inside their VW in excruciatingly brilliant fashion. How about an air-cooled road trip from Albuquerque to Los Angeles with three generations of the Hoovers? In this case, the van itself is a central character.

Warning: the audio in this profanity- and drug-reference-laden clip is incredibly NSFW and unsuitable for the young’uns, and it also shows why the late Alan Arkin deserved the %*@ out of the Oscar he won for this role.

1953 lincoln capri in long long trailer

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

#1: 1953 Mercury Monterey/Lincoln Capri, “The Long, Long Trailer” (1954)

At the top of this list, we have a two-for-one. That’s because the 1953 Monterey convertible used by Nicky and Tacy (Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball) proved incapable of hauling their 36-foot mobile home up steep mountain grades with its 1930s-technology flathead V8, so the filmmakers used a similar-looking 1953 Lincoln Capri convertible and its overhead-valve Y-Block V8 as a stunt double in some shots.

1953 mercury monterey in long long trailer

Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Ball and Arnaz have such hyper-expressive faces that they’ll make you chew your lower lip bloody while imagining the agony of towing that huge trailer up a road that would be challenging for a young mountain goat. The nightmare neither starts nor ends with that grade, be warned.

This is one of the most harrowing driving sequences in cinema history, and the perception that “The Long, Long Trailer” is a lighthearted Lucy-and-Desi comedy is laughably wrong. It’s dark and it’s stressful, and I recommend that you watch the whole thing immediately.

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