What has eight headlights, four taillights, an odd greenhouse, overdone bodywork punctuated by ridiculous side vents, and an eccentric owner getting into eccentric adventures? It is, of course, the Family Truckster made famous in National Lampoon’s Vacation movies. That could also describe, however, the most excellent vehicle pictured above, called “The Beast.” Unleashed on British roads eleven years before Vacation hit theaters in 1983, its unusual proportions and 19-foot length are partly explained by the 27-liter Rolls-Royce Meteor V12 engine crammed under the hood. The Meteor was the naturally aspirated version of Rolls-Royce’s turbocharged Merlin engine; the Meteor served in British tanks and armored vehicles, the Merlin served most famously in the wonderfully proportioned Supermarine Spitfire plane.
The Beast isn’t armored, but it probably qualifies as a tank. A gent named Paul Jameson began a personal project in the late 1960s to put the biggest engine available to him into a car. Military surplus stores stocked a more esoteric selection back then, Jameson picking up the Meteor V12 for £20. He built a box chassis for the car he planned around it, then got in touch with automatic transmission specialist John Dodd about getting power to the ground. Dodd sorted out a GM TH400 for the purpose. But before Jameson finished, he sold the rolling chassis to Dodd.
Dodd had an outfit called Fiber Glass Repairs build a body, the original being this red one that’s actually quite rakish. Having owned Rolls-Royces, he insisted on a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow grille complete with the Spirit of Ecstasy. He would explain the rest of the car to the BBC with, “The idea was to have a car that could beat anything on Earth and at the same time, run on the cheapest petrol.” At various period’s in the car’s life, its output was claimed to be anywhere from 550 to 1,000 horsepower. Car and Classic says it makes about 750 hp at the flywheel now. Regardless of the contemporary number, it was enough to get The Beast up to a certified top speed of 183 miles per hour in 1973 and for the Guinness Book of World Records to certify The Beast as “the world’s most powerful car” in 1977. And Dodd would have been keen on cheap gas, since the Meteor V12 gets two (2!) miles per gallon.
When fire claimed The Beast on the car’s way back from a show in Sweden, Dodd asked Fiber Glass Repair to cobble together the current shape. The gumbo of components includes the windshield from a Jenson FF, the backlight from a Reliant Scimitar, and all the headlights and taillights from two Ford Capris. The front suspension is derived from an Austin, the rear from a Jaguar XJ12 bolstered by a heavy-duty Currie axle. Inside, a pair of Lotus Elan seats put the occupants before a row of red toggle switches used to start the Meteor. The weight balance is claimed to be 55:45; if that’s true, it’s only because The Beast is nearly six inches longer than a 1972 Cadillac Eldorado.
The Rolls-Royce grille eventually gave way to a generic unit with the creator’s initials after Rolls-Royce sued Dodd about abusing the automaker’s trademark and won.
Dodd died in December of last year. His passion project is headed to auction at Car & Classic with a little more than 10,000 miles and “in highly original condition.” Bidding starts March 9 and lasts for a week.