The Greatest Animated Race Cars
Where would the hero be without his car? Very likely unmotivated and second-guessing his decision to set out on a journey at all. There’s no mistaking that a car not only serves its purpose, but completes a character, compliments his mission, and joins him through the ups and downs of the story all the way to the end.
There have been many cars in television and film that have stood on par with their human counterparts, like Knight Rider’s Kit and Batman’s Tumbler. These vehicles weren’t just pieces, they were stars in their own way. Many times, cars have been invented and reinvented for television and film in an attempt to impress, but through animation, cars dazzle at a higher speed.
5) Redline – Sweet JP’s Pontiac Trans Am
It’s most appropriate the first car profiled is from the Japanese anime Redline, where drag racers from all over the universe gather together to see who’s the fastest of them all. It should come as no surprise that even in space, future technology can’t match the power of Pontiac muscle.
Sweet JP jumps back in the driver seat, competes in the illegal Redline and wins back his title as the fastest driver in the universe. Racing against hovercrafts from other alien worlds is not intimidating to this earthling or his humble little Earth car.
Sweet JP’s Trans Am is a heavily modified, body-extended, five-wheeled, yellow piece of American machinery that sports a rocket-powered nitrous system. When Sweet JP drops a capsule in the tank, the Trans Am warps forward and quickly pulls him to the head of the race.
4) Transformers – Sideswipe
In this world of autonomous machines, many have detailed personalities and unique vehicle forms to assume. But of all the soldiers on the Decepticon and Autobot side, few are like Sidewipe. This Autobot is known as the only one among Autobots that can fly with a jetpack, and is the only one known to share a body design with another Transformer.
Like his yellow brother Sunstreaker, the red-colored Sideswipe can transform into a Lamborghini Countach. Pride of the ‘70s’ offerings of sports cars, the Countach sported a monster v12 engine, spawning a line of models and influencing Lamborghini’s signature look for decades. If you’re going to blend in on an alien planet as one of their cars, it’s hard to do better than Sideswipe.
3) Speed Racer – Speed Racer’s Mach 5
Simply saying the name Speed Racer establishes a connection to the iconic car that has dominated screens and imaginations for over 40 years. Part Batmobile, part 007 Aston Martin, and part rocket ship, this sharp car is one with history and style, both in and out of the beloved cartoon.
The Racer family has been in the driving business for generations. Each of them are skilled mechanics and experienced drivers. When it came time for Speed to take to the tracks, Pops Racer handed over the keys to the car he designed with his own hands.
The Mach 5 M emblem is taken from Daisuke Mifune, Pops Racer’s voice actor, and the name of the family’s mechanic shop. This animated car was designed to compete with other super cars that carry loads of weapons. With special weapons and tools, subject to change over the different iterations of the show from the 1967 onward, the Mach 5 has carried Speed and the Racer family to endless victories.
As expected for a show about racing, there are many sources of influence for the Mach 5’s design. Of all the possible sources of inspiration, the closest is the Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa – the Italian for “Red Head.” With only 34 in existence, this Ferrari is one of the rarest and most expensive cars in the world. One look at the original, and you can imagine Speed striking his signature pose by the driver-side door.
2) Wacky Races – Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-a-Car
Speed Racer is about drivers with precision machines and effective gadgets used to outsmart their competition, but in Wacky Races, the same thing is done in a completely different way.
In this cartoon, the car designer’s imagination runs wild with crayons and glue, coloring and jamming things together that shouldn’t fit to make the most distinctive vehicles imaginable. One of the wackiest featured in the show is car #3, Professor Pat Pending’s Convert-a-Car.
Professor Pat Pending is a scientist, and his bona fides show in this car. Convert-a-Car is part boat and airplane with the ability to transform to whichever vehicle is best suited for that leg of the race. Down a narrow stretch of highway? The Convert-a-car could become a sleek Harley-like motorcycle. The next few miles of the Wacky Races takes place underwater? Why not change to a submarine? There are no limits to what Professor Pat’s car could become in this Hanna-Barbera classic.
1) Cars – Lightning McQueen
In Pixar’s cartoon Cars, the world is populated by living, breathing, talking vehicles of all kinds. And in this world, none are prized more than the race cars that dominate the NASCAR-styled races. Lightning McQueen plays the role of a loveable underdog who competes to be the number one at the finish line.
McQueen’s design is a composite modeled after the Dodge Viper and the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Both respected and adored classics of car lovers, McQueen’s pedigree is one that aims to capture the hearts of all ages and race away with it.
The list of possible contenders for great animated cars is a long one. Focusing on the sport of racing and the cars designed for it limit the pool some, but in animation, where speed and torque can be captured frame by frame, it’s no wonder why animators would want to revisit the idea over and over again. But of all the possibilities, there’s no doubt that these five drive away as the most memorable, shining against their competition on the track.