The cars of Speed Racer: Racer X

February 16th, 2012
by JP Trostle

Ah, the Masked Racer. Say it quickly now, in one breath: “Racer X! Unknown to Speed, this is his older brother Rex, who ran away from home years ago.” The long-lost Racer sibling appeared frequently in the animated series and was a major character in the big screen movie adaptation, where he used the mysterious masked racer persona as a cover for his “real job” as a secret agent — and to come to his younger brother’s aid when needed.In the live-action flick Racer X was an officer working for the World Racing League, investigating the criminal and corporate elements involved in fixing races, but in cartoon he was a full-blown secret agent in the globe-trotting mold of James Bond, often using races in other countries as a cover for espionage. Like James Bond, Racer X also apparently never learned the art of blending in.Whenever he appeared, Racer X was usually behind the wheel of the Shooting Star, a sleek two-seater of improbable design that was as powerful as the Mach 5. It came with the assortment of weapons and devices one would expect in a secret agent’s ride, including an oil slick in the cartoon, and, in the movie, four heavy caliber machine guns. And while they were never directly seen, it was apparent Number 9 had booster jacks similar to the Mach 5.In addition, the Shooting Star was notable for having the biggest ass of any vehicle on the show. Just look at those tailfins!For the live action version, the design of the Shooting Star was toned down a tad, though it still kept its distinctive pointed-toe grill and yellow jacket color scheme. Above is the life-sized prop, one of several complete vehicles built for the movie.Dude, bitchin’ blaupunkt!Racer X was also seen driving a T-180 in the Fuji Helexicon. While it is not designated in the movie, the car goes by the name “Augury” in the Speed Racer video game. (Interestingly enough, while everyone knows Racer X’s car is called the Shooting Star, it is never actually named in either the cartoon or the movie.)As with many other things in the live-action Speed Racer, the Wachowskis and the designers spent a great deal of time and effort paying tribute to the original, in ways only a hardcore fan will notice: in this case, Racer X’s T-180 essentially has a giant thorax, an homage to the massive trunk of the original.Here the “Harbinger of Boom” takes out what appears to be a Type J car at Fuji.The designers clearly had some fun with the look of Racer X’s T-180, giving it multiple crossing lines. As with all T-180s, the Augury came industry standard with booster jacks and no weapons. Even though it only appeared in the movie for a couple of minutes, this car was one of the vehicles showcased in the DVD extra feature “Supercharged.”Due to its key roll in the Speed Racer story, there are almost as many models and scales of the Shooting Star as there are of the Mach 5. Here are three of the 1/64 scale die-casts, including the Johnny Lightning version of the Japanmation design, and the Hot Wheels versions from the movie.

Racer X Car Numbers sighted: 9

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The cars of Speed Racer: Types U, V & W

January 2nd, 2012
by JP Trostle

Next up are the flashback cars (and no, not because they flash by so fast you don’t notice them). These three distinct types can be seen early in the movie pursuing a young Rex Racer in the Mach 4 in the Thunderhead flashback. Even though they put in a brief appearance, and are essentially placeholder cars, someone clearly went to a bit of effort to design these vehicles. Not only do they feel like they belong in the Speed Racer universe the movie has created but — as with the Mach 4 — all three look like earlier versions of T-180s, and fit naturally into the evolutionary line of vehicle design the filmmakers have layed down. (The blue car certainly appears to be a proto-Type Q.)  Unfortunately, like too many other cars in this movie, they are there and gone before you get a chance to further appreciate their inimitable fashion.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type T

December 25th, 2011
by JP Trostle

OK, let’s get this out of the way up front: for me, the two-minute scene with the crazy-ass vikings of Team Thor-Axine is the highlight of Speed Racer, and perfectly encapsulates the over-the-top absurdity and creativity of the movie as a whole. It’s a pity they get knocked out of the Casa Cristo race when they do — I really wanted to see more of them. Hell, I could have watched a whole movie built around these ridiculous characters and their bad-ass cars.Yes, it is entirely possible that more than a few minutes of their antics would have been overkill — witness how the scene-chomping Snake Oiler wears out his welcome long before he disappears over a cliff — but it is also true that many of the draggier parts of the film could have benefited from the sheer manic verve we get from this trio of hedonistic barbarians in their only appearance.What isn’t open to debate is the uniqueness of the vehicle. Of all the designs to come out of the movie, the Thor-Axine car is the most original. Even more amazing, its look was created and approved in a couple of hours. In an interview, CGI artist Michael Meyers said, “a few [cars] I totally made up on the spot with no drawings whatsoever. The most notable of these is … the ‘Viking Car’ in Casa Cristo race. I was inspired by a picture I found of ‘Thor’s Hammer’ while Googling anything I could find about Vikings that might give me something to work with. I literally designed that entire car in about 2 hours on my last day in Berlin.”The cars of Thor-Axine (yes, pronounced like the drug Thorazine, another questionable choice of pun by the writers of what was ostensibly a kid’s movie) also had the most preposterous and amusing of the illegal weapons on display, including a massive hammer, gigantic flailing balls (helllo, metaphor) and a bee hive catapult.A bee hive catapult!While lacking both the exact shape and rough-hewn filigree of the original, the Hot Wheels version was nonetheless a fun addition to the collection (it’s hard not to think of Mattel’s lawyers looking at the design with all its sharp points and shuddering). To gain a further appreciation for the battle axe/long boat look of the car, check out this 360˚ rotatable rendering on VRMag — the Virtual Reality Magazine — in an online article from 2008.Alas, the crazy-ass vikings of Team Thor-Axine are soon dispatched by Speed and Racer X, never to be seen again.

Type M Race Car Numbers: 63, 65, 67

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type S

December 25th, 2011
by JP Trostle

Our next vehicle gets the award for the most promoted car from the movie with the least amount of screen time. Snake Oiler’s T-180 is a stunning piece of machinery that looks like a cross between a rattlesnake and a jet. The car is front and center in the movie trailers, and multiple versions made it onto toy shelves.In fact, Mattel made a big deal out of how accurate their Hot Wheels designs reflected the movie cars — using the Hydra Cell T-180 as their example — and, indeed, the paint job on this die cast is gorgeous. Apparently a lot of time was spent transferring the CGI files to the toy maker’s specs so the tampo was just so.Unfortunately, as anyone who’s seen Speed Racer knows, Snake Oiler and his stunning T-180 are taken out of the race a few seconds after they are introduced in the opening scene at Thunderdome Thunderhead, never to be seen again.Although, you gotta love Snake’s slack-jawed expression when it happens…None of which takes away from the unique design of the vehicle (shown here with the original from the cartoon and the Hydra-cell street car, the Type O). The Type S is one of the T-180s that can be driven in the Speed Racer video game — where it is named “The Hydrophiidae” — and you can still find plenty of copies of the Hot Wheels version on eBay.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type R

December 20th, 2011
by JP Trostle

Behold the rarest of the rare, the sasquatch of Speed Racer cars, the Type R, a vehicle which flashes by so quickly it may as well not even exist at all. In fact, you are looking at the only two known shots of this mystery car, as it can only be seen in freeze frame right at the start of the Casa Cristo. And even these blurry, grainy images are a guess. Is it another variation of the Type Q, but with sweeping ’50s era tailfins? Or is it supposed to be a variation of the Mach 5, with its 3-pronged nose? Or maybe its a mashup of all of them, along with a stubby Type L engine intake directly behind the driver. Who knows. Considering you can only see the design if you hit pause at the exact right moment, you have to wonder why they even bothered.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type Q

December 13th, 2011
by JP Trostle

It is disappointing that Speed Racer didn’t do better at the box office for many reasons, the least of which is that its lack of success meant no additional waves of Hot Wheels would be forthcoming. Which means that one of the most interesting and original vehicle designs from the film will never make it to toy shelves.The Type Q — a beefy, aggressive single-seat racer reminiscent of the Le Mans prototype — can be seen in both stages of the Casa Cristo, and came in two different versions: one with an exposed air intake and one with the engine cowling in place (the better to hide illegal weapons, it turns out).The Type Q is notable in that it is probably the only on-screen fatality in a script that went out of its way to show that driving at insanely high speeds is really just a safe family outing. The hapless driver in question is one hit by Snake Oiler’s snake-a-pult, and is last seen careening over a cliff without his ‘safety egg’ deploying. While the execs at Warner apparently wanted a movie that wouldn’t give the kiddies nightmares, the directors managed to sneak in a clear homage to the flying wreckage and fireball o’ death the original cartoon was unafraid to show.Of course, you could argue the driver had it coming. In this screen shot from the Muqranna, you can see the white & green Type Q has a skull for a bumper. A skull. Even in the candy-coated world of Speed Racer, karma is a bitch.

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Saddest eBay item ever — or greatest?

November 29th, 2011
by JP Trostle

On occasion I go on a Mach 5 buying binge, and today I stumbled across this gem. At first I thought it was the saddest thing I’d ever seen posted to eBay … but then I read the description:“This Johnny Lightening Speed Racer is in fair condition. There are huge areas of paint chipping. It also looks like some of the still painted area are ready to start chipping. There are 2 hubcaps missing and it really worn around the window.
No marks that I can see.”

No marks that I can see.

I should send the seller 75¢ just for the best laugh I’ve had all week.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type P

November 27th, 2011
by JP Trostle

The Type P is another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it vehicle from Speed Racer, even though it is possibly the most repeated design of car used in the Casa Cristo race. The two-seated roadster is very similar to both the Type O and Type L street cars, but has a broad grill behind the cockpit instead of a jet-engine airbox.While the best example is the Juicy Drop Pop car, over a half dozen versions of this design can be seen in the opening moments of the race, weaving among the archways of the Muqranna*— including one that tries to take out Speed and explodes** against a pillar. *This is what the race announcers call the vast hall of pillars, according to closed caption subtitles. Not sure if this is correct or not — does anyone have the official movie script paperback? It could just be muqranna is a word they coined for the movie, one that’s based on a real word. Considering “muqrana” is Maltese slang for “a woman who cheats on her man,” and muqarna is a “decorative device in Islamic architecture” used to create ceiling patterns in archways, I’m going to go with the later, in spite of the difference in spelling.**Amusingly enough, even though the above car is soon destroyed, it shows up in a later portion of the race when it is seen cruising in front of the “Aqueducts of Sassicaia” for a split second. Whoops, somebody in Continuity is gonna get fired!As for the Type P, after a few sightings as the race heads out into the desert, the car unfortunately disappears from the movie.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Pitter Pat

November 22nd, 2011
by JP Trostle

Poor Pitter Pat. Even though it gets named dropped in the opening sequence of Speed Racer, this unique — and visually interesting vehicle — has about a 1/2 second of screen time before it’s destroyed and never seen again.Snake Oiler sling-shots around the porcine T-180 in the Thunderhead race before both are wiped out by Speed, but it happens so fast (and while the audience is figuring out the rules to this new cinema world), it almost isn’t in the movie. It is difficult to find even a decent screen capture of the car.No, if you want to gaze upon the Pitter Pat, you need to watch the DVD extra “Supercharged,” or play the video game tie-in. There you can see the arresting amount of detail the designers put into it, from the snout nose and tusks, to the half dozen original logos, including primary sponsor “Razorback Depilatory” — an “unsightly hair removal” product. My favorite though is the spiky mohawk above the airbox on top. Yeah, you know SOMEone was going to get an eye poked out when that sucker rolls.While Pitter Pat is a beefed up jet fighter version of the Formula 1 design in the Speed Racer movie world, the wild boar motif fits in better with the professional wrestling feel of the cars in the outlaw Casa Cristo run.Seriously, they gave their car eyes.While a die-cast version of Pitter Pat was probably never going to happen (did I mention the spikes?), I attempted to kitbash my own version of the vehicle a few years back. While the sculpture turned out great, the project stalled at the end with the final paint job and the lack of appropriate tampos. Still, my Pitter Pat is getting more screen time here than the original did in the movie.

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The cars of Speed Racer: Type O

November 1st, 2011
by JP Trostle

Every hero needs a great villain to overcome and defeat, and the nastier the better. For Speed Racer, it was Snake Oiler and the Car Acrobatic Team, who would stop at nothing — NOTHING, DO YOU HEAR!? — to win. Other than the Mammoth Car, Snake Oiler was the best known villain of the series, and he was reimagined for the big screen in spectacular scenery-chomping fashion as the slimy leader of Team Hydra-Cell.Whereas Speed was brave, humble and concerned with the integrity of the sport, Snake was a venal, arrogant, whiny cheat — a Goofus to Speed’s Gallant. While he is dispatched early in the first race, Snake returns with a vengeance in the Casa Cristo, leading a squad of scaly roadsters (love the fang bumpers) to a duel on a high alpine mountain road.The Hydra-Cell street car is so over-the-top and tacky it’s actually pretty impressive. Every single square inch is covered in snake skin, and even the steering wheel, gear shift and weapon joy stick are designed to look like snakes. In addition to an oil slick in the back, the car is armed with a snake-a-pult that, yes, catapults live poisonous reptiles into opponent’s laps.Snake is played — overplayed, actually — by German actor Christian Oliver as a sniveling, self-absorbed, gun-toting cowboy. In other words, what the Wachowskis (and the rest of the world) see as the average American.He is based on this guy, the original Snake Oiler who, you have to admit, has even worse taste in eyewear. As a member of the cult-like Car Acrobatic Team, Snake is dedicated to winning at all costs, but his main sin seems to be arrogance. Sure, he bumps a few drivers off cliffs to their doom but hey — this is Speed Racer, everybody does that. Nope, Snake spends most of the three episodes he appears in — “The Most Dangerous Race” — by bragging about how he always wins and psyching out Speed so that patented Racer self-doubt kicks in. Ooo, evil.He and the rest of the Car Acrobatic Team also have an advantage in that their vehicles have secret wings, allowing them to fly short distances. This comes in real handy during the Big Alpine Race (the aforementioned “Most Dangerous Race”), when the drivers have to run a course that forces them to jump from precipice to crumbling precipice like Frogger. As for the outcome, I’ll just point you in the direction of the always entertaining Thiel-a-Vision for his recap.Snake Oiler’s car has been one of the more popular die-casts over the years. Here you can see the original on the left, with the street car and T-180 from the movie on the right. As you can see, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tacky tree.

Type O Race Car Numbers: 12, 20, 21

 

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