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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Something I’ve been meaning to do for a while — I just added 4 pages to the Light Bikes booklet, including new optional rules we’ve been playtesting, and the step-by-step instruction (with photos!) on the best way to build light walls. Also included is the Spinnaker graphic, for those looking to generate movement without dice. And it’s still only 99¢ — just click here
And now we come to what is easily the worst pun in a movie full of bad puns — Semper Fi-ber, sponsor of a squad of headhunters in the big Casa Cristo race. Driving a wide, open roadster, the military themed team of Type N cars is lead by Colonel Colon and … oh you can see where this is going…For whatever reason — maybe because they sometimes thought they were making a kid’s movie — the Wachowski brothers were moved to throw in a little bodily humour to their humor for their big screen Speed Racer, from Chim-Chim’s monkey biscuits to the unfortunate motto of the Semper Fi-ber team — “First in, last out.” Fortunately, the hapless Col. Colon is quickly knocked out of the race —— which is too bad, as the Type N is another nice design of an imaginary car. Broad and low-slung, it follows the contours of the modern military helmet. Interestingly enough, in a field full of weaponized vehicles, the Type N appears to be one of the few unarmed cars. Now that’s kinda funny.
Type N Race Car Numbers: 61, 75
The Speed Racer cartoon was known for a lot of crazy, silly, over-the-top stuff, but in all its 52 episodes, nothing was crazier, sillier or more over the top than the Mammoth Car, a 600-foot-long, 2-storey tall monster truck that (spoiler alert!) turned out to be made of solid gold. Other than the Car Acrobatic Team, the Mammoth Car is probably the best known of Speed’s many opponents and — even though it’s a vehicle — is practically a personality in its own right. (In fact, my brother finally admitted to me a few years ago he wasn’t really a Speed Racer fan — he just liked the Mammoth Car.)The insanely large “race car” put in its only appearance in the 2-part episode “Race Against the Mammoth Car” (naturally), when Speed enters the Mach 5 into the “No Limit World Race” and discovers the owners of the Mammoth Car have taken the rules quite literally. The vehicle is also armed with banks of machine guns, an army of goons on motorcycles, and is suspected of being used to smuggle $50 million in stolen gold out of the country. (You don’t say.)However, the purloined bullion is not found aboard and the race is allowed to begin. In short order, the Mammoth Car derails a train, smashes all the competition except the Mach 5, and proceeds to level an entire forest in its demonic pursuit of Speed and Trixie. In the end, Spridle and Chim-Chim’s shenanigans cause the monster vehicle to crash and burn, revealing the Mammoth Car wasn’t smuggling the stolen gold, but was built out of the stolen gold. (Yeah, wrap your head around that one for a minute.) For a complete rundown of the bug-nuts plot, you could check out the episode guide here, but I recommend David Thiel’s brief and funny synopsis here.
Regardless of the absurdity of it all, the Mammoth Car had a real menace to it, thanks in no small part to the glowering design of its cab and the Godzilla-like howl it made whenever it bore down on the Mach 5. Also, did we mention it was several football fields long?The Mammoth Car clearly left an impression on the Wachowskis, and while they didn’t include a train-length race car in their live-action Speed Racer, they did pay homage to it in a midnight chase scene between Racer X and mob boss Cruncher Block. Cruncher Block (the same villain who owned the Mammoth Car in the cartoon) apparently planned all his dirty deeds from a mobile headquarters in a heavily armed 18-wheeler that recalled the animated original. Though the new version only had one trailer instead of 10, it came with plenty of machine gun slots on the side and even had a mammoth rocket launcher on the front to add to its bad attitude.Here’s probably the cleanest view you’ll get of the Mobile HQ design — from a concept by Tani Kunitake — but really, this bad apple needs to be menacingly lit under a night sky to get the full effect. Still, while a clever tip of the hat, without the insane length it isn’t quite the Mammoth Car.
So — just how big WAS the Mammoth Car? While several characters mention it is “over” 200-yards long, images from the cartoon are all over the place. Forced perspective (and, let’s admit it, many amusingly inconsistent renderings) make the vehicle seem impossibly gigantic at times, but there is enough visual evidence to determine exactly how large “mammoth” is in this case.There is a single cell painting of the car’s profile the animators pan over during the inspection scene that has enough data points to figure out its true size.Based on the assumption that Inspector Detector and all the race officials were 6-feet tall, then the Mammoth car is 17′-18′ high, and 18′ wide. The cab is 45′ long. While the other cars in the train appear to be slightly less long, there is also the articulating connectors between each trailer to consider, so let’s say 45′ each.
As there are 10 sections, that means the Mammoth Car (as shown here circling in for the kill on the Mach 5) could only be 450 feet (or 150 yards) long at most.Which is still pretty damn big, when you think about it.
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P.S — BONUS MATERIAL! (If only to ensure that this is — appropriately — the longest entry.) While looking for a good sampling the MC’s roar, I came across this youtube nugget. It certainly goes a long way to explaining the continuing popularity of the Mammoth Car:
While only seen in flashback at the start of Speed Racer, the Mach 4 is nonetheless an important car in the movie. Driven by a young Rex Racer, the proto-T-180 has a design esthetic that fits in perfectly with the Mach lineage. It is the car Rex uses to teach Speed how to drive, and the ghostly image of which Speed races against in the opening scenes at Thunderhead.Except for a few lovingly rendered closeups, most of the time the car is seen only as a ghostly blur (Mattel even produced a Hot Wheels version with a translucent red plastic). It is clear though that it has a distinctly retro look, complete with visible bolts and seams — as you can see from this rendering by Phiyen Nguyen.