We are counting down the Top 50 hot rods and street cars of all time that have made an appearance in a television series, or a memorable television episode. Starting from #50, and counting down to our #1 pick, follow along with our memories, and see where your favorite show lands.
6. Animated Power: Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine, Speed Racer’s Mach Five
There are only two animated television hot rods on this countdown, and each is deserving of the honor. Even though these fantasy vehicles did not have a working engine in the cartoons they starred in, they were indeed powered by the imagination of every child that grew up watching them on television.
The Mystery Machine
The Mystery Machine on Scooby Doo was a staple of Saturday morning television in the late 1960s through mid-‘70s. Remember those mornings you quietly snuck out of bed and fired up the old Zenith (it literally took 60-90 seconds for the picture to appear on the screen), and adjusted the volume using the turn knobs on the front so your parents wouldn’t awake? Zoinks!
The characters that Hanna-Barbera brought to life have become part of the fabric of our youthful existence that have lasted into adulthood. Who can forget those teenage pals – Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby Doo – on their countless zany adventures?
And, who could forget their cool 1960s era panel van painted with groovy, unmistakable graphics and rolling on yellow and orange flowered hubcaps. Not exactly the stuff of a SEMA build, but as kids, we didn’t care. We loved to ride along with Scooby and the gang to help solve the mystery!
Admit it, you have at least once in your live (maybe more) used the term “Speed Racer” to describe the driving prowess of someone you know. We remember, and not just because we remember this animated series for its bad lip synching and voiceovers, but because the car made that big of an impression on us as kids.
Imported from Japan in 1967, Speed Racer was an anime series with the lead character Go Mifune who operated a highly-modified custom car. But on American television, he was known as Johnny Lightning. Engineered with secret gadgets revealed on each episode, Speed Racer sent our hearts beating faster and our imaginations soaring as his speeds went far beyond those of the family wagon.
The steering wheel was an alphabet of wonder, with seven lettered buttons, A through G, that served as mechanical commands when pressed:
A. Released four floor jacks for repairs, to make short jumps, keep the car from toppling over, or for extra braking power.
B. This released a belt tire for added grip and to travel over any type of terrain.
C. Cutter blades were deployed from the front fascia to remove obstacles such as foliage in off-road situations.
D. A deflector sealed the cockpit and rendered it bullet and crash-proof, and was impervious to water.
E. Basically, the LED light of its time … the evening or illuminating eye could project light way beyond sight, and used in conjunction with night shades with infrared light to see in the darkness.
F. Lest we forget frogger mode – the function used in underwater scenarios that pumped oxygen into the cockpit, deployed a periscope, and was propelled through the sea – pre-James Bond stuff here!
G. Gizmo, or the Go Homing Robot, released a homing bird to relay messages using a remote control device.
H. The homing device pointed the car in the direction of home just in time for Johnny to arrive for dinner.
At the time, actual race cars that closely resembled the rendering of the animated Mach Five, included the Japanese Grand Prix-winning 1966 Prince R380, 1996-‘68 Nissan R380-II, Le Mans winning 1958-’61 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, 1960s Ford GT40, and even the 1959 Le Mans winning Aston Martin DBR1.
Both The Mystery Van and Mach Five eventually came to life with working engines on the big screen for newer generations to enjoy, and both have found a place with modern day car owners who use paint and fabrication as an homage to pop culture.
In movies, The Mystery Van was a 1985 Chevrolet Van in several releases in 2002, 2004 and 2009. The Mach Five movie released in 2008 featured a different, darker plot and a car that is powered by an 8.0-liter quad sequential turbocharged V12 that churns 1,700 horsepower at 8,000 rpm, and 1,400 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm. Go, go, go Speed Racer!