The cars of Speed Racer: The Mammoth Car

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.

If this seems excessively geeky, I originally figured out these measurements for a friend looking to build a 1/64 scale model of the vehicles and … yeah, okay, that is pretty geeky…

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.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
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:



The cars of Speed Racer: Mach 4

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.

The cars of Speed Racer: Type L

Here are the first of the common “street car” designs from the Speed Racer movie, a pair of tricked out and tattooed roadsters that have a big scene in the Casa Cristo cross country rally. Driven by a couple of vixens from Flying Foxes Freight, the team is hired as headhunters to take out Speed Racer.The two Type Ls are armed with an elaborate tire shredder (or, as described in the DVD bonus feature, “a telescoping carbon-fiber Christmas tree chop-bit with a reticulating U-joint”), and covered with Vargas-inspired pin-up girls.With its hot pink chassis, striking decals and candy-apple wheels, the “Delilah” — as the vehicle is frequently identified on toys and games — seemed tailor-made for Hot Wheels. Unfortunately, even though Mattel created intricate tampos for many Speed Racer cars, they dropped the ball on Delilah, declining to produce a car with  pin-up girls on it. (What, too sexy for the kids? Did they see the movie?)Although the Flying Foxes are soon knocked out of the Casa Cristo, Delilah reappears as a driver in the videogame, with a Type G T-180 players can race.

Type L Race Car Numbers: 87, 88

The cars of Speed Racer: Type J & K

The next two vehicle models show up all-too-briefly, but as they appear together, I’m posting them here as one entry. Type J & K designs are prominent in the Fuji race, where both blow up in spectacular fashion on the skyscraper-sized loop.The low-slung Type J almost looks like a modern Formula 1 racer, albiet without the large wing in the rear. Instead, it has a second pair of shark fins that mirror the pair in the front of the vehicle.Here you can see Type J passing above Taejo Togokahn’s T-180, and below is a screenshot of one from the final Grand Prix, with a better view of the rear fins.The Type K car is the opposite of the low-profile J, with a triple jet engine and beefy wing in the back. While it didn’t have a name or number, the main K car was distinctive in that its driver didn’t wear a helmet, but instead took to the track wearing a cowboy hat. Yippee-kay-aye, mother—Neither the J nor K T-180s were made into toys. A pity considering the K car is a really smart-looking vehicle that got more screen time than some makes that did appear in the line of Speed Racer Hot Wheels.

The cars of Speed Racer: Hangul

Taejo Togokahn’s sporty street car puts in a big appearance in the Casa Cristo, the grueling cross-country race that is the centerpiece of the movie. As part of the convoluted plot to expose the fixed outcomes of the World Racing League (WRL), Taejo agrees to turn over damaging evidence to the authorities if Racer X and Speed join his team and help him win the Casa Cristo. Dubbed the “Hangul” — the name of the Korean alphabet — in both video game and press releases, the car’s name is never mentioned in the movie, though Togokahn Motors can be seen printed in both English and Hangul on both this vehicle and the T-180. As Taejo was played by Korean pop star Rain, this was clearly part of the effort to promote the film internationally.Taejo’s Street Car was a common toy tie-in and produced in a number of sizes: the 1/64 scale Hot Wheels can be seen here, and above is the much larger “battle morph” version. (Photo courtesy of the Speed Racer Wiki.) By the way, while the name is correct on the car itself, Mattel ended up misspelling “Togokahn” on most of its toy packaging, switching the a and h. Details, people, details!

Hangul Race Car Number: 77

The cars of Speed Racer: Type H

While several full-scale prop vehicles were built for filming Speed Racer (notably the Mach 5), the Type H has the distinction of being the only actual functioning race car to come out of the movie. A fully operational prototype of the T-180 was created for real-world sponsor Petrobras, the biggest company in Brazil, and the 8th largest oil company in the world.
Here are a series of shots from Brazilian website Omelete, along with a video detailing the step by step creation of the vehicle:

While the Petrobras car was created solely for promotional purposes (targeting the race-happy Brazilians and their passion for all things Formula 1 … or so the film producers hoped), it was barely seen in the final cut of Speed Racer. What did put in an appearance was the version driven by main character Taejo Togokahn (the images here, once again, from the web site of Phiyen Nguyen).This T-180 shows up once, in the Fuji Helexicon race, destroying a number of cars in spectacular fashion — before spectacularly crashing itself, exploding in mid-air. Several other Type H makes can be seen during the final Grand Prix at The Colosseum, and the Togokahn Motors car is also one of the cars showcased in the DVD extra “Supercharged.”Unfortunately for die-cast collectors, no Hot Wheels version of the vehicle was ever created — especially curious, considering plastic toys of the T-180 were made for McDonald’s Happy Meals, General Mills breakfast cereal promos, and, oddest of all, a tiny set of ear tanglers. (That’s right, you can get an earring of Taejo’s race car, but not a Hot Wheels. Go figure.)

Type H Race Car Numbers: 3, 77

Inception vs. Speed Racer

Because there aren’t enough Inception trailer mashups out there (there really aren’t — a year later and this is a meme that keeps on giving). Plus, Speed Racer works so much better as a fever dream, dontcha think?

What’s fascinating is how well the two different trailers matched up. I had to do very little actual editing to make the mashup click. If nothing else, it shows that the people who make trailers for movies really have their craft down to a solid formula these days.

The cars of Speed Racer: GRX

In the world of Speed Racer, there are few cars more famous than the GRX. In the big screen adaption, the GRX is the latest, greatest design from villainous corporation Royalton Industries. Driven by Jack “Cannonball” Taylor, the GRX is supposed to win the Grand Prix in a fixed race, until Speed upsets the status quo, wrecking the Royalton T-180 and exposing the duplicity.

In the original series, GRX actually referred to an engine model in “The Fastest Car on Earth.” In the two-part episode (which you can watch here), the motor proved too powerful and fast for any driver to handle. Having killed several racers, the engine was buried in a graveyard, only to be dug up by an evil racing syndicate who had the good taste to put it into a bitchin’ bullet-shaped concept car. The lure of a shot at driving the Fastest Car on the Planet proves too much for any driver, and everyone — including Speed — chases after the vehicle. Unfortunately, the downside to the GRX is a driver can’t handle the extreme speeds without first being exposed to an aerosol amphetamine. Of course, our hero attempts to drive the hyped-up GRX without snorting the speed (just say no to drugs, kids!), and finds his life in danger as the hypervelocity of the motor cause him to hallucinate and go bat-shit crazy. Fortunately, Speed’s family eventually comes through, saving Speed from himself and the GRX, and an important lesson is learned by all (except, umm, for the drivers that died.)The sleek Japanese design of the GRX (as in Britain, the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car in Japan) proved popular with model makers, and many die-cast and plastic versions have been made, both of the anime and live-action vehicle. Here you can see the original and the update side-by-side in 1/64 scale.The concept for the movie GRX was created by comic book artist Geof Darrow, and further developed by CGI Modeling Supervisor Michael Meyers. In an online interview, Meyers said, “The GRX illustration was really nuts. Geof is amazing, but if you have ever seen any of his drawings, his stuff is really challenging to bring to life to say the least. Sort of like trying to build an M.C. Escher piece.”As the GRX is Speed’s last big rival, it gets plenty of screen time in the epic showdown before it crashes and burns. One thing which isn’t apparent in the final cut (though it can be seen below in this CGI conceptual still from Meyers) is one of the many little inside jokes the script writers and designers worked into the film: in this case, the Royalton logo is trademarked with another Royalton logo for its registered ®. (One wonders if the designers continued to add ever-smaller ®’s ad infinitum to the renderings, even knowing they would never be seen.) 

GRX Race Car Number: 66

The cars of Speed Racer: Type G

Poor Gearbox. Not only does Kellie “Gearbox” Kalinkov have the gaudiest car in the Speed Racer universe (and that’s saying a lot), she is literally knocked out of the park by Speed in the big finale. (#91 is the T-180 that is sent flying off the track and into the giant TV screen during the Grand Prix.)To add insult to injury, Kellie Kalinkov is the one character played by an actual professional race car driver — Indy 500 veteran Milka Duno — who missed at least one race to appear in the movie in what amounted to about 20 seconds of screen time.In addition, her car was the single ugliest Hot Wheels from the series. Compare the colorful design above with the unfortunate die-cast release below:Several Type Gs show up briefly in the film (here you can see #73 on the left after it unsuccessfully attempts to ram the Mach 6 at the start of the Grand Prix), but the model makes a much bigger appearance in the Videogame, where players can also unlock a T-180 version of Flying Foxes Freight’s Delilah (a driver that has a bigger role in the Casa Cristo rally; see, Type L.)

Type G Race Car Numbers sighted: 91, 73