It’s fair to say that cars in cartoons are not drawn to exacting engineering standards. They have outsized passenger compartments so you can see the nuts behind the wheel, stuff falls off at will, and they tend to be amusingly in sync with the art direction of their make-believe worlds. Motive power is from wind, solar, hot air, go juice, spacetonium, kyrptonite and even laser beans. And feet, don’t forget the feet.
Let’s look at some cool cartoon cars and the worlds they inhabit. It’s interesting to note that although these vehicles were colorized lines on a page, real three-dimensional versions of them existed—often as George Barris customs. And don't forget that Car Talk's Tom and Ray were themselves were the voices of cartoon cars (Tom's '63 Dart and a vintage Dodge van) in the animated hit movie Cars.
The Flintstones Car. It was clear what made this baby go—foot power. Fred and his pal Barney (transparent knockoffs of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from the Honeymooners) had to pedal their stone-age mobile, which had stone rollers (which must have been incredibly heavy) for wheels, and tree-trunk axles. It has a steering wheel, but in reality such a vehicle could only go forward in a straight line.
Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. The crime-fighting gang actually traveled to their abandoned warehouses in a fairly conventional minivan, though one with a psychedelic paint scheme. The cartoon has some Chrysler cues, but this prop version is based on a Ford Econoline.
Here are some stats, courtesy of the Scooby wiki:
The Mystery Machine has the uncanny ability to adapt to any given situation (and the conveniently packed items that might be needed in any given situation):
- The back is filled with various equipments (ladder, lanterns, and ropes)
- A bench running longwise can be stored in the rear of the van
- Also, the back can fit a table and chairs, plus the walls are lined with computer equipment; a large antenna can be attached on the roof
- Another time a table is included, the walls are lined with kitchen cabinets.
The Simpsons’ Canyonero. One of the best things Matt Groening ever did, besides "Life in Hell," was the “Canyonero” theme song, seemingly inspired by a combination of the “Rawhide” credit roll and “Wild West” ads for the Ford Excursion (though the Jeep Wagoneer was also an influence). “Sixty five tons of American pride,” indeed. In some of the episodes, the Canyonero looks more like the Simpson’s family wagon than an SUV, and it seems to grow in length depending on how silly they want to make it. Frankly, though, real SUVs are almost beyond parody.
Is there a real-life Canyonero in your garage?
Captain Planet Geo Cruiser. The Planeteers also had a helicopter and a submarine, but for more mundane A to B save-the-earth missions they had this solar-powered flying car (initially yellow, later red). In reality, the craft’s wing-mounted solar panels—while truly wonderful and all—would be unlikely to supply enough go juice for a scooter, much less a flying car.
The Jetson’s Flying Saucer. Speaking of space, the Jetsons—very similar to The Flintstones, but plus a few centuries (it was set in 2062)—got around in a family sedan with a fry-your-head glass bubble top that folded up into George Jetson’s briefcase. They also had moving sidewalks. Car and Driver took a serious look at all this:
Keeping in mind that George Jetson’s car not only flies but also folds into a briefcase light enough for him to carry effortlessly, we can assume it’s not built of conventional sheet steel. Even an aluminum structure likely would be too heavy and inflexible to perform such a feat. So C/D’s Technical Department (Cartoon Division) posits that Jetson’s car must be made of a multistate, carbon-link, programmable polymer of some sort that shifts shapes depending on whether it’s carrying an electrical charge or not. It’s a carbon-fiber monocoque when there’s a charge going through it, an ordinary vinyl briefcase when there isn’t.
And what was under the hood? More than one power plant, evidently. A button activated the “horizontal power cluster.” C&D speculates, “The Jetsons’ car must be a hybrid of sorts.” The vehicle doesn’t appear to be traveling all that fast, but considering George is busted for going “2,500 in a 1,250 zone” it must have been.
Wild Thornberrys’ Comvee. Prototype Source is well known for building some of the world’s wildest ad cars, so it’s not surprising that the team tackled the Thornberrys’ tiger-striped “Communications Vehicle” motor home—which the family used to travel the world in search of rare animals to film.
The finished car mimicked “every detail of the cartoon vehicle, from the dashboard to the kitchen table on the inside, to every bold color and wild strip on the outside.”
The Rugrats’ Reptar Wagon. Anyone who had kids in-period came to dread the “Rugrats” theme song. The 1998 Rugrats Movie (my ears are still ringing) introduced the Reptar Wagon, a reptile-themed amphibian with tracks (voiced by Busta Rhymes…). It was built by Stu but commandeered by the babies to raucous effect. When they took it into the water, all they had to do was shout, “Aqua Reptar, engage!"
The real world equivalent of the Reptar Wagon is the Amphicar, which was actually offered to American consumers in the late 50s and early 60s. I recently had the chance to drive this novel swimming car, and it was great fun. It's not a cartoon, but it's definitely cartoonish.