Was Speed Racer ahead of his time? Could a real version of his car be made?
According to a University of Cincinnati's School of Design professor and her students, yes. Brigid O’Kane's transportation design students were tasked to design a car based on that from "Speed Racer" and then defend their design for a grade.
Making impossible turns, bad guys in pursuit, with girlfriend Trixie always ready to help with her trusty pink helicopter, Speed Racer and his Mach 5 race-car have entertained several generations of moppets willing to overlook the fact that Speed's mouth movements failed to sync up with his voice.
A new version of "Speed Racer" takes to the big screen on Friday as a Warner Bros. movie. Live actors portray Speed and Trixie, plus the other stock characters from the series: Mom and Pop Racer, Sparky (their mechanic), Spritle (Speed's younger brother), Chim Chim (Spritle's pet chimpanzee), Rex (Speed's older brother) and Inspector Detector.
The movie's Mach 5 reportedly is an actual car, but all its special effects were computer-generated.
For those who have not memorized the 52 cartoon episodes dubbed into English from the original Japanese in 1967 (which then went into rerun immortality, showing up even on MTV and the Cartoon Network), Speed's Mach 5 had an array of push-buttons on its steering wheel that engaged special mechanical abilities.
These included jacks that let it vault barriers; selectable tire treads for any terrain, including vertical cliffs; a rotary saw to slash through wooded obstacles; a bullet-proof escape capsule; vision enhancement gear; gear for operating underwater, including a periscope; and a homing robot to summon help when Trixie's not around.
"With the right funding and the right experts committed to making it work, any of the Mach 5 features could be produced," O’Kane said.
The technology for the individual features already exists, including military drones to send for help. But engineering, testing and producing all the car's special features would cost millions of dollars, she added.
In the real world, the students pretty much decided that the jacks are impractical, likely to produce shocks that would gouge the road, rattle the car and stun the driver, she said. The submarine features proved more popular with the design students.
Features proposed by the design students include underwater controls, fishing gear, cooking equipment, torpedoes to repel the bad guys, the ability to split in half to go around obstacles, features to reduce water resistance, ways to power the Mach 5's air conditioner and sound system, an autopilot, a cloaking device, an espresso machine, and using the robot drone to scout the road ahead.