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The Engineering Superhero Who Inspired Generations: Speed Racer

The engineering genius of the Mach 5 race car made Speed Racer a driving superhero.

  • A: Auto-Jacks. These are built in jacks for lifting the car during pit stops, just like the air jacks we see in today’s endurance racing sports cars such as those at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. A key difference is that Speed can deploy the Mach 5’s jacks while driving, to launch the car over obstacles.
  • B: Belt tires. These are deployable tracks that let the Mach 5 gain traction on any surface. Significantly, the Mach 5 sends power to all four wheels, just like modern supercars such as the Lamborghini Aventador SVJ.
  • C: Cutter Blade. Button “C” deploys giant spinning blades from the front of the car. As a kid, I thought Speed was negligently slow in applying this solution to more of the bad guys’ cars. A lot of problems could have been nipped in the bud with some timely Cutter Blade action.
  • D: Defensor/Deflector. This is a clear bubble that encloses the Mach 5’s open cockpit to provide occupant protection bullets, water and that evil-doer go-to, sleeping gas.
  • E: Evening Eye. This is a night vision system like today infrared systems seen on numerous high-end cars. Rather than a head-up display projected on the inside of the windshield, as modern cars use, the Mach 5’s evening eye works with special goggles attached to his helmet, like military pilots use.
  • F: Frogger Mode. This lets the Mach 5 operate under water. The car carries its own oxygen supply that is sufficient for 30 minutes submerged. The car’s periscope relays the image from the surface to a video display in the cockpit, much like today’s back-up cameras and around-view parking camera systems do.
  • G: Gizmo. This is the name applied to the Mach 5’s deployable drone, which is operated remotely by controls built into the car’s dashboard. The drone, which is disguised to look like a bird, is employed primarily to carry images, voice messages and other information to other people.

Speed Racer and the Mach 5 have so powerfully captured viewers’ imaginations that the original 1960s show has spawned sequels, such as the critically panned 2008 live action film and a 2009 Nickelodeon animated series, Speed Racer: The Next Generation. (Another Star Trek parallel.)

Part of the reason for the show's enduring appeal is that the zoomy Mach 5 still looks contemporary after half a century, mused Speed Racer English voice actor, the late Peter Fernandez in a 2001 interview. “The Mach five looks so modern, it will be a long time before our cars look like the Mach five,” he observed. 

If growing up watching Speed win races and defeat bad guys using his driving talent and his father’s engineering skill doesn’t motivate you to grow up to be a racer or an engineer, I don’t know what will!

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.

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