Home » The End Credits For The Old ‘Speed Racer’ Show Featured Some Shockingly Good Early Automotive History

The End Credits For The Old ‘Speed Racer’ Show Featured Some Shockingly Good Early Automotive History

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If your eyes are open, you can learn things from almost anywhere. And I do mean anywhere, which includes the end credits of a Japanese anime series from 1967. The series is, of course, Speed Racer, and I noticed something incredible about the end credits that I never noticed before. Specifically, the end credits subtly give a history of the automobile that is actually far more accurate than what a modern kid would find with a quick Google search. Let’s look at what’s going on here.

First of all, if, for some unfathomable reason, you haven’t seen the Speed Racer end credits recently, then let’s take care of this right now!

Vidframe Min Top
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Oh, and for some reason, this VHS capture was actually the best-quality version I could find? There were alleged HD captures, but they all looked blurrier, somehow. So, I hope you’re nostalgic for the crap audiovisual quality of decades ago!

See what’s going on there? That’s a little history of the automobile, in parade form! Now, what I like about this is that, for a few seconds of animation, they manage to show some important and significant cars, and, more importantly, avoid the lies of Mercedes-Benz, who have somehow managed to fool the world into believing they invented the car, which they most certainly did not.

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A Google search for “first car” gives you this:

Firstcarbs

That’s the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen, and it was not the first automobile, not by a long shot. If we’re talking about an automobile as a self-propelled mechanical wheeled machine capable of carrying actual humans, then the Speed Racer end credits give us a much more accurate story:

Noidea

Oh well, not the first one, I have no idea what that is, other than it looks hand-powered? I mean this next one:

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Cugnot

That’s the 1769 Cugnot Steam Drag! This was the first true automobile, a steam-powered, self-propelled three-wheeled truck, basically. Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot’s Steam Drag was designed to haul heavy artillery and cannonballs for the French military. It was also a barely-controllable (FWD, even) vehicle, and introduced the world to terminal understeer and gave us the first car wreck when it ran into a wall.

This was the first actual automobile, beating the pretender Benz Patent Motor-bullshit by over a century. But it’s the next car they show that really impressed me, because Cugnot’s car is at least somewhat well-known; this one is still unfortunately quite obscure:

Londonsteamcarriage

That is Richard Trevithick’s London Steam Carriage from 1801, and is the very first automobile designed specifically to carry passengers as its main job.  It wasn’t an artillery hauler, it was made to move human beings, much like you or I. I’m not certain how aware Trevithick was of Cugnot’s prior art, but this design is completely unique. The steam engine used appears to be similar to stationary units Trevithick had been building and selling, with the car designed around that. It still required two people to operate (one to steer, one to mind the steam engine out back) as opposed to Cugnot’s that seems to be able to be operated by a lone daredevil, but was a far more practical design than the Cugnot vehicle, which, to be fair, was really more about hauling freight.

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Driving it wasn’t easy, but, then again, no one had ever really driven before. We’re also treated to an exciting description of the second automobile wreck in history, thanks to this car, from Life of Richard Trevithick: With an Account of His Inventions, Volume 1:

They kept going on for four or five miles, and sometimes at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour. I was steering, and Captain Trevithick and some one else were attending to the engine. . . . She was going along five or six miles an hour,and Captain Dick called out, “Put the helm down, John!” and before I could tell what was up, Captain Dick’s foot was upon the steering-wheel handle, and we were tearing down six or seven yards of railing from a garden wall. A person put his head from a window, and called out, “What the devil are you doing there! What the devil is that thing!”

So, in this little bit of animation at the end of a cartoon that often featured a nearly indistinguishable chimp and child getting into hijinx, we find ourselves seeing the birth of the automobile, with two crucial milestones, one from 1769 and one from 1801, prominently featured. The cars that follow are a bit tricky to identify; the one after the London Steam Carriage might be an 1897 Benz Mylord-Coupé, and the one after that could be an early 1900s Cadillac runabout or maybe a 1901 Ford Runabout?

I’m impressed. The credits end with more early 1900s cars driving by. I have no idea how many kids saw these cars and were compelled to try and learn more, but if they did, they’d have gotten a better picture of the earliest era of motoring than a kid typing a question into Google, despite the fact that a modern kid has effectively all of human knowledge in the palm of their sticky little hand.

Go, Speed Racer, go.

 

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Frank Wrench
Frank Wrench
29 days ago

Watched a fair amount of Speed Racer as a kid but don’t recognize those ending credits at all. One possible explanation: my brother and I probably raced to the kitchen as soon as the action was over and raided the fridge.

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
29 days ago

A fun tidbit in reference to the London Steam Carriage – the rear operator, who fed the steam engine, is where we get the term “chauffeur.” It’s French for stoker (or “heater”, depending).

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
29 days ago

The hand-propelled vehicle is from Giovanni Fontana’s Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, cum figuris et fictitys litoris conscriptus. He apparently constructed a working version of it in c. 1418:

https://citynews-padovaoggi.stgy.ovh/~media/original-hi/48501215097666/progetto-fontana-2.jpg

Last edited 29 days ago by Mike Harrell
Black Peter
Black Peter
30 days ago

They skipped a few years, jumping from 20s or 30s to a Jag XK then the Firebird prototype I think?

SBMtbiker
SBMtbiker
30 days ago

I always have to laugh at the title sequence at the beginning of each show. A car goes off the track in a turn, and there is a HUGE explosion. The car must have been nuclear powered.

Vee
Vee
28 days ago
Reply to  SBMtbiker

Back in the early 1960s when Yoshida was working on drawing the manga people were driving cars fueled with hydrazine and nitromethane that would absolutely explode like that if hit. Thing was they were mostly drag racers or speed record cars, not endurance prototypes like featured in the series. Although the 1955 Le Mans disaster and John Taylor’s fatal 1966 crash that both ended in massive fireballs were definitely still fresh in everyone’s minds.

SBMtbiker
SBMtbiker
28 days ago
Reply to  Vee

Wow what an insightful comment. I’ll have to tell my friend Mike! He is the one that pointed it out to me!

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
30 days ago

OK, now do a breakdown of Hanna Barra’s Wacky Racers cars, Speed Buggy™, ARK II, and Wonderbug

StLOrca
StLOrca
29 days ago

+1 Prof. Pat Pending

Pneumatic Tool
Pneumatic Tool
30 days ago

Between this article and the new one on Space 1999, you guys are covering a lot of my second grade viewing habits.

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
30 days ago

And before today I didn’t think Speed racer could get any better, thanks!!

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
30 days ago

Ha, that hand-powered car is reminiscient of a tweet from this very website: https://twitter.com/the_autopian/status/1628603336579600385?t=VAi24nwtnMfYaDCswpxyqA&s=19
For those of you who can’t see the tweet, it has a screenshot from Gilligan’s Island showing Gilligan in a pedal-powered car made out of bamboo with the caption “Don’t even act like you care about the Earth if you’re not driving a ’66 Gilligan.”
Oh, yeah, Speed Racer was such a sea change for me as a kid with a vivid interest in animation as well as cars; to be sure, much of the animation might have seemed crude as hell and much of the subject content might have been goofy as hell (secret blueprints invisibly drawn on a windshield?? Secret code to stolen treasure etched on a Model T engine?? Flying penguins?? Cars performing acrobatics over a volcano??) but the cinematography and even some of the storylines were light years beyond all the other Saturday morning cartoons being cranked out by Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, etc. Just the opening is simply astonishing:
https://youtu.be/e5XmMWnsiqU?si=Da81eItWBVN5cLkj
With the way the camera moves, with the panning and zooming in and out, and the changing points of view, etc, etc, that show just stood out amongst the other Saturday morning cartoons (it was one thing for the old Warner Bros & Disney oeuvres to stand out because one knew they were originally theatrical productions with budgets to match but another thing for an animated TV show to do such things.) Even that one shot of Speed with the point of view being below the steering wheel and with the smoke (from the massively explosive crash that Speed might or might not have caused) billowing behind Speed was enough to blow one’s mind. One simply never saw Hanna-Barbera show Fred behind the steering wheel of the Mystery Machine from underneath the dash. And then the way the camera moves around at the end when Speed jumps out of his car and strikes that pose, you knew you were in for an entertaining show. (By the way, that particular segment shows pretty clearly how Speed and his clothes were based on a young Elvis Presley, ha.)
Sometimes the animators would put in some pretty remarkable details not readily apparent like showing the water sparkling in the sun in the background as Speed and Trixie drove along the beach. Speaking of water, more than once they actually shot underwater scenes beneath a sheet of moving and rippling water, occasionally to the point of rendering the view nearly completely opaque. Simply astonishing.
Sadly none of my friends ever got it about why the show was actually so remarkable (at the time I was the only one in my circle of friends who could get the channel that broadcast Speed Racer, as this was in the very early years of cable television) and they regarded it as just another dumb Saturday morning cartoon. To be sure, it didn’t help that on sleepovers I would roust them awake at the unearthly early hour of 5:30 a.m. or 6:00 a.m. for two or three back-to-back episodes of Speed Racer… oh well, kids gonna be kids, what can one do?
Anyway, JT, thank you, it’s great to see such appreciation of that show, it’s still woefully underappreciated today even after all those reruns in later years on MTV and the Wachowskis’ live-action film.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
30 days ago

I had less than zero clue at the time, but as a wee lad, two of my favorite shows were anime–Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion. They say music is the universal language; maybe cartoons are the other?

The Dude
The Dude
30 days ago

I would like to see a Damn Good Design feature on why the Mach 5 looks so damn good.

Chronometric
Chronometric
30 days ago

For one Halloween, my attractive brunette friends dressed up as a very realistic Speed and Trixie. They stickered up their white Miata like the Mach 5 and had a pet Chim Chim in the trunk. It was glorious and I was the only one who understood the reference.

TriangleRAD
TriangleRAD
30 days ago
Reply to  Chronometric

I hold an ’80s/’90s Trunk or Treat every year. I get a lot of spiderwebs hanging out of hatchbacks and Miatas in ghost sheets, but what you’re describing is on another level. Although last year’s Mitsubishi Diamante wagon dressed up as Ecto-1 is pretty close.

Bendanzig
Bendanzig
30 days ago

That was surprisingly good. It made me think of the intro to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which also has a pretty good racing montage that seemed too good to be followed by that movie. Accuracy adjacent to nonsense can be delightful.

AlterId
AlterId
30 days ago
Reply to  Bendanzig

Accuracy adjacent to nonsense can be delightful.

And inaccuracy can be painful – see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but stop listening whenever Dick Van Dyke opens his mouth to utter Cockney as if “within earshot of Bow Bells” encompassed central Illinois instead.

Last edited 30 days ago by AlterId
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
30 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

Allegedly, he had no idea how bad his accent was, his dialect coach was from Ireland and must have been just as terrible, and nobody in the cast or crew said anything all during production, even though there were a lot of Brits among them

Vee
Vee
28 days ago
Reply to  Bendanzig

Now you’ve got me thinking of the Pinchcliffe Grand Prix and the amazingly animated and framed race sequence. All done in stop motion in the early 1970s to boot. The people who animated it really knew their stuff and just made a mockery of it with how believably but ridiculously the Il Tempo Gigante is designed and operates.

Erik McCullough
Erik McCullough
30 days ago

As a kid, I watched those credits hundreds of times, but never put 2 + 2 together that it was more than art. As usual, thanks for uncovering the zany tidbits that make this website so great. I think you should do a bit on explaining all the buttons on the Mach 1 and which are the closest to have become reality 50 years later!

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
30 days ago

I saw every single episode of Speed Racer at least hundreds of times but I couldn’t tell you what the fuck it was about to save the universe. I loved the hell out of the cars, but the show itself kind of scarred me. Everyone was yelling all the time, everything was fraught life and death shit, there was a creepy monkey, an even creepier mechanic, and weird winky flirting I didn’t understand. Having only 3.2 channels of television available while young really screwed with me apparently.

Last edited 30 days ago by Crank Shaft
Col Lingus
Col Lingus
30 days ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

That was one dumb ass show. But I always wanted to see that damn monkey in a cage match with Curious George. Fight to the Death. Two Monkeys enter, and only one walks out….

Crank Shaft
Crank Shaft
30 days ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Now that I’ve taken a stroll down memory lane I recall that I rather enjoyed those ending credits. They probably were the best part. Lol

Lightning
Lightning
30 days ago
Reply to  Crank Shaft

Speed Racer was sort of my favorite show as a kid because I caught a glimpse of it once and it had a cool car and the “Speed Racer” title. But I never saw a full episode despite my family subscribing to TV Guide. It just never seemed to be listed where I lived in the ’70s, where it must have been on reruns if shown at all. So I’d catch a few seconds by chance once every several months or year or whatever. Not sure I ever saw more than a couple minutes of the show ever, and I also have no idea what the show was about. I suspect it being my theoretical favorite show would not hold up if I actually got to watch an episode.

Last edited 30 days ago by Lightning
Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
30 days ago
Reply to  Lightning

Metro Detroit, Circa 1970’s, it was either on channel 62 or channel 20; maybe even channel 50. IIRC, once channel 50 was done with a show, you might find it on 62 or 20. And Lighting is totally right- you could never find it in the TV guide (we got it with the Free Press). When you saw it, it was soooo sweeeeeeet!

There were 4 shows from Japan in those days; Simba the White Lion, Speed Racer, Ultra Man, and Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot. The latter two were live action, and were like proto Sid and Marty Krofft stuff.

The opening credits of Ultra Man were very freaky. It looks like someone is stirring barf. Watch it on Youtube and you’ll see what I mean…

Larry B
Larry B
30 days ago
Reply to  Jonathan Green

It wasn’t from Japan but I had a strange fascination with Clutch Cargo. It was barely animated.

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
30 days ago

A rather British idiocy is recreating these things, from original drawings;

https://youtu.be/Dx_5hE4aGBQ

https://youtu.be/FEjGBgBxSNM

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
30 days ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

That first one has the donk crowd put to shame, but seems surprisingly maneuverable. And the second goes alarmingly fast for rear-steering wooden wheels: yikes!

Last edited 30 days ago by TOSSABL
Nic Periton
Nic Periton
30 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

The second one was,to put it mildly a really really bad idea. Note that the rest of the crew had somehow, erm,…. chosen not to be anywhere the second attempt.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
30 days ago
Reply to  Nic Periton

I have to wonder if it actually passed MOT. The only braking mechanism I saw was that little block of wood on the flywheel. Not that those wheels had much traction, so I guess it didn’t matter. And describing the steering as rudimentary seems generous. I suppose I should give it credit for having ‘posi-track’ at least 😉

You can’t blame them: they were offered a ‘ride’ which turned out to be a ‘hang on and pray’

Nic Periton
Nic Periton
30 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

If memory serves, it was cleared as an experimental historic vehicle, and passed an MOT as would have been applied at the time of it’s original construction, which seems fair.
As for braking,the theory was… It would not go any faster than maybe 2 mph? then steam reverse, unfortunately that
had not been invented. So wooden blocks it was. (It had no brakes).

No, they were not offered a ride,they were people who had put years of work into the thing. The running for the hills was for (wholly understandable) legal reasons) a matter of individual choice.

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
30 days ago

It could be Leonardo’s self-propelled, programmable cart from 1478 has them all beat. Good catch about those closing credits, hadn’t thought of that in half a century, but did notice them as a wee lad as cool. Also is the Mach 5 where Marcello Gandini got his wheel well treatment?

https://www.da-vinci-inventions.com/self-propelled-cart#:~:text=The%20self%2Dpropelled%20cart%20was,featured%20steering%20and%20brake%20capabilities.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
30 days ago

I am a car person. I love cars. All kinds of cars, trucks, and motorcycles. I read multiple car websites and even subscribe to a couple of car magazines!

Can’t stand Speed Racer. I have never understood its appeal.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
30 days ago

Nope, all I saw was ChimChim. As a kid, I desperately wanted a chimp. Too many Tarzan and Jungle Boy.adventures consumed my boyhood leisure. I tried everything to get one to no avail. Even had my baby sister knuckle walking for awhile until she wised up.

Last edited 30 days ago by Canopysaurus
Jeff Diamond
Jeff Diamond
30 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

It’s not too late, everything goes now, you wanna be a chimp? Be a chimp, you’re ok by me.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
30 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

We did that to my baby sister too. Holy crap.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
30 days ago

Any mention of the Horsey Horseless? 😉

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
30 days ago

Speaking of history Chim chim was the original trunk monkey.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
30 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I could never figure out which one of them was the chimp.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
30 days ago

Both were trunk monkeys.

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
30 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Came here for this truth, leaving satisfied.

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