For anyone that grew up in the '80s, G.I. Joe and Transformers are nostalgic staples of watching TV and playing with toys. While G.I. Joe may have inspired a generation of kids to grow up and join the army, Transformers introduced them to a world of automobiles.
The cartoon show centered around an alien race of robots called "Transformers," which divided up into two factions: the Autobots and the Decepticons. After leaving their planet of Cybertron, they arrived on Earth in search of new resources, where they waged war. In order to assimilate into everyday life on Earth, the Transformers took on vehicle forms to blend in. While the Decepticons commonly turned into planes and jets, the Autobots—who were the good guys—took on the form of sedans, racecars, and trucks. Even if several kids had relatives who worked on cars growing up, Transformers showed them how cool cars could be.
In an age where Hollywood adapts everything under the sun, Transformers got a series of live-action films directed by Michael Bay. For many, the franchise has only revived a new generation's love of cars. Whether people liked the actual movies or not, they only reinforced the fact that Transformers have only ever been about awesome cars turning into robots—and vice versa. What's cooler than that?
Both the movies and the original Transformers cartoon from the mid-1980s are full of cool cars that exist in real life. Taking inspiration across the spectrum from slick sportscars to dumpy gas guzzlers, cool vehicles have been the heart of Transformers. Gathered here on full display are real-world cars that bear an uncanny resemblance to the Transformer vehicles we grew up loving.
The character of Skids appeared in the second live-action Transformers movie as a Chevrolet Beat. According to Indian Autos Blog, the Beat was a major and historical step for Chevy; it was the first time they made a car that small available to the competitive U.S. market (where it's called the "Chevy Spark").
When it first launched in 2009, it packed a 1.2-liter engine that could do a modest 85 hp.
Compact like the car's size, Skids was a smaller member of the Autobots. Skids also had a twin named "Mudflap" who initially took the form of a Chevy Trax.
Corvettes are some of Chevy's most popular cars in history. While it's not the only Chevy on this list, the Corvette C3 is arguably the coolest. VetteFacts reports that leading up to Chevy's reveal of the car, Hot Wheels gave enthusiasts a glimpse into what was to come, albeit at the expense of the automaker's thunder. The good news is in the long run, it did little to dissuade the legacy of the car, which people commonly call "Stingray." The Autobot named "Tracks" took on this model car; only, his was blue with red wings painted on the hood.
Appearing in the second live-action Transformers film in 2009, this Corvette Stingray concept played the part of Autobot Sideswipe. Although it's only seen for a minute on-screen, it's enough to leave an impression on viewers. Jalopnik alludes to its design, one characterized by a sleek look, as being similar to the updated Camaro at the time. That car also features in the Transformers movies, the car playing the role of Autobot Bumblebee (detailed elsewhere on this list). However, according to Tom Peters, the designer who thought up the Corvette Stingray concept, it's the other way around; they started drafting up what the Stingray concept would look like before the Camaro, and as a result, some of those design ideas trickled over to the Camaro.
The Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am arrived in the late '60s when the muscle car craze was in full swing. According to Wilson Auto, the Firebird had already been around since 1967; two years later, they released the Trans-Am version.
This model elevated the Firebird's status with a step up underneath the hood.
Even more, it gave the exterior a makeover that's helped cement its legacy as a classic car to this day. With a legacy that had already cemented itself in the history books, it was only natural that 15 years after its release, Transformers artists and creators would give the Autobot named "Tailgate" a Firebird Trans-Am for his alternate form.
Hot Rod from the live action movies takes the shape of a Lamborghini Centenario when going under disguise. Even though it's an Italian car brand, the character speaks with a French accent in the live-action movie. According to Automobile Magazine, the Centenario arrived in 2016 as a way to commemorate Ferruccio Lamborghini; his birthday was 100 years before in 1916. It's an impressive car that not only delivers in looks but also has a lot of power. Automobile Magazine further reports that it can get to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds. The bad news? The car costs about $2.3 million to own.
Transformers wouldn't be the franchise that it is without Optimus Prime. The creators behind Transformers gave the show's honorable and mighty leader of the Autobots an appropriate vehicle that represents strength and service.
The Peterbilt Truck has, in many ways, become synonymous with this pop culture hero.
The company that makes these trucks have been around since 1939 according to the Peterbilt official website, which only adds to their legacy of being reliable, tough machines. Peterbilts are tough enough for cross-country adventures, so it's only fitting they'd make it the Autobot leader's alternate form. It was Prime's vehicle not only in the cartoons but also in the live-action movies.
The original Transformers cartoon showcased lots of cars that remain awesome today. One example is the Lancia Stratos Turbo. According to LanciaStratos.com—a site dedicated to the car—it was first unveiled at a show in 1971, about 13 years before the first episode of the cartoon aired.
It's a stylish sports car that the Autobot named "Wheeljack" was lucky enough to model his alternate mode off of.
Out of all the Autobots, Wheeljack has a penchant for projects and innovating new equipment for the team to use. It's odd that a scientist-like character would get such a gritty form like a race car instead of one that floats or flies.
There's lots of interesting history behind one of the most iconic Lamborghinis, the Countach. One of the most recognizable parts of the vehicle is the spoiler, though, in reality, it's all for show. According to The Drive, Lamborghini realized—late into producing the Countach—that they needed a spoiler, which consumers had lately developed an affinity for.
Even though some cars had already rolled off the assembly line, that didn't stop the automaker from slapping them on with haste before shipping the cars out.
The Lamborghini Countach LP500S serves as the alternate model for Autobot Red Alert, who oversees the defense and safety of the team.
Here's another instance where the Transformer and his alternate form both relate in several ways. The Autobot Brawn, a small Transformer who suffers from a Napoleon complex, doesn't always take the beaten path, instead making a new one for himself. The Land Rover Defender has similar off-roading ambitions, which serves Brawn as his vehicle form. He's not afraid to be reckless, just as Land Rover doesn't shy away from being audacious in business. According to Thrillist, Land Rover was able to skirt around tax penalties by categorizing the Defender as a coach since the stipulated minimum of twelve passengers could safely ride aboard.
In some cases—in what's likely an unintended coincidence—Transformers share a kinship with their alternate automobile forms. That appears to be the case with Autobot Cliffjumper and his alter ego, the Porsche 924 Turbo. Motor Sport Magazine reports that the car is stellar when it comes to speed and power but is ultimately flawed due to its being rough around the edges. That roughness—according to their review—stems mostly from the shaking that issues from the motor and a sense of commotion. Similarly, Cliffjumper isn't very fond of the Decepticons and, in spite of being a competent soldier, lets his emotions get the best of him, which leads to some instability.
Comparable to there being different cars for varying purposes in the world, the Transformers embodied a wide range of vehicles. The Autobot Beachcomber—who was something of a nature-loving Autobot—possessed the form of a Dune Buggy when he wasn't gadding around as a robot. As the name implies, Dune Buggies are often driven on sand, whether in the desert or beaches. It's appropriate, considering the Dune Buggy creator, Bruce Meyers, grew up in Newport Beach, California, according to Top Gear. In turn, the Buggy went on to have a major impact on the industry, with Beachcomber taking it as his form being only a small pop cultural reference.
There's no shortage of race cars on this list, lending further evidence that the original Transformers creators and artists were speed freaks at heart. The Martini Porsche has a classic paint job and styling that diehard racing fans are sure to recognize.
According to the site Lancia Rally 037, world-famous distillery Martini & Rossi created Martini Racing, which features cars like the Porsche 911SC, the Fiat 131, and others.
In the Transformers world, it served as the alternate form for Jazz, who worked alongside Optimus Prime as an Autobot lieutenant of sorts. The fact that the creators gave Jazz a Martini Porsche supports the importance of the character.
The Transformer named "Gears" is a small, unassuming Autobot. Although he's a downer, the one silver lining is he gets to turn into a cool pickup truck. If they rebooted the original Transformers cartoon today and based the alternate designs on the most popular cars on the market today, there'd be a lot more pickups like Gears on the Autobots. Trucks are hugely popular vehicles in America, more than anywhere else in the world. According to My Auto Source, trucks only account for 1% of what people drive in Europe across the pond. Whether the truck-loving trend continues going forward or is merely a fad for now remains yet to be seen.
Fans either love or hate Hot Rod—the Transformer who replaced Optimus Prime as the leader of the Autobots. In something of an eyebrow-raising move, the creators ended up not making his alternate form an actual hot rod. Instead, they modeled him after a sleek Japanese concept car called the "Dome Zero." Speedhunters details that although appearing at car shows, it never made it into consumers' hands. While it would've been cool for enthusiasts to get a hold of these, at least the car lives on in animation form. While this photo shows off the Dome in silver, there also existed a red one.
The creators and artists behind the original Transformers show found Autobot Smokescreen worthy of a truly rad car. His alternate form was that of a Datsun 280ZX Turbo IMSA, a wicked car that excels in speed.
According to The New York Times, what makes a Turbo car special is its ability to use fuel economically, while also getting higher performance out of the engine.
This, in turn, translates to more horsepower that pays off in improved speed. There may not be a real connection between the car's Turbo abilities and Smokescreen, but it sure makes the Transformer look cool.
The live-action Transformers movies show off a ride range of vehicles, including one similar to this Unimog Military truck. According to Army Technology, Mercedes-Benz produces these (as is evident on the grille decal). In the movie, it's the alternate form of Hound, who's a tough cigar-smoking Autobot voiced by John Goodman. A cool feature, as detailed by website Army Technology, is that some come outfitted with a feature where drivers can change the tire pressure without needing to step out. CTIS, which stands for "central tire inflation system," is the kind of practical technology that makes sense for a military vehicle like the Unimog.
When adapting Transformers into live action, the team behind the films had to decide what real-life cars the Autobots would turn into. For the character of Ironhide, the filmmakers chose a GMC TopKick. According to Car and Driver, they produce a little more than 700 units of these multi-purpose trucks each year. A notable feature on these trucks are the huge pipes sticking out each side even if it's got a measly 300 hp. Don't expect these to go for chump change, though, with a TopKick starting at $70K. That's a high enough price to anger Ironhide himself, who's known for being intolerant.
Other than Optimus Prime himself, Bumblebee is the only other Transformers character that's widely recognizable. He even has his own solo movie coming out later this year. In the cartoons, Bumblebee took the form of a VW Beetle, only to get a major upgrade in the movies to a Chevy Camaro. This Camaro—aside from the black hood—looks similar to the 2006 Camaro that appeared in the original live-action movie. An interesting note about the Camaro, according to Hagerty, is that the iconic Chevy car almost went by the name of "Panther" instead. Wanting to keep the naming convention consistent by upholding the alliterative naming styles, they ultimately opted for "Camaro."
Some race cars (and their drivers) deserve special recognition. While it's not the highest accolade ever bestowed on the legendary Formula One car, it doesn't hurt to have an Autobot's vehicle based on the Ligier JS11. As Stats F1 reveals, the car first debuted back in 1979 during the Argentine Grand Prix as driven by Jacques Laffite that year. Interestingly, according to Transformerland, instead of reading "Gitanes" on the car, the toys instead wrote it as "Citanes." This was an attempt on toy makers' part to respect trademarks. The car and iconic driver certainly deserve an homage such as the one the Transformers team gave by making it Mirage's form.
The Nissan Vanette is an endearing vehicle that's packed with charm. It's no wonder Transformers appropriated it for one of their Autobots, Ratchet. According to CardealPage, when the Nissan Vanette first unveiled in 1978, there were two styles: the Sunny Vanette and the Cherry Vanette. Although the photo is more akin to a Sunny Vanette, Ratchet shares more in common with the Cherry Vanette styling. The design on the top of the car and the design of the headlights and the front are the main aesthetic differences between the two models, as CardealPage details. It's a fitting alternate mode for Ratchet, considering that he acts as a doctor that repairs other Transformers and that the Van looks like an old-school ambulance.
Sources: The Drive, VetteFacts, New York Times, Motor Sport Magazine,