The obvious freedom of cartoons comes from how they can do things that are impossible in live action. Even a “grounded” cartoon can get wild and that includes the vehicles that feature in scores of cartoons—both movies and TV shows—that seem impossible in real life. We’re still a long ways away from The Jetsons’ vision of a future where flying cars are commonplace. Likewise, a lot of the crazy rides from action or fantasy shows are pretty hard to make work in real life.
However, many fans have been inspired to create some live action versions of cartoon vehicles, from the iconic and instantly recognizable to the lesser-known and obscure. In some cases, it’s pretty easy to take an existing car, give it a paint job, and end up with something that looks like a cartoon. The Magic School Bus would require barely any work to look like the cartoon version.
It’s far more impressive when a fan takes on a car that seems impossible to create in real life. Even better is when these cars aren’t just for show at some convention but can actually run. The idea of a car that can look like it rolled straight off an animated page while still being actually able to handle the road takes fandom to a whole new level. Here are 20 cases of cartoon cars that were astoundingly recreated in the real world.
20 Animated Batmobile
Over the decades, the Batmobile has been the standard-bearer of cool comic book rides. It’s been everything from an open-aired two-seater to the massive Tumbler that the Dark Knight uses throughout various movies and shows. The acclaimed 1990s animated series put a terrific spin on the classic car. It’s incredibly long and sleek, cutting through the streets like its namesake. The armored front also looks amazing with its ram that can smash through most anything. The rocket engine is showcased by the massive hood at the front. This version wonderfully copies it, pulling off the tricky bit of the driver’s seat set so far in the rear.
19 The Turbo Terrific
One of the most popular Hanna-Barbera cartoons was Wacky Races. As the name implies, it focused on a group of racers in rather strange automobiles engaging in wilder races around the world. The show has had a few revivals and even inspired a crazy Mad Max-style comic book series. The cars were always great, such as the Turbo Terrific, which was driven by Peter Perfect. This live version makes it work, as it appears to be your standard classic racing machine but is extended in its body. It adds in the fake yellow pipes and flashlight-style front end. It also pulls off the huge wheels on the side to truly make for a terrific ride.
18 The Compact Pussycat
Every cartoon needs one lovely lady in the crowd. On Wacky Races, Penelope Pitstop was the only female driver in the race. She appeared to have stepped out of the 1920s with a classic racing outfit but also was appreciated for her beauty (quite often pausing in a race to ensure her makeup looked right). Her car, the Compact Pussycat, is a tough one to duplicate but this build pulls it off. The front looks amazing, with its lips curved in a kiss and fake eyes with blonde “hair” flowing. The open car also includes a small parasol to keep the sun and rain back. The amazing way the car replicates the curved form makes it a standout for bringing a cartoon vehicle to life.
17 Wild Thornberry’s Comvee
Amid several wild and crazy cartoons of the 1990s, The Wild Thornberrys was a good hit for Nickelodeon. It focused on a family of nature documentary filmmakers who was constantly moving around the world for their work. Thus, their “home” is an RV that is magically able to survive in any environment. This replica does a great job copying it, taking a standard RV and nicely extending some of its decorations (such as the huge awning). The nice “jungle” paint job copies the show as well. The KiraVan is already a nice RV yet this copy looks so terrific that it seems all set to head deep into the jungle for some fun.
16 The Homer
One of the most loved episodes of The Simpsons has Homer meeting his long-lost half-brother Herb (Danny DeVito). A car executive, Herb wants to create a car unlike any on the market. He makes the massive mistake of letting Homer design it and use all of Herb’s company’s resources for his dream car. The result is a nightmare vehicle instantly cited as the worst car ever created, which puts Herb out of business. Someone actually took a 1987 BMW and built the Homer. It creates the bubble top for wailing children, the massive cupholders, shag carpeting, and more. Motor fans love to laugh that the Homer was ahead of its time with some features so this recreation stands out even more.
15 The Creepy Coupe
Throughout the 1960s, a lot of cartoons would be inspired by The Addams Family and its mix of comedy and horror. For Wacky Races, there was a pair of brothers, with the little sibling looking like a purple vampire while the big sibling is a long-haired Frankenstein’s monster. Their car, the Creepy Coupe, looks like a hearse with a huge belfry in the back that would have bats and other creatures inside. A running bit was the belfry breaking out huge wings to help the Coupe fly short distances and some other wild antics. This replica does an impressive job mixing the hearse with the huge belfry and the massive dummy helps it stand out more.
14 Time Traveling DeLorean
Some might argue about this one since Back to the Future is a live-action movie. But like so many hit films of the time (no pun intended), the films inspired a hit cartoon series. It had Doc, his wife, and their sons settling down in Hill Valley but going on various time-travel adventures. Often, Doc would use his special steam-powered floating locomotive. However, he and Marty would break out the DeLorean for some crazier antics. The car remains a favorite for its awesome design, gullwing doors, and just looking cool. Several fans have managed to dig up real DeLoreans and mod them up like the movie and cartoon. This is a great example of a cool car for any time period.
13 Optimus Prime
Transformers remains one of the most brilliantly obvious toy-cartoon concepts ever. What could be more appealing than alien robots who can shapeshift into regular cars? The best of the bunch has always been Optimus Prime, the noble leader of the Autobots. Fans never got tired of watching as he would turn into a massive big-rig truck and back. More than a few fans have tried to replicate that but this version is one of the best. It mixes in aspects of the Michael Bay live-action movies with some of the recent cartoon revivals of Optimus. That includes the nice red and blue pattern and the huge horns. It may not actually transform but it still looks ready to “Roll Out!”
12 The Convert-A-Car
It’s hard to get more “wacky” than this. Even among the contestants of Wacky Races, Professor Pat Pending stood out. The eccentric inventor drove the Convert-A-Car, which appeared to be a giant boat on wheels with wings and other huge engine parts. The gimmick was that at various points in the race, the car could transform into a variety of shapes to get out of trouble or handle tough terrain. This live version may lack the transforming aspect but it still has some pretty impressive stuff to it. It manages to mix the strange boat-plane-car aspects together right down to the umbrella covering the driver’s seat. It’s a vehicle that always stands out from the crowd.
11 Donald Duck’s Car
The feisty Donald Duck has been one of Disney’s iconic faces for 85 years. He’s been through a lot of changes but is still loved for his temper and nearly incomprehensible speech. In a 1937 short cartoon, Donald is shown driving a bright red car with a 313 license plate. That references Donald’s “birthday” of March 13th. It caught on and would soon become his standard car for numerous cartoons, comic strips, and more. Even recent cartoons have revived it for use. This recreation looks like a 1934 Belchfire Runabout but adds in bits like the massive white tires to stand out. Donald himself would approve of this ride...provided you could understand him.
10 Flintstones Car
Few cartoons have become as iconic as The Flintstones. From the start, fans loved this classic sitcom set in prehistoric times. The fun was always watching Stone Age versions of “modern” technology, which included cars. Every episode started with Fred having to race his bare feet on the ground to get his car going. There have been several versions of the car created by fans which use fun remote controls to move while keeping the engine hidden. The solid stone “wheels” are great to maneuver it about. Versions have included everything from one ticketed in Key West to another gifted to a Sultan. No matter what, every version makes an owner holler, “Yabba Dabba Doo!”
9 The Arkansas Chuggabug
The Wacky Races cartoon truly loved to throw together some wildly offbeat contestants, from a pack of mobsters to a pair of cavemen. Lazy Luke is a classic backwoods bumpkin who drives the Arkansas Chuggabug with his bear partner, Blubber Bear. The car looks like it’s barely holding itself together under the weight of a huge boiler that appears to be either a massive stove or some sort of brewery (perhaps both). It nicely captures the “sloped bottom” of the car. Unlike Luke, the driver uses his hands, not his feet, to handle the steering, while his bear-suited companion looks to be enjoying himself. Still, it’s a good replica of a seemingly “backwards” automobile.
8 The Crimson Haybailer
One would think a plane would be automatically disqualified from an automobile race. But t seems the Wacky Races are rather lenient on that sort of thing. The Red Max dresses and acts like a World War I flying ace with a silly accent whose car, the Crimson Haybailer, is his old fighter plane mixed with an automobile. As it happens, it can fly but only for short distances and not as effectively as it seems. While the real-life version can’t take to the air, it still does a good job looking like a mix of a plane and a car with the huge wide wings, propeller in the front, and even a huge machine gun. It’s a fun creation of a “grounded” plane.
7 Lightning McQueen
At first glance, one might think this is one of those special creations built by Disney for their theme parks. Instead, this machine was specially crafted by fans for a 2017 auto show. It perfectly captures the look of the star of Pixar’s Cars franchise well. It’s easy to sculpt a Mustang into a version of this racing character. What’s tricky is being able to properly sculpt the eyes and make the front end look like a mouth. Yet this build manages to pull it off wonderfully and even uses the exact logos and decals that Lightning would have. A few fans have come close but this is realness the Disney teams would be envious.
6 The Mean Machine
Throughout various Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Dick Dastardly was a popular villain. The mustached figure in the tight coat and large hat was always coming up with dubious schemes, aided by his dog sidekick Muttley. Every Wacky Race episode would have the duo cheating constantly to achieve victory and yet they always ended up losing. The Mean Machine was an impressive sight with its pointed build that looks like a rocket engine with some crazy attachments. The large rear end is also impressive, while the point looks like it’s going to ram anyone in its path. It lives up to its name as a wicked car replica.
5 The Buzz Wagon
Here’s another from Wacky Races and it stands out. Driven by Rufus Ruffcut with his beaver sidekick, Sawtooth, the car appears to be made out of logs with buzzsaws for wheels. In the races, Rufus is able to use the saws to cut through any obstacle and occasionally, a rival’s car. Obviously, this replica can’t use real saws but the tires are nicely designed to look like them. It also nicely replicates the look of a car put together with logs, including the impressive front bumper. A funny bit was the driver using a large puppet for Sawtooth. It’s a unique machine for a drive through the forest.
4 The Party Wagon
While they had a cult audience in comics, it was the 1989 cartoon show that transformed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles into a massive franchise. The show moved the Heroes in a Halfshell from the sewers to the streets as they tangled with the Foot clan in various adventures. They would often go around in their Party Wagon, which had been April O’Neil’s news truck. The Turtles decked it out with some armor and tricks to use in battle. Jason Ybarra perfectly recreated the van, picking out special panelings to resemble turtle shells. He even spray-painted on the various “Foot Stinks” logos and other touches. You can practically smell the pizza coming from this ride.
While Ghostbusters is a beloved comedy movie, many kids were bigger fans of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon. It expanded on the film with the quartet getting into crazy adventures trying to catch numerous ghosts across the world amid some fun comedy. The Ecto-1 has been a popular car for fans to recreate for real. Most use a classic Cadillac and then mod it out to match the “ambulance turned ghost hunting machine” from the cartoon. The animated version is slightly different but still fun with the complex roof rack, loud sirens, and the iconic logo on the side. It’s a terrific showcase for how this ride is iconic for both movie and cartoon lovers alike.
2 Mach V
Speed Racer was one of the first anime to become a huge hit in the United States. It even inspired a wild 2008 movie that’s attained cult status. There have been various versions of the Mach V created but Len Mosco built a version that is actually street-legal to drive. A few collectors have gone wild with versions of the car that utilize things like buzzsaws and other tricks. But this version is amazing for perfectly capturing the sharp curves and points of the incredible ride. The car itself handles great with some terrific speed and handling. It may not be ready to do upside-down on crazy race courses but it still drives as great as it looks.
1 The Mystery Machine
For decades, the antics of Scooby-Doo have been a mainstay for kids. Fans just love the misadventures of this pack who run around solving mysteries involving fake ghost schemes. No matter what the show is like, the one mainstay has been the Mystery Machine, the van that transports the gang to their mysteries. It’s pretty easy to build in real life and Jerry Patrick used this beat-up old van and gave it a terrific makeover. He perfectly captured the paint job and just the right logo so it looks straight out of the cartoon. All one needs is pack of Scooby-Snacks and some crook in a weird mask and it’s just like the iconic show.
Sources: Jalopnik, Oddee, and IMDb.