Cool Cars

Just yesterday I was busy hearing about the new Zombie Car, an invention which is going to be unveiled at the next Comic Con. A collaboration between The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and Hyundai, the car will essentially incorporate all the zombie-fighting features that a post-apocalyptic vehicle needs.

As it happens, one of my followers mentioned how this vehicle reminded her of the Batmobile and other cool cars. Between that and the allusions to Mad Max that the Zombie Car inevitably inspires, I got to thinking that this site is in need of a list of Cool Cars! And here it is, all the cool vehicles that have appeared in pop culture over the years, more often than not, as part of a science fiction franchise.

M577 APC:
Not so much a car as a tank, but she drives on four wheels and is VERY cool. So I don’t see why the M577 from the Aliens franchise shouldn’t be included on this list. Much like all APC’s, the purpose of this low-sitting but heavy hitting vehicle was to act as a battle taxi, deploying a squad of Marines to the field and then pulling them out in a hurry if things got harry. Designed to fit aboard a Cheyenne Dropship, it was part of the Colonial Marines quick deployment strategy.

As Hudson so righteously bragged in the movie, the M577 is decked out with some pretty impressive weaponry. For instance, the foldable turret mounted on the top carries a twin 20mW Boyars PARS-150 phased plasma cannon which is capable of making 1000 discharges. At the front end of the vehicle, a dual set of RE700 20mm Gatling cannons is built on a small swivel turret. In addition, it also carries plenty of small arms and munitions for its Marine compliments, consisting of pulse rifles, smart guns, flame units, grenades, rockets and even canisters of nerve gas.

Batmobile:
Now here’s a popular vehicle, so popular that’s gone through several variations over the years. From the campy 60’s version of the original Adam West series to the sculpted Burton remake to the Tumbler of the Nolan series, the Batmobile is a nostalgic icon which is constantly being reinvented. But all versions have two things in common. One, they’re crime-fighting specials, which means they have all kinds of gadgets and features. Two, they’re none to shabby to look at and probably a hell of a lot of fun to drive!

In the earliest Batman comics, the Batmobile was simply a sedan that served as Batman’s car. As time went on, it began to reflect Batman’s motif, including wing-shaped tailfins, dark colors, and even armor. Additional customizations, like crime-fighting gadgets also found their way into the design, and soon, a classic was born!

By the time of the original series, the Batmobile was based around the chassis of a Lincoln Futura and featured fully-functioning gadgets. These included a gas turbine, a Cable Cutter Blade, the Bat Ray Projector, a Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-In Switch, Automatic Tire Inflation Device, the Remote Batcomputer, the Batphone, Emergency Bat Turn Lever, Anti-Fire Activator, Bat Smoke, Bat Photoscope, and two rear-mounted ten-foot Deist parachutes.

Updated for the relaunch, Burton’s Batmobile built around the original concept but recieved a does of his characteristic grit and Gothic nature. As such, the new Batmobile’s aesthetics and gadgets were updated for the modern era and included a sleeker design, a more comprehensive turbine system, a sliding canopy, and of course retractable body armor! It also retained the idea of a 180 degree “Bat turn”, which this time around was made possible from lateral harpoons, and two .30 cal machineguns.

As the second movie demonstrated, the vehicle was also capable of shedding much of its body and collapsing into a narrow version of itself in case it needed to fit through tight spots. By the third movie, the design concept had changed considerably to feature bright sections beneath its segmented chassis. Over the top and impractical, this design was in keeping with Schumacher’s vision of a Batman where everything glittered and was campy, like the original series.

And last, the Nolan version. Here, the Batmobile was apparently inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where it was depicted as a tank rather than a car, and the Spinners of the Blade Runner movie. In the first film, it is indicated that the design came from a military vehicle known as “The Tumbler”, which Bruce Wayne then modified for his personal use.

It’s features included a propane fueled jet engine, front-firing rockets, autocannons, caltrops, rear airbrakes, and a stealth mode. In the Dark Knight, it was also shown that in emergency situations, the front wheels can deploy to form the Batpod. Rumors also abound that the new version featured in The Dark Knight Rises will be capable of flight as well. Oooooh, five more days!

Delorean:
This time-traveling vehicle has placed this short-lived 80’s experiment permanently on people’s radar. Were it not for Back to the Future and it’s unapologetically 80’s feel, the Delorean would probably have faded into obscurity a long time ago. Much like the Futura, it was a short-lived concept that caught on because of its appearance on screen.

But of course, were it not for its unusual design features, such as the gull-wing doors, stainless steel paneling and fiberglass underbody, it would never have made its cinematic appearances in the first place. The set designers were looking for something futuristic-looking to fashion a time-machine out of, and this is what they found!

It’s futuristic features are quite straightforward: A flux capacitor which allows for time travel, a plutonium engine that fuels it, a series of internal controls to set and monitor the time computations, and some rear facing exhaust fans to give it that ultra-futuristic look! Only three remain in existence once filming of the three movies was finished. Two are the property of Universal Studios and are display items, the third is owned by a private collector who assembled and restored the original model.

Ecto-1:
I shall not be making a “Who you gonna call?” reference here! Too obvious! Instead, let me just say that this car ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80’s. If not, I’d be forced to wonder if you spent the entire decade in a cave or a cell somewhere, in which case, my sincere condolences!

Moving on, the Ecto-1 was the primary means of transport for the Ghostbusters. The car was built around the chassis of a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, which had been converted to act as an ambulance car. This is apparent from the realoader trunk and the car’s siren, which was retained by the Ghostbusters so they could make sure people stayed out of their way, and also to announce their arrival!

Additional features including a a special pull-out rack in the rear containing the staff’s proton packs, which facilitates a quick retrieval without the complication of having to reach into the vehicle’s rear. There are also various gadgets mounted on the top, whose function is never revealed in the movies. However, in the course of the cartoon adaptation, it is said that the vehicle carries a “proton cannon” on its roof, and has a vertical jump system built into the bottom. These allow the Ghostbusters to take on ghost with some heavy artillery, as well as clearing fences and other obstacles that lie between them and their deployment.

KITT:
Also known as Knight Industries Two Thousand, this talking car was featured in the popular 80’s show Knight Rider. In addition to being the “vehicle” (ha!) that launched Hasselhoff’s career, this car is one of the earliest instances where an AI was merged with a high-performance car.

Built around the chassis of a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, the car was souped up with a number of features to give it that AI look and feel. These included the red-laser scanner bar at the front – which like the Cylons’, allowed KITT to “see” – a turbo boost that allowed him to make big jumps, an “alpha circuit” which allows KITT to drive himself, a Tri-Helical Plasteel 1000 MBS (molecular bonded shell) plating, a flame thrower, tear gas launcher, and even a laser.

Inspiring several TV movies and a 2008 relaunch, the vehicle has gone through several redesigns and upgrades. In the updated series, the Trans Am chassis was traded in for a Mustang GT500KR and the molecular armor was traded in for nanotech polymer skin which is not only impregnable, but also capable of regeneration. Much of the other features, including the AI, scanners and defensive systems remained very much the same. However, the show only lasted single season, a possible indication that not all things 80’s are an instant success anymore.

Pursuit Special:
With all this talk about Mad Max, it was only a matter of time before this one crept into the list! Making multiple appearances in the franchise, the first car to hold this name was a modified Holden Monaro that was stolen and used by the “Night Rider” (not to be confused with Haffelhoff’s character). However, the more famous model was a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT.

It was this car that Mad Max was offered as an incentive to stay with the force as their top pursuit man. Thought he initially refused it, he later used this same vehicle as his personal revenge weapon when evil men murdered his wife and child and had to be dealt with!

In terms of features, the main modifications on this car were the front nosecone, the eight individual exhaust side pipes, and a supercharger protruding through the bonnet. All of these alluded to the fact that the Pursuit Special was the fastest car in the force, capable of chasing down any road warriors that happened to be barreling down the highway.

In the sequel, the car was modified even further thanks to the success of the first film and a correspondingly larger budget. The new features included large petrol tanks fitted in the back to show that just how important a steady supply of petrol was to this car, not to mention within the context of the post-apocalyptic setting of Mad Max. The front end was also modified by removing the bottom section, which was in keeping with the design concept of making the car look more used and stressed.

Spinner:
So… it’s the 21st century, and yet there aren’t any flying cars. Screw hybrids and electrics, I was promised FLYING CARS! Well, according to the movie Blade Runner, we still have seven years before they are supposed to be a regular feature, at least as far as police cars go. And that’s the concept of a Spinner, in a nutshell –  a flying car used by the police of the future noire city of LA.

In addition to being able to drive as a ground car, the Spinner is also capable of vertical takeoff and landings and hovering at relatively high altitudes. Conceived by Syd Mead, the same man who designed concepts for Tron and Aliens, the vehicle was originally described as an “aerodyne” – a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: “conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity”.

I hope for their sake, they exaggerate! It’s going to be hard to come up with anti-gravity engines in just seven years time! In any case, the concept designs were built by Gene Winfield, the man who brought concepts to life for Batman, The Last Starfighter and Robocop as well as this. No indication was given as to what they used for a chassis, so I can only assume they built it up from spare parts and a classic was born!

So… seven years before these cars are supposed to be available, right? Ford, Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Subaru; all of you guys, get on it! Don’t make me come down there!

XXX GTO:
Last, but not least, we have the super-charge spy car on steroids from the movie XXX. As anyone who has seen this movie knows, Mr Vin Diesel, once undercover amongst a bunch of Russian mafia scumbags, decided he needed to have a classic muscle car. This he found in a 1967 Pontiac GTO hardtop. When circumstances demanded he start kicking some ass, he demanded that his spy buddies take all their precious gear and put it into the car.

Yes, that’s exactly how it happened. A table of guns, harpoons launchers, and assorted high tech gear lay in front of them. Behind the wheel, Diesel said “I want all of that… in here!” Within a few days, he got his wish. Featuring a folding seat which turns over to reveal a weapons rack, missiles mounted behind the lights, a flame thrower, and built-in machineguns.

And of course, all of this equipment had corresponding controls in the interior. These were to be found in a confusing array of millions of buttons and switches, along with an on-board GPS system built into the dashboard. Unfortunate that the car made only a brief appearance as part of the final chase scene.

Well that’s I got for this first installment in the series. I imagine people might have suggestions so please send them my way. Between ships, robots, guns, and now cars, I think we can just pay homage to just about every cool thing that’s ever come out of the realm of sci-fi and pop culture!

Cool Ships (volume V)

Back again! More ships, more designs, more franchises too. Like I said last time, there’s just no limit when you get right down to it. And in the course of doing my homework on cool sci-fi concepts, I’ve found that there are hundreds of franchises out there that I’ve never even heard of before. Of those I have heard of, I always seem to miss a few obvious candidates. That’s the beauty of ongoing segments though. Here are the latest, with some suggestions thrown in too 😉

Colonial Raptor:
Another late entry from the Battlestar Galactica universe, the updated version. Designed for reconnaissance, transport, atmospheric and space flight, and capable of making short range FTL jumps, the Raptor is the workhorse of the Colonial fleet and one of its most versatile vessels. Ordinarily, the Raptor is operated by a crew of two, one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. Given it’s size and shape, it cannot launch from a launch tube and must take off and land from a Battlestar’s forward launch bay.

Having served with the Colonial fleet for over 40 years, making its debut in the first Cylon War, the versatility and reliability of this craft have prevented it from being phased out by newer generations of Colonial ships. During the second Cylon War, Raptors were used regularly in order to dust off survivors from Caprica and other colonies. Relying on a fly-by-wire system, rather than the new defense network systems, it also proved invulnerable to the virus the Cylon’s used to cripple the fleet.

Cygnus:
Now here’s one that people probably won’t remember. In fact, I didn’t recall it either until I did some reading and realized I had seen the movie which featured it – The Black Hole – as a child and quite enjoyed it. Though a little Buck Rogers-y by modern standards, the concept and the movie and this ship still stand the test of time.

Released in 1979 by Walt Disney Pictures, The Black Hole was one of many movies that sought to take advantage of the sci-fi craze that Star Wars had unleashed. The plot centers on a derelict ship, known as the Cygnus, which is run by an android crew and a brilliant (albeit mad) scientist named Doctor Hans Reinhardt.

In addition to looking pretty cool, with its glowing transparent sections and old-school design, the Cygnus is apparently able to withstand the gravitational pull of black hole due to its ability to generate its own gravity well. In addition, its commander, Dr. Reinhardt, theorized that he would be able to fly it through a black hole and see once and for all what lay on the other side… It didn’t take, but still a cool idea!

Guild Heighliner:

Artist’s concept for a Guild Heighliner

Here’s one I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. In fact, I will accept any and all chastisements for my failure to include Dune craft in this series thus far. This can include physical beatings, just stay away from the nads… not quite done with those yet!

Anyhoo, when it comes to Dune ships, the Heighliner definitely takes the cake! Massive as all hell, this ship was the backbone of all commerce, diplomacy, travel and tourism in the Dune universe. Like all shipping, it was the exclusive property of the Spacing Guild and subject to their many controls, laws and whims.

Boasting Holtzman engines – a FTL drive system that was capable of “folding space” – the ship still required the services of a Guild Navigator. This person, a semi-prescient mutant due to years of living in a spice tank, would see a path through time and space and thus navigate the ship safely to its destination.

According to the original Dune, a single Heighliner was capable of lifting an entire planet’s worth of personnel, goods and supplies from one point in space to the next. As Duke Leto tells Paul in Part I of the story: “A Heighliner is truly big. Its hold will tuck all our frigates and transports into a little corner — we’ll be just a small part of the ship’s manifest.” Later in that same installment, House Harkonnen used a single Heighliner in order to lift an entire army to Arrakis for a surprise assault on the Atreides, and the cost was nothing short of punitive!

Given that the Heighliners are the sole means of commerce in a Empire as massive as that of the Dune universe, its little wonder why Heighliners are so freakishly big. Chartering one aint cheap, and if you do stowe aboard, you are expected to mind your business and wait until you arrive at your destination. Due to their high level of secrecy and sensitivity, no one is even allowed to venture beyond their own boarding craft when on a Heighlinger, and virtually no one outside of the Guild has ever seen a Guild navigator. Considered to be neutral territory by Imperial law, any and all acts of violence aboard Guild Heighliners carry stiff penalties.

Gunstar:
Ah, another childhood classic! Taken from the film The Last Starfighter, the Gunstar was the first line of defense of the Star League against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Well, it was the eighties! And this was yet another Disney franchise that seemed to be riding in the Star Wars wake. Still, this movie was one the first to make extensive use of CGI (Tron being the only other) and had a none-too-bad storyline too boot!

Boasting multiple guns, missiles and a “Death Blossom” trick that is nothing short of devastating, the gun star is a rather unique and innovative design. Apparently, it was meant to be a class of ship that would never go out of style, merging functionality with lethality and being able to take on any class of enemy ship.

Every Gunstar is a two seater, with the starfighter (gunner) in front, and the navigator in the rear. While the navigator flies the ship, the gunner directs fire from a swivel chair, which gives them control over the ships moveable weapons batteries. Although it has no shielding to speak of, the hull is protected by armor plating which can withstand multiple direct hits. When cornered, it is also capable of unleashing the “Death Blossom” where it will begin to rotate at a furious speed and unleash gun and missile fire in all directions. This however, is considered a weapon of last resort, since it will drain the ship’s power supply completely.

Heart of Gold:
Now here’s an interesting, and highly improbably, entry! Coming to us straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, the SS Heart of Gold is rather unique in that it merged scientific theory with Douglas Adam’s notoriously quirky sense of humor.

Being a prototype vessel, it was the first ship ever in the universe to boast the “Infinite Probability Drive”. This drive system is essentially a Faster-Than-Light engine which is actually based in quantum theory. Essentially, the theory states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place at a particular time, but that there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin. Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space as long as it had sufficient control of probability.

Pretty cool huh? In the original radio series, the shape of the vessel was not specified. In the novelization of the series, it was described as a “sleek white running shoe”. For the sake of the movie, artists went with a tea-cup design, and added some brake lights for good measure. Originally built as part of a secret government project on the planet of Damogran, the ship was stolen by President Zaphod Beeblebrox during its launching ceremony and became the means through which the main characters began exploring the universe.

Minbari Cruiser:
Back once more to the B5 universe for another fine example of kick-ass shippery! Known officially as the Sharlin-class Warcruiser, this Minbari vessel is the mainstay of the Minbari fleet in the original series. Big, bold, stealthy, and packing a sh*tload of firepower, this vessel is veritable nightmare for all but the most powerful of races. Even Shadow vessels mind their business when some of these are in the field.

Making its appearance in season one of the show (episode 17: “Legacies”) and went on to become a regular feature. When Sheridan assumed command of the station in season two, the renegade cruiser Trigati was destroyed in the course of a standoff. After B5 broke away from Earth in season 3, a force of Sharlin cruisers arrived just in time to prevent the station from being captured by forces loyal to Clarke. Many went on to serve alongside Sherian and Delenn in the Shadow War and even went on to help liberate Earth from Clarke’s forces.

According to Delenn, Minbari ships do not rely on conventional engines like other ships. Instead, a system of gravitational and electromagnetic fields for propulsion, which have the added benefit of supplying artificial gravity. This frees up their ships from the needs of rotating sections and makes for a more effective combat platform. Sharlin cruisers also boast a significant amount of weaponry, which consists mainly of heavy beam cannons, but also includes missile launchers, neutron guns, and electro-pulse cannons.

During the Earth-Mimbari War, Earth Forces were completely outmatched by this class of Cruiser. In addition to being highly resistant to Earth force weapons, the Sharlin cruiser also boasted a stealth field which prevented Earth ships from being able to lock onto it. In the course of the war, only one human Captain ever survived combat with one, Captain John Sheridan. Relying on a phony distress signal and several well placed tactical nukes, Sheridan was able to lure the Black Star, the Minbari flagship, into a trap and destroy it. Though the Minbari considered it a cheap victory, Sheridan’s fame and renown quickly spread throughout the fleet.

During the battle of Sector 83, the Sharlin-class Cruiser proved an effective weapon against the Shadows. Although somewhat slow and providing a large target for Shadows, their powerful beam weapons were capable of destroying a Shadow ship unassisted. When protected by smaller, faster craft like the White Star, it proves to be a very effective combat platform.

Nebula-B Escort Frigate:
More Star Wars! God, I think I’m OD’ing on this franchise. But the sign says “Cool Ships” and this one is no exception. Known as the Nebula-class frigate, this ship is probably best remembered as the “Medical Frigate” which appeared in Empire and Jedi. 

Measuring some 300 meters long and designed to defend Imperial convoys from Rebel attacks, this ship was more famously used by the Rebellion as a hospital ship. During heavy fighting, Nebula-B’s would be on hand to pick up pilots that had ejected and provide them with life-saving assistance, ensuring that Rebel pilots could live to fight another day.

The most famous appearance of a Medical Frigate was during the Battle of Endor, when several medical frigates were on hand to service Rebel pilots who had been shot down by superior Imperial forces. It was also on board the Medical Frigate Redemption that Luke Skywalker received his prosthetic hand after losing it in a lightsaber duel to Vader.

In addition to providing escort and as a hospital ship, the Nebula-B was proved useful as a deep space scout and reconnaissance ship, due to its sophisticated sensors. During raiding missions or less intense combat operations, many also served as command ships given their speed and defensive capabilities. One weakness of the Nebula-B however was its thin fusilage. Though this made the ship an inexpensive vessel by most standards, it also made it a poor choice for heavy combat. Hence why it was relegated to support, scouting and medical roles.

The Nostromo:
You know, I really thought I covered this one already. I already mentioned how the Alliance Cruisers from Firefly appeared to be inspired by this baby. And it just makes sense that if you’re going to cover ships from the sequel, (the USS Sulaco and the Cheyenne Dropship) that you cover the original first. But alas, the Nostromo was somehow passed over by me, another act of wanton insensitivity! Beating shall continue until my attitude improves!

Okay, now that we got my punishment out of the way, allow me to pay this ship it’s due homage. The main set for the movie Alien, the USCSS Nostromo was a deep space commercial vessel which belonged to the Weyland-Yutani corp (much like everything else in this universe!).

Overall, the Nostromo was a curious design which made perfect sense from a space-faring point of view. Doing away with such things as streamlining and aerodynamic sleekness, the ship was well suited to deep-space travel and hailing. In addition, it was also taller than it was long, another common aspect to spaceships which are confined to the whole sea ship/airplane paradigm.

It’s massive refinery, which it towed behind, would process its manifest of mined ore while it made its way back to Earth from wherever it had been deployed. Thus, in addition to providing transport and amenities for a crew of miners and spacers, it was also a mobile refining platform that could deliver processed materials to factories rather than just unrefined ore.

While on return from the distant planet of Thedus, the Nostromo was rerouted to LV-426 where it picked up the alien organism known as a xenomorph. After all but one of the crew were killed the by creature, Ellen Ripley, the ship’s Warrant Officer, set the ship’s to self-destruct and escaped aboard the ship’s life craft with the crew cat, Jones. According to Weyland-Yutani execs, who were some pissed when she returned without her ship, the destruction of this vessel cost them 24 million in adjusted dollars. Damn penny-pinchers!

The Sathanas:
What do you call the most fearsome, intimidating and powerful ship in the universe, without being too obvious, that is? The Sathanas, that’s what! Being the Latin name for Satan, this title is very apt when applied to a massive juggernaut built by a race known as the the Shivans (i.e. Shiva, Hindu god of destruction).

This last entry, much like The Colossus and Deimos from my last list, comes to us from the game Freespace 2. Making its appearance midway through the game, this terrifying vessel was the most powerful space-faring ship ever encountered by the human race or its allies.

Boasting four massive beam cannons which are situated at the end of its claw like appendages, this ship best exemplifies the offensive fighting spirit. Jumping into a field of battle, it is capable of dealing devastating blows on a target head on, keeping its flanks and rear hidden from the enemy.

Above all, it is clear that the Shivan built the Sathanas to act as a terror weapon in addition to a capital ship. One look at its design confirms this, given its clawing appendages and thorny skin. Defeating this ship outright is quite difficult given its reinforced plating and terrible array of weapons. Disabling this ship, through EMP missiles and guns, is not much easier given the incredibly density of its hull and many redundant systems. In the end, the only way to beat it seems to be for lighter craft to take out its “claws” while heavier vessels strike at it from a distance. However, this still proves to be a suicidal mission given the Sathanas’ many missile and defensive batteries.

Ultimately, taking down this ship in the game is much like the real-life campaign to sink the Bismark. This dreadnought, which was the pride and joy of the German navy in WWII, also boasted massive weapons, a heavily armored hull and superior systems. In the end, the Royal Navy brought it down through a combination of luck, persistence, and careful engagements, taking their time to disable it and then closing in to pound it relentlessly! Hmmm. I guess good history makes for good gaming 🙂

Final Thoughts:/strong>
The suggestion box, as always, is still open. Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting the Gunstar, I knew I’d have to include it sooner or later and I’m glad someone asked. Anything else? I got another installment on the way, and probably a few more after that. No? Sigh, alright, bring on the beatings! No nads!