Fantasy vehicles are the building blocks of cinematic universes: dystopian megalopolises, apocalyptic futures, and fantastic planets. They are storytelling’s essential instruments. These vehicles reveal the worlds they navigate and express the characters who operate them. Like the Transformers or K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider, they can even be characters themselves, just as resonant and beloved as these stories’ human, alien, and android heroes.
Now you can see some of these legendary rides at Petersen Automotive Museum’s exhibit Hollywood Dream Machines: Vehicles of Science Fiction and Fantasy, which showcases more than 40 vehicles from film, television, and video games, as well as concept art, props, and costumes. The exhibit opened May 5th and will run through March 15, 2020. Here are just a few of the coolest vehicles on display.
Black Beauty, The Green Hornet
This 1966 Imperial Crown sedan is part of the Petersen’s permanent collection, but it’s worth mentioning. After all, Bruce Lee touched it, which makes it a sacred object.
LAPD spinner, Blade Runner (1982)
The father of futuristic car design, Syd Mead helped bring Ridley Scott’s pulpy noir to life. Mead had previously worked as a designer for Ford and U.S. Steel, and he brought his knowledge, exquisite eye for detail, and love of science fiction to his concept art. Scott first hired him just to create the film’s automobiles, but Mead couldn’t help but flesh out the world around them, determining the film’s now ubiquitous look, an Edward Hopper dystopian hallucination.
The spinner was unique, a retrofitted aerodyne that defied science-fiction flying-car cliches. Other vehicles on display include the TUK-TUK TAXI, K’s Peugeot spinner, and Luv’s spinner from Blade Runner 2049, and Deckard’s sedan and the Everyman Car from Blade Runner.
The Batmobile, Batman 1966 & 1989
The Batmobile is the ultimate fantasy car. It’s gone through several iterations and redesigns in comics, film, and television, but it’s always recognizable, often beautiful, and sometimes a little menacing. Although George Barris’s ’66 Batmobile is iconic and hugely influential for concept artists and car designers, Tim Burton’s Batmobile is breathtaking in person. It’s massive, sculptural, and its sleek black armor-plating gives it a dangerous look. It was built on a Chevrolet Impala chassis, with inspiration from the Corvette and jet aircraft in its DNA. Production designer Anton Furst explained, “To me, the Batmobile was a pure piece of expressionism.”
V-8 Interceptor & Nux’s car, Mad Max: Fury Road
Max Rockatansky is an eternal character, a campfire legend, and his V-8 Interceptor is just as mythic as he is. Though different men can play Mad Max, the Last of the V-8 Interceptors (formerly a 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT) remains the same, and its appearance in Fury Road is tragically short-lived. Nux’s car is something special, too. One of four made for the film, it was once a 1934 Chevy coupe, outfitted with a small-block Chevy V-8 engine, customized with an insane level of detail to reflect the character who worships it: Immortan Joe’s brand on the ceiling, a bird-skull bobblehead, an eyeball stick-shift, and a doll’s head wearing a gas mask on the steering wheel.
1932 Ford Flathead Roadster, Iron Man & Iron Man 2
The first machine we ever see Tony Stark tinkering with isn’t his suit, it’s his car. Its colors determine his new armor’s color scheme—“Throw a little hot-rod red in there,” Tony Stark instructs J.A.R.V.I.S. during the armor’s creation (the original golden rendering was a “little too ostentatious,” even for him). It’s even Tony’s screensaver. The roadster belonged to director Jon Favreau, who loaned it to production, though he may have regretted this when they had to take the car apart to make it look as if Tony Stark had really been working on it. The exhibit also features Iron Man’s Mark IV armor from Iron Man 2 and Iron Man Three, and a deconstructed installation of his Audi R8 V-10, essentially “exploding” the car so you can see its inner workings.
Landspeeder X-34, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Tom Karen based the Landspeeder on the Bond Bug (that he himself had designed), even building it on a Bond Bug chassis. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a hovercraft had wheels, so camera tricks were employed to disguise them, like cropping the wheels out of frame in closeups and mounting mirrors underneath it to trick the eye. Production designer Roger Christian claimed he even attached a little broom to its front to kick up dust. It’s a shining example of the beauty and ingenuity of pre-CGI filmmaking.
DeLorean time machine, Back to the Future trilogy
The first two drafts of Back to the Future called for Doc Brown’s time machine to be…a refrigerator. Screenwriter Bob Gale explained that when Robert Zemeckis realized what a hassle it would be to haul a fridge around on set, he thankfully chose a DeLorean instead. The DeLorean DMC-12’s distinctive design—especially its gullwing doors and stainless-steel exterior—just made it look like a spaceship, and it’s impossible to imagine a more perfect car in this particular role. John DeLorean even wrote the filmmakers a fan letter after the movie premiered, stating the film was brilliant and thanking the design team for immortalizing the DeLorean and making it “the vehicle of the future.”