From The SFX Archives: Some of the best flying cars (and buses) – that actually LOOK like cars (or buses) – from science fiction and fantasy (with one exception, for product placement reasons).
( This is an updated and extended version of a feature published in 2010 .)
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don't need roads.” And to prove his point, Doc Brown reveals that his time traveling car has more than one trick up its exhaust: it can fly. One of the best final scenes in a movie ever, surely? The DeLorean used in the trilogy was a 1981 DMC-12, with a 6-cylinder PRV (Peugeot/Renault/Volvo) engine. And it’s amazing to think that with three blockbusters’ worth of publicity, the car company still went bust.
The Starcar that whisks top videogamer Alex Regan off to the planet Rylos was cinema’s first ever CG flying car. There was a “real”, full-sized version as well, which later had a cameo in Back To The Future 2 . Although it may have superficial similarities to a DeLorean (especially the wing doors), it is not, in fact, a DeLorean.
When Harry and Ron miss the Hogwarts Express at the start of their second year at the school for witches and wizards, they nick Ron’s dad’s light blue 105E Ford Anglia to get there instead (bloody joyriders – what is this film teaching our kids?). But Mr Weasley has pimped the car somewhat: it can fly, turn invisible, never needs petrol and can do a TARDIS so that up to ten people, six trunks, two owls and a rat can comfortably fit inside. SFX once had a stand at a con next to the stand where the car used in the film was on display, and the creaking noise the doors made when you opened and closed them was highly amusing. We amused ourselves for, ooh, minutes. No Foley artists needed.
The flying cars in Blade Runner were christened spinners, though they neither span very much nor sounded a ’60s folk band (or, indeed, a ’6os soul band, if you’re American). They could be driven like cars on the ground, or perform a vertical take-off and fly away. They were designed by Syd Mead, who described them as aerodyne – which means a vehicle that directs air downwards to create lift – though publicity for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: “conventional internal combustion, jet and anti-gravity”. Maybe there were different models?
Everybody remembers Bond’s submarine Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me and the invisible Aston Martin* in Die Another Day , but he’s never had a flying car. In that department one of his adversaries had the upper hand. Scaramanga in The Man With The Golden Gun escapes using a 1974 AMC Matador with a jet engine and wings mounted on the roof. It looks oddly like the automobile equivalent of those nutters who jump off the pier at the Worthing Birdman competition very year.
( *How can any car that’s supposed to be cool be called Martin? It’s like having a Lamborghini Nigel. )
“Planet Of The Dead”
Thanks to some alien anti-gravity devices stuck to its wheels, a London double decker levitates out of the sand dunes (or more accurately, human remains dunes) of “The Planet Of The Dead”. But it wasn’t
’s first flying bus…
“Delta And The Bannermen”
…That honour went to the Navarino Nostalgia Tours spaceship, which was cunningly disguised as a ’50 bus. Unfortunately, it had a collision with an early Earth Satellite and became stranded in Wales. Hang on, was this episode the blueprint for the whole Russell T Davies era?
There were thousands more flying cars in “Gridlock”, and they all looked like armoured VW camper vans. They also all looked identical which may be: a) a clever in-joke referencing Henry Ford’s gag about “
Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”, or b) a way of making things a bit easier for the CG FX team and set dressers working on a TV budget.
“Planet Of The Spiders”
For a proper flying car in
, you have to go all the way back to Jon Pertwee’s final story. Oddly, whenever it took off, it developed a yellow halo. Contrary to popular belief, this was not dodgy ’70s electronic effects work, but an alien anti-gravity energy field. Honest, guv. The car was actually based on a invalid tricycle, and was specially commissioned for, and owned by, Jon Pertwee.
And, oh look, the first episode of Russell T Davies’s new show Wizards Vs Aliens , and we get a flying car, this one escaping from a Nekross spaceship with some magical help (and some gorgeous effects, especially for a CBBC show). We’re getting the feeling RTD likes flying vehicles
The quintessential flying car. It was designed by Ken Adam (most famous for creating the lavish sets on another Ian Fleming franchise – Bond) and Rowland Emmett (who designed the mad inventions that appeared in the film) with help from the Ford racing team. The final car weighed approximately two tons, was 17 feet long and was built on a custom-made ladder frame chassis. In the film, the cars earns it name from the sound it makes. In which case what would your car be called? (To anyone currently thinking “Neeeeeoooowwwww”, can we just say, “Penis extension”?)
Gerry Anderson has flung a fair few flying cars our way over the years. He started off with his first SF series, Supercar , the star of which could also be driven underwater (but it didn’t actually look at all like a car). FAB 1, Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce, never actually flew in the TV series of Thunderbirds , but it did take off in the big screen version, Thunderbirds Are Go , although that was only in a dream sequence (in which Lady Penelope flies Alan to a nightclub called The Swinging Star where Cliff Richard Jr is performing). In the ghastly 2004 film version, FAB 1 did fly, but by that time it was a rather ugly, heavily-modified Ford Thunderbird, and fans are never going to accept that as canon. Anderson also gave us flying police cars in Space Precinct , but they were pretty ungainly-looking, and had nothing on the police spinners in Blade Runner .
Until the Total Recall remake this year, The Fifth Element must have held the record for the most flying cars ever in a movie (we’re still not sure it doesn’t – anyone want to count? And anyway, are the ones in Total really flying cars? We’ll get to that in a minute). Bruce Willis drives the flying version of a yellow New York taxi, chased by flying police cars weaving through flying vehicles of every make and shape imaginable (but all of which look like they’d make really cool floating bath toys).
The car chase sequence in Total Recall was part Blade Runner, part The Fifth Element and part Minority Report . But are the cars really flying? Or are they some kind of magnetic hovercraft? They only ever over a few feet above – or underneath – the roads and ramps. And when Quaid turns off the “mag compression” the car tumbles like the one at the end of the Blues Brothers (though somehow less spectacularly despite decades of improvements in FX tech). It remains a great action sequence, though, and adds one new twist to future cars – a steering wheel that could be passed easily moved from left to right-hand drive and back again.
We could have included Grease in this list, but aside from the fact that the car inexplicably takes off at the end, it’s not really an SF or fantasy film. Anyway, we have our own “unexpected flying car” ending in the form of Repo Man , though it’s debatable you could call anything in Repo Man “unexpected”. This is a film in which some repo men, a gang of Mexican car-thieves and a government secret agent are all in a race to find a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu with some dead aliens in the boot, that’s being driven around Los Angeles by a crazy scientist. By the time it glows green and starts hovering, you can accept anything.
It’s called a car, so we’ve included it, but is the Fantasticar really a car? It’s more like a really small personal jet. But in the film version there’s a huge, lovingly-photographed Dodge logo on the bonnet, so the product placement guys obviously felt it was car enough to make some money out of. The Fantasticar first appeared in the Fantastic Four comics in issue three, but it was rapidly updated in issue 12 for the reasons given below…
Right, we avoided animated series up until now because they open the floodgate to things like The Jetsons and Catbus (not that there’s anything wrong with Catbus, but we have to draw the line somewhere – no animation pun intended). However, it would be criminal not to mention Danger Mouse’s Mark III flying car. It may look like some basic exercise in origami but it is seriously cool. Completely road worthy (as long as it doesn’t fall down any potholes) it has telescopically extending wings that pop out of the sides when Danger Mouse presses a button on his wrist controller. A nippy little thing, it flits around like demented swift, which, combined with the fact that Danger Mouse liked to drive around with it open topped, meant that his trusty sidekick Penfold was always conscientious about using his seat belt.