The Original Mach 5 from Speed Racer: Mach GoGoGo
(Submitted by Car Lust reader and commenter Tigerstrypes)
Who of us born in the last 50 years doesn’t know who Speed Racer is? And who didn’t want a Mach 5?
Throughout any continuity of your choice that portrays the original silhouette of the trident-nosed homage to hypersonic speeds, the Mach 5 has been raced hard, stolen, sabotaged, shot at, imitated, damaged, crashed, rebuilt, has been in turbulent waters, crashed again, rebuilt hours before a big race, and traded paint with the best and the worst that international automotive racing and shady organizations and individuals could throw at it, among many other things. This two-tone (as it should be) machine is the embodiment of the never-give-up/never-say-die attitude of the Mifune/Racer family.
I owe much of my taste in both car and entertainment to Speed Racer. Yet as all of us grew, the Mach 5 has been relegated to utter fantasy and the show as either a guilty pleasure or unwatchable by some people’s standards (hopefully is the former, and I dare those people to watch ANY modern non-anime, non-retro cartoon and tell me if they haven’t changed their minds).
Speed Racer in itself started out as a manga (Japanese graphic novel) back in 1966 by Tatsuo Yoshida, which was inspired by the earlier and similarly styled automotive manga success, Pilot Ace. It was later made into anime under the same name: Mach GOGOGO, in 1967 by Tatsunoko. It is said that the manga was made to promote the series, which by the time was still trying to find a sponsor to put the series on air, though Tatsunoko made 13 episodes before getting a sponsor, a helluva bet for such a young company at the time.
The Japanese name of the Mach 5 was simply “The Mach”, though its giant ‘M’ on the nose actually stands for Mifune, the Racers’ Japanese family name. The #5 takes advantage of one of the many puns involving Speed’s Japanese name: Go, as in Go Mifune. ‘Go’ means ‘5’ in Japanese. Get it?
In the original manga, the story takes place in mostly real countries, in which the Mach competes against, though not necessarily in the same racing class, Maseratis, Ferraris, a Shelby G.T.350 and Cobras, Porsche 904s, Toyota 2000GTs, Corvette Stingrays, Mercedes SL series, and, of course, one-off racecars (in the Speed Racer NOW Comics of 1987-1990, he goes against a Jaguar XJ220, a Porsche Panamericana, Vector W8s, Pontiac Banshee IV, a Ferrari Testarossa, first-gen Dodge Vipers, a Cizeta Moroder V16T and Lamborghini Diablos, and Countachs, to name a few. I mention this because no one else will).
For some reason, in the Sun Wide Comics manga reprint, a Group 5 Toyota Celica LB Turbo racecar appears among a small selection of rivals. Wish I had more info on that. It‘s still cool to think of the Mach 5 still racing during that time (late 70s).
Tatsuo Yoshida wasn’t fully immersed into the science of cars, but his love for them and western culture is what spawned Mach GoGoGo!
Let’s teach the newer generation and refresh our memories on the usage of the Mach 5’s controls. Please note that in the Japanese version, the letters signified the first letter of the name of the controls. Japanese names are stated first followed by the English version unless otherwise noted:
· A: Auto Jacks - the ORIGINAL purpose was to be just that, JACKS. Their ability to withstand multiple (ab)use as vehicle propulsion devices is a testament to the system’s build and engineering.
· B: Belt Tires/Grip Tires – This is the one I feel that’s the trickiest to pull off. For years I thought the grip mechanism was in the tires themselves, but one day I saw a clear model of the Mach 5, (and the poster pic placed above as our readers can plainly see) that they come from hidden compartments that stick to their respective tires, which are spinning at racecar speeds. How they detract, or are they even disposable with another set in the car (the Mach 5 is already carrying too much weight) is up for debate. Probably able to withstand high-downforce loads that the Mach IV version of the Tommy Yune comic books couldn’t (it wasn’t pretty).
· C: Chopper/Rotary Saws – Probably THE signature gadget of the Mach 5. Let me just say this: They have to cut low enough so the Mach 5 doesn’t get caught under stumps. Take a moment and ponder on what engineering feats that had to be undertaken in order to cut trees at a continuous rate of high speed, the blade speeds to do so and the material used to avoid losing its sharpness in the first couple of cuts.
· D: Defencer or Defensor/Deflector – The weathertight/bulletproof glass ceiling.
· E: Evening Eye, Special Illumination, Illuminating Eye/Evening Eye – Special headlights that also emit infrared light that can be seen through Speed’s eyeshield on his helmet.
· F: Frogger/“Frogger Mode” – The Mach 5 can run underwater using an oxygen tank. For its passengers, said tank can last 30 minutes. For the Mach 5’s engine? Less so.
· G: Gizmo/Homing Robot – Today we take anything that is remote-controlled for granted. This was cutting-edge stuff in the mid-60s, and I would bet one of the car’s most expensive features if most of its components weren’t fabricated by Pops Racer/Daisuke Mifune. Remember that when the center console-mounted “H” button is pressed, the homing robot automatically goes to a pre-determined location. The robot (called ‘Galant’ in the Japanese series) in itself, aside from being of a beautiful design, has a built-in recorder and a little storage space. One could say that Sparky brought that technology from college in the aforementioned Tommy Yune comics.
In the original manga we see a couple of gadgets that didn’t make the cut in the series. Just like winglets the Mach got fitted to take on the Car Acrobatic Team in the series, modifications were made so the Mach could survive against deadlier opponents. These include the Hydrofoil mode and Ultra-jets. Another one is the Auto-spare. The trademark Auto jacks were substituted for “jets”, called Aero-jacks, even though a different button is used and don’t seem to be that different from said Ultra-jets. The mentioned winglets were later installed in the manga and look quite more dramatic, making it look as if the Mach had a fighter-jet mode, but it isn’t. It doesn’t seem to take advantage of the aforementioned Aero-jacks and/or Ultra jets during flight.
The engine in itself is a bit of a mystery. According to an Imai product description, the name of the engine is GOV12. If we (yet again) go by the Tommy Yune comic books, the engine is the brainchild of the eccentric genius Dr. Bent Cranium (other sources say Ben Cranem), the E-RX, previous (and less violent) work to the infamous GRX. Its compact dimensions belie its extreme power delivery, capable of insane torque all the way to 16,000RPM! Its acceleration is described as motorcycle-like. Not bad for a V-12 with WWII tank lineage. It must be noted that the transmission capable to withstand such punishment was a one-off. Pops would later take what he learned with the E-RX and build his own, more powerful engine.
Let me remind you that this car was built by family man Pops Racer/Daisuke Mifune (and Rex Racer depending on the continuity, which only helps strengthen the bond that Speed has for the Mach 5) with virtually no outside help (he quit his corporate job when said corporation refused to build a new motor (probably the GOV12) for the Mach 5, thus forming Racer Motors/Mifune Motors), and maintained by an a young (about Speed’s age) but very able mechanic, Sparky/Sabu.
While this may sound just as unbelievable as the Mach 5’s gadgets, one must remember that this was still 1960s racing, when it was still possible to campaign and maintain your own racecar without the need of a full-blown pit crew (though they did have a few extra hands around from time to time). It just so happens that the car in question wasn’t a Bug-eye Sprite or a Corvette. The fact that the Mach 5 can take all kinds of beating that no regular racecar has, have, and never will be subjected to and still be able to not only finish but also win with all cylinders firing, is a testament of Pop Racer’s/Daisuke Mifune’s engineering and building skills.
Though the popular configuration is front-engine/rear-wheel drive, there have been drawings, both from the manga as well as the NOW comic book series, in which it seemed it was made mid-engined from time to time. You go to Wikipedia’s nicely detailed Mach 5 webpage, we have mention of cars like Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, McLaren M1A, and Ford GT40 as inspiration to the Mach 5’s design mainly because they’re successful racecars back in the day. While there are some things that may link them to the Mach 5, I disagree, aside from the Testa Rossa (It even mentions the C3 Corvette, a car that went into production as a ’68 model when the Mach ’s design was cast in stone, er, paper, back in 1966. Maybe they meant the gadget-laden 1965 Mako Shark concept, but it’s still a stretch).
It should be noted that while Tatsuo Yoshida did create Mach GoGoGo overall, he appointed Mitsuki Nakamura on the Mach’s design. It had to be simple enough to draw repeatedly, yet unmistakably recognizable for marketing purposes. Obviously, Yoshida-sama had to approve of it. While it’s said that Nakamura-sama didn’t use any references for Mach’s design, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t have been inspired by certain machinery.
Let’s pretend that Yoshida-sama and Nakamura-sama had a decent enough grapevine to get their automotive inspirations.
My list of possible suspects:
1957 Chevrolet XP-64 Corvette Super Sport – From my little list of possible inspirations, this one is probably the closest, and I’m not the only one that thinks there are a couple of similarities between these two. The main reason I chose this Zora Arkus-Duntov/Harley Earl creation was, you guessed it, the bubble top. According to Corvette Prototypes & Show Cars Album (which has a much cooler looking pic, but due to copyright stuff I decided to not use it), the bubble top was to meet some obscure racing rule, though the car ran open-top at Sebring.
1966 Jaguar XJ13 – Yes, from the same year as the manga, which is cutting it close. Yes, I know it was never raced, though it set speed records that lasted for years. It’s roughly the same size as its competitors mentioned above, it’s got those air scoops over the rear fenders, it’s mid-engined if you believe the Mach 5 came with that orientation, AND most importantly, it’s got a TRUNK big enough to squeeze a child and its pet monkey.
There’s only one catch: Almost nobody knew about it outside Jaguar until the V-12 E-Type press release in the early 70s. Also, all the pics I’ve found were post-1971 crash, afterwards the car was rebuilt and the body slightly modified around the wheel wells among other touch-ups. It would’ve been quite the stretch if spy shots or something somehow made it all the way to Japan. Of all the beautiful pictures, I chose this old one to showcase all of its dimensions. For the best pics of this fine example click here.
1964 Chevrolet Experimental Research Vehicle (CERV) II – One of the reasons I believe the Mach 5 was such a contender on the track against its better-funded competitors was the application of its all-wheel-drive. Since the tires of the day weren’t what one would call cutting-edge, an AWD system could compensate in reigning in all of the Mach 5's 5000HP and not making the rear tires go up in smoke. (If the Mach 5 was equipped with part-time or full-time AWD system is up for debate. It at least received the most power when the grip tires were activated. Or you could just blame everything at animation mistakes for making the front tires spin.)
This is the reason why the CERV II, another Duntov creation, had AWD, so it could put its much more realistic HP output to cope with less-than-stellar tire performance of the day. It isn’t the first AWD racecar, but I bet if either Nakamura-sama or Yoshida-sama received Motor Trend magazine and took one look at the cover, they wouldn’t hesitate in giving the Mach 5 similar technology to meet (and surpass) the CERV II performance #s. Yes, I know the cover is from November 1970, but the car was around since 1964, though I don’t know how much info on this beast was released prior to Motor Trend’s coverage.
Torque converters front and rear, two-speed gear reduction allowed different torque-ratio-split mechanisms front and rear, among other things, were engineered to overcome the shortcomings of pre-WWII German AWD racecars, among others, and make the CERV II Le-Mans ready. It’s interesting to see that its internal rival, the Corvette GS2B, brought its own AWD system (it should be listed here, but the CERV came first with AWD) in a tire test against the CERV II.
I should mention that, according to Wikipedia, Yoshida-sama got his idea for Mach GoGoGo off Elvis Presley’s Viva Las Vegas and from Goldfinger, both from 1964. There was definitely enough material to inspire the Mach 5’s design, too. I would also like to mention the 1959 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray XP-87 that appeared colored red in that other Elvis Presley movie Clambake, on my list, but that movie was released in 1967. Then again that car actually raced with success before the movie…
Whatever the source of inspiration, Nakamura-sama and Yoshida-sama NAILED it.
Whether or not you dismiss the Mach 5 as a pure flight of fantasy, you certainly cannot dismiss the Mach 5’s impact on popular culture. From Jada Toys’ interpretations to full-size, licensed Corvette-based replicas, it’s safe to say that throughout the late 60’s, the return in popularity in the late 80s and early-to mid 90s, and present day, the essence of the Mach 5 still roars on in part because it has turned on the engines of many an impressionable youth.
And that is neither a bad thing nor fantasy.
Here we have the original Japanese intro for Mach GoGoGo. It was ground-breaking for its time, breaking the mold of what was common for anime theme songs back then. Isn’t it more bad@$$ than the U.S. version?
Remote-control Mach 5 by Imai pic found on eBay months ago. Pathetic replacement link:
Mach 5 gadget poster pic found at a random poster shop website. Satisfactory link: http://www.posterrevolution.com/poster.cfm/speed-racer-mach-5-car-tv-poster-print-24x36
Pic link: http://pix.posterrevolution.com/pr/1/554058f.jpg
Mach GoGoGo The Mach early concept art used with authorization from Scifi Japan (thanks guys), link:
Chevrolet XP-64 Corvette pic from motomania.tumblr.com (What, it doesn’t work?! Dammit. Fine. Here’s another pic link):
Jaguar XJ13 pic came from www.nfscars.net.
CERV II cover from www.motortrend.com
Kindergarten Mach 5 by moi, circa 1996
For more info about Speed Racer, Mach GoGoGo, its creators, the theme song, why Pilot Ace itself didn’t become a series, the production saga, the Americanization saga, the return to TV, rare concept art, and even failed and somewhat successful reboots, go here and look around: