Top 5 Cinematic Styling Inspirations for the Tesla Cybertruck
The Tesla Cybertruck has been lampooned, lauded and endlessly talked about since it debuted just after the 2018 L.A. Auto Show. Almost all of the discussion has focused on the vehicle's unusual looks, which stray far from the mainstream of modern automotive design.
While the Cybertruck might not resemble anything currently on the market, it's not a new shape—rather, it's a well-explored take from the past on what the future might look like. The wedge dominated the minds of designers and visual artists from the 70s to the end of the 80s, and as a result it showed up time and again on the screen when depicting what personal transportation might look like decades or even centuries from the release date of a particular TV show or film.
In some ways, it could be argued that these pop culture representations have programmed society in terms of how it expects the future appear, which is a big part of why the Cybertruck generated such a strong reaction. Tesla's Elon Musk himself has acknowledged that the Cybertruck was more than a little inspired by the sci-fi he and his designers grew up with.
Which cinematic stars are likely to have played a role in suggesting the shape of the all-electric pickup? We've put together a list of the vehicles that predicted Cybertruck's hard angles many years before it took to the stage.
1. Syd Mead's Spinners and Ground Cars from Blade Runner
The visual design of 1982's Blade Runner has had an outsize impact on popular culture in terms of its depiction of future urban architecture, aggressive advertising, fashion, and of course, transportation. Of the latter, the 'Spinner' is the most memorable vehicle from the movie, a glassed-in hovercar driven in various forms by the film's protagonist as well as various police officials. Main character Deckard is also seen in ground-bound variant of these vehicles, which offer a more traditional triangular visage.
Both were designed by Syd Mead, who was Blade Runner's artistic director. Mead has himself had nothing but positive comments to make about the Cybertruck, which perhaps isn't surprising given that Musk has name-dropped the film while discussing the truck. Mead's long career in design has also included stints at Ford as well as numerous video game and Hollywood properties (including, but not limited to, Aliens, 2010, Star Trek, Yamato 2520, Sega, Wing Commander, Mission: Impossible).
2. Robert Q. Riley Enterprise's UrbaCars from Total Recall
The 1990 film Total Recall—which, like Blade Runner, was also based on a story by author Philip K. Dick—featured numerous wedge-shaped automobiles plying its near-future roads. In this case, however, inspiration came more from yesterday than tomorrow, as numerous rides in the movie were based on 1970s kit car designs from Robert Q. Riley Enterprises.
Although massaged somewhat by Mike Fennel Enterprises, which was in charge of building the vehicles used in production, Total Recall used a number of models from the Urba line of automobiles including the Town Car, which sat on a Beetle chassis and had grown out of Riley's desire to produce fuel efficient automobiles in response to the Arab Oil Crisis. Lightweight and demonstrating the aerodynamic efficiencies of the wedge, these cars occasionally pop up for sale on auction sites, and the kit plans are still available directly from the source (now updated to include battery powered options).
3. Ron Cobb's M577 Armored Personnel Carrier from Aliens
Rob Cobb parlayed a series of jobs working as a low-level Disney animator, a rock album cover illustrator, and a cartoonist into a successful career as a major visual designer for a wide range of science-fiction films. Of these, one of his most memorable was the Alien franchise, including the creation of the M577 Armored Personnel Carrier used by the Space Marines in the second film of the franchise.
Originally intended as a wholly custom design, budget limitations would instead see a Hunslet Air Towing Tractor used to tug passenger jets around the runways of Heathrow used as the starting point. Weighing an astonishing 28 tons, even after a huge amount of its lead ballast had been removed, the M577 was capable of 35 mph speeds and looked every inch the battering ram it turned out to be in the movie. The entire construction of the vehicle took a mere two weeks.
4. Perry Oceanographic's 'Wet Nellie' Lotus Esprit Submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me
This is almost a no-brainer, given that the Tesla Model S has long used an icon of the Lotus-look submarine from The Spy Who Loved Me as an icon Easter Egg when typing '007' into the vehicle's infotainment system. Musk actually owns the vehicle used in the film itself, which was built by Perry Oceanographic as a 'wet' submarine—that is to say, one that doesn't keep its occupants dry when diving.
Nicknamed 'Wet Nellie,' the prop was functional, unlike the engine-free Esprit shells that were dragged into and out of the ocean prior to its on-screen transformation from car to sub. Fun fact: the Esprit coupe's wedge is so effective at creating downforce that Perry Oceanographic was forced to add those small control fins at each wheel to keep it from diving to the bottom of the ocean when in use.
5. Ron Cobb and Andrew Probert's DeLorean DMC12 Time Machine from Back to the Future
Cobb's second appearance on this list is no doubt more famous than the first—but with an assist from John DeLorean, who created the DMC12 gullwing coupe that Back to the Future's Doc Brown would use for his time machine. Cobb was brought in to create a vehicle that would look futuristic, but also somewhat cobbled together, and his contribution included both the fusion reactor powering the machine, and the massive coilpacks and vents hanging off the rear of the vehicle.
These 'dirtied' up the too-clinical designs originally provided by artist Andrew Probert, who would come back to complete the overall look of the car once Cobb was through.
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