Top Ten Sci-Fi Ground Vehicles

Here is another sci-fi themed top ten for the entertainment and edification of the readers of my blog. I write top tens because they are said to be catnip for search engines. I have no actual scientific evidence it is even true, but writing and researching top tens is fun so I'm sticking with it.

Today's excursion into ranking the unrankable is my top ten of sci-fi vehicles. As usual, we will need some ground rules about what constitutes a sci-fi vehicle for the purposes of this list. No spaceships will be included, as they are craft rather than vehicles in my reckoning. Also excluded will be anything with legs, which are more mecha than vehicles. I will also be excluding autonomous vehicles and drones that do not need a driver or pilot.

I will also be excluding real world vehicles with a few bits stuck on, such as the DeLorian in Back to the Future. Lastly I want to concentrate on ground vehicles, so nothing that flies is allowed on the list either, sadly disqualifying the police cruisers from the original Blade Runner. Lets start with number ten, and count on up to the best sci-fi vehicle ever designed.

Ten: M577 Armored Personnel Carrier from Aliens

A lot of the vehicles on this list are cars or rovers, but not this brute. The M577 is an awesome personnel carrier, because sometimes in deep space a floating car isn't enough. You need to go some place dangerous, and that means armor. There are sliding side doors, a minigun turret on the front, and a heavier weapon on the back. The vehicle contains a control room that provides the platoon leader with video feeds from the helmet cams of the soldiers.

This vehicle usually appears nearer the top of lists like this, for obvious reasons of badassery, but I have problems with it. I always thought it looked a little low-slung and impractical. The only time we see it off-road, when the squad escapes the complex, the wheels are torn off by the rocky landscape. It seems the M577 relies on the enemy to have well paved roads before it can be deployed.

Nine: Spice Scout

This vehicle is seen for a few fractions of a second in a movie that, objectively speaking, was not good, but which had some brave, almost visionary design. Lynch's Dune was ridiculed, with many people talking of how Jodorowsky's Dune would have looked amazing. I would also love to see a Dune made by Jodorowsky, but that does not mean Lynch's Dune is inferior in its design. His movie looks otherworldly, too. The movie was a commercial failure, but Herbert said he was pleased with Lynch's film. The book, and the film adapted from it, create a world that feels utterly alien, and Lynch, with his surreal style, was the perfect choice for director.

The design of the movie is replete with baroque flourishes (Barry Norman compared it to Cunard Ocean Liner design). The miniature sets achieve a staggering sense of scale. The novel's iconic sandworms feel gargantuan onscreen as they emerge from the desert dunes. When these monsters are sighted, the tiny vehicles sifting spice from the desert sands scamper for safety, including this beautifully designed little scout vehicle.

I loved the design from the moment I saw it, way back in the eighties, and got myself the toy to play with. The armored bubble canopy with view slits in it is a great feature. It is simple and utilitarian but alien and exotic at the same time. Presumably a force field is used to stop a load of sand coming in through these big, wide slits.

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Eight: Tron Bike

Undeniably cool, the Tron bike has become a part of our popular culture. It is as recognizable as Pac-Man or a Space Invader. It was re-imagined, with updated special effects for the Tron reboot movie in 2010. It looks exponentially more badass, but it is still languishing at the bottom of this list because I have a few issues with it. I don't think this huge bike looks like it would be easy to ride by an actual human. They look like they are designed to be ridden by androids in virtual reality. It is a very heavy thing to put a fragile human atop. If it rolls on you, you are most definitely toast. I have a feeling that persuading it to turn corners would be very tricky, too.

Seven: Rover 1

This is the type of rover used in The Martian, and it is a very handsome design. The only problem is that it is a little too close to science fact to be cool. It is a very hard-sci-fi, near-future imagining of a sci-fi vehicle.

Six: FAB 1

FAB 1 is also, like Rover 1, a near-future design, but is very much not hard sci-fi. This is the Rolls-Royce driven by Lady Penelope in the Thunderbirds TV show. FAB 1 is a pink, six-wheeled car used by the British representative of the Thunderbirds team. Series co-creator Gerry Anderson chose a Rolls-Royce to reflect Lady Penelope's personality. The six-wheel drive format was chosen for the design to distinguish it from contemporary vehicles. The model was seven feet long and cost the equivalent of 30,000 pounds to build. It is an immensely beautiful prop, and a visionary imagining of a future car.

Rolls-Royce supervised the model's sculpting and also supplied AP Films with a genuine radiator grille, complete with Spirit of Ecstasy ornament. This was used in close-up shots (such as the machine guns firing, and a stock photograph of the car's front that appears in the series' closing credits). The result is a very striking vehicle indeed.

Five: Land Raider

This is the two-part vehicle that Judge Dredd takes across radioactive badlands in the calssic Cursed Earth story. The vehicle was drawn by the hugely talented comic-book artist McMahon in the pages of 2000 AD.

It was created as a toy by Matchbox, part of a series called Adventure 2000, created as a tie-in with the epic 2000 AD story. The vehicle is actually two vehicles, a scout car and a tank that can combine to create a single command vehicle. It is totally impractical, and makes me smile just to look at it.

Four: Spectrum Patrol Car

The Spectrum Patrol Car is a fictional station wagon that also appears in one of Gerry Anderson's science-fiction television series, this time Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons from 1967. The car can only be opened by Spectrum personnel and can seat up to four people. Like FAB 1, it was created as a scale model, designed by Mike Trim. He did the bulk of the design work on the fabulous futuristic vehicles, buildings, and look of the Andersons' various imaginative TV series, but he is most famous for the cover of Jeff Wayne's The War of the Worlds, which depicts a Martian tripod blasting the heroic Thunder Child.

The Spectrum Patrol Car is a vision of the future unmistakably from the 1960s. This era was the heyday of the station wagon, and why wouldn't the designers of that time believe this type of car would power down the road into the future. This design takes that 60s classic and makes it fit for the future, and the battle against the Mysterons.

Three: Landmaster

The Landmaster is a unique 12-wheeled amphibious articulated vehicle constructed at Jeffries Automotive for the 1977 science fiction film Damnation Alley.  The Landmaster features a fully functional, custom-built "tri-star" wheel arrangement, which helps it crawl over boulders. All 12 wheels are driven, but only 8 are normally in contact with the road surface at any one time. This is a design that could actually be used in broken terrain, or at least it looks like it could. The Landmaster turns by bending the middle section with hydraulic rams, similar to large construction equipment. Its bodywork is chunky steel plating, which results in a weight of 10 tons and such a robust design it can survive a 25-foot jump, which it did during testing with no damage.

It is a Post-Apocalpytic Survival Vehicle that has faced off with gigantic insects and radioactive fallout. It is made out of a variety of truck parts, meaning that it's easy to fix. It is amphibious and mounts serious armaments. It also has high ground clearance and a high nose. It is everything the M577 from Aliens isn't, though the Aliens version of an armored vehicle sure does look cooler. If some thought to practicality had gone into the design of the M577 it could have been up here in the list instead of the Landmaster.

Two: Moon Rover

Moon is a movie about an isolated lunar miner, directed by Duncan Jones. He was hungry for the type of science fiction films of the late 70s and early 80s, like Alien, Outland and Silent Running, and this is what he came up with. There are no flashy space explosions, CGI aliens or other standard features found in typical sci-fi blockbusters. According to the Guardian, one of the things from Moon that did delight critics and audiences alike was the use of good, old-fashioned, miniature model work. In keeping with the movie's updated retro philosophy, the simple shots of models being dragged across the lunar surface were augmented with CGI, which removed wires, and added dust kicked up by the wheels. The rover is a huge machine, impractical and cool, but with a retro 70s feel.

One: Luke's Landspeeder

This can hardly be a surprise as the top sci-fi ground vehicle ever imagined. I am far from the only one who often imagines living in a galaxy far, far away, palling around with Luke, C-3PO, and Ben Kenobi, speeding across Tatooine, using my binoculars to scan the horizon for Tusken Raiders and goofing off to bulls-eye some womp rats.

The Landspeeder is from Star Wars, of course, and Luke Skywalker's X-34 was designed by noted special effects artist John Stears. It has an open cockpit, three engines and a cool desert color scheme.

Interestingly, Luke's speeder was made to look like it was levitating with a mirror angled towards the ground that hid its wheels for the distant shots when it was moving. For close up shots, they suspended the speeder on a rotating arm that was off of camera. The effects were extremely basic, but the vehicle captured on celluloid is arguably the greatest of them all.

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