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The world needs a monster truck Ecto-1

This piece of mine originally ran at Entertainment Geekly… IN 2002! Sheesh. That site is now long gone, but given the GB leaning content of the piece, I figure it should have a nice new home here.

I was watching Monster Jam on TNN a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know why either — it’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but perhaps Junkyard Wars has affected me more than I thought. Monster Jam, for those of you who are confused, is a solid hour of monster trucks – driving around, jumping over crushed cars, and occasionally stomping a poor, decorative tree, and that sort of thing.

Actually, you don’t really watch monster trucks on TV, rather you sort of stare at them, dully, until one of them nearly flips, or blows an axel joint, or whatever, and then you go “Ooooooo!” So you can imagine me, just staring blankly at the TV, when Guy Woods gets interviewed. Woods is the owner and driver of Bulldozer. All monster trucks have a catchy name, which is usually accompanied by a motif matching paint job or body shell. Bulldozer however, is one of a handful of trucks that takes this characterization of the trucks to a new level. You see, Bulldozer is very bull-like – horns, crazy bull grin, and a nose over the grillwork that snorts smoke.

None of this is on my mind of course – I’m staring like and idiot, remember. But slowly his voice is starting to seep through. He’s talking about the exciting 3D nature of the truck (referring to it’s crazy body shape, not its actual existence in the third dimension) – how kids love it, how it’s a crowd pleaser, how he loves the cheers of the crowd when he pulls off a good run and blows the smoke. And then it hits me…

…Why the hell am I watching Monster Jam? Off I went, looking for a M*A*S*H rerun or something, but Woods had got me thinking – there should be more crowd pleaser trucks out there. I’m wasn’t thinking of unique trucks, as the sport seems to have enough of those as it is (Gravedigger, Bigfoot, etc. all of them legendary. Did I mention that I don’t usually watch Monster Jam?) Instead, why not tap into popular culture to create more character trucks?

I’m not the first one to have this thought* – motor sports has already seen a lot of synergy deals with media giants in the last decade. NASCAR vehicles have featured Scooby-Doo, Dexter, even Batman and Joker in a contrived “show-down”. This unique product placement has started to seep over into monster trucks as well. A couple of times on Monster Jam I’ve seen Spiderman and Wolverine, big-ass trucks sporting paint jobs inspired by their namesake Marvel superheroes.

twimc-monster_trucks

What I do think has been totally ignored is the focus on monster trucks with readily identifiable body shapes. And what better pool of recognized vehicle bodies can you think of than famous TV and movie cars? The cars we’ve grown up with over the last 40 years of pop culture could be the basis for what would be some of the coolest monster trucks ever. There are dozens of cars out there that already occupy a place in our pop consciousness – we already love them and go nuts when we get to see them (in reruns, at car shows, model kits, you name it). We can’t get enough of them. Now, it’d be great if we could just see them driving down the street, but that’s not going to happen. I think there’s more demand for these vehicles than just seeing them on weekend reruns fulfills. So If people want to see more of these vehicles, why not remake them into monster trucks?

Now, I know the idea seems a little crazy, but remember, I’m talking about a widely televised motor sport that has a bull-shaped trucks as a star – it puts the whole crazy thing in perspective. Motor sports, if the experts are to be believed, are some of the fastest growing sports in North America. But not everybody is watching and what better way to tap a new demographic (do the Japanese like monster trucks? Do they like Knight Rider? Would more of then like them if they saw one shaped like the KITT car?) by appealing to our sense of geek? It could be a marketing benefit to the studios that own the vehicle licenses as well, providing a wide, weekly forum to promote their latest product (tell me that the Spiderman truck isn’t being used, to some degree, to shill the upcoming movie). Both the sport organizers and the studios benefit from merchandizing – car enthusiasts have made car collectibles, such as model kits and die-cast cars, a hot market. Just ask Playing Mantis. And we, as geek consumers, would benefit from seeing our gas-powered icons roar to life, not to mention the aforementioned collectibles with which we could populate our desks and shelves.
Maybe I should give you a little visualization exercise. Imagine sitting in a stadium of thousands (Monster Jam claimed once that the arena they were in that week had 40,000 fans in it – that’s more than most of the big, ball-using sports). There have been a couple of good runs, and near misses. One sad little tree unfortunately placed in a turn has gone down for the third and last time. You sit with friends, chatting, having a drink while you wait for the next truck to get ready. Up to the line rolls the Ecto-1a, that infamous Caddy we all remember blowing through the streets of New York in Ghostbusters. It’s beautiful, with its white finish, red fins, and a roof of widgets, dishes, and lights (all this is shaped from the fibreglass body, rather than practical parts), the no-ghost logo proudly displayed on the doors. The scrolling LED light banners running along the top of the car that were added for the second movie prove to be useful instead of cheesy as they now flash an announcement about Sony Pictures up coming summer blockbuster (whatever it may be – MIB 3 maybe?), easily seen by every television camera in the place. All this sits atop 8 feet of rubber tires. The starting lights signal go and the Ecto-Truck’s massive engine roars. It runs the track, jumps a bus, and tromps the tiny tree sent in to replace the last one. At the end of the run, the driver pulls a huge jump right into a wheelie, nearly tipping the vehicle over, but it recovers and the crowd loves it. And as the announcers gab their usual airtime filling jibber-jabber, the driver flicks a switch – the light bars go large and the one-of-a-kind siren fills the stadium. Cue pandemonium.

Now who wouldn’t pay hard earned cash to see that?
More importantly, who wouldn’t want that die-cast model sitting next to their monitor? And it doesn’t end there. Just think of all the other cars, trucks, and vans that could be the next big monster truck.

Maybe I’m on my own here. That’s fine. But I like to think I’m not. I’m betting that most of us would love to see something like this put into practice. So, send me your thoughts, your suggestions, your list of favourite cars you’d like to see made into a monster truck (photoshop examples welcome), and we’ll see if we can’t put a little polish on this diamond in the rough. And for the love of God, if anybody out there knows a studio exec or monster truck commissioner, please, feel free to sow a few seeds.


*Credit also goes to the rabid fankids out there who have taken the time to mod their favourite racing games to include their equally favourite screen hot-rods. I don’t know where these guys find the time, but the results are always interesting.

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