The ‘80s Cartoon That Ripped Off Night Rider


Summary

  • Turbo Teen, a forgotten ’80s cartoon, merged a boy and his sports car in a bizarre premise.
  • Despite its absurdity, the show tried to capitalize on the ’80s obsession with fast cars.
  • An example of 80s weirdness, Turbo Teen was never a hit, but its unique concept still intrigues.



The 1980s were a decade of cool people driving fast cars. Sports cars were one of the definitive signs of ’80s excess, and they were all over television and movies. One of the most popular shows of the early part of the decade was Knight Rider, the story of a man with a sentient, talking car. It made David Hasselhoff a household name.

However, for every piece of popular culture, there is always a cheap ripoff. In 1984, an animated children’s show ran for thirteen episodes and attempted to combine the elements of Knight Rider into one. Instead of having a guy and his car, why not have the guy BE his car? That was the idea behind Turbo Teen.


Absurdly Specific Premise


There are always strange things happening in ’80s cartoons. Turbo Teen decided to take a young man named Brett Matthews and put him in a very odd situation. One dark and particularly stormy night, he is driving his red sports car when he swerves off the road. Now, this sounds like a plausible scenario. However, what happens next is where we land on shaky ground. When he swerves, his car ends up crashing through a top-secret military installation where they are conducting an experiment involving a molecular ray. Brett and his car end up in the path of the beam and become fused together. Now, Brett can morph into his car and back into his own body, all the while still being able to communicate with his own voice.

Brett has a group of friends who help him as he goes on a variety of missions and gets into all kinds of trouble all over the world. In many cases, he encountered other cultures that were not represented in the best light, especially when it came to how they were animated. However, this seems to have been a running issue with many cartoons of the time.


One of the things to note is that the creators of the show put obstacles in place for Brett and his transformations. For example, he only turns into his car form when he is exposed to extreme heat. So, to turn back into his human form, he must be exposed to extreme cold conditions. This means that there are plenty of episodes where he turns back into himself having fallen into deep water. This type of concocted rule seems to be in place for no apparent reason as it might have been more interesting to allow him to change at will.

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A Product of Its Time

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As previously stated, sports cars were huge in the ’80s. Knight Rider had a sleek, black Trans Am with whirring red lights across the front to give it the illusion of a robot mouth when it was communicating. The car in Turbo Teen had headlights and a grill to make it look like a very stretched-out face. It was extremely offputting, especially when Brett transformed and his entire face stretched out to become the front of the car.

KITT, the car from Knight Rider, also communicated through speakers inside the car, while Turbo Teen communicated through the radio. It was not hard to see the parallels between the two shows.

It should be noted that there was a glut of films throughout the decade that centered around cars. Consider just a short list: Christine (1983), The Wraith (1986), Mad Max 2 (1981), Stroker Ace (1983), Back to the Future (1985), and more. It was a decade obsessed with its cars. Turbo Teen got in on the early side of things but was by no means the last show or movie to think a little too hard about the appeal of four wheels and a loud engine.


A Real Misfire

The show was not well received but, because it was the ’80s, it still had a full season of episodes. The absurdity continued, however, with a Turbo Teen model kit, which was a repurposed Go-Bots model that transformed into a robot except it was given a tiny Brett Matthews head to stick on top. It is an abomination of a toy.

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The show was a collection of “jump the shark” moments, including an episode where the group is being attacked by tigers and Brett inexplicably tames them back into a cage using a whip and a chair… while in his car form. It is a show that took too many disparate ideas and then gave itself far too many rules while also creating something wholly original and unoriginal at the same time.

The one thing that can be said for the show is that it was 100% a child of the time. It is not a show that will ever be remade, nobody is screaming to get a movie version on the books, and no streaming service offers a remastered 4K edition. However, some people with far too much time on their hands and a VHS recorder have uploaded every episode onto YouTube, something that the creators may be just as surprised about as you are.

Turbo Teen made an effort to be something. In this, it succeeded. It certainly was something.




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