By now most of us have come to the realisation that this fresh, new month of November we’ve just unwrapped is the month and year that the original 1982 movie Blade Runner was supposed to have taken place. In Blade Runner’s 2019 the automotive landscape is significantly different, arguably much more advanced, with flying cars everywhere. There was at least one car featured in the movie that does seem like it could exist in our 2019, and it’s one of the more under-appreciated cars of Blade Runner. Let’s scrutinise it a bit, like the geeks we are.
Usually, when we talk about Blade Runner cars, we talk about the Spinners, which seems to be the in-universe brand name for the vertical-takeoff flying cars that roam the incredibly low-visibility skies of Los Angeles.
The Spinners are very cool vehicles, no question. There’s a some parallels with these BL 2019 vehicles and the state of 2019 vehicles in our universe, mostly in the arena of the number of screens integrated into the cars’ dashboards:
I think in this particular arena the cars of our world have a slight edge in display technology and UX design, since we use flat LCD screens and not bulky CRTs, and we have less screen displays that look like this:
It’s a small victory for reality, and in no way beats actual flying, but it’s something, I guess.
Our reality fares much better, though, when compared with this other Blade Runner car, which seems to be Detective Decker’s police cruiser, which appears in this scene:
That appears to just be a ground-based car. And, yes, it has a built-in FaceTime screen, but pretty much everyone can do that with their phones in the car, so I don’t see a huge advantage over reality there.
Look at that picture up there. Are drivers expected to be able to read that green 80-column text on those monitors from their cars? What’s it telling you, in such detail? No wonder their LA is such a dystopia—people are making some terrible human interface decisions.
The dark, cluttered environments of Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles makes it tricky to get a good look at this car, which is usually referred to just as the “Deckard Sedan.” Luckily, there’s other resources out there to get a sense of this thing, like designer and futurist Syd Mead’s original drawings:
The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles has had the actual Deckard Sedan on display as well, which is why there’s these really great pictures of it:
The Deckard Sedan is red here because the car was repainted (I think the original colour was silver or grey, but it’s tricky to tell) from the original colour when it was later used in the movie Trancers, which, I admit, I don’t know shit about beyond this. There was also another sedan done up in black-and-white police car livery, it seems:
The Deckard Sedan doesn’t appear to use any really exotic technology, though it does have an interesting focus on is turn indicators and taillights, which are large, flat units that are mounted outboard of the body, wrapping around the corners of the car.
It’s also got excellent bumper protection, arguably superior to the cars in our reality. Our reality, though, is far ahead in making things sleek and hiding equipment. I mean, look at this thing—there’s exposed wiring on the outside, a number of components just mounted to the external bodywork, and I bet this thing would be a bear to hand-wash.
The interior shots of the Deckard Sedan are interesting, too, because they reveal it’s actually drivable, and even better…
…you can tell by that steering wheel and those pedals that it’s built on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis. Interestingly, the Spinners were built on a VW pan as well. Really, lots of prop cars in movies are, for the same reason so many kit cars are: it’s easy to pop the body off and be left with a driveable “skateboard” that you can stick any body onto.
Also, as Gene Winfield, the guy who actually built all the cars for Blade Runner, explains
Well, I build a lot of movie cars on VW chassis because it is an air-cooled engine. And they can sit there an idle, and run and run and run and not get hot and boil over. So, the Volkswagen is a really good way to go. And it has a rear engine so you can make a lower silhouette in the front and taper the hoods way down.
So, at least one car from Blade Runner’s 2019 is a low, angular, rear-engined, air-cooled car with gullwing doors, very prominent indicators and taillights, and lots of crap stuck on the outside. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind such a car in our reality, and it’s absolutely well within the capabilities of our 2019.
I know we don’t have flying cars, but it’s nice to know our dystopian 2019 can at least build one of the cars shown in Blade Runner’s 2019. I’m still not sure which is the better dystopia, though.