Today, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the time Speed Racer drove a Volkswagen GTI to victory after the Mach 5 had been sabotaged. On, July 21, 1996, Speed and the rest of the Racer family were distraught after discovering the Mach 5 would be out of commission for a big race.
But thanks to a stranger who generously hands over the keys to a red VW GTI, Speed Racer manages to win anyway. At least that’s how Volkswagen tells it in an ad that aired 26 years ago, to the day.
We don’t actually see Speed Racer take to the podium, though we do see Speed waved in by the checkered flag under a “Finish” sign. But even after all this time, the real question goes unanswered: who, exactly, sabotaged the Mach 5?
It could have been any villain from the Speed Racer series, Snake Oiler or Captain Terror. Maybe even Racer X or Chim Chim! I mean, the pet monkey the Racer family notoriously kept was prone to mischief. It could’ve just been an accident in the end. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a ploy devised by a large multinational corporation, like Rival Motors or, more to the point, Volkswagen.
Look, it’s probably safe to assume that the bearded stranger who saves the day knows who Speed Racer is. Meaning, he knows what Speed will do to win the race, and the sort of damage it’s going to cause the VW GTI. You don’t hand over the keys to a brand new car that easily, and just say, “Here, Speed.”
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It’s all too suspicious given the context. And that’s not even considering that the VW praise from Speed and Pops ends up sounding a bit contrived. If I’m being fair, sure, the red 1996 Volkswagen GTI in the ad is fantastic; it’s a two-door; it has fog lights and five-spoke silver wheels; it’s a red hatchback with red “GTI” lettering in the grill! It really is amazing. Maybe not roomy, but that’s a plus. Because two-door GTIs will always be the best GTIs.
The ad was the first time Speed Racer ever endorsed a car, or product at all, according to the New York Times. It was a part of Volkswagen’s “Drivers Wanted” campaign. But more importantly, it was a good endorsement because of how critical Speed would’ve been of any car that didn’t live up to the Mach 5. Given how cool the third-generation GTI was, I’ll suspend my disbelief. Though, I’d still like to know just who sabotaged the Mach 5.