Saturday morning cartoons: “Speed Buggy”

Speed BuggyThis week, I look back at the early 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon “Speed Buggy.”

Background

Airing on CBS from 1973-1975, “Speed Buggy” was one of the myriad of “Scooby-Doo”/”Josie and the Pussycats” clones that aired on Saturday mornings in the 70s. The series featured the adventures of a three-person pit crew and Speed Buggy, their anthropomorphic talking dune buggy.

During the 70s, Hanna-Barbera thought dune buggies were “hip” for some reason. Bamm-Bamm drove a “cave buggy” on “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show,” while the “Funky Phantom” cast also rode around in a dune buggy. The then-recent series of “Herbie, the Love Bug” films by Disney probably also inspired Speedy.

The extremely fast Speedy was entered in road rallies and auto races all over the world. This allowed the gang to visit various exotic locales. Inevitably, with each location visited, the gang would get caught up in some villain’s evil master plan (usually involving global domination) that the racers would have to thwart. A few episodes see the villains specifically seeking to capture Speed Buggy and learn his technological secrets—Speedy being, well, an anthropomorphic super-fast car and all.

“Speed Buggy” debuted in 1973 and aired as a single season of 16 episodes, with reruns airing the following season on CBS, as well as on both NBC and ABC through the remainder of the 70s, and even briefly in the early 80s. Its competition:

ABC: “The Brady Kids.” The Filmation produced spinoff of “The Brady Bunch” centering around the Brady kids, plus a talking magic bird and two panda bear companions. My vote for one of the worst TV cartoons ever made. It doesn’t help that I was never a fan of “The Brady Bunch” to begin with.

NBC: “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.” A Sid and Marty Krofft production about two boys and their friendly sea monster pal, Sigmund.

Cast

The human members of the cast included: Mark, the Fred Jones-like bland-but-likable leader of the group; Debbie, the only female member of the team; and Tinker, the team’s main mechanic and inventor of Speed Buggy, who spoke in a Gomer Pyle-like voice. Tinker was capable of controlling Speed Buggy through a voice-activated remote control, though he rarely needed to use such; however, the device would sometimes fall into the villains’ hands.

Some sources online claim that Mark was Native American. However, I’ve not found anything on my own to verify such. If Mark was Native American, a typical cartoon of the era would’ve mentioned such or made it a plot point in at least one episode. However, when I went over episode descriptions, I didn’t see any indication of such an episode existing. The source of this might be from the “Speed Buggy” cast’s crossover appearance in an episode of “The New Scooby-Doo Movies.” There, Mark was animated with a darker skin complexion, but I presume it’s merely an animation error. If anyone can indicate otherwise, however, I’d be glad to hear it.

Later appearances

Speedy went on to appear in some other Hanna-Barbera productions over the years.

He co-starred in “Laff-A-Lympics” (on the “Scooby Doobies” team along with Tinker). Speedy also appeared in an episode of “Johnny Bravo,” and met Scooby again in “Scooby-Doo: Mystery, Incorporated.”

Speedy and the gang also appeared in an episode of “Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law”; Speedy’s on trial for fleeing the cops during a high-speed chase. Like the other Hanna-Barbera characters on the show, everyone’s amusingly out-of-character on purpose. Mark and Debbie spend the entire episode making out, for instance.

Voice actors

Legendary voice actor Mel Blanc voiced Speedy. He used a similar voice to the one he used for the car Chug-a-Boom a few seasons earlier on “The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.”

Michael Bell voiced Mark. Bell’s done work for cartoons ranging from “Super Friends” (as the voice of Zan) to “Rugrats” (as the voice of Angelica’s father, Drew).

Arlene Golonka voiced Debbie. Golonka is better known for her live-action roles, including on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Phil Luther, Jr. voiced Tinker. He doesn’t seem to have any other voice or live-action acting credits besides playing Tinker.

On TV/home video

Warner Archive released a four-disc DVD set of “Speed Buggy.” Episodes also occasionally turn up on Boomerang.

Opening credits

Finally, here’s the opening credits for “Speed Buggy.”

(Updated 11/28/16)

2 comments

  1. Two notes to make here
    The Mark racial issue is not from anything within the show itself. It comes directly from people who worked in the studio that he was planned as that. The coloring between series was seen as a way to better show that. Given that otherwise one would not have noticed the difference except that his skin tone was slightly different from that of Debbie and Tinker.

    The other note is you made an error in your summary. Mark is not the leader of this group. Debbie is. Debbie has the most defiant mouth and leadership roles. In most of the episodes she is the one to be giving out orders and usually has Mark, Tinker and Speedy doing her plans. Mark while not as cowardly as Tinker or Speedy, is still not the hardy straight man that Freddy or Alan (on Josie) were. It is even called out in the Amazon episode where the Amazon leader kind of assumes Debbie would be being subservient to the boys to which they stand dumbfounded as they are lucky Debbie lets them get a word in edgewise. If anything “the Mark” role would later better be associated with Woody from Buford who was again drawn like he could a “Fred” but usually took the backseat to his sister Cindy Mae’s “Debbie” calling the shots.

    This is a typical generalization error made on the internet. Mostly because Mark appears to look like “the Fred”, even though he was more of an alteration of “The Fred” than he ever fit into that role. (Alan from Josie and Ted from Goober are more straight examples that really do fit right into being “the Fred”) It is also a common misconception that Debbie is “the Daphne”, even though their personalities are mostly different. It is actually more accurate to say 80s Daphne became more like Debbie. As when Daphne came back she took over the leadership role and was the one to talk Scooby and Shaggy into sticking around. Which was reminiscent to how Debbie was written back in this show. Compared to the more ditzy pretty girl Daphne started out as.

    1. Thanks for responding.

      I couldn’t find anything confirming officially that Mark was intended to be Native American (just Wikipedia and other similar wikis with no sources cited), thus my statement. If there’s something actually from some specific episode or spin-off, the series’ creative staff, or Time Warner, I’d be glad to read it.

      Also, being the 70s, recurring Native American characters that weren’t stereotypical were either nonexistent or had their ethnicity tied heavily to their appearances (see: the ethnic superheroes on “Super Friends,” particularly Apache Chief).

      As for who’s the leader, if the show were made nowadays, yes, Debbie probably would be a candidate. But again, the 70s weren’t the most enlightened time, so Mark was nominally the leader because (basically) “he has a Y chromosome” and to keep with the Scooby-Doo-esque formula.

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