Numerous studies have shown that the first ten years or so of life can fundamentally shape the person we grow up to be. These formative years are where we build habits, learn how to socialize and integrate. For Mark Towle, there was one outsized influence on his early childhood that would later shape him into the car customizer he is today.
We are talking about perhaps the greatest car-centric cartoon of all time, Speed Racer. Speed Racer was the end all, be all of animated television shows during his formative years (especially considering the limited number of TV programs back then). As Mark grew up, working his way through the custom car world, he moved towards a dream he held onto from his childhood; getting a chance to build a real life version of Speed’s race car, the Mach 5.
“This is the car I wanted to build as a child…” – Mark Towle
And true to his word, he now has a business that centers on creating replicas of Speed Racer’s car. See, back in the 1990’s, Mark got the exclusive rights to build Mach 5 replicas for car collectors and die-hard Speed Racer fans. It is now a big part of his business, and he currently has two cars in his shop under construction. But for his donor vehicle, Mark naturally uses one of the best American sports cars ever built, the Chevrolet Corvette.
“Every Mach 5 replica I build uses a Corvette C4 chassis,” Mark explains. But he isn’t rushing out to buy every hard-hit C4 possible, to reduce costs. “I try to find the nicest cars I can, the kind that have been well taken care of for a long time,” says Mark. “I don’t tell the sellers what I plan on doing to their cars after I buy them anymore. I did that once, and the guy wouldn’t sell me his Corvette. So now I just don’t tell them what I have in mind.”
From Corvette To Cartoon Race Car
Mark strips these pristine Corvettes down to the bare chassis, leaving nothing but the doors and drivetrain intact. “Some guys want something special, like a Corvette GS or ZR-1, but a lot of them are fine with the stock LT1.” From there, Mark uses special molds to custom build each and every body panel out of fiberglass, slowly but surely filling out the iconic shape of Speed Racer’s Mach 5. It’s all hand done, and the difference between Mark’s body panels and the stock C4 Corvette shaves a claimed 1,000 pounds off of the car. That really helps the 20+ year old V8 engines motivate these Mach 5 machines.
It’s the perfect business for an avowed Speed Racer fanatic. “I’ve seen all 53 episodes,” Mark explains. “Including one that was never aired; it was supposed to be the first episode of the next season, but the show got canceled.” Mark was also close friends with Peter Fernandez, the director who “Americanized” Mach GoGoGo, the original Japanese-language anime. This included speeding up the mouth movements in order to sort-of make the English dialogue work over the mouthing of Japanese words and phrases. Fernandez also made a cameo in the 2006 Speed Racer movie as one of the announcers.
This is relevant because Mark isn’t just building an authentic-looking Mach 5 body and dropping it on a Corvette chassis. Oh no. Even the base model Mach 5, which starts at $72,500, comes with a number of show-inspired features that include a remote control “pigeon” that actually flies, buzzsaw arms, and a periscope that also acts as a rear-view camera.
Mark has also figured out how to get exactly the same exhaust note as the original Mach 5 from the Corvette’s V8.
Of course, anyone who has seen the show knows that Speed Racer and the Mach 5 have far more tools at their disposal than that. And for the right price, Mark will build you whatever you want. “I have one car in the shop right now, and the owner wants it to be the ‘ultimate’ Mach 5,” says Mark. This entails the famous bubble top, the jacker arms that lifted the Mach 5 above the competition in the show, retractable wings (!!), and a few other awesome features inspired by the Japanese cartoon.
“Every car is a little bit different,” Mark explains. “Some guys want a radio, some don’t. Some want white face gauges, others want black. Some people are more interested in performance, others just want a cool cruiser.” Regardless, they are all Speed Racer fans, and that is what is important here.
For Mark though, this is a labor of love. He does all of the work himself, and we mean all of the work. From molding to fitting to tuning the exhaust, the only thing Mark doesn’t do is paint the car, a task he leaves to Murrieta Auto Collision. And even then, he only trusts himself to lay the lines for the Mach 5 graphics. “If you’re not a fan of the show, it is almost impossible to get the M right,” Mark says.
High-Quality Replicas For True Fans
Doing all the work himself also ensures a flawless fit, and use of only the highest quality materials. “You won’t find any cheap plastic here,” Mark explains. Rather, it is all leather, loop carpet, and machined aluminum on the inside. The wheels are Centerline 20-inch models, and as we mentioned before, taking an estimated half-ton off the curb weight gives even a stock LT1 Mach 5 a power to weight ratio that the donor C4 could only dream of.
The little details really bring this cartoon car alive.
That means drastically improved performance, making it a great all-around fair-weather cruiser. Furthermore, these Mach 5 replicas aren’t exactly commonplace. “Outside of my shop, I have never seen two of them together. But some guys drive these cars every day,” Mark says. If you absolutely have to have one, drop Mark a line at GothamGarage@gmail.com.
And, if you do buy one, we hope you’re the sort that drives it every day. That way our chances of getting to actually see one of our favorite cartoon cars come to life is much, much better.