Turbo Teen: Transformers Meets Knight Rider

Turbo Teen

You may remember a short-lived cartoon show from the 80s about a kid who could transform into a car

Turbo Teen was a Saturday morning cartoon that debuted in 1984 on ABC. It told the story of Brett Matthews who had the ability to turn into a red sports car after he had been exposed to a molecular beam.

I don’t know what it was about Turbo Teen but it was a show that always stayed in my mind. Like the title of this blog says, it combined things that a little kid loved – cars and transforming into them. This was a decade when we loved anything to do with Trans Ams and sweet lookings sportscars -which were a huge reason behind the success of Knight Rider.

KITT just looked cool as hell.

I think deep down as a young kid I wish I could transform into a car and Turbo Teen was that dream come to life. I also wish I could be a Dinobot so who the hell knows what was going on in my head.

So Turbo Teen is an often forgotten, short-lived, cartoon but used some of the best voice actors in the business and it’s worth taking a look back on.

What Was Turbo Teen?

OK, here’s a quick synopsis: Brett Matthews (which sounds like such a generic 80s rock star name) is your average teenager that somehow owns a sweet red sports car. One night while driving, he swerves off the road during a thunderstorm and crashes into a SECRET GOVERNMENT LABORATORY. Sorry, I mean a secret government laboratory.

While in the lab he, and his sweet car, get hit with a molecular beam. Instead of turning into the Incredible Hulk, Brett and his car are fused together. Brett now has the ability to morph into the car when exposed to extreme heat and turns back into human form when exposed to cold. AKA when they were at the drive-through and spilled a drink on his hood.

The molecular ray was invented by a scientist named Dr. Chase for a government agent named Cardwell. I’m wondering now if this timeline exists in the Stranger Things universe because I’ve now found my dream crossover.

So Brett is technically a superhero now but since he’s not getting calls from the Avengers he starts to go on crime-fighting adventures a la Scooby Doo. Joining him on these adventures is smoke show girlfriend Pattie and his best friend  Alex aka “T.T.” along with Brett’s dog Rusty.

Honestly, how didn’t the lawyers for Scooby Doo jump all over this?

Turbo Teen is not without an adversary though as there is the mysterious, unseen monster truck driver called “Dark Rider” (rider? I hardly know her). It’s kind of obvious at this point where the influences for this show were coming from. Dark Rider is always trying to catch Brett to be able to find the secret behind his abilities.

There is also a reoccurring subplot involving Dr. Chase and Cardwell who work with Brett to try and return him to normal – But who the hell would want that?!

An All-Star Voice Ensemble

Before we get to the production of the show let’s take a look at who provided the voices – as for a short-lived little show it had some EPIC voice talent.

Brett Matthews/Turbo Teen voiced by Michael Mish-  (he also did voices on Duck Tales, Dennis the Menace, The GLO Friends Save Christmas, and The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo show – AHA!)

Alex voiced by T.K Carter- O.K T.K. Carter has done A LOT of cool stuff and it’s worth noting here:

  • He was the teacher on Punky Brewster,
  • Did the voice of Rocksteady on Transformers
  • Chef Nauls in “The Thing”
  • Played Mylo Williams on the Saved By The Bell “prequel” Good Morning, Miss Bliss
  • 227
  • Good TImes
  • Played “Ty”, Laura Winslow’s guardian angel on Family Matters
  • A Different World
  • Played Monster Nawt in SPACE JAM!
  • The Nanny
  • Everybody Hates Chris

Dr. Chase voiced by Pat Fraley– OK same deal as T.K. Carter, he has provided voices for a lot including:

  • The Gummi Bears
  • Garfield and Friends
  • Alvin and the chipmunks
  • Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure
  • Darkwing Duck
  • Duck Tales
  • Hillbilly Jim on Hulk Hogans Rock ‘n’  Wrestling
  • King of the Hill
  • My Little Pony
  • Pound Puppies
  • Pro Stars
  • Rainbow Brite
  • The Smurfs
  • Monsters Inc
  • I Am Legend
  • Tangled

This guy is the elite and this barely covers all the work he’s done. I didn’t even get into all the video games but I saved the best for last – he did the voices of the additional Buzz Lightyear’s in Toy Story 2 and was the voice of Krang, Casey Jones, and Baxter Stockman on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Besides those key Ninja Turtle voices, he provided voices for 64 other characters on the show. And last but not least, he was “Ace” on G.I. Joe.

Holy Crap.

Pattie was voiced by Pamela Hayden- You don’t know Pamela Hayden – but you do. Before getting to that she has been on:

  • The Snorks
  • Hillstreet Blues
  • Pinky and the Brain
  • The Nanny

And as you probably know her; Milhouse Van Houten on the Simpsons. She was also Jimbo Jones and other random voices throughout the shows.

Cardwell was voiced by Clive Revill- A Shakespearean actor who was also on:

  • Columbo
  • Dynasty
  • Magnum P.I.
  • The Love Boat
  • MacGyver
  • Transformers

AND he was the original voice of Emperor Palpatine in the 1980 release of The Empire Strikes Back. They would change the voice in the 2004 DVD release but Revill is still credited.

Dark Rider was voiced by the iconic Frank Welker- Frank Welker was one of the most famous voiceover artists ever and you know him from :

  • Fred from Scooby Doo
  • The voice of Wonder Dog
  • Marvin of the Super Friends
  • Dr. Claw and Brain on Inspector Gadget
  • Scooter on Gobots
  • Slimer in the Real Ghostbusters
  • The Smurfs
  • George from Curious George
  • Santas Little Helper on the Simpsons

And if you are at all familiar with Transformers (which I assume you are if you’re here) he was, of course, the voice of:

  • Megatron
  • Soundwave
  • Skywarp
  • Rumble
  • Frenzy
  • Ravage
  • Mirage
  • Tailbreaker
  • Sludge

Honestly, Frank Welker deserves his own entire blog which I’m sure I’ll get too soon but in the meantime just read his biography page to see the TON of work he has done.

As I said, the amount of voice talent they had on this somewhat little show was remarkable. I’m not sure if they expected it to be a monster hit? I don’t know what they had expectation wise but I’m sure they wanted to have all their bases covered if this thing was to take off. The 80s were a golden age of cartoons and with so much epic competition it was very hard to make something stick.

They did give themselves every chance to though.

Getting Turbo Teen Up And Running & The Knight Rider Influence

During the growing popularity of Knight Rider, it was thought that a similar based show, but geared more towards children, had the prospects of becoming a big hit. The concept was created by Ruby-Spears Production who would be the producers on the show.

The animation would be done by Toei Animation and Hanho Heung-Up who brought us Transformers, Hulk Hogans Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, Star Wars: Droids, My Pet Monster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a lot of the Simpsons among MANY other cartoons.

Turbo Teen came out on September 15th,  1984 on Saturday mornings airing on ABC and as much as it was thought to have a connection to Transformers, it debuted two days before Transformers would. So it didn’t try to capitalize on the success of the ‘robots in disguise’ but did blatantly get its influence from Knight Rider.

Check out my blog all about Knight Rider to get the full story but the iconic Knight Rider came out in 1982 and was a pretty big hit right away. It was always in the top 30 shows and would average around 14 million viewers per episode. Today, that would make it the number one show by far, but in an era that only had three real networks, there was a lot of competition.

But the big thing with Knight Rider was that it was a huge hit with kids like me and it found a greater success over many shows with one thing no one else was really doing – merchandising.

I had K.I.T.T toy cars and a Knight Rider lunch box and the producers of Turbo Teen saw promise in making something that was directly for kids but one that wouldn’t be in prime time, but during the safe haven of Saturday mornings.

Because of this, Turbo Teen mirrors a lot including the theme song where you can hear the Knight Rider influence throughout it. There’s also the obvious connection in the car which is a combination of Chevrolet Camero and a Pontiac Trans-Am – the later being what K.I.T.T was based on. They would make Turbo Teen red so there wasn’t such an obvious connection.

What Impact Did Turbo Teen Have?

For me, a lot. I loved Knight Rider so this was right up my alley. I feel I was an exact target demographic for this show but it was not a long lasting one. Turbo Teen would last for just 13 episodes with the last one airing on December 1, 1984. By August 31, 1985, it was officially done.

There can be a million reasons why a cartoon series ends but if you think of the massive amount of monumental cartoons that came out during this period it was really hard to stand out. I think the momentum of Transformers took away a huge chunk of the audience as now you got actual transforming robots and – if I’m being honest – better stories and animation.

I’ve watched back some of those old Turbo Teen episodes and it’s still fun and it’s hilarious to hear what essentially sounds like Milhouse in the character of Patti. You can watch them on YouTube and they are worth taking a look back on.

Final Thoughts On Turbo Teen

Turbo Teen made its own little dent in the 80s. I’m not sure if you remembered it as well as I did but it was one of those shows that had fallen out of my memory for years and just randomly popped back in there one day.

It obviously didin’t have the lasting impact of Transformers, G.I. Joe, or He-Man, but what did really? I think the 80s were a period of time that you just threw everything at the wall and see what stick. I don’t think there was a lot of time to conduct market research and use test audiences, you just had to get it out there and see if it hit due to all the competition.

All in all, Turbo Teen was a short-lived show that had a short-term audience that probably liked it as much as I did. Robot Chicken did a parody of it as did Rick and Morty so it must have had a bigger impact than I realized.