The 13 best cars from 'Sesame Street'
“Sesame Street” turns 50 next year, and though the series’ eponymous roadway is dominated by pedestrians — or whatever you call ambulatory Muppets — since the very start, cars have had an important role in the foundational children’s educational television program. In fact, the very first pilot episode, which aired in the summer of 1969, hosted a segment featuring cars, part of a clip about circles in everyday life.
“Obviously, it’s ‘Sesame Street,’ so we think of it as a street,” said Ben Lehmann, a 17-year veteran, and currently the show’s executive producer. “And I think it’s natural, in an urban environment, to have cars and other forms of transportation. Vehicle play, in general, is one of what we call the core play patterns. It’s one of the earliest things that a lot of kids play with, and a lot of kids are fascinated by trucks, and fascinated by cars and fascinated by things that move. It’s just a natural fit.”
Cars have appeared on the show thousands of times in its 4,400 episodes. They most frequently appear in the background in live action segments, where they offer delight for car spotters young and old — there’s a 1968 BMW 2002! There’s a 1977 Ford LTD Wagon! There’s a 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special! But they are nearly as often the focus of a video or an animation: used as a conveyance, a source of humor or to make a pedagogical point. And, though you may not know this, many of the key characters — human and Muppet alike — have had their own cars on the show.
As the show moves into season 50, the presence of vehicles will increase significantly. “This year, we premiered a new format for Abby, that’s all about careers,” said Lehmann. “So she winds up in a bunch of different vehicles. In one episode, they’re archeologists, and they’re looking for fossils, so they go out in a Jeep. There’s another one that’s a rally race, and so they’re in a race car; they’re racing against pigeons who are in an ice cube car, and a couple of chickens who are in a hay-nest style car. Then we have another storyline, for our 50th — I can’t totally reveal it right now — but we have a story that is going to be about a road trip, which is a quintessential American thing.” (Additionally, Chrysler remains as a core vehicle sponsor of the show.)
We can’t wait to see all of those, especially the ice cube pigeon car (though we would have expected penguins). But to celebrate the show’s forthcoming Golden Anniversary, we scoured the Workshop archives to come up with this list of the 13 greatest vehicles to ever appear on “Sesame Street,” in chronological order.
1. “A Car Assembles Itself”
1. “A Car Assembles Itself” — Balboa Lido / Episode 0543 (November 29, 1973)
After being invented by Bruce Meyers with his Manx, and then relentlessly knocked-off by competitors, fiberglass-bodied VW Beetle Dune Buggy conversions became a staple of America’s culture of hedonism in the 1960s/70s. The Lido, a $1000 crate kit from LA’s Fiberglass Products Company was one of these. In this stop-action clip, a Lido assembles itself on a shortened Bug chassis, and drives off in search of relentless fun.
2. “Counting 20 Antique Cars”
2. “Counting 20 Antique Cars” — 20 Cars / Episode 1210 (December 29, 1978)
“Sesame Street” consistently made counting to twenty fun. And never was it more fun for car lovers than in this film segment in which twenty pre-war vehicles (and by that, we include WWII and WWI) ploddle by. Special bonus points to anyone who can identify one, or all twenty of these, in the comments.
3. “Count von Count’s Countmobile”
3. “Count von Count’s Countmobile” / Episode 1287 (April 17, 1979)
Count von Count is, as far as we can tell, a lilac-colored vampire with a severe case of OCD, manifested in a constant need to count everything around him. He’s also among the first Muppets to be seen driving on the eponymous street, in this case in a purple, George Barris-style, bat-winged hot rod, with a sea-foam green flame job on the hood, and cheeky Transylvania 6-5000 license plates (a play on the 1940 Glenn Miller swing dance hit “Pennsylvania 6-5000”). The Count leaves his car in front of a fire hydrant while running into the hardware store, and gets a parking ticket.
4. “Car Wash” — 1977 Ford LTD
4. “Car Wash” — 1977 Ford LTD / Episode 1114 (February 16, 1978)
In late 1976, the ensemble film “Car Wash” was released, unleashing the funk of Rose Royce and The Pointer Sisters and yielding a Grammy-winning album. This is not that. Instead, it is a white land-yacht of a Ford sedan getting filthy via New York’s extensive roadway/pothole system, and then getting clean in an automated roadside carwash, while a family of many children narrates the experience from inside.
5. “V is for Van” — 1960s Step Van
5. “V is for Van” — 1960s Step Van / Episode 1454 (December 04, 1980)
An animated 1960s step van, plows through streets, streams and other obstacles, piloted by an adorable little delivery driver. All the while, there is a soundtrack of vrooming sound effects, like those made by children worldwide as they play with toy vehicles. Suddenly, the van crashes, and the segment transforms into live action, revealing that it is indeed the imaginative play of a little kid. When his play resumes, so does the cartoon.
6. “Let’s Go Driving” — 1947 Chrysler Town & Country
6. “Let’s Go Driving” — 1947 Chrysler Town & Country / Episode 2363 (November 25, 1987)
Like “The Wheels on the Bus” but in a drop-top, wood-sided, post-war Mopar convertible. A family of four Muppets goes for a trip and each takes a turn mimicking the different sounds made by a car: the vroom of the engine, the beep of the horn, the voices of the passengers and the swish of the windshield wipers in the rain. This last bit is all the more humorous because the top is retracted when it starts to pour. No one cares. Muppets are sponges!
7. “The Word is No”
7. “The Word is No” — 1956 Corvette Roadster / Episode 2548 (February 08, 1989)
In this send-up of 80s girl groups like The Bangles or The Gogos, “Sesame Street” human habitués Gina and Maria sing about a number of things that are not allowed. One of the first disavowals is driving. This is illustrated by beloved blue furry misfit Grover, in his caped guise as Super Grover, behind the wheel of a powder blue and white 1956 Corvette Convertible. (A 1958 Buick also appears briefly in the No Parking bit.)
8. Oscar’s Sloppy Jalopy — VW Beetle Convertible
8. Oscar’s Sloppy Jalopy — VW Beetle Convertible / Episode 2614 (May 11, 1989)
Oscar the Grouch lives in a trashcan, so it would make sense that he would drive a car that was garbage right off the assembly line, the original VW Beetle. Particularly, a clapped-out soft-top model with mismatched body panels, ratty seats and an inexplicable radiator leak emanating from the car’s front, where the non-existent water-cooled motor is not located. He gives Luis and Maria a ride to the hospital when she is in labor.
9. “Grover Drives a Taxi” — Peugeot 504
9. “Grover Drives a Taxi” — Peugeot 504 / Episode 2984 (April 09, 1992)
Blue Every-Muppet Mr. Johnson get into all sorts of misadventures with his azure nemesis Grover, who always pops up in some sort of service job — waiter, elevator operator, fitness instructor, flight attendant — to miss-service his needs. In this episode, Grover is a hack who refuses to drive him to the library, in a yellow cab that looks oddly like a late 70s Peugeot 504, versions of which used to livery their way around Manhattan.
10. “Zoe Drives the Zoemobile” — Go Cart
10. “Zoe Drives the Zoemobile” — Go Cart / Episode 3789 (November 19, 1998)
Zoe is kind of a female counterpart to the cloying Elmo, but her voice is not as shrill, she wears a tutu, she loves to dance and she carries around a pet rock named Rocco. One day, noticing that many of the other characters on The Street have their own non-motorized form of transport, she gets sad and jealous. So Maria makes her this wooden pedal car, which looks like a WWI era Indy car and has a horn and a bell.
11. “The Count Counts at NASCOUNT”
11. “The Count Counts at NASCOUNT” / Episode 4154 (September 28, 2007)
Count Billy Bob von Count, Jr. pulls into the pits amidst the heated competition of the NASCOUNT Transylvania 300 race. He is attended to by his team of simian Grease Monkeys, and gets distracted as he counts as all 40 of his competitors whiz by one after the other. His pit crew reminds him to hurry up and get back onto the track so he can win. He reminds them that, “Winning isn’t everything. Counting is everything.” Preach.
12. “Slimey Drives the Squirmadega Race” — Stock Car
12. “Slimey Drives the Squirmadega Race” — Stock Car / Episode 4203 (December 29, 2009)
Slimey the Worm, Oscar’s pet/familiar, practices for and runs the “Sqirmadega Over, Under, Around, Through” car race, in which remote-control-size stock cars compete in an F1-style street obstacle course. Jeff Gordon is the announcer. Dale Wormhardt, Jr. and Kyle Squish are worm competitors. Carrie Underworm sings the national anthem. Slimey comes in second place when he fails to go through Big Bird’s legs, crashing instead into his foot.
13. “Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truckie”
13. “Cookie Monster’s Foodie Truckie” — 1963 Willys Mail Truck / Episode 4801 (November 19, 2018)
Place your order if you lucky/Me make food in my Foodie Truckie. So goes the theme song to this delightful segment in which the ever-trendy (and ravenous) cookie monster teaches kids about where healthy foods come from, from the confines of his Foodie Truckie. Like most food trucks, Cookie’s is a step van. Unlike most, his appears to be a vintage Willys Postal model from the mid-60s.