How is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle supposed to get around, if he can’t ride the subway and has a really low Uber rating? The same way any teenager expects to get around: a used car. When they’re not using the art of ninjutsu to explore New York, ridding the city of Shredder and his evil Foot Clan, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo typically use the iconic Turtle Van to get from borough to borough.
The Turtles have had many different means of conveyance over the years, from blimps to rocket powered skateboards, and endless amounts of toys, but it all comes back to the van. Different incarnations gave the Turtles different stylized vehicle designs, but their main mode of tearing through the streets of New York all goes back to the preferred mode of transportation of soccer moms everywhere. While the beginnings of the Turtles cruising around on four wheels can be traced back to their trusted friend April O’Neil driving a van in the third issue of the original Mirage comic, the real introduction of what fans know as the Turtle Van (otherwise known in Turtle parlance as the Party Wagon) comes later.
It’s gone on to be depicted in countless iterations of Ninja Turtle adventures since the mutant foursome were first introduced in Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s 1984 comics. Hopefully all of the vans were protected using a little Turtle Wax. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows about to hit theaters, here’s a look at some of the major van versions.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 Cartoon)
The Turtle Van is so synonymous with the cartoon many remember from their childhoods that a 23-DVD box set of the complete cartoon series with packaging resembling the van itself was released in 2012.
It appeared for the first time in the early episode “The Thing About Rats” as Shredder henchman Baxter Stockman’s high-tech car. After incapacitating Stockman to get information on the whereabouts of a mansion Shredder is using to build an army of bipedal robots called Mousers, the Turtles “borrow” it to get to a mansion downtown to defeat Shredder’s robot army.
They eventually decide to keep it in order to track Shredder, Krang, and the Technodrome because Stockman’s van is, according to Donatello, “full of all sorts of surveillance gear.” In the next episode, “Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X,” donatello retrofits the Volkswagen bus to feature all kinds of Turtle-friendly gadgets.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Piggybacking off the immense success of the cartoon, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles breezed into theaters with a blend of the fun of the animated series and the grit of the original comic. Because of that, and the limitations of technology at the time, a lot of the more fanciful cartoon creations were left out of the big-screen debut of the Turtles.
A high-tech van was probably a little too advanced at that point, but the movie does feature a little nod to the Volkswagen of the cartoon as the four escape the Foot Clan along with April in a van to speed away from her burned out apartment.
Weirdly enough, the most cartoonish live action version of the Turtles, 1991’s Secret of the Ooze, decided not to go with an official Turtle van at all. Obviously neither would 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III as the time travel plot of that movie makes the movie take place in feudal Japan. Last time we checked, local Japanese daimyo weren’t buzzing around the countryside in four wheeled internal combustion engine powered cars. That’d be awesome though. Something for the filmmakers of the next Turtles movie to think about.
After the third movie the Turtles took a hiatus from theaters and lived on in various TV series, both live action and animated, but they returned to theaters in 2007’s CG-animated TMNT. In that movie, Michelangelo performs at children’s birthday parties as a character named “Cowabunga Carl” to both financially support his brothers and to walk around freely in the real world. To get around, he drives what is known as the Cowabunga Carl Party Van, a psychedelic 1964 Dodge A-100 van. Were not sure where he parks it though.
A slightly different variation of the Turtle Van can be seen in the 2012-2016 animated series, which sort of apes the Turtle designs from the 2007 feature film. This similarly psychedelic looking vehicle reverts back to being a Volkswagen.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
The Turtles were rebooted on the big-screen with some questionable character designs in 2014, but the goofy fun was straight up taken wholesale from the cartoon. The Turtles battled Shredder with the help of Will Arnett as Vern Fenwick, a bumbling Channel 6 cameraman, and Megan Fox as April O’Neil. The movie almost ends without a peek of the Turtle Van altogether, but in a gratuitous callback (which is basically what this entire movie is) to better interpretations of the Ninja Turtles, the foursome roles up on Vern trying to impress April with his own new hot-rod in a new vehicle of their own. Off-screen, Donatello built their very own [1967 Ford Econoline” “Turtle Assault Van,” and before riding off into the New York sunset, Michelangelo accidentally ignites one of the van’s rockets that accidentally destroys Vern’s car. This is what they call humor nowadays.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
Given the fact that a Ford Econoline makes for some cramped space for four gigantic mutant brothers, it’s probably unsurprising that the Turtles went big in their most recent movie appearance. In Out of the Shadows, the Turtles are the proud owners of a (potentially stolen) Tartaruga Bros. garbage truck. “Tartaruga” of course is Italian for “tortoise.”
This Turtle Van, or in this case Tortoise Truck, is a souped up version of every version that’s come before it. It shoots manhole covers out of its grill (a variation on the popular pizza shooter toy from the cartoon) and seems like an update of the Battle Shell truck from the 2003 cartoon series. It also has hydraulic nunchucks that expand out from the truck too. It’s perhaps the ultimate version of the Turtle Van, but again, where do they park these things!?