Type “post-apocalyptic vehicle” into Google and the same two dozen pictures turn up. Some of them are legitimate wasteland vehicles, like the Monstr Carlo and the Banshee, or replicas of Mad Max vehicles. Others are clever CGI illustrations, movie props, and art installations. After a while, they turn up every time one of your friends forwards a picture of a “Mad Max car” that you just have to see.
If you want to be a savvy wasteland traveler, of course, you’ve got to know these rigs on sight. Learning about them makes it easier to avoid rolling your eyes when a newcomer posts ’em for the hundredth time, too.
The “Mad Max” tanker: This custom tractor-trailer, with its snarling-wolf bodywork and obvious Road Warrior influences, has been floating around the Net for years. It’s the creation of the Night Wolves motorcycle club, based in Lugansk, Russia. The group uses the vehicle for parades and displays it at special events.
The Beetle tank: This one was a surprise to me, since when I saw it I assumed it was a sculpture. But no, it runs and works! The half-track Beetle has been turned into a mini-tank, and there’s video of the thing actually running. It’s based on a 1973 Beetle and turned up on eBay and Jalopnik in 2012.
The Skeleton Dragster: This vehicle’s real name is “Mr. Fusion.” It’s the creation of renowned Burning Man artist Henry Chang, and yes, the beastie really runs. More information about Mr. Fusion and Chang’s other vehicles can be found here.
The Charger: It’s uncommon to see modern cars done up all post-apocalyptic, so this Dodge Charger comes up a lot. It’s a Hollywood prop, put together for the “Defiance” TV series, which ran on SyFy from 2013-2015. There’s reportedly a Cummins diesel engine under the hood.
The Jet Buggy: A jet engine on a sandrail? Sure, sign me up! Unfortunately this isn’t a real car, it’s a wonderful piece of computer rendering. I wasn’t able to find the original artist.
The Wedge: It’s probably no surprise that the Mythbusters are behind this one. Impressive video of a dump truck equipped with a modified snowplow speeding into a line of cars and flipping them all like toys? Yeah, that sounds like the sort of thing Jamie and Adam would get up to.
The Impala: There’s very little information on this hacked up car that appears to be a mid-60s Chevy Impala, but it’s safe to say that it doesn’t run. This one has been on the web for a long, long time.
The Dragon Car: Another entry from Russia, this truck’s variously known as the “Dragon Car” or the “Wolfen Car.” This short-wheelbase rig has a monstrous face fabricated from metal, faux jet thrusters at the rear and, reportedly, the ability to throw flames from either end.
The Gatling Gun Motorcycle: The apocalypse makes strange bedfellows; would you believe that this stripped-down bike started life as a plush Honda Gold Wing? It did indeed; Show Stoppers Studio in Rossville, KS, tore this bike down into a double-barreled zombie hunting machine. And yeah, the guns really spin.
The Trelicopter VII: Built by Pascal Rudinger of the German Wasteland Warriors LARP group, this post-apoc rig is completely scratchbuilt.
The Train Car RV: Near as I can tell, there were at least two of these creatures built. Combining a locomotive’s body with a Russian MZKT-7919 heavy truck chassis, these trucks were built some time in the early oughts (2001-2003) and don’t look like they’d clear most highway bridges. Reports suggest that both were ultimately sidelined by mechanical failures.
The 4×4 RV: Here’s another one for the “not real” column. This beastie looks impressive at a glance, but it’s just a clever (and slightly sloppy) Photoshop job (among other things, it’s flipped so the door is on the wrong side). Sorry, Bounder never made a 6×6 monster motorhome.
The Dobbertin Surface Orbiter: Built in the early 1990s by Rick Dobbertin and his wife, the Dobbertin Surface Orbiter is actually a converted milk tanker. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The Dobbertins built this fully amphibious rig with the intent of circumnavigating the globe in it. Unfortunately, the voyage ran out of funding before the Surface Orbiter could begin roaming. The Dobbertins did rack up over 33,000 miles in testing, though (including 3000 on water and a trip through the Panama Canal), so this odd beast is definitely capable.
The Landmaster: This one-off is instantly recognizable thanks to its rotating wheel assemblies. The Landmaster was built for the movie Damnation Alley in 1976 and it’s the only one of its kind. It has its own Wikipedia page, and it still exists, is privately owned, and has been restored. The wheel setup is fully functional and enables it to crawl over boulders, and it turns by pivoting at the center like many construction vehicles. It’s appeared in a bunch of other movies and music videos, too.
El Chorro: This one’s an interesting case. Dubbed, “El Chorro,” this massively Wastelanded Mopar is a computer rendering created by 3D artist Márk Mészáros, but it bears a coincidental resemblance to Chris Fricke’s ’69 Charger, which is a real car that’s also frequently seen. Meszaros’ hyper-detailed artwork was inspired by Fallout.
Wasteland Traveler: The 3D artists really seem to love Mopars. This one is another CG wasteland car, done by Tomi Väisänen, and it appears to be based on an early ’70s E-body Chrysler.
The Tractor Bike: This amazing motorcycle is indeed built from the pieces of a farm tractor. It was created by Larry Medwig of Concord, OH, and uses a Farmall Cub tractor with an International Harvester engine and a pipework frame. It is in fact rideable, and one of the best examples of salvage-built I’ve ever seen.
The Herkimer Battle Jitney: This truck is a one-off prop from the movie “Mystery Men.” Contrary to popular rumor, the Herkimer Battle Jitney was never a real vehicle, and this truck was designed and built specifically for the movie. The fact that it’s been photographed rusting away in an unknown lot gives it a real vintage look that makes it seem like it must be a real relic.
The Hearse: This LaSalle hearse that’s been abandoned and partially street-rodded turns up a lot too. It’s creepy, but I couldn’t find much information on it. It appears to be a 1939 Miller Coachworks hearse, and a random undated Pinterest post I found indicates that it’s owned by a Larry Allen and slated to become a rat rod.
The Sno-Cat: It looks more like an immobile sculpture than a vehicle, but this one’s actually a runner. This armored 1979 Tucker Sno-Cat was used in M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of The Last Airbender. It seats two, weighs 7,000 pounds and is powered by what is no doubt a very unhappy 318 V8.
The Zombie Van: This elaborately-caged Chevrolet appears to be a cut-down Class C RV. It gained infamy when its owner, porn star Tommy Gunns, tried to sell it on “Pawn Stars.” Presumably it’s still out there somewhere.