In this Design Review, we are going to talk about a very interesting movie car from 1995 designed by Land Rover for the movie Judge Dredd. So, let’s start with a little bit of background information.
The science-fiction film Judge Dredd was released in the summer of 1995 based on the comic book 2000 AD. The movie was directed by Danny Cannon and Sylvester Stallone played the starring role. The story takes place in 2139, where Mega Cities are full of crime and riots, forcing the state to employ Street Judges in order to save some time from taking all of those outlaws to the busy courts.
The film received mostly negative reviews, although it managed to earn more than its budget. Despite the underwhelming critical response, the movie is remembered for its extraordinary vehicles designed by Land Rover.
According to the brief, the taxi cabs operating in Mega City One (New York of the future) should look futuristic and also be able to safely transport up to six passengers through this hostile environment – like a fortress on wheels.
Original sketches were created by David Woodhouse, who at the time was Senior Designer at Land Rover. This talented automotive designer would later build a notable career at Ford, leading to his most recent role as Lincoln’s Design Director. Based on his design, up to 20 people from Rover worked with him to finalise the project in less than three months under the guidance of Head of Design, Gorden Sked.
In order to make the car driveable, Land Rover needed a suitable chassis with the right dimensions, so it chose the 101 Forward Control (1972–1978) – a spartan vehicle with cab-over design developed for the British Army, and fitted with a 3.5-litre V8 engine producing 87kW of power and 230Nm of torque.
As you can imagine, the City Cab looked like proper science fiction back in 1995. Its aggressive stance was emphasised by the cab-over design, unusual off-road proportions, and great use of two-tone graphics. Simple prismatic surfaces of the bodywork were used in order to reflect the lighting on the set.
The front section was taller than the rest of the car, with a long front overhang and a short wheelbase. Custom covers on the steel rims extended the width of each wheel by 254mm, improving the proportions and the sci-fi look.
The front end was inspired by baseball, skiing and hockey masks, featuring a very narrow windscreen that made the vehicle look even larger than it is, a sculpted roof, and the signature asymmetrical headlights with three circular elements on the right-hand side.
The rear end adopted a more technical look, looking like a futuristic fire truck with large angular blocks, side exhaust pipes, small circular tail-lights and (non-functional) cables and pipes.
The main prototype was painted in black and yellow livery, with black and white taxi graphics on the doors and City Cab lettering towards the rear end. It even had stickers with instructions on how to use it, made for the citizens of Mega City One, while in several vehicles the paint was made to look like it was permanently dirty.
Moving on to the interior, passengers are seated lower than the driver and feeling extra protected in the middle part of the vehicle. One scissor door and a smaller gullwing door on each side allowed easy access to the individual bucket seats inside the cabin, through the dedicated side steps.
So, what happened next?
Land Rover built 31 full-size models for the movie, which were seen driving around slowly in the dark and wet roads of the dystopian future. All of the vehicles were driveable, as below the fibreglass bodies constructed by the Futura and Wood & Picket companies there were platforms of 101 Forward Control trucks bought back from the army. However, only one of the prototypes was equipped with a complete six-seater cabin and functional doors, as the others would not be needed for any close-up shots.
Two of the City Cabs were registered so that they could be driven on UK roads and make it to the premiere of the film. Modifications included new mirrors, safety glass for the windscreen and larger headlights. After the film, the cars sat in parking lots for a long time. Land Rover decided to keep the best one, and some of the remaining were sold to private hands.
A City Cab prototype (above) converted for road use, together with the 101 Forward Control truck (right) that shares the same underpinnings.
The Land Rover City Cab is one of the few concept cars from the ’90s that still look relevant today. Even though it was based on the ladder chassis of an ancient truck with outdated mechanical components, it did look like the future. Of course, no-one would ever expect a car like this to be produced due to serious drivability, visibility and practicality issues that are common with most of the movie cars.
However, we are very glad that this car materialised and that some of them are still in working order.
The City Cab is another example of what you get if you allow the designers to put their dreams on paper, without the countless restrictions associated with production cars. It is pure fantasy, emotion and craziness, which makes it the best vehicle design for a comic book adaptation – even better than the mediocre movie it participated in.