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The Mystery Machine | Complete Guide to History & Evolution

Posted on 2020-07-27

This blue van, with its iconic orange flowers and groovy green accents, captured the imaginations of many when the "Scooby-Doo" franchise first hit television screens across America. Throughout the franchise's run, the Mystery Machine has almost been a character in itself, starring alongside Scooby-Doo, Shaggy Rogers, Velma Dinkley, Daphne Blake and Fred Jones. This teenage gang of mystery-solvers needed a ride that could help them go on adventures, crossing the country to remote locations to investigate supernatural claims and catch bad guys. 

The animated franchise has aired in several forms since 1969, releasing various TV shows and made-for-TV movies up to the present day. In the early 2000s, the franchise adopted a sense of realism with two-live action "Scooby-Doo" movies. These movies also brought the Mystery Machine from the animated realm into the real world. As a result, fans of the series can even see the real-life Mystery Machine today.

The history of the mystery machine

If you're a "Scooby-Doo" enthusiast and love cars, you've probably wondered about what type of van the Mystery Machine was and how it's changed since the franchise was first released. Learn more about the evolution of the Mystery Machine — plus where you can find a real-life version — by reading about the history of the Mystery Machine. 

 what is the mystery machine

What Is the Mystery Machine?

The Mystery Machine is the official vehicle of the crime-fighting gang that makes up the main cast of the long-running TV show and film franchise "Scooby-Doo." The van is immediately recognizable by fans of the series, appearing in both animated and live-action form over the franchise's 50-year run.

The origins of the Mystery Machine

The Origins of the Mystery Machine

The show's lore holds that before the Mystery Machine became the official vehicle of the famous crime-fighting team, it was owned by a family band — the Mystery Kids. While the band owned the van, the group's keyboardist, Flash Flannigan, gave the Mystery Machine its iconic paint job. 

After Flannigan quit the band, he put the Mystery Van up for sale. Soon after, Fred Jones, the leader of the Mystery, Inc. Gang, bought the vehicle. As the van's owner, Fred would go on to develop a deep attachment to it. He's almost always driving it, taking the crew to and from adventures. 

What Vehicle Was the Mystery Machine?

The van looks similar to 1960s-era panel vans, but there aren't any details that confirm the vehicle's make, model or year. Some fans of the show believe it's a Dodge A100, while others say it's a Chevy G-Body van, but there's no official consensus. 

What Color Is the Mystery Machine?

Though you can't identify the van by its make or model, you can always recognize it by looking at its paint job. From the moment Fred bought it, the vehicle has retained the hippy-inspired paint job that made it so recognizable to viewers for years.

The vehicle has a medium-blue paint base featuring a unique horizontal green stripe that slopes up and down across the van's bottom half. A couple of orange flowers serve as accents on the sides of the van over the green stripe.

The green also takes up most of the van's top panel, serving as a background to the groovy orange text identifying the vehicle as "The Mystery Machine." The van's front features the same green and blue paint job. It also incorporates a mounted spare tire that comes in a green case with an orange flower over it. 

The Mystery Machine Goes Rogue

In one of the early episodes of the ninth incarnation of the "Scooby-Doo" cartoon, "What's New, Scooby-Doo?", fans learned more about the Mystery Machine's origins. The episode "It's Mean, It's Green, It's the Mystery Machine" revealed some insight into who owned the van before Fred purchased it. The Mystery Machine goes rogue, chasing the gang around. The plot follows the gang's attempts to find out why their van is trying to run them over.

At the opening of the episode, the van seemingly comes to life on its own. Without anyone driving it, it chases Scooby and Shaggy. Later, with the whole gang in the van, the car takes on a mind of its own, attempting to crash into a road barrier. Scooby thinks quickly and releases the van's parachute, slowing it down and stopping it before it hits the barrier.

After the van gets loose again, it drives to a house, which the gang discovers to be the home of the Mystery Kids' mother, Susan Dinwiddie. The episode implies that the Mystery Kids' prior pianist, Flash Flannigan, has died, and his spirit is possessing the Mystery Machine. Throughout the episode, the Mystery Machine continues to chase after the group.

Acting on the belief that the car might be possessed, Velma holds a seance, which lures the Mystery Machine to them. Velma is prepared for the van's appearance, dropping a lead-lined cover over it. This covering blocks out any electric signals and forces the Mystery Machine to no longer work. 

In a classic "Scooby-Doo" reveal,  the gang pulls back a table cover to show Susan Dinwiddie with a remote control in hand. In an attempt to bring her children's band back to prominence, she terrorized the gang with their own vehicle. She pulled this off by guiding the machine via wireless control.

This episode is pivotal to the Mystery Machine's origins. It reveals more about who the Mystery Kids are and how Flannigan had originally painted the van. Any fans who wanted to know more about the Mystery Machine's origin story would certainly have found plenty to like about this episode when it first aired.

The Animated Mystery Machine

In the "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" early run, the Mystery Machine displayed the same look it's kept for many years since. The van's flower-power aesthetic combined with the charismatic "meddling" teenagers captured the spirit of the time. The animated Mystery Machine changed a bit over time, but it almost always had the same green and blue paint job, with the green and orange Mystery Machine decal placed on the side.

Key Features of the Animated Mystery Machine

Besides the van's ability to take the gang around, it also had a few features that prepared the group to solve mysteries and escape from sticky situations. In the back of the Mystery Machine, you could find lanterns, ropes and ladders. As seen in some episodes, the van also had a parachute installed. Along with these extra tools in the back, there would sometimes be a long bench included, ideal for sitting and planning new strategies to solve the latest mystery.

The bench was usually paired with either kitchen cabinets or computer equipment. You could often find tables and chairs in the back as well. These features gave the team extra capabilities suited for high-tech adventures or times when they needed to stay fully supplied. The van would even have an extendable satellite dish on it occasionally. The large antenna allowed them to get a signal no matter where they were in the world. 

How It Evolved Over Time

The Mystery Machine retained its look until the 1990s. In that period, multiple TV series and movies were released featuring the whole gang and the classic van. The original show, "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!", was an almost instant success. Even when running up against the popular ABC show "The Hardy Boys," "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" experienced high popularity with viewers. Going off of Nielsen ratings, the show netted 65% of all Saturday morning cartoon watchers for its time slot. 

In the 1990s, the animated Mystery Machine got a makeover with the release of the movie "Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island." After this point, the animated Mystery Machine would transition to the look of a news van to help advertise Daphne Blake's fictional news show, "Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake."

The New Look

The new Mystery Machine still retained some qualities of its past appearance, but it got a much more modern, sleek look. As the producer to Daphne's news show, Fred redesigned the van to meet the show's aesthetic and give it a more professional appearance. To prove that he hadn't destroyed the old van, he briefly removes part of the van wrap with Daphne's show's name on it to reveal the original Mystery Machine underneath.

The van's new look did stretch the show's credibility a bit with the idea of the Mystery Machine hiding under the news van's exterior. "Scooby-Doo" featured a talking dog, however, so we can safely believe Fred was able to keep the original van underneath the total redesign. 

For some time, this news van was the main form the Mystery Machine took. Some of the primary changes included:

  • Same color scheme: The same basic color scheme was used for this version of the van, with green and blue as the main hues. The van's bottom half was green, and the top half was blue. Additionally, the numbers and trim around the bottom of the vehicle were blue. There was still some orange left on this new vehicle, with "The Mystery Scene" painted in orange over a green spot on the van's top side section.
  • Loss of flowers: In the past, the Mystery Machine had orange flowers as accents on its side. The news van would go on to ditch most of the flowers, choosing a non-accented exterior instead. The only spot that retained its orange flowers was the top section of the van's side surrounding "The Mystery Machine" text. 
  • Same decal: The top half of the animated Mystery Machine still featured the same "The Mystery Machine" decal from the van's previous version.
  • Protruding engine: A protruding engine replaced the familiar spare tire, giving the vehicle a more aggressive appearance and showing that this new van was packing some serious power. With this front-engine, the van no longer had a straight-down appearance where the driver and windshield were immediately in the front. Instead, the new Mystery Machine placed the driver a couple of feet behind the engine, with a sloped hood protruding from the van's front.
  • Missing mounted spare tire: Gone was the spare tire that had made a home on the front of the van. In its place, the vehicle's front featured chrome grills that sat between the headlights.
  • Rectangular headlights: To continue updating the car's appearance and giving it a more modernized look, the series' artists swapped out the round headlights for rectangular ones. These headlights took away the van's retro circular look of the past and gave it a sleek appearance to fit a newer period.

The Mystery Machine's fresh new appearance would last for a while, but the original would come back eventually. In the early 2000s, the animated original Mystery Machine made a comeback, with this model appearing in two films made for DVD and television — "Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico" and "Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire."

Of the two primary versions of the Mystery Machine, the groovy, hippy version of the van seemed to make a broader impression on viewers and other forms of media than the later newscaster version. You can still see the original version of the van in "Scooby-Doo" merchandise and new media forms. 

the live action mystery machine

The Live-Action Mystery Machine

The series of "Scooby-Doo" live-action movies from the early 2000s brought the Mystery Machine to life. Although there was much speculation over what kind of vehicle the animated Mystery Machine was, there was no doubt about its make and model in the movies. In the first film, "Scooby-Doo," the Mystery Van was a Bedford CF from 1972 that the gang potentially picked up when they went to Australia. 

Most of the film was shot in Australia, and this is likely why the van was a Bedford, which was a popular international brand.

The van's appearance was based on the news-style Mystery Machine that originally appeared in the animated series to assist with Daphne's news show, "Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake." In the second film, "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed," the Mystery Machine was still based on the news van's design.

The Monstrous Machine

Later, in "Scooby-Doo! and the Goblin King," a straight-to-DVD animated movie from 2008, the Mystery Machine is turned into a monster. In this movie, the gang exposes a magician at a carnival as a fraud. After this experience, the magician — named The Amazing Krudsky — asks Fairy Princess Willow to make him a real magician. After kidnapping her and forcing her to make him a magician, he decides to take over the world.

The gang learns about his new powers and sets out to stop him. To foil them, Krudsky turns the Mystery Machine into a monster, dubbed "The Monstrous Machine." This version of the van has giant green spikes protruding out of the wheels. It also develops a face, with the bottom grill turning into a mouth with menacing, sharp teeth. One of the bike racks on top of the van is bent forward in a V-shape to give the van's face angry eyebrows.

Besides the mouth's frightening features, you can also see a spider web on the side windows and wing-like fenders coming out of the back of the van. These wings have talons on them, making the van even more monstrous in appearance. In place of "The Mystery Machine" decal, there is a decal that reads, "The Monstrous Machine."

After the gang defeats Krudsky by taking his scepter away from him, the van is returned to normal. This movie marks the only appearance of the Monstrous Machine. 

Fan replicas of the Mystery Machine

Fan Replicas of the Mystery Machine

The van ended up making such a big impression on so many fans that some enthusiasts have built their own replicas of it to pay homage to the show. These replicas showcase just how important the show was to so many people. In a way, these model vans keep them connected to a show that was a significant part of their lives growing up.

In Edinburg, Texas, college student E.J. Salinas drives a replica Mystery Machine around town and to his school. The van was gifted to him by his parents, and it serves as a testament to his love for "Scooby-Doo." The vehicle brings him a lot of joy, and he reports that plenty of people love the van and always want to get a picture with it.

Even more impressive, Jerry Patrick, the owner of a car customizing company and a fan of "Scooby-Doo," built a perfect replica of the Mystery Machine. Using a 1967 Dodge van as his base, he and his team took about 90 days to build the vehicle. To ensure they had the right look, they watched a ton of the old cartoons, freeze-framing different shots so they could make the vehicle as accurate to the animated show as possible.

This replica van can reach 75 miles per hour, and its suspension is entirely rebuilt. Patrick says it drives like any other cargo van from the era.

His team got extra creative by adding a painted mural of the Mystery, Inc. crew on the interior sidewall of the van. There's also around 100 feet of light-emitting diode (LED) lighting in the back of the van to give the cargo area some extra flare. Additionally, Patrick and his team outfitted the vehicle with green and blue padded benches extending around the van's interior, making it a perfect hangout spot.

How Much Does the Mystery Machine Cost?

A replica of the Mystery Machine was recently up for sale at an auction and fetched a sales price of $59,400. It was based on a 1968 Ford Ecoline, which ran on a factory 302-cubic inch (ci) V-8 engine that also features a three-speed automatic transmission. 

To give this Ecoline the Mystery Machine's look, the seller outfitted the exterior with the iconic color combination featuring "The Mystery Machine" decal on the side. The interior also highlighted an orange, green and blue color scheme matching the exterior paint. Additionally, the vehicle had a Ghost Finder instrument panel included inside.

With a price close to $60,000 for a replica, the van used in the live-action films would likely go for much more if put up for sale.

Who Owns the Mystery Machine?

Currently, the Volo Auto museum owns a promotional Mystery Machine from the 2002 live-action film. It's styled after the newscaster Mystery Machine, with the front engine and flowerless paint job. You can find out much more information on the vehicle by visiting the museum. You can take a look at how many miles are on the Mystery Machine and discover how it got to the museum from the film's lot.

The Mystery Machine from the Volo Museum

See the Mystery Machine at Volo Museum

At Volo Auto Museum, we're proud to display the Mystery Machine used in the live-action "Scooby-Doo" film. Our "Scooby-Doo" exhibit is great for all ages, due in part to the series' long run. "Scooby-Doo" crosses multiple generations — anyone born in the '60s to the present day has likely watched the show in their childhood and adolescent years. Besides our "Scooby-Doo" vehicle exhibit, the Volo Auto Museum has several other exhibits displaying iconic cars from popular TV shows and movies.

Plan your trip today to see our Mystery Machine in person, plus the many other exhibits we offer. Whether you're into vintage cars or antique musical instruments, there's something for everyone in the family. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us