“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.