Lightning McQueen

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Lightning McQueen
Cars character
Lightning McQueen.png
First appearanceCars (2006)
Last appearanceCars on the Road (2022)
Created byJohn Lasseter
Joe Ranft
Jorgen Klubien
Voiced byOwen Wilson (films, Cars: The Video Game, Mater and the Ghostlight, Cars Toons: Tales from Radiator Springs, and Cars on the Road)
Keith Ferguson (most video games, Cars Toons: Mater's Tall Tales, Cars Toons: Tales from Radiator Springs, and Miss Fritter's Racing Skoool)
Ben Rausch (Cars 3: Driven to Win)
In-universe information
Full nameMontgomery McQueen
AliasChester Whipplefilter
NicknameStickers (by Sally Carrera)
Buddy (by Mater)
SpeciesStock car
OccupationPiston Cup Racer (in Cars and in Cars 3), World Grand Prix racer (in Cars 2), and Cruz Ramirez's crew chief (in Cars 3)
Significant otherSally Carrera
NationalityUnited States American

Montgomery "Lightning" McQueen is a fictional anthropomorphic stock car who is the protagonist of the animated Pixar franchise Cars, including Cars, Cars 2, and Cars 3. He also appears in the TV series Cars Toons and Cars on the Road. McQueen is a playable character in each of the Cars video game installments and in other Disney/Pixar video games as well. He makes a cameo appearance in Planes: Fire & Rescue.[1] Lightning McQueen is the face of the Cars brand, and he is a popular mascot for Disney.

McQueen is a professional racer in the Piston Cup circuit, which emulates the NASCAR Cup Series, and acquires seven Piston Cup victories through his career. In Cars 2, he moves to compete in the World Grand Prix. At the end of Cars 3, he retires into a mentor role for a new generation of racers.

In the films, McQueen is sponsored by Rust-eze Medicated Bumper Ointment and wears their decals. His body is red with yellow and orange decals, displays the number 95 on his sides, and has blue eyes. His appearance undergoes updates through the films, but generally maintains the same image. McQueen is seen with no paint or decals briefly in Cars 3. He is voiced by actor Owen Wilson in the films.


During the initial research for the first film, John Lasseter met with General Motors designers to discuss the new Corvette design.[2] However, McQueen's appearance is not attributed to any single car model.

“He’s the new rookie, he’s kinda sexy, he’s fast, he’s different. So he’s invented. We took the best of our favorite things, from GT40s to Chargers… just sketching them out, we came up with what McQueen looks like.”

— Bob Pauley, one of two Cars production designers[3]

In order to create a cocky but likable character for McQueen, Pixar looked at sports figures like boxer Muhammad Ali, basketball player Charles Barkley, and football quarterback Joe Namath, as well as rap and rock singer Kid Rock.[3]

“For the other race cars, we looked at how race cars drive. For McQueen, we looked at surfers and snowboarders and Michael Jordan, these truly great athletes and the beauty of how they move. You watch Jordan in his heyday against every other player, he’s playing a different game. We wanted to have that same type of feeling, so that when they’re talking about ‘the rookie sensation,’ you’re seeing that he is really gifted.”

— James Ford Murphy, Cars directing animator.[3]

The end result is a character which, despite the usually meticulous approach to "truth to material" in which each car's animation is mechanically consistent with its respective model's capabilities, can occasionally bend the rules to move more like an athlete than a motorcar.[3]

Lightning McQueen is not named after actor and race driver Steve McQueen, but after Pixar animator Glenn McQueen who died in 2002.

Owen Wilson, the main voice actor of Lightning McQueen, at the 2017 Daytona 500

Character design

McQueen's design is primarily inspired by and based on various Generation 4 (NASCAR); however, he has a curvaceous body like that of the Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Charger Daytona. The exhaust pipes come from the 1970s Dodge Charger, but with four (two on each side) instead of two on one side or one on both sides. His body draws cues from the shape of the Ford GT40 and Lola T70, along with cab prompts from a 1990s Porsche 911.[4] His number was originally set to be 57, Lasseter's birth year, but was changed to 95, the release year of Pixar's first film Toy Story. McQueen's engine sounds emulate a Gen 4 in Cars, and in Cars 2 his engine sounds are a mixture of a Gen 5 COT and the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, and in Cars 3 his engine sounds mirror a Gen 6.


Cars (2006)

Lightning McQueen is a rookie racer in the Piston Cup series, and secretly disdains his sponsor Rust-eze, hoping to be chosen for sponsorship by the much more glamorous Dinoco oil company. McQueen is portrayed as being ungrateful, obnoxious, selfish, and sarcastic. On the road to California for a tie-breaker race, McQueen begins to realize he has no true friends. After an encounter with a quartet of tuner cars, McQueen becomes separated from his transport truck, Mack, and ends up lost in Radiator Springs, a forgotten town along U.S. Route 66. He is soon arrested and impounded there.

In Radiator Springs, the local judge, Doc Hudson, the other townsfolk, and Sally Carrera, vote to have McQueen repave the road he destroyed as his punishment. He rushes and doesn't do it properly at first before reluctantly accepting help from Doc. In the process, McQueen learns about the history of Radiator Springs and begins to relate to its inhabitants. McQueen befriends a tow truck named Tow Mater, and he falls in love with Sally. During his time at Radiator Springs, McQueen's personality slowly begins to change. He begins to care about others rather than just himself. He also learns an expert turn from Doc and some unorthodox moves from Mater, which he uses later in the tie-breaker race.

During the final lap of the race, McQueen witnesses a crash behind him and forfeits the win in order to help Weathers finish the race. McQueen is nonetheless praised for his selfless sportsmanship, so much so that Dinoco Race Team owner Tex offers to hire him to succeed Weathers. McQueen declines, choosing instead to stay with his Rust-eze sponsors for managing to get him where he was. Tex respects his decision and instead offers to do him a favor any time he needs it. McQueen uses the favor on a ride on the Dinoco helicopter for Mater, fulfilling Mater's dream.

McQueen returns to Radiator Springs to establish his racing headquarters. He resumes his relationship with Sally and becomes Hudson's pupil.

Cars: The Video Game (2006)

Considered a direct continuation of the Cars narrative, this game's story picks up where the movie ends. McQueen finds himself at the start of the next Piston Cup season. With the help of the citizens of Radiator Springs, McQueen readies to start his quest for the Piston Cup. He taking lessons from Doc, Fillmore, Mater. With the use of his new skills, McQueen once again finds himself in position to win the Piston Cup, much to the irritation of Chick Hicks.

McQueen's racing gear is stolen from Mack on Interstate 40 when Chick enlists the aid of The Delinquent Road Hazards, the same crew who harassed Lightning in the first film. McQueen is able to retrieve his equipment and bring the delinquents to justice before winning the next race, which sends Chick into a frenzy. Lightning challenges Chick to a Grand Prix in Radiator Springs, followed by one more Piston Cup race in L.A. McQueen wins these events, taking the Piston Cup in his sophomore season.

At the end, McQueen, Mater, and Sally decide to take a celebratory trip across the country. When asked if he brought his trophy, McQueen notes he did not, but left it in a good place, revealed to be at Doc Hudson's clinic next to the racing legend's own three Piston Cups.

Though McQueen is still sponsored by Rust-eze, players are able to unlock McQueen with a Dinoco paint job while playing as him in Story Mode, Arcade Mode, and VS. Mode.

Cars 2 (2011)

Five years after the events of the first film, McQueen, now a four-time Piston Cup champion (2006-2011), returns to Radiator Springs after a successful racing season in order to rest and reconnect with his friends. McQueen's respite is interrupted when he is recruited to participate in the first ever World Grand Prix, sponsored by former oil tycoon Miles Axelrod, who hopes to promote his new biofuel, Allinol. McQueen and his friend Mater become caught up in an international spy scheme, placing them in danger and testing their friendship.

At a pre-race party in Tokyo, Japan, McQueen is embarrassed by Mater and regrets bringing him along. After losing the first race on account of Mater's involvement with the spies, McQueen lashes out at him and tells him he does not want his help anymore. Mater leaves, and McQueen feels guilty for being so harsh. Later, McQueen wins the second race in Porto Corsa, Italy. However, many cars have been seriously damaged in the races so far, leading the public to question if the new fuel Allinol is the cause. In response, Axelrod decides to remove Allinol from the final race. McQueen elects to continue with Allinol, unknowingly endangering himself. Mater tries to warn McQueen, but is unable to do so.

During the third race in London, McQueen sees Mater and wants to apologize to him. When McQueen approaches him, Mater speeds away because of a bomb planted in his engine compartment that will detonate if McQueen gets too close. Out of the detonator's remote control range, McQueen catches up and realizes the spy mission was real. McQueen goes with Mater and the spies to confront Miles Axelrod, the mastermind of the murder, and force him to disarm the bomb.

Following the arrest of Axlerod and his cohorts, it's revealed that McQueen's Allinol supply was switched with Fillmore's organic fuel by Sarge, protecting McQueen from being affected by the radiation. McQueen happily declares that Mater can come to all races from now on if he likes. Once back in Radiator Springs, McQueen and his friends host the Radiator Springs Grand Prix.

McQueen's paint scheme in this film is nearly the same as it was in the first movie (his large lightning bolt is repainted dark red, and a smaller bolt is threaded through his number, and has only three sponsor stickers on either side), though it is modified for the World Grand Prix with green-tinted flames on the end of his large bolt and a Piston Cup logo on the hood instead of his usual Rust-Eze sponsor. His reflective lightning decals are removed, he has a different spoiler, and his sticker headlights and taillights are replaced with actual working lights.

Cars 3 (2017)

Six years after the events of the second film, McQueen, now a seven-time Piston Cup winner (2006-2015) and racing legend, races in the Piston Cup series with his long-time racing friends, Cal Weathers and Bobby Swift. High-tech rookie racer Jackson Storm appears and begins to win race after race. McQueen pushes himself too hard while trying to compete with Storm in the final race of the season, injuring himself severely in a dangerous crash. After recovering, McQueen trains with Cruz Ramirez during the offseason in hopes of beating Storm. McQueen's new sponsor Sterling tells him he will have to retire if he loses his next race, where Sterling plans to profit off McQueen's retirement merchandise. After several unsuccessful attempts at training, McQueen decides to seek out Doc's old pit boss, Smokey, and eventually meets him at the Thomasville Motor Speedway, in what appears to be the Great Smoky Mountains. Completing this training, McQueen runs the first half of the Florida 500, with Smokey as his crew chief, before pulling out and giving Cruz a shot at stardom, with him as the crew chief. Cruz and McQueen share the victory due to Lightning starting the race, and the pair receive a sponsorship under the merged Dinoco-Rust-Eze brand. McQueen embraces the role of mentor for young talent, with Cruz as his pupil.

He reverts to the body type he had back in the first film, but the paint job features a cross between the lightning bolts seen in the first film, and the flames seen in the second film. The bolts are solid colored instead of halftone, the Rust-Eze logos were enlarged, and he has fewer sponsor stickers than he had in the first film. He also sports a second paint scheme prior to his crash (With a slightly desaturated red paintwork, a more modernized version of the Rust-Eze logo and different lightning bolts), a third "training" paint job in which he is darker red with metallic yellow accents, and a fourth "demolition derby" paint job in which he is all mud brown and numbered 15. At the end of the film, McQueen is decked in a blue "Fabulous Lightning McQueen" paint job reminiscent of Doc Hudson's. He also keeps his working lights.

Notable miscellaneous appearances

In the book Struck by Lightning, McQueen reveals that his original name was "Monty", and that "Lightning" is a nickname.[5]

Cultural impact

Lightning McQueen at Cars Land
Toy Lightning McQueen side (die-cast)

Lightning McQueen's popularity inspired many products, from toys and video games to spin off TV shows and books. He is also a character at the Disney California Adventure theme park, Cars Land.


  1. ^ Lightning McQueen in Planes: Fire & Rescue.
  2. ^ Ann Job (May 7, 2006). "New movie rekindles love affair with cars". Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved July 15, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Pete Lyons (May 29, 2006). "CARS' Guys: Here are some fans who made the film". AutoWeek.
  4. ^ Neil, Dan (June 4, 2006). "A grease geek will guide you: 'Cars' decoded". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 28, 2017.
  5. ^ Keane, David (May 2, 2017). Struck by Lightning. Random House Children's Books. ISBN 978-0736438209.

External links