If one cool vehicle can help the hero out, then more than one can certainly be better, right? But if the hero is out with one, and needs the other, he's up the creek. Not so, for he's driving a Transforming Mecha, which can mechanically rearrange itself into a variety of different machines for different roles.
The most common form of this is humanoid/animaloid robot to vehicle. The vehicle and humanoid form will most often share parts, characteristics and details. For instance, big tough robots will change into trucks and tanks, while light fast robots will shift into fighter jets or sports cars. The design of the robot form is usually done using elements from the vehicle form, making it at least visually plausible that one can become the other without swapping anything out back at the shop. The vehicle form usually has an advantage, like a higher speed, or the ability to masquerade as a mundane vehicle.
It is, of course, also possible that the two will not resemble each other in any way, and the transformation will be based on matter replication or other semi-magical technology. The advantage to the mechanical transformation is that it's possible to design a toy that works almost exactly like the mecha on the show.
The switchover itself will either be a full-blown Transformation Sequence in Super Robot shows, or a lightning-fast parts shuffle in a Real Robot show. There are sometimes exceptions, as with the Telescoping Robot's ability to expand outwards. A reliable source for Technology Porn.
A variation, sometimes used in combination, is the modular parts system, with which a mecha can re-equip with different tools and weapons for different jobs, like the FAST packs from Super Dimension Fortress Macross or the Assault Weapon Systems from Centurions. This type of system is in use in real-life militaries, which have such things as up-armoring kits for vehicles and universal hard-points on combat aircraft.
There is also the matter of the vehicle that transforms into the same vehicle, only much cooler. These are more common in shows aimed at younger audiences, but appear from time to time throughout the genre. The typical explanation being that the cooler form is the vehicle's true form, while the ordinary one is a disguise.
The physics and logistics of the transformation concept are tenuous at best. Most of the internal space of the vehicle would have to be taken up by the robot's parts, but they usually seem to have cargo and passenger room much like an equivalent mundane craft. The extra weight of the unused robot components would probably reduce the capabilities of the vehicle form, but in most cases it's faster, tougher and overall better than the non-transforming types. Even when the alternate form isn't a vehicle (such as, say, a different kind of mecha), it would be much simpler to have whatever function the alternate form is designed to do be performed by a separate, additional robot.
Frequently, it is possible to anticipate if a vehicle will transform into a robot form if it contains strangely out-of-place elements in its design, as if its engineers suddenly decided to ignore the laws of aerodynamics. Examples include strange protruding bulges and unnecessary giant hand-shaped areas. Most of the time, if the characters within a show are not aware of the vehicle's ability to enter a robot mode, they ignore these design quirks prior to the robot's first transformation. Much to their surprise, the robot changes form near the end of the pilot episode or the beginning of the second. Note, though, that there are certainly exceptions, with the tell-tale bits instead being alt-mode bits that are obvious in robot mode. (Transformers fans refer to these as kibble.)
- Cubix: Robots for Everyone:
- The eponymous character is a robot who can assume the forms of a jet, a drill tank, a hoverbike, a laser cannon and a helicopter chair.
- Maximix has a car mode.
- Quixtreme 5000 aka Cheetah, the robot of Connor's rival Charles, can transform into a robotic cheetah and an open-wheel car.
- Kilobot gains the ability to transform after copying some of Cubix's data. He has taken the form of a jet and can also assume the form of any robot whose data he has copied.
- In Happy Heroes, the Car Knights all have a vehicle form and a battle form.
- Mechamato: Payapi, the firefighting robot, looks like a firetruck, but he can change between this form and a more humanoid one.
- While none of these appear in American Born Chinese, the trope is discussed and deconstructed in a rather philosophical way. In an early scene, the child protagonist tells an old woman that he wants to be a transformer when he grows up. After she gets a brief explanation of the concept, the woman uses it to illustrate a point to the kid: anyone can become something they aren't, but have to sacrifice their soul to do so. This is the core theme of the whole book.
- Assuming you take the old woman literally, this means that every single example on this page has had congress with the devil. Good to know!
- Tobot Galaxy Detectives: The titular Tobots are formerly Tyler's toys who were brought to life by a mysterious red-and-white device. They usually stay in miniature toy form, but when Tyler initiates their V Transformation, they grow in size and transform into giant Transformers that Tyler can pilot from their cockpit.
- Moe gains the ability to turn into a humanoid robot in "Tobot Naval Battle (Part 1)".
- A Crown of Stars: In this story Asuka has a red Humongous Mecha capable to turn into a jet fighter with space-travelling capabilities.
- Theecat's totemen in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World. They can shift into all kinds of useful forms, and can also combine to make more useful forms.
- As Code Prime is a crossover between Code Geass and Transformers, the Autobots and Decepticons, as usual. In R2, five of the Black Knights' Knightmares — the Shinkiro, the Guren S.E.I.T.E.N., the Lancelot Albion, the Raiden S.E.I.T.E.N., and the Gawain Nerion — are able to transform due to being made from Cybertronian Protoforms. The Shinkiro can become a shuttle, the Lancelot and Raiden can turn into jets, the Gawain Nerion can transform to a hovertank, and the Guren can turn into a car.
- In Spaceballs, the villains' Spaceball One flagship transforms into Mega-Maid, a giant Fembot equipped with a vacuum cleaner to suck up Druidia's atmosphere.
- The agents' cars in Men in Black can transform from a mundane car (an LTD in the first film, a Mercedes-Benz in the second) into a superpowered jet-propulsed car at the touch of a Big Red Button.
- In the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond's Lotus Esprit can also become a really fast submarine.
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) had airplanes that could transform in mid-dive into submersibles. The hero doesn't bother pointing this out to the Damsel Scrappy who's in the cockpit with him, so she's rather annoyed.
- Centauri's car in The Last Starfighter took the angular wedge design of the DeLorean, then made it a transforming Flying Car and Cool Starship.
- The titular Taxi deploys spoiler wings and gains about 500 hp at the touch of a button.
- In Big, a prototype toy transforms from a robot into a skyscraper, and Tom Hanks' character suggests that the robot transform into something more fun, like an insect or a dinosaur.
- Downplayed in the Star Wars prequels with the Trade Federation "Vulture Droid." Although primarily used as a fighter, its "wings" can reconfigure into four legs. However, this is only seen in a couple of shots.
- This is also shown on a much smaller scale than most with droidekas, who transform between a high-speed but vulnerable rolling mode and an essentially immobile shielded mode. There are also the basic troops, which though they don't have a specific "alt-mode", have a folded-up form that allows them to be tightly packed into a troop carrier for deployment.
- Older Than Television: In what may be the earliest example of this trope, there was "The Terror", a vehicle from Jules Verne's Master of the World (1904) which could become an airplane, a submarine & some kind of tank/armoured car that could move so fast it could not be seen by the naked eye.
- Travis S. "Doc" Taylor used transforming mecha in his One Day on Mars series of Hard Sci-Fi books. Marine issue Mechs had 3 modes: Fighter, Bot and a hybrid Eagle mode with talons hanging down. Army tanks would switch into 2 modes: Hovertank and Bot. Justified throughout the book as assisted by AI and made enemies worry about 3 different styles of attack, rather then one.
- Ambassador Magma, by Osamu Tezuka is the possible Trope Maker. The giant robot was capable of transforming into a rocket.
- Most seasons of Super Sentai and Power Rangers have at least one mecha that can both combine and transform on its own.
- The Rescue Megazord from Power Rangers Turbo and its counterpart VRV Robo from Gekisou Sentai Carranger is a Combining Mecha made of five Transforming Mecha.
- The Dinozords from the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers combined into a tank which would then be transformed into the humanoid battle mode, often without ever firing a shot. There was an instance of it transforming back to tank mode to knock down a giant Goldar before switching to battle mode again.
- One pre-Power Rangers Sentai, Denshi Sentai Denziman, had the Daidenzin, which could transform from the space shuttle-like DenziFighter into the Super Robotesque Daidenzin.
- Of particular note there's the Astro Megaship from Power Rangers in Space, which besides being a transforming robot and the main Megazord of the season, were the only additional component was a shuttle that formed its head, was also the base of operations for the Space Rangers. Its counterpart in Denji Sentai Megaranger, the Galaxy Mega, was also the main headquarters for its Rangers.
- Tokumei Sentai Go Busters sees the mecha of the Rangers having more independent action than in other seasons, this is partially due to the fact that that their mecha all have vehicle and animal modes they can transform to, with Red Buster's mecha having an additional humanoid mode. Its adaptation as Power Rangers: Beast Morphers keeps this, albeit to a slightly lesser degree.note
- Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger is a special case; most of the Rangers in the team are a race of robots from another dimension and their Ranger forms are based on mecha from previous shows. As such, the mecha of the team are the Rangers themselves enlarged and transformed into other forms (a tyrannosaurus, a lion, a dragon and a dump truck) and two of them combine to form the collectively known ZenkaiOh, which has four configurations depending on the Rangers that form it and two of it can around at the same time. Twokaizer has a more traditional mecha formed by his crocodile-shaped aircraft turning humanoid with the head being formed by one of his mechanical younger twin brothers.
- Some of the Kamen Rider series in the Heisei era have these, albeit in a smaller scale compared to its sister series Super Sentai. Examples include:
- Kamen Rider 555 has Autobajin, a motorcycle that can transform into an autonomous human-sized robot which can assist the eponymous Rider in combat. Kamen Rider Kaixa has one that changes into a bipedal walker that specializes in the Macross Missile Massacre trope.
- Kamen Rider Gaim probably has one of the stranger examples of this trope, as the Riders are able to summon a giant transforming watermelon. It can transform to either a humanoid robot mode or a flight mode. And despite possessing one of the most ridiculous concepts for a Transforming Mecha, this series is known for being one of the darkest installments of the Kamen Rider franchise.
- In some Kamen Rider series, the heroes are able to utilize small robotic allies that usually disguise themselves by transforming into everyday objects. Examples are the Disk Animals in Kamen Rider Hibiki, the Candroids in Kamen Rider OOO and the Foodroids in Kamen Rider Fourze
- Knight Rider managed to include this in a couple ways. In the original series, the fourth season introduced both "C" mode (Convertible) and Super Pursuit Mode. C mode had the hardtop (with t-tops) somehow folding away behind to make a convertible out of KITT. SPM had various pointy bits and a rocket booster pop out of places to allow a huge speed boost. In the new pilot, KITT did something of the reverse - he was able to disguise himself as a more mundane, base model Mustang to avoid standing out quite so much. It's unknown at this time how much that particular transformation might impact performance, or what other transformations might be possible.
- In the series proper, KITT transforms into other Ford Product Placement Opportunities - er, I mean vehicle types, for specialized situations, like an F-150 for off-road.
- KARR in the new series could transform from a Mustang like KITT into a very scary wheeled exosuit bristling with machine guns and missile launchers. In the original series as well as the new, KARR is voiced by Peter Cullen which makes this a very full circle Shout-Out to the man and one of his most famous roles.
- The first edition featured Land-Air Mechs, which are Battlemechs that are able to transform into fighter craft. The originals were licensed designs based on the Macross Valkyrie Fighters above, though they later received new art original to BattleTech. They also somewhat subvert the trope in that they're acknowledged as highly specialized and somewhat extravagant niche units, not really competitive with either pure 'Mechs or pure aerospace fighters in their respective roles and of course requiring pilots specifically cross-trained to handle them competently in all of their possible modes ('Mech, fighter, and depending on the design possibly a hybrid "AirMech" configuration). The Succession Wars destroyed all but one of the factories that built these advanced mechs, making them all but impossible to keep running due to their Lost Technology, and their virtual extinction was a way for FASA to wring their hands of the messy lawsuit that these mechs and other licensed designs caused. Later editions limited them to the Tech level 3 rules, an optional ruleset for more realism and/or advanced technology.
- The Novels made mention of a variant developed by the Clans that had two pilots, one a MechWarrior one and the other an Fighter Pilot. Given how marginalised the Pilot bloodlines are in the Clans' eugenics programs, and how badly Clan warriors cooperate is (in general, they don't), it resulted in a rocky working relationship as the best of times and both pilots fighting for control doomed the project.
- A number of other more recent Land-Air Mechs have popped up but none have reached full scale production and most were Flawed Prototypes at best. The Manei Domini produced three LAM models outfitted with ultra-light weight Clan technology, but outrageous costs and mediocre performance even with augmented pilots made them a rarity. There was a brief attempt to make a flying Spider Tank in the Scorpion LAM, which failed to ever fly, and sat mothballed for close to 400 years; when rediscovered, the prototype was used to improve the ride quality in standard Scorpion quadmechs.
- It has to be mentioned that with the tabletop ruleset at the time of their introduction, LAMs were a pain to deal with. While they couldn't compete in either Mech or Fighter mode, the hybrid AirMech form was a nigh unhittable Fragile Speedster perfectly capable of taking down 'Mechs twice its weight, thanks to the insane to-hit modifiers their speed provided. Later rules would Nerf them substantially by adding extra modifiers.
- Later, the game saw the addition of Quadvees, quadrupedal mechs that could fold up their legs and run on tracks or wheels. While they have a few advantages (they can enter terrain that normal tracked and wheeled vehicles are prohibited in, and if they suffer crippling leg damage they can ignore it by switching to vehicle mode) but they're still generally inferior to standard mechs due to how much of their mass and internal room they need to devote to the converision gear and motive system.
- The first chapter of Shards of the Exalted Dream features a voidfighter design capable of converting from space fighter to warstrider form. The first prototype was known as the Scarlet Empress, and is so far the only one to be piloted by a non-Solar.
- Mekton has this, although it can get a bit pricey, especially when you have multiple forms.
- Pathfinder has the Stone Colossus, a magic mecha-like construct that turns into a small castle when not mobile.
- Acid Rain World, a Hong Kong-based toyline had a number of military vehicle classes that would transform into bipedal mechs. The speeders were one-man scout trikes, laurels were light combat vehicles for general combat roles and the strongholds are heavy transports that were heavily armed and armored (serving as much a tank role as troop transport).
- Robotech had a toyline which had a number of transformable mechs such as the Valkyrie fighter jet/robot. This toyline would be one of the factors leading to the Robotech vs. Battletech lawsuit.
- Transformers, obviously enough, and probably the most famous example in the west. The higher capability is somewhat of a Justified Trope here, as some individual Transformers are older than our whole species. Also notable for being sentient rather than piloted (although half of the original toys were repainted from Japanese toys that were supposedly piloted; the other half were to-scale objects like Penny Racers, radios, cassette players, and even handguns that transformed into robots).
- Worth noting is that a number of Transformers have more than two modes...In fact, there's a few with six, and one with ten.
- Later installments into the franchise would go on to show that transformation is not just present in the Transformers themselves, but can be found in almost every aspect of their society. Animal species, weapons, ships, buildings and in certain continuities their entire home planet of Cybertron (also their god, Primus) are capable of transformation.
- The latest franchise ups the ante with Shifters, a Transformers sub-species that can transform into anything! Understandably, they are Toyless Toyline Characters.
- The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye put a lot of focus on the influences of transformation on Cybertronian life. Socially, it led to the rise of the Fantastic Caste System of Functionism (which held that your altmode determined the job Primus had chosen to give you), and thus indirectly to the Autobot-Decepticon War, since the Decepticons started as rebels against Functionism before He Who Fights Monsters kicked in. The Militant Monoform Movement consists of bots who had their transformation cog surgically removed; at one point, we meet a Triple-M member who had all his Kibbles and Bits removed because he couldn't stand to look at it. There are also medical conditions related to transformation mentioned, including a disease triggered by transformation, transformation cog burnout (a protester commits suicide by transforming himself to death, while transformation-addicted Tarn harvests his victims' T-cogs to survive), "rigor morphis" (the body's tendency to take its preferred shape at the point of death), and Grimlock's aphasia, which worsens in his robot mode because it puts more pressure on his brain module.
- Worth noting is that a number of Transformers have more than two modes...In fact, there's a few with six, and one with ten.
- The Baterra from BIONICLE could shapeshift into anything, including trees and rocks, but avoided taking on the shapes of other people out of choice. Sadly, they never appeared as sets, although there were plans. Toys that did shapeshift were the Bohrok/Bohrok-Kal (into balls) and the Vahki (bipedal to quadruped).
- While we don't actually see it, Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth has a throwaway gag where a father explains to his son about the miniature courthouse model inside the courthouse he designed and built, but was fired since the total cost for it was just as much as the real thing. He explains that it was because he put in some "special mechanisms". When Edgeworth looks at the model himself...
Edgeworth: ...Is that a face? And hands? Does this thing transform?
Edgeworth: (reading an information plaque) "Press the button to activate robot transformation sequence."
- Turns out that years later in the sequel, the courthouse apparently liked it as you can ask permission at the front desk to press the button in front of it.
- The Bots Master: Twig, Ziv Zulander's bodyguard BOYZZ, can transform ZZ's car into a Humongous Mecha when he's combined with it.
- The Ghostbuggy, or "GB", from Filmation's Ghostbusters (No, not the famous ones); this could transform into an airplane, a hovercraft, a snowmobile, and other vehicles. "Did I mention, it also travels in time?"
- The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Night of the Huntress" reveals that the Batmobile can transform into one. And it even had a Rocket Punch.
- Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! features Jinmay, a cute, sweet little pink-haired girl... who's actually a robot and can transform into a Humongous Mecha.
- In one episode of Bubble Guppies, a monster truck called Humunga-Truck turned out to be a transforming robot at the end.
- Phineas and Ferb once spent a day improving their old tree house, and somehow added a giant wooden robot mode. Cue epic battle with Candace's mecha tree house.
- Hong Kong Phooey's Phooeymobile can transform into a boat, helicopter, or whatever sort of vehicle he needs at the time.
- The old Heathcliff cartoon Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats. The namesake car moves from car to boat to..um, house trailer, I guess.
- Danger Mouse: The faux Penfold that Dr. Crumhorn planted with Danger Mouse (episode "Penfold Transformed") turns into a Humongous Mecha hellbent on destroying DM with a press of a button.
- Inspector Gadget has the Gadget Van, a minivan that would turn into a police interceptor when on duty, complete with its own set of gadgets. Meanwhile his nemesis, Dr. Claw has the MAD-mobile, a car that could turn into a plane or submarine.
- In The Crumpets episode "Pong! The Menace!", Granny transforms the Crumpet house to a Humongous Mecha by pressing a Big Red Button in the hidden security room. She pilots the robot house with a videogame controller.
- In the Teen Titans Go! episode "Hot Salad Water", Big Ben is revealed to be able to turn into a giant robot that the Queen of England uses to fight Robin.
- The J-deite RIDE is the world's first real transforming mecha, going from car to robot in a few minutes. A bit slow compared to the lightning-fast transformations in mecha anime, but it proves that it can indeed be done.