Is it really necessary to make more of the same replicas of television and film cars? Why must we put orange paint and a Confederate flag on yet another 1969 Charger that you know damn well would look a million times better sprayed in gloss black? Should you desecrate one more Delorean with Home Depot crap and waste another 1967 Dodge Polara hubcap on top of the simulated Mr. Fusion?
People can’t even get Bluesmobiles from the 1980 John Belushi film right, anyway; I’ve seen mid-sized Plymouth Furys and such with horribly incorrect graphics (I live fifteen minutes from where Jake and Elwood run the red light at Nelson Funeral Home, so I witness many, many, many tributes both good and bad).
There are plenty of other more obscure vehicles from motion pictures and TV reruns that need to be honored with a tribute. Some of these machines aren’t even cars, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be made to drive on the street or float on a lake. Let me explain.
Like many of our GenX readers, I turned the clunky knob of our black and white Zenith to some UHF channel, messed with the antenna, and watched reruns of the original 1966-69 “Star Trek”. In the years before George Lucas unleashed his saga on us, this (and “Space 1999”) was one of the few sci-fi experiences with cool vehicles on display. Certainly, the USS Enterprise itself was a compelling ship, as well as the Klingon’s ride, but I was partial to a rarely seen other vehicle: the Galileo shuttlecraft.
Honestly, after watching the video below, it seems that the shuttlecraft came close to not existing at all. This video is around 20 minutes long but I STRONGLY suggest clicking on the image below and investing the time to watch or at least scroll through if you’re even partially interested.
The Toy Maker Develops The Thing The Toy Is Based On
In the sixties, AMT (Aluminum Model Toys) was one of the premier makers of scale models, and they latched onto the whole licensing of television show-related products for dear life. This company secured the rights to produce a scale replica of the Enterprise and also a second vehicle, reportedly the shuttlecraft. There was one hitch: the shuttlecraft didn’t exist yet. There’s a bay door at the back of the Enterprise so it was planned but nobody had gotten around to creating it until later, as the screenshots from the above video show.
Matt Jeffries had designed the original Enterprise and also had concepts for the shuttlecraft, which looked a bit like scaled-down versions of the big ship.
This was a logical direction except for one thing: trying to make something with compound curves will blow the budget and schedule of any TV show. AMT actually offered to build the shuttlecraft mockup for free in exchange for the rights to sell the model kit, and ultimately the nearly unthinkable happened: the toy manufacturer ended up heavily involved in the design of the actual object they were to be making small replicas of.
Working with AMT, the final design was developed with car customizer Gene Winfield keeping easier production in mind (as in building it in around 30 days). Winfield actually had helped a designer at Raymond Loewy’s famous firm. I’ve always thought that the flanks of the Shuttlecraft seemed similar to the fenders of the 1963 Avanti, and apparently, there is a reason; assigned designer Thomas Kellog was actually a member of the team responsible for that Studebaker GT car.
Building It Full Size, Or Sort Of
The final mockup was fabricated from a steel frame with plywood and sheet metal covering it, which allowed for curves in at least one plane.
Detailing was good enough to work in the shots, with flip down doors and compartments.
There was one interesting catch: the mockup was actually only three-quarters scale of what the “real” ship was supposed to be; when you see cast members leaving the shuttlecraft (like McCoy below) notice that they have to duck their heads down. A larger, separate set for interior shots with six foot tall Leonord Nimoy had to be made.
The model kit made by AMT was more simplistic than most hobbyists would have liked, and oddly enough it came out in 1974, a full five years after the show had ceased production (but was in heavy syndication on late-night television and devoured by hungry sci-fi nerds everywhere, especially those like me that were too young to have seen the first run). Various remakes of the model exist, and the latest ones available have exceptional accuracy and detail (including a toilet in the back).
Back To Life As…A Floating Camper?
Despite being less-than-full-sized, the mockup was still around 21 feet long and over eight feet high. Wait, doesn’t that sound like the same dimensions as a Vixen 21 motorhome?
Does that mean we could make a replica of this famous craft as a van or camper? Maybe, but what about those pontoons on the side? Remove them? Nah, that would kill the look. I say keep them, make them retractable, and have the whole thing work as an amphibious vehicle. Logical, right? At this point, Spock would raise his already raised eyebrows, but we’ll make like Bones and ignore him.
On the road, the shuttlecraft would be a standard eight-foot-wide road vehicle that could ostensibly be stored in a regular garage. Note the low headlights; this area is shown as vents in many of the early shuttle replicas but they were always supposed to be landing lights so we’re staying true to the original.
However, head towards the open seas (well, a lake or something, since we don’t want to get overzealous) and it’s time to hit the switches 007 style. Side doors pivot up to simulate the wings on the original Star Trek machine and reveal the pontoons which inflate and extend outwards. The air suspension (same compressors that fill the pontoons) retracts the four road wheels as much as possible once you drive it into the water for lower drag.
What’s the powerplant, for land or water? I honestly don’t know or care, but I would think that if it’s ICE powered we’d want to look at something under the rear bed as in the Vixen, which is also ideal for a boat.
We can’t stay exactly true to the windowless sides of the original, but we could hide the windows behind graphics, as seen on city buses with perforated holes (many states would require the front ones to be clear of course). Front windows could possibly retract, as could the roof over the front passenger’s area for open-air motoring or boating. The A/C unit would fit in the back to try to keep the roof clean.
The interior layout would be virtually identical to the Vixen since it works so well with the limited space, with a kitchenette, a bath, a large bed in the back, and a dinette that converts to additional sleeping space. The dinette also works as seating for when traveling or with the backs aimed forward to allow it to be used as just transportation. I’m seeing a ladder on the door of the wardrobe to get you through a hatch to the roof for sunbathing or doing cannonballs into the lake (we might even offer a pop-up shade out back). The Vixen had a driver’s door which might be a good option here as well.
But why make it look like a shuttlecraft? Why not? Oddly enough, there is an amphibious camper supposedly offered by the Ta CAMI (Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International–that’s really the name) called the Terra Wind that gets its buoyancy from air bags that extend from the lower sides.
If anything, to my eye at least, this Terra Wind looks more ridiculous and less cohesive than this replica of a spaceship from a fifty-five-year-old television show that I’ve just drawn. Seriously, if you were going to make a reasonable pontoon house boat from scratch it would end up looking pretty much like this, anyway. Conversely, a clean-sheet-of-paper small Vixen-style camper wouldn’t fall too far outside of this look either.
Am I trying to talk myself into thinking that this thing is a logical creation? Pinch me on the neck, Mr. Spock! Please!
[Ed note: Somehow, The Bishop forgot that the designer of the Boss 302 Mustang actually designed an RV that looks remarkably like the Shuttlecraft! So, clearly, this is a great idea – MH]