COLLECTING TREK: 20th/21st Century Vehicles In The Star Trek Universe
By Maria Jose and John Tenuto - February 21, 2014
Being set centuries from now, it is interesting to note how often 20th and 21st century land vehicles make an appearance in various Star Trek adventures. Indeed, real-world vehicles are used to create exciting action sequences in both Star Trek: Voyager (“Future’s End” Part II) and the feature film Star Trek Nemesis. More importantly, cars help create important character moments that reveal facets of personality. For example, in “A Piece of the Action” the humorous scene with Captain Kirk “driving” an Earth-like automobile demonstrates how much of a proverbial fish Kirk is out of the water and just how imitative the Iotians are as a people. Land vehicles are used to great effect in the 2009 Star Trek movie. Kirk’s reckless and selfish nature is revealed through his stealing of the Corvette during the film’s early scenes, yet when he is ready to commit to a better life in Starfleet, his maturation and growth are symbolized by Kirk giving away his motorcycle before boarding the shuttle bound for the Academy.
Star Trek collectibles have also mirrored this fascination with land vehicles almost from the start. From 1968 to 1971, the first of what could be called “Car Trek” collectibles were available from Star Trek licensee Remco, which produced an “Astrotank,” “Astrocruiser” and “Astrotrain” -- all of which were never featured on screen, but were inspired loosely by Star Trek’s futurism.
In 1996, NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip drove a Citgo/Star Trek: First Contact car during that year’s Winston Cup. Three different collectible versions of the car were available: a 1/24 scale die cast model, a 1/24 scale bank, and a 1/64 scale toy.
Toy companies usually associated with cars such as previous licensees Galoob (who created the famous MicroMachines), Dinky, and Johnny Lightning created lines featuring various starships, but no 20th/21st century land vehicles from Star Trek episodes. Current licensee and car toy legend Hot Wheels released a 7.5 cm 1/64 scale U.S.S. Enterprise from the new movies (in both regular and battle-damaged versions) this past year as part of their mainline car series.
And Hot Wheels will introduce a new retro-inspired collection this spring.
Star Trek: Voyager frequently featured cars, especially as a way to showcase the affinity Tom Paris had for Earth history. However, it was after trainspotters and not car aficionados that the character of Annorax (“Year of Hell”) was named (inspired by the British slang word Anorak). Cars turned up on Deep Space Nine, too.
Trains have not been featured as much as cars, however, in Star Trek adventures, but they have played a role in Enterprise’s “Carbon Creek” and The Next Generation’s “Emergence.” Despite this dearth, beginning in 2009, the Bradford Group released a Star Trek-themed HO gauge heirloom train set. Available through a subscription service, the line eventually included 12 various train vehicles, including a locomotive, passenger cars and a caboose, all featuring characters and vehicles from The Original Series.
Perhaps the ultimate “Car Trek” collectible was the chance fans had in May 2008 to bid on the original blue 1976 Chevy pickup truck driven by Dr. Gillian Taylor in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It was actioned by the famous Illinois Volo Auto Museum and was originally part of the museum’s TV & Hollywood Collection. We're not sure what it sold for, but the initial asking price was $5,595.
What becomes clear when reflecting on this history of “Car Trek” collectibles is just how few of the cars or land vehicles actually featured on Star Trek episodes or in the feature films have been turned into collectibles. Interestingly, an exception to that rule was the promotional Burger King BK Kids Meal version of the police “motorcycle” from the 2009 .J.J Abrams film. However, there has never been a toy version of the Jupiter 8 from “Bread and Circuses” for example, or a die cast Argo from Nemesis, or most of the screen-seen cars of Star Trek. But, considering how Star Trek is a space-based science fiction program set 300 years from now, it is amazing to consider just how many car collectibles actually have been available.
Maria Jose and John Tenuto are both sociology professors at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, specializing in popular culture and subculture studies. The Tenutos have conducted extensive research on the history of Star Trek, and have presented at venues such as Creation Conventions and the St. Louis Science Center. They have written for the official Star Trek Magazine and their extensive collection of Star Trek items has been featured in SFX Magazine. Their theory about the “20-Year Nostalgia Cycle” and research on Star Trek fans has been featured on WGN News, BBC Radio, and in the documentary The Force Among Us. They recently researched all known paperwork from the making of the classic episode "Space Seed" and are excited to be sharing some previously unreported information about Khan's first adventure with fellow fans. Contact the Tenutos at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
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