Blogs at Amazon

« SsangYong Rodius | Main | Bailout Blues? »

"The Chariot" from Lost In Space

Chariot 1 Google Lost In Space was my favorite show as a kid in 1965 and later years, mainly because our local NBC affiliate blocked Star Trek (1966-1969) for the first 18 months of its three-year run. An overly emotional robot was the biggest star of this show--so when I was eight years old, running around on the playground with my arms flapping, and yelling "Danger! Danger! That does not compute!" like a bubble-headed booby, was considered quite normal at the time.

Back to reality. In investigating the Lost in Space Chariot some 40+ years after the show was cancelled, I came across a couple of unexpected and interesting connections. These include genuine outer space adventures, as well as a business partnership with a celebrated automotive legend.

But first, I'd like to spend a little more time talking about this campy, Saturday Morning-mentality show. The first season of Lost In Space was actually serious, dark, expensive to produce (including the then-most-expensive pilot episode ever made), and shown in black-and-white. Between Dr. Smith trying to murder everybody just to get a trip back to Earth, plus the group dealing with the normal pitfalls of intergalactic space travel, the Robinson family spent as much of their time trying to survive as they did exploring alien worlds.

Chariot 2 The second and third seasons were in color and were too badly produced to even be called comedic. One particular episode, "The Great Vegetable Rebellion," may be the worst hour of network television ever presented. Even the cast had trouble keeping a straight face while filming this horribly-conceived adventure--two giggling cast members were cut out of the next two episodes for delaying production. That episode's writers later said that they had "simply run out of ideas" for the show.

"The Chariot" was a real, full-sized, fully operational vehicle, both in real-life and in the 1960s' fictional future. It was used to transport the Robinson family, pilot Don West, the robot, and the conniving Dr. Smith to virtually anywhere on whatever planet they would happen to be crash-landed on that week.

The Chariot was filmed on both the studio soundstage and at remote outdoor locations, which gave the show one of its few points of technical credibility. We never saw how the Robinsons stored the vehicle; I always assumed it folded neatly into the belly of the Jupiter II.

Chariot 6 This futuristic "Family Truckster" began life as a Thiokol Snowcat Spryte, powered by a Ford 170-cubic-inch inline-6 with 101 horsepower. It had a 4-speed automatic transmission, plus reverse. I hope there were some alien gas stations along their way, as the stock vehicle got 4-8 miles per gallon and came with a 15-gallon fuel tank. That's a 120-mile range at best.

Weighing in at 3,200 pounds, the Spryte could carry another 1,000 pounds of personnel, cargo, laser guns, and model B-9 robots. The track is a 4-ply rubber-covered nylon belting with tubular steel grousers. I hope the Robinsons had a few spare grousers around when they needed one.

The Chariot's factory running gear was kept intact, but all of the bodywork was designed to look like what a space family of the future would drive in 1997, when the show takes (... uh, took?) place. A bulbous plexiglas enclosure, climate control, a safari rack, extra seats, superfluous blinking lights, spinning antennae, and a roof-mounted glass bubble were fitted, as well as a never-seen platform for the cybernetic robot to perch on. Though the group always fit inside the vehicle, sometimes I thought Dr. Smith would have best been placed under the Chariot. "Oh, the pain... the pain."

Chariot Amp In the series, the Chariot was amphibious, just like the Swamp Spryte version of this tracked vehicle, shown at right. It would cruise along at 4½ mph on water, and up to 35 mph on dry land.

However, the Robinsons' craft was probably not built on this platform. On the show, the Hollywood magic of models and water tanks allowed the family to survive a gigantic whirlpool, scorching and freezing temperatures, and a rock-throwing colossal cyclops while en route to various destinations in the Chariot.

So, if you were a producer, what would you do with a vehicle like this after the show was cancelled in 1968? Well, luckily, the Chariot was still useful for ground snow hauling and transportation. The producers sold the Chariot to a Big Bear, CA, ski facility, which stripped the Chariot of its futuristic trappings and returned it to its original purpose.

Chariot 3 The Chariot actually did have an association with genuine outer space adventures. The Chariot's manufacturer, Thiokol, later became Morton-Thiokol and in 1974 was granted contract to build the reusable solid rocket boosters (SRBs) for the space shuttles.

Thiokol also built the airbags used by the Mars Pathfinder to land on the red planet, as well as other propulsion devices, including ejector seats.

That's a pretty exotic space lineage, both real and fictional, for a snow-cat manufacturer, but the story doesn't end there--Thiokol's sci-fi ties morphed into an automotive association and, by extension, another popular science fiction franchise.

DMC In 1978, former General Motors executive John DeLorean (yes, the guy that brought us the Pontiac GTO) purchased the Thiokol Snowcat operation and renamed it DMC (DeLorean Motor Company). He later built the stainless steel, gull-winged DMC-12 sports car in 1981 and 1982, which was famously featured in the Back to the Future movies, though the stock versions never offered a flux capacitor option or Mr. Fusion power. The company continued to make DMC snow cats until 1988, and then the company was renamed LMC (Logan Machine Company), which continued building snow cats until it went out of business in 2000.

The last known owner of the Chariot is Chris Tietz, of San Fernando Valley, Calif. In the mid-1970s, Chris was skiing at Big Bear and noticed a vehicle remarkably similar to the one from Lost In Space--of course, it turned out to be one and the same. When that skiing operation shortly thereafter went out of business, he bought the retired TV icon for restoration. But that's where the trail runs cold. I'd love to know where the vehicle is today.

DSC_1385 The Chariot provided a realistic prop on an otherwise unrealistic show. It has been said that Star Trek was science fiction, while Lost In Space was science fantasy. Too bad the more serious stories in the first season of LIS had not been continued into the rest of the series. We geeks might have built as many Jupiter II models as we did NCC-1701 replicas.

In the "For What It's Worth" department, a young "Johnny" Williams provided the music for Lost In Space, including the action music for the Chariot. He went on to write movie themes for JAWS, Star Wars, Superman, ET, the Raiders Of The Lost Ark series, and many other mega TV and movie hits.

Oh, and here's some unaired, rare color footage of the Chariot!

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

The first Chariot image (reversed) is from cloudster.com. The second is from iann.net. The Thiokol Snowcat Spryte photo is from chameleonic.com. Thiokol's amphibious Swamp Spryte image is from Wikipedia. The shuttle image is from learning-to-fly.com. The DMC-12 image is from modernracer.com. Yours truly accepts the blame for the last picture. Special thanks to Marta Kristen and Mark Goddard for taking the time to talk with me and let me take their picture in 1978.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e54ed05fc28833012876c13f73970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "The Chariot" from Lost In Space:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I had a lunchbox with the Chariot on it. I always liked it and the Robot. Being a bit of an SF snob, I looked down on Lost in Space, not appreciating until many years later that its goofy unrealism was entertaining in its own way.

When my boys were Cub Scouts, we did a "Lost in Space" skit at a Pack meeting. One of the kids dressed up as Robot B9 with flexible drainpipe for arms, an older sister played Mrs. Robinson, and one of the den leaders was a pitch=perfect Dr. Smith. (Our limited effects budget did not allow for a Chariot.) The plot, such as it was, involved the Jupiter 2 being menaced by a giant space potato from the planet Idaho. My role was as the narrator, and the pitchman for the Veg-O-Matic commercial.

Nothing to do with cars, I know, but we had fun with it.

And yet, while Irwin Allen produced Lost In Space, much of it came across like a Sherwood Schwartz production, like Gilligan's Island In Space. I was a big fan of the show when I was a kid watching it in endless reruns in the 1970s.

I think that was the first show to practically scare the bejeesus out of me. The big rock monster was one ("AAAGHH!!! They're driving RIGHT PAST ITS HEAD!!!) and another had a bunch of synthetic humanoid thingies that really creeped me out.

I also liked the Robot better than Robbie the Robot, who seemed to be much more famous. The actor who played him -- the guy inside the Robot, not the voice -- just died this year, name of Bob May (http://www.acagle.net/ArchaeoBlog/?p=5383).

There's something about the Chariot that says Disney World tram to me. It's actually fairly good-looking.

I didn't really expect much out of this post when I started reading it - no offense, Chuck, I enjoy your writing, it's just that I've never seen Lost in Space and so I don't have a personal connection with the Chariot. But the whole second half of the post was amazing - the fact that some random snow cat manufacturer that made the snow cat that turned into the Chariot wound up making components for the space shuttle and the Mars rover, AND wound up becoming part of DeLorean, is just fascinating. What a strange turn of events. Now I want a DeLorean snow cat.

My Mom used to watch LIS. She then found a couple of videos for rent and for sale and introduced it to me and my sister and loved it, though we never saw a full season.

Fascinated by the Chariot, I built one out of Legos. I bought some of the Johnny Lightning Hollywood On Wheels: Lost In Space series, Jupiter II, The Chariot and Robot B-9. Sadly, they all suffered through my childhood adventures, and my sister's destructiveness. Jupiter II got model glue dumped on it, The Chariot lost its antennas, and Robot from missing plastic bits. Still, they're safely stored away with me to this day.

One thing that always bugged me: did the series have a decent final episode, or was it unceremoniously cut?

"DeLorean snow cat", you say? There was a progressive-rock radio station in Cincinnati in the mid-80s that played a parody commercial for the DeLorean Snowmobile that was, well, about what you'd suspect: "...a stainless steel finish as smooth as a mirror...a car phone to call your attorney...." Screaming hilarious! Wish I had an mp3 of it.

William, my sweet William!

Love the Chariot! Yeah, where did they store the Chariot and the Pod in the Jupiter 2? :)

"Chickasaw Falls indeed!"
~Dr. Zachary Smith~

"I didn't really expect much out of this post when I started reading it - no offense, Chuck, I enjoy your writing, it's just that I've never seen Lost in Space and so I don't have a personal connection with the Chariot. But the whole second half of the post was amazing - the fact that some random snow cat manufacturer that made snow cat that turned into the Chariot wound up making components for the space shuttle and the Mars rover, AND wound up becoming part of DeLorean, is just fascinating. What a strange turn of events. Now I want a DeLorean snow cat."

What Chris said. Now when I go skiing I'm going to check the front grill of all the snow cats. Weird stuff.

Here's a DeLorean snow cat for sale. Only $9,500!

http://www.chameleoninc.com/snowcats/DMC3700.html

Here's one with the LMC brand name - the stylized logo looks a lot like the DMC automotive logo. Not a bad looking cat, either - I wonder if we could fit it with gullwing doors and a flux capacitor that engages when you hit 8.8 mph.

http://www.safetyoneinc.com/specsheets/lmc.1500.1.html

IIRC, the Chariot was supposedly solar powered. I vaguely recall them saying at one point they had to wait for the solar cells to charge up to get going. Oh, and based on the size of the Jupiter 2 prop it probably would have had to be stored on the roof of the saucer section. I don't see anywhere to put it inside even broken down.

"One thing that always bugged me: did the series have a decent final episode, or was it unceremoniously cut?"

It just sort of ground to a halt. CBS didn't order a 4th season and they made no provision for an episode to send the Robinsons either home or to the "Alpha Site", whereever that was. You could tell that the cast was pretty tired of the cheesy scripts by the middle of the 3rd season and basically phoning in their lines.

[edit - deleted web search and links to Mr. Tiez's address and phone numbers. Let's respect the guy's privacy.]

The "Pod" was shown at least once docking with the Jupiter II. She would slide right up into the underside of the back side of the ship ( the side away from the pilot windows and main airlock.) I too have always wondered where the Chariot was stored and how they got her out of JII. Still would love to have a few minutes alone with Judy in the lower deck. :^)

I love the Chariot.
After the two snowiest winters on record, my wife would probably even let me buy one...or its spiritual predecessor, the Studebaker Weasel.

As far as the show...I recall watching a few of the early episodes and not being too impressed. I preferred Star Trek.

As a big fan of Hollywood cars (or in this case, tracked vehicles) it would be interesting to see if it survives and if so, in what shape.
With the cost of custom plexiglass, I'd hate to pay to restore it.

When I met Judy (Marta Kristen) in 1978, she bore a remarkable resemblance to Farrah Fawcett.

The space pod (Designed after NASA's Lunar Excursion Module) mysteriously appeared in the third season, having never been seen in the first two. Science fantasy strikes again! Oh, and I believe it was the third (Maybe fourth) episode of the first season that Dr. Robinson suggested that they assemble the Chariot. I can't recall any other mention of them storing the vehicle.

I read that when Lost In Space was suddenly cancelled, Billy Mumy cried all day - and who can blame him? Years later, he wrote a screenplay called "Lost In Space: The Journey Home" that was to close the series. Guy Williams, who played John Robinson, had passed away years earlier, but the rest of the cast, including Bob May (Who operated the robot) and Dick Tufeld (The voice of the robot), were available.

In 2002, just days before filming was to start, Jonathan Harris, who played Dr. Smith, suddenly passed away three days before his 88th birthday. Everything was immediately shut down.

In 1998, "Lost In Space Forever" was telecast, and features a hilarious ending with Will Robinson, Dr. Smith, and the robot, taking shots at how each had aged in 30 years except, of course, the robot. It's available: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Space-Forever-John-Larroquette/dp/B00004S896

And here's a great blooper from that special: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfukvixjzYU&feature=related

"It just sort of ground to a halt. CBS didn't order a 4th season and they made no provision for an episode to send the Robinsons either home or to the "Alpha Site", whereever that was. You could tell that the cast was pretty tired of the cheesy scripts by the middle of the 3rd season and basically phoning in their lines."

Crap. Oh well. At least I won't have to buy all of the DVD's to find that unpleasant surprise.

I thought the Chariot has a more then passing resemblance to a Huey from the front with all that windscreen.

This was how the future was supposed to be. It is the 21st century - where is my jet pack?

"Crap. Oh well. At least I won't have to buy all of the DVD's to find that unpleasant surprise.'

I was curious if my memory was correct and checked around. There were negotiations for a 4th season but CBS wanted to cut the budget 15% and Irwin Allen walked out of negotiations when they said that. LoS had been cut after each previous season and he wouldn't take another one. So the series ground to a halt and never had a proper finish.

For the modelers out there, one may purchase a 1/24 scale model of the Chariot at CultTVMan.com.

The same site also features a 1/24 model of the LIS Space Pod, as well as a new styrene 1/35 model of the Jupiter II itself...

And you can build your own full size Robot!
http://www.b9robotbuildersclub.com

or buy one finished!
http://www.lostinspacerobot.com

Danger Will Robinson!

Lost in Space was my favorite show when I was seven years old.

All of the other guys in my class liked Batman. (sigh)

I had never seen the first few episodes but the link you provided to the pilot helped me find them. Many thanks for the memories.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.

Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

Powered by Rollyo

Car Lust™ Contributors

October 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31