The Lost in Space Chariot: last seen intact 40 years ago

The Lost in Space Chariot was a fully functional vehicle designed and built as a prop for the Lost in Space television show from 1965-1968. You may remember that show: the Robinson family along with heroic pilot Don West are sent on a 5 year mission in “1997” to Alpha Centauri to test new technologies that would save the over-populated planet Earth (a typical 1960s theme – and one that is coming true today). 

After the original pilot (at the time the most expensive pilot ever shot) and the first couple of shows the writers were re-oriented towards more of a children’s show. But we can still appreciate the terrific props – they were very well done (on an early 60s scale – note all the analog electronics) in typical Irwin Allen style.

The Chariot was a particularly nice addition to the show, built to transport the family on planetside trips away from the ship. While a series of miniatures was also built for certain types of shots, the full size Chariot was fully functional! It made its first appearance in the original pilot (here on Hulu) and was lost for many years after the show was canceled. In more recent years, a fellow by the name of Chris Tietz found its remains at a defunct ski resort and started a restoration. The restored Chariot has delighted fans at appreciate shows over the past few years.

Original pilot – loading the Chariot to escape the cold. A studio shot – notice the background and lights above it.

The Chariot was actually based on the chassis of a 1965 Thiokol Snow Cat – everything above the treads was designed and built expressly for the show based on ideas that scientists and engineers had at the time for what would be needed for what Star Trek later labeled a “Class M” (human habitable) planet. And the Chariot was actually functional – it was driven in many episodes. Here’s an image of what a Snow Cat looked like:

We’d be interesting to know if the Chariot was ever driven by members of the cast outside the studio lots. You may remember a classic story of The Munsters, where one day the entire cast – in full makeup – decided on their own to take the Munster Koach out for an unauthorized drive around Los Angeles, and attracted all kinds of attention. Can you imagine seeing them go by?

Creative shows like The Munsters and Lost In Space were just two of several shows in the sixties that featured unusual and creative vehicles. A lot of kids grew up on shows like this, along with even earlier ones such as Route 66 (Martin Milner, George Maharis) and Highway Patrol (Broderick Crawford). These shows had a healthy influence on developing early interests in creative fiction, cars, the space program, and electronics. Lost in Space didn’t do well in the ratings. After a very promising and well written pilot episode (very good science fiction), the show was slightly retooled before it went on the air to add the nefarious Soviet spy Dr. Smith and the questionable “Robut”. And it was re-targeted at a very juvenile audience. The show was a bust from episode #2 or #3 onwards, but somehow managed to last 3 seasons before it was thankfully and finally killed off. It never attracted the more mature fans that Star Trek did, and it certainly never had the storylines or character development to do so. The 1998 movie of the same name and general plot was ridiculously poorly written and was a financial bust.

More Reading:

And Chariot video!