The Chariot from Lost in Space: an appreciation

The TV show Lost in Space featured a marvellous, transparent, caterpillar-tread space-rover called "The Chariot," which was adapted from a snow vehicle, but was groovily and spacily modded into something quite wonderful. The company that manufactured it later went on to produce solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle, the Mars Pathfinder airbags, and ejector seats:

"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.

"The Chariot" from Lost In Space [That Car Guy/Car Lust]

(via Danny's Land)


  1. …later went on to produce solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle…

    Specifically the boosters which blew the Challenger out of the sky.

    1. Which the Morton-Thiokol engineers specifically warned NASA officials about attempting to operate in below-freezing temperatures. Yes, the design had a flaw, but the accident was avoidable if the engineers had been listened to.

  2. I suppose it is ironic that the one thing you can never be in space is lost. You can be stranded easily enough but given propulsion, life support and a cheap telescope you can always find your way home.

    1. I have life support, cheap telescope and a tank full of gas I find it pretty easy to get lost here on earth.

      1. Thats because you can’t see where you are going here in Earth. IIRC the Jupiter 2 was supposed to go to Alpha Centauri. That is the closest star to Earth and literally the easiest thing to find in the sky. There is nothing between here and there and no place to get lost.

        1. Are you daft?  Their navigation and propulsion systems were damaged, and they headed off in an unknown direction in some kind of hyperdrive state.  And even in the episodes where they had figured out where Earth was, they didn’t have enough deutronium to get there because Dr. Smith had traded it for an all you can eat buffet.

      2. I have life support, cheap telescope and a tank full of gas and we’re wearing sunglasses at night.

        Hit it.

      3.  It’s a hundred and six miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.

    1. Roger Zelazny’s original novella doesn’t give much detail about the overall shape or details of Hell Tanner’s vehicle.  (List of weaponry and munitions, yes.)  But my mental image of the beast has always been that of Jack Gaughan’s illustrations for the story’s original appearance in GALAXY magazine.  As I recall (it’s been a l-o-n-g-g-g time…) Gaughan drew Tanner’s vehicle as a stretched-out half-domed shape, close to the ground, to help keep from being flipped over and around by the high-velocity crap-storms and tornadoes that were a frequent hazard in Zelazny’s blasted landscape.  Shaped, come to think of it, kinda like (irony alert!) a cockroach.

      (Gaughan’s work seems to be largely forgotten today.  A lot of his painted covers for paperbacks weren’t that impressive, but I still remember a lot of the outstanding pen-and-ink illustrations he did for SF magazine stories.  “Damnation Alley”, “The Last Castle”, “The Dragon Masters”, “Golden Quicksand”, and many, many others.  A retrospective collection would be a nice thing to see someday.)

      1. The story of Damnation Alley and the Landmaster was pretty fascinating; for one thing, it was supposed to be the big science fiction film of 1977. So much of the film’s budget was blown on the Landmaster that the rest of the film ended up looking really cheesy. (If you haven’t done so already, read Walter Jon Williams’ Hardwired, which was written as a tribute to Zelazny’s original book.)

    2. I clicked on that, hoping it was a reference to a show I remember from childhood, in the late 1970s. It had a vehicle that looked vaguely like that. That wasn’t it, though.

      Actually, I finally found a link to it just now (after looking, now and again, for years!): Ark II.

    1.  The Jupiter 2 was secretly an early prototype TARDIS.  Lost in Space is a documentary about the early history of the Time Lords.

  3. I’m going to really geek out on y’all.

    Now, I’m not really much of a Lost in Space fan. I watched it faithfully during its first run — I’m that old — but watching a few episodes on Hulu reminded me how juvenile it was.

    However, my rocketry club buddy Jack Hagerty did a great book at TV & movie flying saucers (“The Saucer Fleet”), and the chapter on Lost in Space was fascinating and comprehensive. He went into the whole “where did the store the Chariot?” question, and also the “where did they store the lander” question, and how the hell did they fit in an engine deck shown in one episode. (That bothered me as a kid . . .)

    The scenes with the “Chariot” never featured Doctor Smith or the robot. Why? Because the Chariot was only used in the B&W pilot episode that was made before the robot and Smith characters were conceived of!

    The pilot footage was eventually use in the show. When severe cold threatened the ship, the Robinsons headed off in the Chariot to warmer climes. Doctor Smith and the robot stayed behind.

  4. My mom (science fiction/”trans-genred” writer Kit Reed) sat me down in front of the premiere when I was 5, and it marked me for life in the best possible way. 

    I stayed out there with the Robinsons every single episode, thinking that someday they would be brought back home, and learned about what it is to be a sarcastic robot, an evil meddling stowaway, a wide-eyed kid, but most of all, a space traveler.

    Looking back, the show was cheesy, campy, childish, weak FX – but that’s from the distance that almost 5 decades of genre and moviemaking evolution has given us. At the time, it was the most wondrous, marvelous world I had ever visited, and I never wanted to leave.

    I still keep two little toys of the Space Pod and the Chariot (issued in 1995 by Johnny Lightning) near my desk.

    I fucking loved the Chariot, and it was the biggest disappointment that the movie reboot – which had a thrilling first half – completely fell apart by act III.

  5. I have the Moebius plastic model kit of the Chariot. I keep putting off building it because I’d really like to motorise it with proper tracks and an RC system but that’s somewhat outside my skill level.

  6. The problem was the pilot.  He made Capt. “Wrong Way” Peachfuzz in Rocky & Bullwinkle look like a bloodhound on a fresh scent with his skills.

    This line burned itself into my tiny little mind when I watched this back in the 60’s:

    “I’ll get a navigation fix from Neptune and the Andromeda galaxy and see if I can determine where we are.”  Rather ignoring the fact that if you can *see* Neptune but are still lost, you probably can’t find the front door while on your own front porch.

    One hopes the writers were having a laugh at our expense but I fear those where the only names for things in space they could come up with.

    1. Whenever anyone involved tried to science it up, Irwin Allen slapped them around until they stopped.

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