Restoring AMT-Ertl's U.S.S. Enterprise Kit

    Built in 1964, the U.S.S. Enterprise is a TV prop made of plastic, wood and metal which portrayed the Starfleet's finest ship on the TV show Star Trek.  Considered an icon by the show's fans, the eleven foot, three and a half inch long Enterprise is the largest "miniature" ever constructed for a television show and is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

   When I started this modeling project in 1989, good references for the big studio model were few and far between and it would be a while before there would be such a thing as Internet Access. I wanted my model to be more accurate to the "real" Enterprise than the kit built out of the box but researching the big model turned out to be a challenge.
   Reruns of Star Trek were not very useful references in the days of Standard Definition TV. At the time, the best video prints of Star Trek episodes were available on a "remastered" set of VHS tapes and Laser Discs. Even when viewed on a quality TV, it was still tough to make out a lot of details on the model.
Forget about seeing the big model in a Star Trek rerun any time soon. Paramount re-mastered the show for HDTV and re-shot all of the special effects using CGI. All prints showing the original spaceship models have been pulled from syndication.

from The Making of Star Trek
Click for a larger image
   The drawing on the left first appeared in 1968 in the book The Making of Star Trek. This same drawing has graced the side of the AMT Enterprise's box since the 1970s.

   The drawing went on to inspire most of the blueprints that appeared later on,
including the drawings in Franz Joseph's popular Star Trek Blueprints and Starfleet Technical Manual and the schematic drawings that were included with Star Trek role-playing games.
    A lot of these drawings more closely resemble the model kit than the actual studio model. For a drawing that accurately depicts the contours and details of the big model, I found the U.S.S. Essex (2257) in Ships of the Star Fleet, Vol. One, a fan-published listing of Star Trek era vessels. The image below is modified from that drawing

from Ships of the Star Fleet Vol. 1

   The color of the Enterprise wasn't easy to pin down. As seen on TV, it could vary from light gray to white to greenish or bluish-white depending on when during the show's run the footage was shot, the quality of the print being viewed and the color settings of the viewer's TV set.

Information about the paint used on the model would change, depending on the source. I read an article by a "foremost authority" who said that it was GM gray auto primer right out of the can. I also heard from "someone who knew someone" that it could only have been Chrysler truck primer. Another foremost authority proclaimed that it was, without question Ford auto primer. (Later disclosure by Richard C. Datin, the Model Maker who oversaw the construction of the big model, stated that the paint was a custom mix of "a basic gray color . . . with a decided green tint.")

   Color stills of the Enterprise were limited to screen shots which were, at best, grainy or blurry and also subject to the color variations mentioned above. The best available photos were from a series of black and white publicity stills taken during the show's production which showed the big model in great detail against a starry background. Prints of these photos were rare but could sometimes be found at Star Trek conventions and fan shops with an 8 x 10 print selling for $65
or more. (No.)

   Kalmbach books' Famous Spaceships of Fact and Fantasy . . . and How to Model Them has some nice black and white pics taken after Paramount Studios presented the big model to the Smithsonian Institution in the mid-1970s. There is also some interesting info about the model and useful tips on building the AMT kit, some of which were used for this project.

   Naturally, the best resource would be the Enterprise, itself.

   The Enterprise studio model is a popular attraction at the National Air and Space Museum. When I visited the museum in 1989, the big model was on display at the entrance to an exhibit about spaceflight in art, fiction and literature.

   The model was hung from the Museum's ceiling about 15 feet off the floor in a narrow hallway. The strange location and position limited the views to either directly underneath or from a small platform on a nearby stairway in front of it.

   Sadly, the 25 year old Enterprise model was in poor condition. The paint looked like it was wearing away in a few places and most of the lights were out. Some parts which were damaged or missing when the Smithsonian acquired the model were replaced with parts that looked like they might have been scavenged from other models.

   The Enterprise looked less like the mighty starship seen on TV and more like the fragile, aging replica that it was.

   Despite its condition, it was still exciting to see the Enterprise on display. I must have taken over two dozen pictures of the big model and admittedly, having Trekkie tendencies, felt like I'd been photographing a major celebrity.

chapter 1
chapter 2
chapter 3
chapter 4
chapter 5
chapter 6
chapter 7
chapter 8
chapter 9
chapter 10