Landspeeder to Armadillo: 10 cars that have made it to outer space in sci-fi movies

We pay homage to the Apollo 15 space mission with cinematic vehicles that boldly went where no car has gone before

Today marks 50 years since the Apollo 15 space mission landed on the Moon, significant not for being the maiden voyage to Earth's natural satellite (that was Apollo 11 in 1969), but for being the first to take a car off-world.

Well, we say car, but the Boeing-made Lunar Roving Vehicle, or Moon Buggy as it's more popularly known, was a battery-powered, four-wheeled, 200-kilogram vehicle with no bodywork and capable of going 18 kilometres per hour. Three were sent – now potentially the highest-value classic vehicles in existence. But if you want one, you'll have to build yourself a rocket ship first, because they're still up there on the Moon and now exist only in our imaginations.

To celebrate this lunar-tastic motoring milestone, we've compiled a list of 10 space vehicles from the fantastic world of sci-fi cinema.

The Rover from 'The Martian'

The Rover, used by Matt Damon's character Mark Watney in The Martian (2015), is a huge vehicle capable of maintaining atmosphere with carbon dioxide filters and an airlock. It's powered by electric batteries with a top speed of 25kph.

In reality, the vehicles for the movie were made by a Dakar Rally Raid team based in Hungary. The movie was mostly filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan, so the vehicles were set up to run in the desert with suspension capable of 40 centimetres to 46cm of travel. Designed to Nasa-style specifications, the Rover got its power from a 6.8-litre diesel and was steered via a drive-by-wire joystick.

Luke Skywalker's Landspeeder from 'Star Wars'

There are a huge number of vehicles to choose from in the Star Wars universe, from the towering All Terrain Armoured Transport walkers to young Anakin Skywalker's Podracer. But back in 1977, when Star Wars first burst on to the big screen, it was Luke Skywalker's hovering X-34 Landspeeder that captured all our imaginations.

It had a repulsorlift engine, three air-cooled thrust turbines and was capable of 250kph. It was actually based on an eccentric British three-wheeled Bond Bug car, which, with a 30 brake horsepower 700cc engine, could barely reach half that speed. Reflectors under the vehicle hid the wheels and gave it the appearance of floating.

The APC from 'Aliens'

The Alien series of films has featured several ground vehicles including the Weyland Industries RT01 Transport, an eight-wheeled heavy-duty machine from the 2012 movie Prometheus. However, it's the M577 Armoured Personnel Carrier from the second in the series, Aliens (1986), that is probably most remembered.

Four mammoth wheels dominate the exterior of the weaponised “drop vehicle”.

Watch the movie again, though, and you might notice something odd. From the outside, the APC doesn't appear to be tall enough to accommodate the troops on the inside. That's because it isn't. The vehicle was based on an ex-British Airways 72-tonne pushback tug used for towing jumbo jets; the interior was a mock-up set.

Captain Picard's Argo from 'Star Trek: Nemesis'

It seems a little redundant that wheeled transport should exist in the Star Trek universe with its flying shuttlecraft and the Transporter beam that can send you anywhere in an instant. Kirk and Spock are seen in a car in the original series episode A Piece of the Action, and in the reboot movie series, young Kirk runs away in a classic Chevrolet Corvette.

However, one of the most memorable vehicles in the series is Captain Picard's Argo in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Not only is it a movie prop, but the Pro-Truck Racer was apparently a lure to get Patrick Stewart to return to the role. A keen off-roader, he insisted on doing most of the stunt driving himself.

The Chariot from 'Lost In Space'

In the original 1960s Lost in Space series, the Robinson family would use the Chariot whenever they had to get around on a planet's surface. An all-terrain amphibious tracked vehicle, it was actually based on a Thiokol Snowcat Spryte, fitted with a six-cylinder Ford engine.

Fast-forward to the 2018 Netflix reboot series and the Chariot is a little more sophisticated, being a solar-powered electric all-terrain vehicle, with vacuum seals, life support and terrain mapping. Interestingly, the new Chariots were custom-made for the show and have meaty petrol engines rather than electric motors – look closely and you'll see the exhaust pipes in some shots.

The Eagle 5 from 'Spaceballs'

The 1987 Mel Brooks cult classic movie Spaceballs is essentially a spoof of the Star Wars trilogy, also poking fun at Alien, The Wizard of Oz and Planet of the Apes along the way.

Star Wars's Hans Solo and Chewbacca characters are replaced by Bill Pullman as Lone Starr and John Candy as Barf, a sort of half-man, half-dog being. And their spaceship is not the Millennium Falcon, but the Eagle 5 – a 1986 Winnebago Chieftain 33 motorhome with wings and hyperjet engines capable of “ludicrous speed”. Yes, it is all as amusingly absurd as it sounds.

The Armadillo from 'Armageddon'

Unlike the other big rovers mentioned in this line-up, the Armadillo vehicles featured in the 1998 disaster movie Armageddon, starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, were to be deployed as mobile drilling units on a rogue asteroid set to hit Earth and wipe out all life.

The massive vehicles feature sealed space-capable cabins and huge independently articulated wheels. At one point, an Armadillo even acts as a shuttle, going space-bound to bridge a huge fault line across the asteroid.

The prop vehicles were custom-designed, built at a cost of $1 million and powered by Chevrolet V8 engines.

The Tardis from 'Doctor Who'

Potentially a controversial choice in this line-up, Doctor Who's Tardis (full form Time And Relative Dimension in Space) isn't exactly a car. Resembling a police phone box from 1960s London, owing to a broken chameleon system that would normally take on any shape that would fit unassumingly into its surroundings, the Tardis is both spaceship and time machine.

However, it isn't unusual for the Doctor simply to use it like a car to get himself around.

Pizza delivery car from 'Loki'

Spoiler alert: if you haven't seen the last couple of episodes of the Marvel Comic Universe offshoot TV series Loki, starring Tom Hiddleston as the god of mischief, you might not want to read on.

If you're still here, then there are two things you need to know: Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and several Disney movies feature a reoccurring Easter egg. The Pizza Planet Delivery van has been in animated movies, including Toy Story, Monster's Inc and Cars. In Loki, a pizza delivery car was driven by Owen Wilson's character Mobius; Wilson also voices the Lightning McQueen character in Cars. Coincidence? We think not.

OK, this isn't a space vehicle (it's a 1960s Datsun Bluebird), and it isn't technically in space. But being driven on an unnamed planet in The Void at the end of time, it qualifies.

Pontiac Fiero from 'F9: The Fast Saga'

Here's another spoiler alert for you, if you haven't yet seen the ninth film in the Fast & Furious franchise.

Tyrese and Ludacris's characters Romain and Tej pilot a converted Pontiac Fiero space shuttle into orbit to take out a satellite. Yes, you read that right. And all it took to do that was some duct tape, jet rockets clamped on to the back, and a pair of old deep-sea-diving suits. Richard Branson, take note.

The mid-engined 1980s American sports car has never been much loved here on Earth, but out there in space, no one can hear you groan at the utter imbecility of the movie.

Updated: July 26th 2021, 4:13 AM
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