Here’s what ROD RODDENBERRY has planned for the LONG-LOST 3-FOOT MODEL of the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE…

On November 1, I reported on the possible (but likely) discovery of the long-lost original 33-inch (aka the “3-foot”) pre-production model of the U.S.S. Enterprise…for sale on eBay, of all places, for a starting bid of only $1,000!

Designed by the legendary MATT JEFFERIES and constructed in late 1964 by Hollywood model builder RICHARD C. DATIN and a sub-contractor, the model was used for all but one of the visual effects shots for the first Star Trek pilot “The Cage” before being replaced by the larger, lighted 11-foot model that is now restored and on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The model was stored by Paramount after production wrapped on Star Trek TOS in 1969, and in 1973, when GENE RODDENBERRY returned to the the studio to oversee the new animated series, Paramount presented Star Trek‘s now-revered creator with the 3-foot model as a gift. And it remained proudly on Gene’s desk at home in Bel Air Estates for the next five years…

When pre-production began in 1978 on what would become Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Gene was “asked” by the studio to loan out the model to visual effects company Robert Abel & Associates, which used it to help build an early shooting model of the refit Enterprise that was never actually seen in the film because RA&A dropped the ball and was fired from the project a year later.

The model was never returned to Gene, and although he attempted to track it down and recover it, his efforts went nowhere. Eventually Gene moved past the loss and never blamed anyone openly nor showed any bitterness in public. (I’m not sure the same could be said for his wife MAJEL BARRETT.)

And so the final fate of the 3-foot model remained a mystery until an auction item was posted on eBay late at night the evening of Halloween after a seller apparently found a whole slew of Hollywood paraphernalia in an abandoned storage unit that he himself won in an auction. The listing was quickly discovered and first reported via X (formerly Twitter) by co-owner ALEX PERRY. I wasn’t even clear the lister realized that this wasn’t some prop replica of the starship but rather THE original model!

Fans leapt into action, reached out to Gene’s son ROD RODDENBERRY, and the auction was quickly removed from eBay. The questions now were:

  1. Was this indeed the long-lost 3-foot model? If yes…
  2. Would Rod be able to take possession of it? If yes…
  3. What would happen to the model after that?

Fans had many thoughts on this last question. From photos, the model is obviously in pretty poor shape and would need significant restoration, along the lines of what was done to the 11-foot model…

But assuming those repairs were made, should Rod keep it? Display it at the offices of Roddenberry Entertainment? Auction it himself to the fans? Or donate it to a Star Trek, sci-fi, or Hollywood history museum…or even to the Smithsonian itself?

As of earlier today, many of those questions were answered in an e-mail sent to subscribers to the weekly “Roddenberry Transmitter” newsletter. Here are the relevant portions of Rod’s message to fans…

Along with much of the Star Trek community, I was excited and pleased to learn that the original 3-foot filming model of the Starship Enterprise appears to have been discovered after being missing for decades (pending full authentication). I can confirm that I am now, through an intermediary, in contact with the individual who possesses the model.

Beyond its physical value, the greater significance is this prototype Enterprise model really represents the underpinning ideas my father imbued into the series. That we are clever, resilient and can learn from our mistakes. We can and will move beyond archaic belief systems. And once we truly embrace the infinite diversity all around us, both in form and idea, we will then take those next steps into a prosperous and unlimited future.

Guided by this principle, one of my primary goals over the past decade has been to locate, recover, and digitally archive significant Star Trek materials and artifacts through the Roddenberry Archive project. The intention would be to scan it in the finest detail for the Roddenberry Archives and, after rigorous scrutiny, make it available to the public. Furthermore, I firmly believe that a piece of such importance should not be confined to any private collection. This iconic artifact should be enshrined alongside the 12-foot shooting model at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, where it can serve to help tell the story of television history, the history of space exploration and, ultimately, a beacon of hope for the future.”

— Rod Roddenberry

11 thoughts on “Here’s what ROD RODDENBERRY has planned for the LONG-LOST 3-FOOT MODEL of the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE…”

  1. That is awesome news! I hope that the authentication proves this to be THE original model. That once Rod has taken as much information as possible about the model and placed it into the archive a full restoration occurs that returns this model to its original glory.

    That all fans can see this 3′ model right beside it’s larger 11′ representation. What a sight these two together will bring to fans.

    The possibility is exciting to consider!

    1. Some fans have already looked very carefully at the photos from eBay and compared them to the ship in the black and white photo and determined that it is almost certainly the same…

  2. FYI the model behind the unfinished TV ship looks like an AMT kit, not Roddenberry’s model. The loaning of that model in spring 78 was probably after the point the Abel team assessed the TV models and decided not to use them, which Richard Taylor told us happened before Robert Wise signed on.

    1. Oh, it’s definitely not the AMT model kit. There’s a couple of giveaways. The first can be seen on the top of the primary hull. This model is completely smooth. The AMT model had paneling in concentric circles and spoke lines radiating out from the center. See this video for details on the AMT model:

      Second, the secondary hull is completely smooth. There is no discernible connection seam between the top and bottom halves as there would be in the AMT version. Also, note that the Roddenberry model has parallel horizontal grooves in the squared extensions to the port and starboard of the central navigational deflector. The AMT model left those grooves off, and those squared extensions were perfectly smooth. Again, see this other video for details…

      Also, of course, the most obvious difference is that the model that was auctioned was 33″ long (you can see the tape measure in the first article in the photos at the bottom). The AMT model of the original NCC-1701 was only 18″ long.

      As for the loaning of the model to RA&A, that story is covered in copious detail in this Memory Alpha entry:

      1. See this photo of the same model from another angle.
        a) Not the right shape for the Roddenberry model’s saucer underside…that’s an AMT profile
        b) It’s way too small, as you can see by the desk drawers

        Memory Alpha’s entry does not discuss the model in question. Further, as we mentioned, we interviewed Richard Taylor at length, and he told us the timeline of the TV model assessment.

        1. Yeah, that photo definitely shows an AMT model in the background. As for where Gene lent the model to, it was given to Jon Povill, and where he took it from there isn’t known publicly. From the timeline, it would most likely have been RA&A, as they were the FX shop at the time the model was lent out. But there isn’t a lot of detail or information available of the loan, the exact timing, nor where the model went…which is probably why it was lost. According to Gene’s letter to Jeff Katzenberg, though, Gene said it went to RA&A. So I have to give salience to that letter above all else…

    2. Just looking at the pictures in this article you can see at the juncture between the dorsal spine and the secondary hull–the splintering–that these pieces are constructed of wood.

      The AMT model definitely was not ever made from wood. Whereas the 1964 33″ model used for the effects in “The Cage,” and for some shots (effects reused for the most part) later during the “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “In Truth Is There No Beauty?” was constructed with parts done in wood.

      It seems that the probability that this is the original 33″ model is high, but until (if) there is confirmation/authentication all we can do is wait and speculate.

      1. Yeah, I should have mentioned the wood! 🙂

        It’s VERY likely the same model. The “ding” on the side of the navigational deflector is a pretty obvious clue, as is the wood grain of the base.

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