Round 2 has issued yet another version of AMT’s beloved classic 18-inch Enterprise plastic model kit. Even though the model kit itself is the same as what Round 2 first issued in 2016 for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the box that it comes packaged in now is a reissue of the classic long box 2 that first appeared in stores back in 1968. The 1968-boxed version came out less than one-year after the first kit showed up on store shelves in June 1967. Unlike the first 1967 kit, which featured original artwork of the Enterprise supposedly done by AMT artist Don Greer (I have not been able to confirm this even though I have tried reaching out to Greer), the 1968 version of the kit depicts a photo of the actual built-up model floating in space between the Moon and the Earth.
I won’t go into a review of the physical model kit itself other than to say that it is identical to what Round 2 issued in 2016 which, except for the domed base with metal rod stand and no grid lines in the saucer section, is mostly patterned after the later AMT small box tooling that began to appear in the mid 1970s. For a detailed review of the various AMT kits of the Enterprise, see Jay Chladek’s comprehensive three-part series at https://culttvman.com/main/a-history-of-the-amt-enteprise-model-by-jay-chladek-part-1/
Even though Round 2’s new box promises “accurate decals and stickers included” folks will quickly discover that while water slide decals are included, the listed stickers are not. I asked Jamie Hood of Round 2 about this and he replied, “The sticker sheet was a last minute omission and we missed removing mention of it from the packaging. Reorders will have adjusted box art to reflect that.” Does anyone really use the stickers anyway?
More important than the actual kit is the box art that so many of us remember from out first experiences with the AMT Enterprise model. This version of the kit appeared on store shelves in 1968. The box top featured a photo of the finished model, an image that became AMT’s standard box cover design for this model even after they switched to the smaller “short box” packaging beginning.
The box-cover design that AMT chose for one of their most popular model kits is interesting in that AMT went from depicting a stylized drawing of the Enterprise (on the box art of the first kit from 1967) to showing a fully assembled model a year later. Most previous AMT kits showed artist renderings of their kits on the box rather than actual built model photos. Why was the Enterprise image changed? Part of the reason may have been to better display the “deep space lights” that appeared in the initial kit. In the first kit, AMT included two grain-o-wheat bulbs that fit into the clear green sensor domes on the top and bottom of the saucer section. Two AA batteries that powered these domes, were located in the secondary or engineering hull. The switch was the main deflector dish which could be rotated to turn all the lights off and on in the model.
With the second long box issue, AMT added lighting to the bussard collectors in the warp engine nacelles. These small domes were previously molded of solid white plastic and now were cast in clear amber plastic so that two grain-o-wheat bulbs, one located inside each dome, could illuminate them. I speculate that AMT sought to promote that feature and the gold or amber colored domes shown on the new box cover may have served to stress this. What is strange is that the original lighting feature of the two sensor domes in the saucer section is not as obvious in the new photo depiction. Another hunch that I have as to why AMT may have switched to this photo for the box design is that they were looking to trim costs as the electrical components may have proven to be the most expensive part of the kit since they were imported from Japan. From first glance at the box cover it is not at all obvious that anything lights up in the kit so AMT could easily stop offering the “deep space lights” feature (which they soon did) but keep the same box art.
However, perhaps the most intriguing part of using this photo for the 1968 long box kit cover was that the photo didn’t actually depict the correctly assembled kit. The photo is pieced together from a bunch of photos taken under varying lighting conditions and at different angles. This is clear from how low the saucer section is positioned relative to the two warp engines. The angle of the warp engines is also wrong. None of these abnormalities are present in the actual physical kit.
The person responsible for recreating the look and feel of 2022’s Round 2 reissue is Terry L. Smelker, a freelance artist based in San Antonio. It turns out that Smelker came from a family of artists as his father worked for the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan, drawing engines and transmissions. Smelker grew up not far from the original Troy-based AMT factory and followed his father in pursuing a career in graphic design. He spoke to me about his work on recreating this classic AMT model box design.
“When Wand announced that they were going to be doing their Tricorder, I pitched the idea to them of doing an Exploration Set type design for their upcoming Tricorder in hopes that they might consider releasing the Phaser and the Communicator” said Smelker. “I even suggested that they try doing a kit like they did with the Pip Boy. I figured that people could buy parts and they could put their own lights or electronics and do whatever the heck they wanted to it. I mocked the old AMT Exploration Set box using the images of their devices. Kind of like doing a remastered version if you will and I sent that to them and they loved it.”
Smelker’s idea pitch to Wand did not materialize but something else eventually did.
He continued, “I discovered that Round 2 had purchased another die cast company. So I sent them my mockup of their Exploration Set. I emailed it right to the CEO of the company. Well, he sent it on to Jamie [Hood] and Jamie contacted me and said, ‘would you be interested in doing some work for us?’ So the very first thing they sent to me was the recreation of the Enterprise box from that 1968 kit. They needed to do the recreation of the lid but they also needed to create a design for the bottom tray because obviously it didn’t exist back in the sixties.”
Terry set to work on the design. Said Smelker, “They found somebody that had a box lid that was in fairly good condition. They flattened it out so that I could see all the panels. And then they took some super high res scans of the lid including the photograph on the front, because I was going have to restore that and recreate all of the color fields and everything on the side panels. And they provided the front image along with the Kirk and Spock images but I flushed out all the rest. They left it up to me to basically design the bottom tray since the original kit did not have anything for that. They had some photos of the built-up kit that they used for the 50th anniversary version of the model and I used those but added my own touches to the tray panel.”
When I mentioned to Terry that Star Trek’s US premiere date as printed on the text of the box was erroneous, he was surprised. He created that text and did not realize that although September 6 was the premiere date in Canada for the first episode of Star Trek, it was first shown in the US two days later on Thursday September 8. I kidded him by suggesting that it may have been intentionally changed by E. James Small, a Canadian-based modeler who provided all the images of the built-up kit that were used by Terry in his bottom tray panel design.
Terry captured the spirit of the original box design even though it is not quite exact. For example, the typeface is slightly off and some of the star fields don’t match up. Terry explains, “I Photoshopped out all the lettering so that I could basically create the photograph as a standalone but that meant that I had to expand the edges of the artwork. So in some areas there were star fields that because there were creases and whatnot in the original art I had to get those out at some point so I’d use a clone stamp to stamp from somewhere else in the image. So I got the right colors and the right secularity of the stars. Then of course trying to make sure that all the stars matched from behind the lettering like they did on the original. They went through a couple revisions and I would send it to them and they’d say, ‘oh, here, this star needs to be in this place.’ And, you know, ‘you need to match these up a little bit better.’”
Another difference from the repop compared to the original 1968 box art is that two of the side panels have been switched in the Round 2 kit. The panel showing Kirk and Spock is at the top of the new Round 2 box while it was positioned at the bottom in the original.
The line drawing comparing the Enterprise with the Klingon D7 is also different. The grid lines are, of course, missing to reflect the Round 2 modifications of the kit but the shape is also different. The solar panels in the engine struts are drawn as solid fills as are the trailing ends of the warp engines. Details in the Klingon D7 have also either been removed or added compared to the original version of the 1968 kit. Both ships are positioned differently, with the Enterprise slightly ahead of the Klingon ship so that the two ships don’t overlap like in the original.
All of these differences are in no way a distraction except maybe to purists like me. Back when we were kids in the 70s, we really did not care that much for such trivial details. For us, the physical model was all that really mattered because there was so little out there for fans of the show. It is great that Round 2 continues to issue these retro AMT kits. My hope is that successful sales of this “new” repop will motivate Round 2 to consider producing tin box versions like they did for the 50th anniversary.