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Frank May's Space Rover!

Frank May is one of those amazing people you usually only read about in web pages like Where the Wild Toys Are. One of those who cares so much about his hobby (in this case Major Matt Mason!) that he is compelled to expand upon the toy line, in this instance, creating the Space Rover prototype only featured in a few Mattel publicity photos, an on the cover of the rare 1967 Mattel Catalog variation. Working from a single photo and using a scrapped Astro Trac, Frank approximates the Rover from the "Starlog Guide to Science Fiction Toys" magazine.




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The Original Space Rover
It appears that Mattel tried to produce a string-riding vehicle, using some type of battery-operated cam/pulley system that would propel Matt across the room. It is unknown why the vehicle was scrapped, but my guess is that the vehicle was too heavy to traverse the string. I believe the Rover was repurposed as the Astro Trac, and that the idea for a string-riding vehicle was developed into the Reconojet, relying on the weight of the figure instead of a battery-operated conveyance. I own an original Mattel prototype of a "Snow Cat" that appears to be an early attempt at producing a vehicle, ultimately becoming the Astro Trac. The Snow Cat uses the earlier Space Rover mold with large wheels added. I'll post more pics and information as I document the discovery.


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Assembly Notes
Starting out with an Astro Trac made this custom a no brainer. As the Astro Trac was the production adaptation of the Space Rover, the addition of the flywheel, cams and hanging-armature brought great results. Finishing up with silver spray paint and stickers, the result was a vehicle approximating the original.

During construction, Frank wrote to me.. "Well, got the stickers off finally. I wipe a little grease on them & let it penetrate( 3-4 days usually) & they peel right off. I'll clean the doner vehicle good next. The gears: looks like I'm back to plexiglass discs (using a roto-zip for the cut-outs). The gears I'd looked at for a mold pattern just won't do.:-( Y'all don't now how badly I wanted this sucker to run! On 2nd thought,I guess you do."

Then at a later time during construction.. "The top part with the fingers is part of a Space Crawler battery cover. I just couldn't get the wheel/fingers to do right. I tried to find some markings for the bottom wheels,but never found any. The SPACE ROVER sticker was printed off my WebTV, outlined in black & combined with the number "3" from the Space Sled & glued on. I used repro Astro Trac stickers as well as my own "Space Rover 3" sticker. The Rover glides well down a length of string, but is heavy."


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New Images from the 1967 Mattel Catalog
Some time in 2000, a very rare, previously unknown Mattel Catalog surfaced with an all black cover and the Space Rover in the lower-left corner. This year I finally managed to find a copy. The more common 1967 catalog has had the black "sky" cut out and filled in with blue. It also has a portion of Mountain texture covering up where the Rover once was located. The back cover has an additional image, which details the other side of the Rover. I sent these new, fresh scans to Frank and he wrote back.. "Wish I'd seen these a couple of years ago. Looks like the bracket is maybe pressed steel. Not as detailed as I thought. I could've made mine at least strong enough to hang. And sure does look like a wheel in the front." (under the control column).



You can write Frank about his amazing custom here, but please note that he built the Space Rover for his personal collection, and doesn't intend to offer any for sale.


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