I recently bought myself a 32-inch Polar Lights Enterprise — and she is glorious.
I have been collecting for a long time, and while there are items of memorabilia that I greatly covet — like screen-used props and any items directly related to Wah Chang or Matt Jefferies — there are not many TOS collectibles that I want and do not own. However, one gap in my collection has vexed me for many years: I did not have a large Enterprise model. I’ve wanted one since Master Replicas announced its supersized 1701 in 2004, but that big ship came with a big price tag — US$1,200 — and I didn’t have the money.
My other option — buying the original model kit from Polar Lights — was also a no go. That kit will produce a beautiful screen-accurate ship for those with a lot of time, experience, and modelling and painting equipment, but sadly I lack all of these. There are experts who build models on commission but, again, the prices are prohibitive. You’re looking at about US$1,000 to assemble and paint the model, plus another US$600 if you want lights added. And that’s on top of purchasing the kit and lights.
So I was thrilled when Polar Lights unveiled its “Prebuilt display model 1:350 scale.” It looked great in the promo photos and the US$450 list price was a bargain by comparison.
To light or not to light
The only thing that held me back was that this model is not lit, so I asked my friend Robert J. Sawyer for advice. Rob (who appears here and here on this site) is a gifted novelist and a TOS uber-fan. He owns the Master Replicas 32-inch Enterprise, which has lights and spinning Bussard collectors, but Rob pointed out that he rarely flips the switch on these as both the lights and rotation motors have a tendency to burn out, and they can’t be replaced. He also made the astute observation that the MR model was designed to look best when lit, while Polar Lights optimized its model for an unglowing state. He had already put in his order when we spoke.
Smart guy, Rob. I bought my ship and he was right. I do not miss the lights.
The assembly is a little scary
The model is 1:350 scale, which gives you a finished length of 32 inches or 81 cm, the same as the model kit or the MR version. (Why 32 inches? Hold on; we’ll get to that.) It’s billed as “prebuilt” but that is slightly misleading, as what you get is not a meter-long box but a smallish carton containing four sections plus the deflector dish. These are then snapped together by you.
And that process, let me tell you, is nerve-racking. The fit of those pieces is tight, by necessity, so assembly requires some amount of force. I was worried the whole time that I would break a connector or an entire segment. The instructions advise that a little work with a nail file might make the pieces slot together easier, and I did this and it did help.
The price of glory
The cost here is good by comparison but still not inconsequential. The best price for US buyers was US$450 directly from the manufacturer. I got mine for C$550 from Toronto model shop Wheels and Wings. Buy local when you can. I did not have to pay for shipping or worry about Customs duties at the border.
That was part one of the outlay. Part two was a new cabinet and a lamp, so she could be displayed properly. And I had to reconfigure a section of my autograph wall around the ship. So, I sank about a thousand bucks and many hours into this project, and I could not be happier about that.
Some Enterprise history
The Enterprise was first made manifest in a four-inch wood and cardboard prototype by Matt Jefferies. The final version was the 11-foot hero ship that currently resides at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. But between those two ships was an interim version, built by Richard C. Datin. When you watch The Cage, the ship on your screen is that smaller ship, and it is also seen in later episodes when stock footage was used. The length of that model inspired both Master Replicas and Polar Lights to make their ships 32 inches.
But here is some deep-cut Star Trek knowledge: both companies are a little off. Datin died in 2011 and in 2016 his son, N. Datin McDonald, self-published The Enterprise NCC 1701 and the Model Maker, an account of his father’s career. He prints many of his father’s notes, including this: “Taking a ruler, the overall length from the leading edge of the primary hull to the aft end of the nacelles is 33 3/4 inches.”
She looks great in my Star Trek room
I wrote early in the life of this blog that the Franklin Mint 25th anniversary Enterprise “may be my favourite” model. I am going to revise that post, as the Polar Lights ship is easily the most accurate and beautiful in my collection.
I bought a lamp just to shine on my new ship, as I said above, and I added one fun refinement that I recommend to all like-minded fans. I plugged the lamp into a smart plug and named it for the ship. So, when I walk into my Star Trek room, I tell my Google Mini “Turn on the Enterprise” — and the light hits her.
It makes me happy every morning.
Because the Enterprise is on my mind right now, I also wrote short articles on seeing the 11-foot model at the Smithsonian in the ’80s and on whether there should be lines on her primary hull. (Spoiler: not really, but kind of.)
6 responses to “One big ship: the new Polar Lights NCC-1701”
I really appreciate this article. I am in nearly the same position and I’m heavily weighing the option of building my own which may look cheap at first but once you buy all the modeling tools and paints not to even speak of the time and research, $450 is not a bad price and will go well with my Mega Blocks Enterprise of almost the same size.
My only worry is some of the YouTube and Amazon reviews have shown some quality issues of the build. These are all small and my be fixable with a few touch ups but this still makes me hesitant.
Thank you and I hope to join you as a proud owner of this model
Hi John. Thank you for reading, and for the comment.
I had the same concern (some of those YouTube reviews are scary, aren’t they?) and I almost included that concern in my piece. Maybe I should have, but I did not because my model was perfect, as were the models purchased by two of my friends.
I guess it is fair to say that there is some variation in quality, but I know of three models that were ideal. No scratches, no marks, no problems.
And I know for sure that I could never build and paint a model that is half as good as the one I purchased.
So my experience was excellent. If you do decide to make the purchase, I would like to hear how it went. My email address is on the Contact page, or you can add another comment here. I am totally thrilled with my purchase. I hope you will be too.
After our messages, I began to look at the various vendors selling the model and looked for reassurances (return policies) that if I received a model with too many errors or imperfections, there would be an honest attempt fix the issues.
I eventually decided to go with Autoworld because when I called and asked; they sounded reasonable and willing to work with me if I had issues with the model.
Well, on July 5th, I finally pulled the trigger. I received the model 5 days later and couldn’t be happier.
The model was pristine except for a slight issue. The nacelle domes looked great but the final coating can easily scratch off. The good news is that you have to really focus on it to find the issue and that was acceptable to me based on the entire 3 foot model looking so great.
The installation was a little tight but was a breeze and the lack of lights really don’t make a big difference (like you said) because the paint and weathering is so well done.
Part of me was very tempted to try building the model with lights but I would have to invest in additional parts, paint, decals, airbrush and time. I’m not sure I have time for all that quite yet.
I do want to thank you. Your article was a great help in making me decide to pull the trigger. It gave me a real perspective and opinion on purchasing such a expensive model with immediate results once you open the box.
My next acquisition will be The Wand Company’s TOS Tricorder. It will make a great companion to my Wand communicator and phaser. I hope you write about these unique dedicated to detail pieces. The Wand company has been sending monthly emails detailing their research, design and building decisions regarding the new tricorder and it is very exciting.
Excellent, John. Congratulations! It makes me very happy that I played a small part in your decision and that you’re happy with your Enterprise.
I will not be buying the Wand Tricorder. I own the Master Replicas model (which you can see in the last photo above). That does not mean I don’t want the Wand version (because I really do) but I don’t think I can justify it. The MR is really nice.
As I said above, the Polar Lights ship makes me happy every time I walk into my Star Trek room. I hope you have the same experience.
I really enjoyed reading your post. I have been a Star Trek fan since I was a kid. I was wondering do anyone know where you could buy a per assemble Enterprise with working light.
Hi Joe. Thanks for reading. I’ll send you an email.