Cosmic cars: celebrating Apollo 11 at 50
In 1969, man walked on the moon for the first time, and ever since car companies have used the idea of space to sell new models. Here, we pick the best...
The best cars with space-themed names
At 3:17pm on 20 July 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong made history by stepping off the ladder of Apollo 11's lunar module, the Eagle, onto the moon and uttering the immortal words "that's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind".
It's often cited as one of the great moments in human history, and it's unsurprising that the idea of space and space exploration has since been used to sell everything from pens to blankets. And, of course, cars.
As we celebrate 50 years since Armstrong became the first human to set foot upon the moon, we've gathered together some of the cars that took their naming inspiration from the stars. Some are classics and have long since left showrooms, but some are still on sale today – and in those cases, you could save thousands by buying through What Car? New Car Buying.
So, from Astra to Starlet, these are our picks for the best cars with space-themed names.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
The Eclipse nameplate has been a Mitsubishi special since 1989, 20 years after man first walked on the moon. The latest iteration of the astrologically named car comes in the form of a 1.5-litre petrol-engined family SUV, one that we praise for its refined engine, spacious interior and generous standard equipment. We recommend the 3 trim level.
But with prices a little on the high side and a three-star overall rating, it’s unlikely to cast a shadow (excuse the pun) over the competition.
The term Polestar isn’t used just to refer to the famous North Star; it also describes something as a guiding principle, the centre of attention. So, fittingly, the Polestar 1 is just that.
Having the practicality of a saloon, the plush interior of a modern Volvo and 600bhp on top, not to mention 80 miles of electric-only range, this £140,000 plug-in hybrid super-coupé is ready to up against the likes of the Porsche 911 and BMW i8 upon its release in November.
A staple of the MPV market, the Ford Galaxy has featured on UK roads since 1995. Now in its fourth iteration, we applaud the people carrier for its hugely impressive practicality, confident roadholding capability and oodles of equipment. But if cheap running costs and a top-quality infotainment system are must-haves you for, the Galaxy might not suit.
Having said that, our galaxy, the Milky Way, houses an estimated 100 billion stars, and we reckon you could get most of them in the Galaxy’s enormous 1301-litre boot.
With its name derived from the Greek word astron, meaning star, the Astra has been a UK favourite since its introduction in 1979. Now in its seventh generation, this practical hatchback has never been better.
With it providing impressive standard kit, an enjoyable driving experience and hugely competitive pricing (you can buy one for as little as £17,209 through What Car? New Car Buying), we strongly recommend the combination of Tech Line Nav trim and the 1.6-litre diesel engine for a comfortable yet frugal journey.
While the Nissan Pulsar never lived up to the ostentatious nature of its name – a rapidly rotating neutron star that emits regular pulses of radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation – that doesn’t mean it isn’t a car that someone in the market for a family hatchback should consider.
With a spacious and quiet interior and good levels of standard equipment, some might consider it a shame that the Pulsar was recently taken off sale.
Back in 2000, Audi executive Roland Gumpert voiced his vision of a car that could seamlessly slip from competitive track racer to roadgoing sports car, at which point many questioned the feasibility of such a machine.
But five years later, the Gumpert Apollo was born. Sporting a 641bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine, a 0-60mph time of less than three seconds and a top speed of 223mph, the Apollo really was a rocket.
First seen at this year's Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Lightyear One is a Dutch-made electric luxury saloon that's powered by a combination of roof and bonnet-mounted solar panels and a regular battery. With its swooping design, the One looks ready to take electric vehicles to infinity and beyond.
Having launched Mazda’s famous Wankel rotary engine, the Cosmo grand touring coupé reserves a special place in the heart of the Japanese brand's enthusiasts.
Mazda has claimed that the reason behind the nameplate, introduced two years before the Apollo 11 mission, was to reflect the international cultural fascination with the space race, thus showing that its new engine was forward-thinking and futuristic.
With Rover having been founded almost 100 years before the launch of Apollo 11, a link between the two may seem tenuous at best.
But during 1971’s Apollo 15 mission to the moon, the first ever Lunar Rover Vehicle was used to transport members of the crew across the moon’s surface. We doubt the ride would have been as comfortable as that of the Rover 75, a former What Car? Car of the Year, but we’d give it a go.
Introduced as a rebadged Dodge in 1988, the Voyager people carrier failed to make much of an impact in the UK, being beaten over the years by the likes of the Ford Galaxy and Volkswagen Touran.
But if you’re on a budget, the 2001-2008 (pictured) variant of this enormous people carrier can be had for just hundreds of pounds. You’ll struggle to find a cheaper way to transport seven people and their luggage.
Introduced as a replacement for the iconic Capri, the Probe was the result of a joint venture between Ford and Mazda. With the second-generation Probe (pictured) bearing a strong resemblance to the Mazda MX-6, it not only looked futuristic but also had Japanese reliability.
The name seemingly came about after a ream of concept cars – all named Probe – were penned by Ford to showcase the company’s forward-thinking mentality. It was the only one that made it to reality.
Based on the Escort, the Ford Orion of 1983 – codenamed Apollo during development – sought to fill the gap in the market for a traditional four-door saloon that had been absent from the Escort range since 1980.
With the Orion star constellation one of the most famous and recognisable of all, it’s a shame that this nameplate has now faded into obscurity.
It would appear that the management at Ford of Europe in the 1980s were very fond of space-themed names, as this executive car was named after the eighth astrological sign in the Zodiac.
Often described as one of the ugliest cars ever, the second-generation Scorpio (pictured) was actually praised for its ride and general performance as an executive car. It was succeeded by the Mondeo, a car that in its current form we like for tidy handling, spacious interior and comfortable ride.
Derived from the Latin word coelica, meaning heavenly or celestial, the Celica name was used on Toyota models for 36 years before being snuffed out at the end of 2006 with the seventh-generation model (pictured).
Despite many thinking of the Celica as a sports car, it actually began life in 1970 as a modest coupé and evolved over the years. With the recent revival of the brilliant Toyota Supra, there’s hope that we could also see the return of the Celica in the future.
Originally marketed in Europe as the Honda Shuttle, the Odyssey was born out of Japanese financial crisis of the 1990s. It quickly became Honda’s fastest-selling car upon its release, even beating the Civic family hatchback.
Having won many awards internationally, the Odyssey was described by ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer as "having the handling of an executive saloon”. Older generations of the model now make for great bargain used MPV purchases.
Before the Vauxhall Corsa, there was the Nova, a small hatchback sold from 1982 onwards and designed to compete with the Ford Fiesta in the UK.
The Nova’s name was taken from astrology. It means a star that temporarily releases a huge amount of energy, burning brightly. Sadly, the Nova name didn’t last long, because in 1993 it was dropped in favour of the Corsa badge.
Mitsubishi Space Wagon
“Space,” Douglas Adams once wrote, “is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”
Mitsubishi was clearly thinking along the same lines, because its Space Wagon people carrier was huge. The last generation, sold from 1998-2004, was available with up to seven seats and remains a popular used choice for families wanting a budget runabout.
No list of space-themed cars would be complete without the Rocket, a limited-run open-wheel sports car powered by a 1.0-litre Yamaha motorcycle engine and penned by legendary designer Gordon Murray.
It may have only 150bhp, but in a car weighing only 370kg, that feels ferociously fast. Only 45 examples were made during the car’s initial production run in 1992, though, and the asking price was high: £38,800, which translates to around £80,000 today.
The Toyota Starlet was originally conceived as a coupé-bodied addition to the third-generation Publica saloon (or Toyota 1000 in other markets) range in October 1973.
By 1978, however, the two models were consolidated into one line-up under the Starlet badge. It proved a popular choice, lasting through various generations until July 1999 when the Starlet name was quietly retired. Today, you can pick one up for as little as £585.
Rolls-Royce star effect
This entry isn’t about a particular car, but rather a design feature of most Rolls-Royce models, where small pin-pricks of light in the car’s roof lining make it look like a starry night sky.
And what better way to feel like an astronaut than to look up and survey the stars from the comfort of some of the best luxury limousines around.
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