In the Original Series Star Trek episode A Piece of the Action, when Kirk and Spock have commandeered an automobile, Kirk says, "Wheels, Mr. Spock!" Are wheels obsolete, or at least very rare, by the 23rd century so that Spock might be unfamiliar with them, or was he just using a slang term for a car, as in "We got ourselves a set of wheels!"?

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    The dialogue in A Piece Of The Action is intentionally Runyon-esque. Damon Ruyon wrote dialogue in a highly dialectical form and one which was very familiar to the US public in the mid-1960's. Guys And Dolls is the most famous example of his use of dialogue, but its influence was pervasive. So, yes, he did intend "wheels" to mean a vehicle. Moreover, we know Kirk was fond of (mis)using twentieth century phrases, a subject in which he thought himself an authority. See, for example "LDS", "double dumb-ass on you" in STTVH.
    – JohnHunt
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 19:14
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    I'm more curious about what Spock says in reply: "A flibber, Captain" (per amazon captions, "fliwer" per Chakoteya transcript"
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 19:28
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    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 18, 2021 at 19:36
  • @JohnHunt That sounds like the start of an answer.
    – Mast
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 17:00
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    @JohnHunt and Kirk referring to the Genesis proposal video in TWoK as a "tape".
    – 640KB
    Commented Nov 20, 2021 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


"Wheels" was a slang term for cars back in the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe earlier and later as well, but certainly during those decades.

Kirk isn't surprised at seeing wheels (the round things on the car.)

Kirk is making use of his knowledge of outdated slang. Outdated in his time, at least. Viewers in the 1960s understood him perfectly well.

In a way, both Kirk and Spock flubbed it.

Kirk used an expression that was from a few decades later - he used old slang, but not old enough.

Spock corrected him to a more era appropriate term - "flivver."

Flivver belonged more to the era of the 1920s Chicago gangster, but would have usually referred to a Ford Model T rather than the newer, bigger car they drove off with.

Kirk got the wrong era.

Spock got the right era, but the wrong vehicle.

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    and some of us still do
    – uhoh
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 5:27
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    @user14111: If it weren't outdated, they wouldn't have made a big deal of the word in the dialog.
    – JRE
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 8:37
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    @user14111 It'a already outdated now, and hardly seems like it would make a comeback. Have we even seen any wheeled vehicles in the ST universe (outside holodeck stories set in the past)?
    – Barmar
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 15:08
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    @Barmar - you're memory may be blocking out Nemesis which ridiculously had a UTV that Picard drove and Worf was the third wheel, moping in the back seat. Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 17:19
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    @HannoverFist: You mean the UTV with which he blatantly violated the Prime Directive, by driving it right in front of a pre-warp civilization that had never heard of humans or klingons before? That UTV? No, I can't say that I've ever heard of that UTV, and I'm skeptical that the writers would put such a dumb thing into a major motion picture.
    – Kevin
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 20:43

From the transcript available online, Kirk’s statement is not exclamatory, but declarative with a “period.” I don’t take that as authoritative, and Shatner always makes discerning between declarative vs. exclamatory statements nearly impossible.

But taken in context of their immediately following discussion where both appear familiar with workings of an internal combustion engine automobile, but not skilled in operation, I take its usage to be slang.

That is, neither Kirk nor Spock were shocked at encountering the vehicle, they’re more intrigued at idea of having to start and drive one. (Likewise, Kirk is certainly not shocked at encountering “wheels” on any vehicle or a “wheeled vehicle,” as if that was some ancient obsolete thing out of mythology.)

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    Of course, if you take the J.J. Abrams movies to be canon with the original series, then we know that Kirk is quite familiar with wheeled vehicles from a very young age. Assuming that part of his childhood is roughly the same in both timelines, he should be well familiar with how to operate one, but of course those movies were written long after the show, so they probably didn't think about that. Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 14:10
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    @DarrelHoffman Not sure you can make that conclusion. Kirk only had access to the convertible in the Kelvin timeline because his father had died (it appears to have belonged to his step parent / step guardian).
    – Tronman
    Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 14:30
  • @DarrelHoffman I’m not sure A Piece of the Action reasonably portrays such familiarity as is later revealed in Abrams’ films, suggesting Kirk & Spock’s earlier portrayal arguably having difficulty just starting the car much less operating it versus Abrams can be chalked up to “timey wimey” stuff. Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 14:38
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    @Tronman Well, one other thing that timeline shows is that Kirk is not the only one still driving a car in that time period. The survival or death of one guy isn't going to so drastically affect the timeline that it makes wheeled vehicles completely absent from one timeline and not the other within a single generation. (Kirk also drives a motorcycle for what it's worth.) Commented Nov 19, 2021 at 15:09

The episode spawned a licenced fotonovel. As you can see from the cover, Kirk and Spocko are using their limited supply of urban slang (in Kirk's case, gleaned from his own knowledge of 1920s American slang and the info he got from his copy of 'Chicago Mobs of the Twenties') to express their desires.

In this instance it's a set of wheels he's after, along with a heater and a flivver.

Set of wheels noun. A car. (US 1935)

Flivver noun. An old, worn car, especially a Ford car (US 1910)

Heater noun. A revolver (US 1926)

McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions

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  • Occurs to me that "heater" may also be misused in this context, given that it generally refers to a revolver, which is a small handgun, while they're clearly holding not revolvers but apparently tommy-guns? (I'm not a gun expert, but it's clearly some kind of machine gun, not a revolver.) Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 14:24
  • @DarrelHoffman - indeed. This is not Chicago in the 1920s but, rather, an imperfect copy
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 14:33

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