That’s a rhetorical question. I have a pretty good idea what your model tables look like. Much like mine. In fact, some of you have sent me photos of yours. We’ve done a couple of columns here on model car topics, and the response has been quite favorable.
Actually, I had something else planned for this week’s column, but it would have required extensive research in my photo files–lots of neat old photos for you to look at while you’re sequestered at home. But what instigated this column is the fact that I actually got to my model table for the first time in several months, and it was kind of fun to take inventory of what was there, and to start thinking about getting back to several projects that ranged from almost finished, to needing a little touch-up or repair, to barely started. You see, for the past year or more, my small model room’s floor has been filled with ’33 Ford pieces–running boards, painted fenders, lights, boxes of parts. As you can see at right, there are still some bumpers and parts boxes, but at least I can get to the table and my chair. If you’ve been following the build-thread on our ’33 Fordor, you know what the parts were for. However not only was it fun to finally be able to access my model workbench, and show you some of the mostly old and rare stuff I have accumulated and stashed in there, but I realized what a perfect and timely topic this is for our period of incubation.
If you’re like me–and I know a lot of you are, young or old–you like cars, you like modifying them, and you’ve got lots of ideas for new builds, custom combinations, creative colors, and so on. But given time, money, and space, you can only do so much with real cars. But with little plastic model cars you can pretty much do whatever you want, as much as you want. So my hunch is that you’ve got a model table somewhere with half-built models on it, and tools, parts, paints, etc. Or you have shelves in your den, office or garage with models, built, unbuilt–probably both. But, if you’re like me, you have real car projects out in the garage that take more of your real time (and money, and parts), so you just don’t get to that model table as much. Well, now you’ve got time, lots of it. Building models is something you pretty much have to do alone, sequestered. This is not an ideal situation, by any means. But building model cars is a perfect way to pass the time if you’re a rod and custom aficionado stuck at home.
So let’s start with a little tour of my model room and a bit of backstory. You’ve got the time, right? You’re not going anywhere. OK, backstory: Remember I’m an old fart. The hot rod model thing got its start on a small scale–both figuratively and literally–in the mid-’50s, mainly because there were plastic and balsa models of all kinds (including cars, new and old) for kids to build; teenagers were turned on to building real rods and customs; and there were racks full of magazines showing and promoting this. The little R&C was about the only one showing model rods, however. I was a pre-teen, but I and my friends were totally into it. But before ’58 there were no “customizing kits.” So our main fodder were the little (about 1/32 scale) “Jalopy” kits from Revell. It was a ’29 fenderless roadster (with an optional glue-on 3-W coupe top) that came with a 2-carb flathead, dropped axle, hairpins, Deuce grille, and the solid plastic wheels/tires you see above. They cost 69 cents. We mixed these with same-size Highway Pioneers classics, as well as a 1/32 series of ’56 new cars by Revell including a Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Lincoln, and Ford. So the model above, my current project, is actually a “freshening up” of one I built back then using the fenders from the Center Door T, with a slightly “wedge channeled” Jalopy roadster body, wheels, and front suspension, and the Nailhead engine from the ’56 Buick (3 carbs added). Not sure why I used the cut-down T grille, and I’m still trying to figure what and where to put headlights.
Of course model car building became a craze after AMT released their full line of 1-piece body (no engine) new cars in 1958 as “3-in-1 Customizing Kits.” Pretty soon they released a 5-W Deuce coupe, a ’39-’40 coupe and sedan, and then a couple of “Double Kits,” all in 1/25 scale, which became the new standard. This T coupe came in a chopped version, which I chopped more, then added fenders and a rear-mounted blown Chrysler Hemi, and Speed-Sport-style pipes. I was basically repairing it from earthquake damage. The Triumph drag bike was built from a Revell Parts Pak (and patterned after a real one in Hot Rod), that suffered similar damage.
This one is another earthquake semi-survivor. It’s 1/32 small-scale, and mostly hand-built. The body is made of balsa sheet, and directly copied from a feature of a Cad-powered Fiat coupe in Hot Rod around 1960. The frame is balsa strips, with a square roll bar of chrome trees. The slicks I made from gluing two Jalopy rear wheels together and filling the middle. And the engine is from the ’56 Lincoln, with 6 carbs and a Vertex mag added. What’s in the candy box? It’s full of decal sheets from dozens of kits from ’58-on.
This little candy red Fad T (with emphasis on “fad,” especially the seats) was one of my better efforts from my early teens. I think it was built mostly from Revell Parts Paks–can’t remember for sure. I also can’t explain how so many of my early models got saved–think my mom had something to do with it. But this one was not aging well. So I brought it out to the model room to clean it, replace some fallen-off parts, and to hopefully restore some of the badly faded chrome with this Liquid Chrome felt-tip pen I recently discovered at the hobby shop. It really looks like chrome and I found I can apply it with a fine paint brush by dabbing it on the felt tip.
Well, looks like this is going to run a little longer than I thought. Settle in. We’ve got nowhere to go, right? So, two things: I’ve mentioned the “model room” a couple of times. I used to use a card table, but this is a luxury. The house we’ve lived in for 30-some years now was built in 1937 and came with a backyard garage that barely held two cars. But there was an empty 20 feet behind it. So I devised a plan to enlarge it in an L shape, so I can park two more cars behind the original two, and one more (with room around it for tools, file cabinets, etc.) in the L. And on the front part of the L, I added a 9′ x 5′ model room with two windows, plus a smaller dark room with sink, running water, and even shelves for photo binders. Both have been luxuries. However, Anna has reminded me more than once that I added all this onto the garage, but have never added to the house. Um, I digress.
Second part of the first thing: The photo shows the layout of the model room. When we moved here, Billy was in the first grade. By the time the addition was done he was 8 going on 12. So I made the wrap-around work table so the right part could be his. He and his friends used it. But here’s the pertinent part. House arrest has only been going for a couple of weeks for most of us, but parents are already going nuts (especially ones home from work), trying to figure out what to do with kids home from school all day. Building models is a perfect stay-at-home activity, especially if it involves some creativity. You can do it together with your son or daughter, teaching them how. But it’s also something they can do on their own, once they’ve learned, especially if you show them tips and tricks. Not all kids will take to it, of course. But those who do will learn patience, precision, and pride of accomplishment. Or how to blow them up with M-80s.
The second thing is that I mentioned getting something at the hobby shop. Well, of course hobby shops are closed. But, like me, many of you have mentioned having unbuilt model kits on the shelf. This is the other side of my model room, and there’s enough here to keep me going, probably longer than I’ll live. And this is after I sold cartons full of ’58-’62 kits at model swap meets years ago to buy nitro.
Some of these are old and rare–even worth some bucks to collectors. But I don’t care, they’re to build. How about that Revell Metalflake ’62 Dodge Dart 440? It’s an unbuilt original, but I painted candy tangerine over the ‘flake body, and sprayed it on the box top, totally ruining its value. I’ll build it as a curiosity. But the point is, now is a great time to build some of your unbuilt kits. I’ll bet you have some spray paint. Glue lasts forever. And even those little jars of Pactra paint…once you heat the top with a match to get it off, just add some drops of cheap lacquer thinner until it stirs smoothly. You’ll be surprised. I’ve been doing this for years.In fact, I now use regular automotive paints on my models, spraying them with my big compressor and a small touch-up gun. The ’53 Chevy I painted peach pearl, using the same components I used on the “Project Shoebox Chevy” real car I built at Rod & Custom, photographing the steps to show how to paint pearl in my Custom Painting book. More surprising, the ’47 Chevy Fleetline I painted fawn beige and cordovan brown, using some of the original lacquer I had left over from painting my real ’48 decades ago. And the Jo-Han ’60 DeSoto seen in the lead photo? I sprayed it with the same lavender pearl Bill had custom-mixed, and I used on his under-construction custom ’63 Riviera, so he could see how it would look. I think the model will look great as a slammed custom.
A model room is also a great place to stash trophies and other mementos you don’t want cluttering up the house. Yes, the tall silver one is a 1st place (regional) trophy from the first Revell National Model Contest, I think in ’64. And at left are remnants of the ’40 Woodie I won it with. It had a handbuilt body of stained and varnished balsa, handmade surf decals in the windows, and lots of details. I packed it in popcorn like Big Daddy showed us in the magazine, and sent it off to the main contest in Venice, CA. But it came back like this with a note saying, “Arrived damaged, not judged.” I was starting to rebuild it with new fenders, cowl, and hood, but….
I’m not a Hot Wheels collector, by any means, but I’ve acquired a few mostly rare ones, thanks to Larry Wood. And how many people do you know with a Revell Slant Six on the shelf? I can’t imagine buying this. Maybe a birthday present from an aunt.
Well, I hope this is helping to relieve your stir craziness, at least some. I really didn’t think there was this much to say about a model-building room. But I have been doing this most of my life. It’s how I learned to build real rods and customs. And I’ve accumulated more than I thought. I don’t consider myself a “collector” by any means. So here’s a last tidbit from my model table. You’ve gotta have parts drawers. I’ve had this cabinet since I was a kid. The lower drawer has engine parts–carbs, injectors, blowers, headers, valve covers. The upper one has grilles and bumpers. I see ’60 Chev, ’58 Impala, and ’58 Pontiac. OK, enough of that?
The final thing is that after decades of having to dust these models that I kept on open shelves, not to mention repairing them after earthquakes, I finally broke down and bought a big, nice, enclosed glass cabinet, even though I only had room for it in a corner of my office. As I say, some of these date back to the ’50s and early ’60s. Some have survived better than others. Long-time modelers might recognize a couple from early days of Street Rodder magazine, or Scale Auto Enthusiast. It’s pretty amazing most have survived as well as they have. And now not only will they stay clean, but I have room to add a few more, so I’d better spend a little time in the model room and get some of those projects done. Along with the real cars in the real garage. Lord knows I’ll have time in the coming weeks. Let’s try to make them as few as possible. Be good. Stay home. Stay healthy. Protect others. Build a model or two. Maybe with your kid. Next time I’ll show you a bunch of neat old photos. I promise.