Here’s the skinny this time around. Two things. I just got back from the tax man, so I spent most of this week preparing everything so he could do our taxes. You know how that goes. The point being I don’t have much time left to do this column, so it had to be something simple I could do without research, travel, or interviews. This one came off the shelf, literally. Second, I just got fliers from the West Coast Kustoms for their Cruisin’ Nationals in Santa Maria May 28, 29. This is one Anna and I look forward to each year, and this time Bill and Sabina are coming down, too, in their cool custom Riviera. Come join us. You’ll enjoy it. But along with the event flier, there was a postcard hyping the model car show, which is always good. And every year I think, “I should bring some of my models this time.” I’ve got lots of ’em. Several have even won trophies or been featured in magazines in the past. And I still build them…when I have time between building real cars in the real garage.
The problem is that trying to transport custom-built model cars, especially in a hot rod, is not easy. Old glue gets brittle. Things fall apart.
So, since we’ve all become more familiar with virtual communication in the last couple years, I came up with what I thought was a pretty good idea: I’ll just share some of my more vintage models with you here, virtually, instead of trying to get them to Santa Maria and back in one piece. Excuse the dust. Just photographing them led to a few parts falling off.
These things are old. To be honest, I really don’t know how I’ve still got them, because the ones I’m showing here I built in the ’50s and early ’60s. I think I carefully wrapped them in rags and stored them in a couple of boxes before I left for college (in ’65), and good ‘ol mom stored them in her basement for several years.
But probably thanks to small Rod & Custom magazines, which featured custom models, as well as having a couple of older friends, I got into hot rods and became an avid model car builder well before I was a teen. This was before the introduction of 1/25-scale AMT 3-in-1 kits in 1958. So we started with the smaller (approx. 1/32-scale) Revell Highway Pioneers antiques, and especially Revell’s flathead-powered, fenderless Hot Rod and Jalopy kits (69c each; the Jalopy added a 3-W top, otherwise identical). In 1956 Revell also released similar-scale new cars with multi-piece bodies, including a Chrysler (with Hemi engine), Buick (Nailhead), Lincoln Mark II, Ford, Mercury, I forget what else. These made good customs, and we swapped the engines into the early cars. Also popular was their even smaller F-100 and a ’56 Chevy stake truck that we swapped the Ford bed onto. That’s a penny in the above photo.
The F-100 came with a Y-block V8, to which I added 3 carbs, fuel lines, etc. The ’29 A Hot Rod roadster I “slant channeled” over a set of fenders from a Center-Door T. The frame, dropped axle, hairpins, and wheels/tires/hubcaps came from the Hot Rod. And I swapped in the engine and trans from the ’56 Buick. The grille was from a different T, and I think the headlights were 1/25 teardrop spotlights.
Like so many rodders of the Kookie Kar era, my first infatuation was with T-buckets. AMT’s first Double Kit (1960) included a ’25 T roadster with turtle deck or pickup bed, and a chopped coupe. I used the T frame, which I Zed in front, and the Model B 4-banger from the ’32 kit to build this tailless T-bucket.
A feature in Hot Rod on a 4-cylinder dragster inspired me to choose this engine, and I used the photos in the magazine not only to accurately detail it, but in this case to make it into a 4-port Riley overhead, carving the head from balsa wood. I made the intake manifold out of parts-tree “tubing.” I relied on Hot Rod feature photos to accurately build and detail many models.I must mention that many of these models were brush-painted, because Pactra didn’t come out with their small ‘Namel “soft spray” cans for models until ’61 or so. My friends and I tried various brushes, and thinned down the small Pactra bottled paint, and practiced brushing techniques to get the smoothest finish possible. The candy red spray-canned T is obviously a few years later than the brushed yellow one, and it was more influenced by Roth than Grabowski (i.e., the bucket seats). It’s yellowed over the years, but the rearend and frame were brushed with Pactra’s new white pearl.
I think the Chrysler Hemi came from a Revell Parts Pack, which were introduced around ’62. The Hilborn injection, with belt-driven pump, probably came with it, as well as the mag. The tube front axle and 12-spokes were from the Double Dragster kit. Note this frame is also Zed in front. This was a trophy winner in its day, but unfortunately hasn’t aged too well.
When AMT introduced its 3-in-1 Customizing Kits in 1958, they were based on the “Promos” they had made annually of most new cars for dealers to show customers in their showrooms. More on this in a minute. But AMT was overwhelmed by their success. Previously there were just a select few of us who were into building rod and custom models by cutting them up and swapping parts from small “stock” kits. But in ’58 custom model car building in 1/25 scale became the new teenage fad. So by ’59 AMT tooled up a new Trophy Series of specialized, much more detailed kits starting with a ’32 5-Window coupe and roadster. These could be built stock (wire wheels, fenders, bumpers, headlights) but also included multi-carbed V8s, chrome dropped axles, chrome wheels, slicks, and so on.
This was my ’50s version of the Deuce coupe, on which I chopped the top, slant-channeled the body a bit over the stock fenders, shaved and shortened the hood, and slightly sectioned the grille. The black is brush-painted. The top and running boards are white Naugahyde. I really don’t know what motivated me to paint the stock upholstery red and white (I was young). And the gas tank is replaced by a custom chrome grille and taillights out of something I forget. It obviously needs headlights, but I could never figure a way to add them without disrupting the smooth lines of the front end, so I just never added any.
The coupe came with a 6-carb smallblock Chevy (the roadster had a Chrysler Hemi), but I swapped in a Nailhead Buick (from the ’40 coupe kit?), to which I added finned valve covers, a mag, and reworked headers. And you had to at least have fuel lines and plug wires. The chrome reversed wheels came on the rear of something else, but I can’t remember what.
I built this model in ’59, which was definitely the era of white upholstery and undercarriages. Paint detailing like this is what got contest points. The pipes were coathanger; mufflers were cut from large-wire insulation. Don’t tell anybody, but I trimmed the tops off the front tires to get the car lower. Oh yes, and the club plaque on the back was cut from a magazine ad.
This ’60 Chevy Impala is the only example I have left of a 3-in-1 kit. And it’s very misleading because when I built it in 1960 it had medium whitewalls and baby moons, sat on a good rake, and of course had a front bumper. But when the jacked-up Super Stocks hit the drags in ’61, along with bumperless, mag-wheeled Gassers, I rebuilt it like this, even adding a tach on the dash and fenderwell header collectors (made from plastic straws with paper caps).
But I couldn’t very well change the interior, which is pure ’50s-style, as well as a great example of how we used corduroy to simulate narrow tuck-n-roll. Yes it’s got the tarp in the back (Naugahyde…peeling up with age) with a diamond in the middle. If you remember my full-size gold ’50 Ford mild custom with all the gold and white tuck-n-roll inside, I said I did it like one of my old model cars. This is what I meant.
For the first three years the 3-in-1 kits had a one-piece body–no opening hood or engine–and a molded plastic chassis held on by four screws, like the previous flat metal ones on earlier Promos. So paint detailing underneath was the way to go. Dual cheater pipes are coathanger. This is another all brush-painted model.
You couldn’t buy Promos in stores, but dealers got new ones, in several bodystyles, each year, and model-builders somehow got the old ones. I think I traded somebody for this ’57 Pontiac. And I forgot it’s a 4-door. At least it’s a hardtop. I apparently didn’t get the windows. I’m not sure if it had an interior, or if I added that. Unfortunately these bodies were made of a more pliable styrene, which could sag or warp, as you see.
Rod and custom styles changed significantly in ’61-’62. Whitewalls were out. White interiors went black, as did most engine/chassis detailing. And chrome or mag wheels were in. So you can tell I built this model in ’62, starting with the chrome wheels and black corduroy interior. But I also cut the hood open and mounted the whole thing on a ’62 Pontiac GTO chassis, complete with tri-power 389. At least I kept it on a good rake.
The next AMT Trophy kits were a ’40 Ford coupe and sedan. I built a few of each, but this is the only one I have left. It shows I’ve been a bit weird from a young age. To start, it blends the ’50s white wheels/interior/chassis style with the ’60s jacked-up drag look. It’s obviously a drag car. But it’s best feature is all the louvers. Part of the custom accessories in a 3-in-1 kit (besides fins, lakes pipes, spotlights, decals, etc.) were strips of louvers about an inch long. To fit these on curved surfaces and make them look more realistic, I cut them apart and glued each louver in place, one at a time. I will note here that building models as a kid taught me the way I’ve built real cars the rest of my life, starting with how to paint, but more basically the importance of creativity, detailing, and a lot of patience.
There can be a fine line between creativity and weird., right? I’ll confess to both. I think I was strongly influenced by a black ’40 coupe with a 12-Port GMC six that was featured in Hot Rod. The only inline six I could find in 1/25th came in an Austin Healey kit, to which I added a front-mount GMC blower with 2-port Hilborn injection. Much of the rest is made from coathanger, wire, balsa, and paper. It had a firewall/doghouse made from a piece of chromed sheetmetal, but it fell off and got lost.
After T-buckets, my favorite hot rod was the ’29 A roadster pickup, largely influenced by all those great black Bay Area Roadsters. But there was no model version. So I made this from the AMT ’29 roadster and the Model T pickup bed. The Olds engine came from the ’40 sedan, and the wheels/tires are what I still consider the best ever in 1/25, the Halibrands and M&Hs from the Revell Stone-Woods-Cook Willys. Very unfortunately, the plastic and rubber in this combination don’t co-exist well and oozed around the edges over time. Sprayed candy red over gold, this was my best effort at the time. It just hasn’t aged very well.
This was probably 1962, so I’m a bit surprised I was still doing white underneath (but I still like it). The axles, hairpins, steering, and exhaust were all shiny chrome years ago. The black interior is a combination of corduroy, felt, and heavy thread. The chrome chopped windshield and dash came from the Ala Kart, which came in a great Double Kit with the A roadster. The wood in the bed is real, with chrome tape strips.One of the other great things about building models is that you can at least create miniature versions of the the cars–or bikes–you wish you could build for real. I’ve long wanted to build a Harley chopper just like this one: hardtail frame, springer front, peanut tank, fishtail pipes, short sissy bar. The panhead is fine. A knucklehead might be better. This came, complete, in a Revell Parts Pack. And the whole thing was chrome, so I just painted candy red over it. The only changes I made were a bigger carb with smaller air cleaner, a paper-clip sissy bar (I just noticed the rear fender got bumped up somehow), and the small, straight handle bars that were in at the time.
The other Parts Pack bike was a hard tail Triumph twin. I painted its fame candy pagan gold and otherwise patterned it after a drag bike featured in Hot Rod, including the clip-on handle bars, flat seat, down pipes, and twin chrome-tube fuel tanks.
I built lots of models of drag cars of all sorts, little dreaming that I’d have any real ones later. Models of VW Bugs were quite rare back then, and I traded somebody for this body. I’m not sure what it was, maybe a Pyro kit. I added some louvers and painted it candy green over silver. The chassis is a much-shortened ’40 Ford, The Chrysler was from the AMT ’32 roadster. The blower, drive, 4-port and Hilborn scoop all came from parts boxes. ‘Scuse the dust.
This Comp Coupe is pure ’50s, and that’s when I built it. The chassis and excellent chrome, blown Olds engine (set halfway back) came from the well-known Monogram Grasshopper kit–the basis for lots of different builds. The scoop is carved from balsa and those spoke front wheels came from a Highway Pioneers T, but look sorta like drag 12-spoke mags. To approximate a Bantam body, I heavily chopped an AMT 5-window ’32, cut out the wheelwells, then cut off the back, replacing it with a piece of 1/4″ flat balsa, sanded to shape.I continued building models through high school, and this was my last before college–the latest thing, a super-long wheelbase dragster, with zoomie headers no less. The whole frame, including roll bar and front axle, is made from coathanger. And the body, believe it or not, is made from paper, probably 3×5 notecards, cut and bent or folded to shape, then brush-painted yellow. In fact the whole thing is brush-painted, unlike the “Bantam” body which is more recently sprayed candy gold. I think the Chrysler Hemi, along with chrome 6-71, Enderle Bugcatcher, Mallory mag, and other chassis parts like the narrowed quickchange, rear disc brakes, steering, and clutch can all came from Parts Packs. I remember carefully bending the butterfly steering wheel back like that. Ah, the memories. But this is probably more than enough for now. I know there are plenty of plastic fanatics out there who will dig it. Hope I didn’t bore the rest of you too much. Come and see more (and us) in Santa Maria. Otherwise tune in next time to find out what I come up with next. I have no idea right now. Cheers.