A Boyhood Spent Building Scale Model Cars

If you were a boy in the 1950s or 1960s and were infatuated with cars, one of the best ways to get your jollies was building plastic scale models. Companies like AMT, Jo-Han, Revell, Monogram, and MPC were churning out 1/24 and 1/25 scale plastic model kits by the thousands.

As each new model year arrived, these manufacturers were able to quickly get your favorite new car onto your local store’s shelves. For $1.49, a 10-year-old boy didn’t need a driver’s license to bring home the car of his dreams. Once home, you could build the car exactly how you saw fit, whether 100% stock, or customized like your heroes George Barris and Gene Winfield.

There were a number of different model categories: “promos” were pre-assembled, with no opportunity for customization. “Snap-together” kits were for children or those with no patience. Smaller scale models, such as 1/43 scale, did not capture enough details to fulfill the fantasy. For me, it had to be 1/24 or 1/25 scale models, which required glue, paint, and skill to be completed.

Most of my kits were purchased at department stores like E.J. Korvette’s. But for spare parts, supplies, and tools, nothing topped the Auto World catalog. Auto World, a mail-order company based in Scranton PA, had us addicted and they knew it. I’d get the catalog several times a year, and I would order my paint, body putty, sandpaper, decals, custom grille sets, and tools (my all-time favorite was the electric knife which could cut through plastic bodies, allowing you to make opening doors, etc.).

While I rarely post links to other sites, this one from Hemmings’ blog is worth sharing: https://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2014/01/24/remembering-oscar-koveleskis-auto-world/

My prime model-building years were from the ages of 9 to about 15. By the time I reached high school, I didn’t have the spare time to devote to this hobby. But the hobby had also changed: the last time I bought modeler’s glue (probably around 1970), the clerk would not sell it to me unless my mother came into the store with me (she did).

As each model was completed, it was proudly placed on a shelf in my bedroom with the other models. They sat there (undusted) all through high school and college. When I moved out of my parents’ house, they still sat there. Finally, when my folks moved, I packed up the models and stored them in the attic.

I’ve had five addresses between then and my current dwelling, and the models were never unpacked. A few years ago came the realization that it was time to let go. A new selling channel called eBay gave me the perfect opportunity to let other interested parties share in what had been mine.

Today, you can still find model car kits for sale, produced by many of the same brands. Almost all of them are manufactured in China. There’s plenty of online information and purchasing sites (Google “scale model car kits”). My guess is that it’s the older hobbyist who indulges, as it’s hard to imagine today’s youth interested in this when they are surrounded by electronic distraction.

The photos below were taken when I put the models online for sale. My biggest hope in sharing these stories and pictures with you is that they trigger similar memories if you were also a model car builder.


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I had at least two models of mid-year Corvettes (remember that these were NEW cars when I built these models, and the world had yet to call them “C2”). The black coupe is a ’64 and was done completely stock. The unpainted ’66 white convertible was done up as a racer.

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It was unusual for me to build a car “stock”, but that was how the ’65 Barracuda was done (except for the extreme rake). This too was left unpainted. I believe that the white walls were actually decals, and not molded into the tires themselves.

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In what must be one of the most unusual models of all time, Jo-Han offered a ’66 Cadillac hearse, complete with, er, what hearses carry. I was especially proud of the copper paint used for the side curtains.

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This 1967 Chevy pickup shows you what happens when you’re 12, it’s the Sixties, and you’ve got about a dozen jars of Testors paint at your disposal. Really: a brown body with a pink roof and blue interior?? Let’s not forget the orange brake drums. Oh well. I must have been looking at the cover of Magical Mystery Tour.

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This 1967 Ford Falcon looks stock except for that motor sticking out of the hood. The metallic blue paint and silver trim were hand-painted (I spray painted almost nothing, as all the construction was done in my bedroom). Couldn’t tell you when I last saw a real ’67 Falcon.

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This 1965 Dodge Monaco convertible had some of the most active eBay bidding among all my models. The bronze color is not paint – the plastic was molded in that color. The car was stock except for the cut hood and blower.

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This 1962 Buick 225 convertible is unusual in that I didn’t build it. It was given to me by an older boy who was the son of my father’s co-worker.

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In 1964, when the Mustang was introduced, the public was bombarded with print, TV, and radio ads for this exciting new car. One ad gave you the opportunity to send for a 1/25 scale Mustang model (essentially a promo). I did just that, then proceeded to paint the model (and none too well).

 

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In general, in the used model market, unbuilt models sell for more than completed models. This 1975 Firebird was likely the last model I ever bought, and I never built it. I photographed the body with the model’s box in the background.

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Another unbuilt model was this Pontiac Tempest, but this one had been given to me in this state by a co-worker in the late 1970s. It also garnered greater interest ( and a better price) on eBay.

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A Revell “Fiat Coupe body”, for only 89 cents! I painted the body brown, and that was it. My recollection is that you needed to source everything else (frame, drivetrain, interior) on your own. Let the Fiat jokes begin.

 

A word about the dioramas:

In many of the above photos, you see the model cars posed on a gravel driveway, with a blue garage in the background. I took photos of my garage, printed them out on 13×17 paper, glued them to poster board, and set them up as a somewhat realistic background. I thought it was effective. Just remember that the mind can be fooled by proportion, as when your cat wanders into the set and towers over your garage.

 

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All photographs copyright © 2016 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.

 

 

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