Ill-Advised Car Modeling in 1/3 Scale (no, it’s not a typo)
By Bill Engar
DEM BRUDDERS DISCLAIMER: Please don’t try this at home. We are not professionals and we have absolutely no clue what we’re doing.
The 50th anniversary of IPMS/USA forced me to think back to the 1960’s. I was just a wee lad. Brudder Dick wasn’t much older. They say that if you remember the 60’s, you probably weren’t building enough models.
In recent decades, two Batman movie series have been very popular. In 1966, the Batman TV show was a huge phenomenon. Even though I was very young at the time, I recall tuning in each week, first to see Batman and Robin get caught in some improbable trap. Same Bat Time and Same Bat Channel the next day, they would miraculously manage to escape as the villain ALWAYS stepped away from the scene for some inexplicable reason. Why do they do that?
The TV Batmobile, a George Barris creation, was supposedly thrown together from the also-ran Lincoln Futura concept car in a scant three weeks before filming began. The show and the car—in spite of its hasty design and creation—as quickly became a pop culture sensation. The TV Batmobile’s popularity continues to this day and it may have the distinction of being the best-known and loved TV car ever. Pretty amazing for being cobbled together in just three weeks. How many of us builders can finish a contest-quality model in that time?
Later in 1966, Aurora Models released a plastic kit of the Batmobile in 1/32 scale. As was status quo for Aurora, the kit had a few accuracy issues. Most apparent to this modeler is that the front end and hood are too short. Looking at it today makes my eyes cross.
Brudder Dick, who was barely a teenager at that time, HAD to have this 98-cent model. Unfortunately for him, the local hobby shops did not anticipate its popularity and it was sold out for months.
Long-time readers of our columns will recall that our mother was not a fan of our models or modeling activities. She was absolutely terrified of Dick’s “Bug” because of its grievous safety issues. Brakes and steering were questionable at best and of course there was no thought of seatbelts, safety helmets, roll bar, crash padding, or any other such gear, which was considered “wussy” at the time.
As if any of this wasn’t awesome enough, Dick devised a brilliant scheme to customize his Bug into a nearly 1/3-scale version of the Batmobile. His only prayer to get our mother to go along with his new obsession was to do it as part of the Model Design and Building Boy Scout merit badge! The requirement was to design some sort of vehicle and sculpt or carve it from a suitable medium. Dick noted that the requirements said nothing about creating the model in large-scale, nor did they prohibit the Boy Scout-designer from being able to drive in his own creation. Plus, there was just no other way that Dick would have obtained permission to build his own drivable Batmobile. If memory serves, the Bug was originally built behind our mother’s back and its days were numbered once she discovered it.
Dick’s efforts to find Aurora’s Batmobile model locally were fruitless for months. The reader should recall that there were few if any mail-order suppliers for model kits in those days, but a possible solution presented itself in the form of our annual summer vacation in Newport Beach, California. Dick reasoned that since Batman was a creation of Hollywood, CA, there ought to be plenty of Batmobile models in the Los Angeles region.
Fast forward to our beach trip. For the first time, our parents decided that we ought to stay for two weeks. Unfortunately, this did not turn out well. Dick drove my dad nuts demanding to stop at every Sprouse-Reitz store between Anaheim and San Diego since he knew that they normally stocked Aurora’s Batmobile kit in their model section.
I likewise had my share of difficulties, going stir-crazy. Over-stimulated by the sun or too much sugar, I slammed the door of our overcrowded, rented beach cottage, which shattered its ornamental glass window. Not even the excuse of needing a Batmobile model for my future Boy Scout activities, which were years away, was going to score me an Aurora Batmobile, or any other model kit for that matter on this trip.
Finally, Dick was able to find a Sprouse that had the Batmobile kit. My souvenir that year was new glass for the window I broke.
Dick couldn’t wait to get home to start his Batmobile(s). The material of choice for the non-plastic version was leftover paneling from our basement, which was finished a few years previously. Dick could have had a soapbox racer resembling a Chris Craft boat, for the paneling was no less than real mahogany. Alas, black paint was destined to cover the beautiful wood.
I recall sawdust and black paint splatter flying as Dick cut and finished the pieces by hand, using the hastily-assembled Aurora Batmobile kit as his reference. The end result somewhat resembled the Caped Crusader’s ride circa 1966 in spite of a few off-angles. It handled like a mahogany coffin.
If memory serves, I may have gotten one or two harrowing rides down the street in this beast. Our mother was more terrified than ever that one of us was going to run over and kill one of the other kids on the street in this now-heavier mahogany menace, or die ourselves against one of our neighborhood hardwood trees. She came up with a lame excuse for its rapid decommissioning after Dick had it hastily inspected for credit for the aforementioned Boy Scout merit badge.
Instead of a careening ending that might have been similar to something that one might expect to see in a Batman TV show or movie, Dick’s spectacular Batmobile quietly rolled away to a fictional “parade.”
A model kit of the TV Batmobile was not available again for decades after this period. Licensing was the biggest challenge with DC Comics (owned by Time-Warner), 20th Century Fox (creators of the TV show), and George Barris not caring to negotiate terms together. Mattel Toys possessed the marketing savvy to cut a deal that satisfied all parties and once Mattel offered new diecast versions of the famous car in 2007, AMT/Round2 was able to follow suit not long afterwards with similar arrangements. Soon after, a re-pop of the Aurora Batmobile returned and new-tool kits showed up as well.
Alas, the vast majority of today’s kids will merely be content to play Batman video games instead of creating their own version of the Batmobile. Compared to the 1960’s, a scant few 21st century youngsters might endeavor to build a model kit of Batman’s famous ride. I wonder if kids today are capable of dreaming big enough to build a Batmobile themselves that they can ride in.
If not, it’s probably a good thing. The Power Wheels version is much safer. Don’t forget to wear your helmet.
By Dick Engar
Originally published as parts of two columns in July 2008 IPMS Journal
and in Jan. 2011 IPMS Journal
What are your favorite modeling subjects? 1/35 scale armor? 1/25 scale automobiles? 1/48 scale aircraft with detailing to boot? Many modelers are completely eclectic in their building and produce brilliant results no matter what the category of interest. Others stick to one basic subject or class.
My particular weakness is 1/72 scale aircraft and the 1,000-plus subjects hidden away in my crawl-space. Naturally, the vast majority of my nearly 150 built and displayed models are 1/72 scale, mostly military aircraft. Brudder Bill has a corner on the 1/144 scale market and has built several excellent military subjects and airliners in that scale. But he has also completed many contest-winning space and sci-fi subjects, too, and enjoys modeling outside the 1/44 scale box and not just out-of-the box.
Dick enjoys building large, multi-engine aircraft in 1/72 scale such as this Trumpeter Russian Bear bomber--most of the time
What do you have to gain by thinking and modeling outside the box? For starters, you'll avoid becoming stale and will enter new horizons and new worlds. Allow me to indulge in my own experience of model building since I finished Trumpeter’s 1/72 Tupolev Tu-95 Bear way back in 2004. The Bear was a gratifying project that is fun to show to other modelers because it is so big and because not many of those Trumpeter kits have actually been built (at least I have not seen any others and I am only one of two persons I am aware of that have ever brought one to compete at IPMS Nationals).
December 25 in his honor (although the honor was mine considering the subject). I had a fun time dealing with figure modeling, an area where I have had scant experience (the original Rat Fink kit was finished by me years previously.)
It was set aside due to frustration with a warped body. Far from Nameless National Luminary, Mark Gustavson himself came to the rescue by providing me with an alternative kit sans the warpage so I had no excuse but to continue on in earnest with that project.
Progress was made through early 2006 until Master Modeler John Tate of Albuquerque Scale Modelers had to provide a break in the eclectic action, though, when he sent me a brand new Airfix release, the coveted TSR-2.
I had promised fellow IPMS Journal author Paul Bradley to produce something British for the big show and the TSR would be an ideal project. Kit reviews vindicated the difficulty I encountered producing a contest-worthy subject. The model competed in the same category that produced the overall Best Aircraft winner, but I reached my goal, an OOB (Best Out-of Box) award for the project and was happy to see the model grace the contest tables with several amazing entrants from throughout the country. Try IPMS Nationals, you’ll like it!
Shortly after I finished off the Coffin, I finally completed another vintage Airfix kit, the 1/144 scale Russian Vostok Soviet A-Type Launch Vehicle. With paint drying, it accompanied us on a Dem Brudders road trip to Modelzona 2006 in Mesa, Arizona to the delight of IPMS Chief Space model judge Mike Mackowski, who is always happy to see more real-space models on the tables.
Remember Astro-Boy from the 1960s? That is one well-known example, and Dragon even produces a model of this character (called Atom Boy now), but that is the subject of a future post.
In any event, the subject Tom sent me was “Mew Zakuro,” a female character from a Japanese TV show and magazines called Tokyo Mew Mew that features girls of high school age that have their DNA combined with that of endangered species to endow them with super powers. Mew Zakuro (which is also the Japanese word for pomegranate) is endowed with the abilities of a grey wolf and is also a fashion model in her "real" life, which means a beautiful girl/wolf should be the result.
I tried a few practice runs on paper and then a piece of plastic, and decided that the eyes were molded such that I would have to do them like a real person would have and not as an animation drawing. I happened to have a calendar on hand featuring a beautiful Japanese model in amazing silk kimonos to use as a guide, etc. so I went for it. The technique will be featured in a future post for this website but I was able to pull it off.
If you have seen the movie Night at the Museum, you know that Mew Zakuro will need some company soon. So I finished Astro Boy, made a stand for him, and he now joins Mew Zakuro in resplendent glory in the same display case.
No, I had not given up aircraft as I started working on two small jet trainers after Astro Boy. But the moral to the story and this doctor’s prescription for our loyal readers is that all of you should model outside the box every so often, even if you build strictly out-of-box. Find new horizons and new worlds to enjoy, even if you don’t quite conquer!
Dick comes full circle back to airplane modeling with these 1/72 Fuji T-1A jet trainer aircraft. Both were built from Hasegawa kits.
Now, part 2 of this saga continues as I had told several people that I had never built any type of armor. This means I had never tried to build a main battle tank, soft-skin subject or even a Jeep! Why not? No one ever gave me a tank model as a youth, when I would still build anything, and I never felt the desire to build armor in my older age. That is not to say I did not admire well-executed tanks or artillery pieces built by others, but I just never tried to build one myself. Until Fall 2009!
One real advantage of IPMS membership is the opportunity to meet excellent modelers from all over the country and make some good friends. One of these friends is the always energetic and almost ebullient Mike Mummey, a former U.S. Marine (Semper Fi!) with the haircut and moxie to prove it. Mike is an IPMS Nationals award winning armor builder and I have always admired his excellent subjects.
Mike is from nearby New Mexico so Dem Brudders had the chance to visit with him at the Region X Convention in Fall 2009 in Colorado Springs. I was taking in his armor models and complimented him for his skill and attention to detail. I added that I have personally never built an armor piece.
“Why not?” he exclaimed.
“I don’t know, really. No good reason,” I answered.
“Well,” he countered, “I send you a kit will you build it in time for Phoenix?”
“Sure,” I said, somewhat incredulous that he would actually follow through and do it.
Well, less than a month later, I received a package in the mail from Mike Mummey. It contained a Hobby Boss Danish Leopard 2A5DK tank in 1/35 scale. Of course I knew nothing about the subject but was intrigued and even excited to learn that it is a contemporary tank and modern in appearance.
As it was, the kit came with photo-etch parts and acetate windows so it would not be totally mundane, but I was comfortable with each having used both in prior projects.
As you armor builders already know, I found out that tanks have a lot of parts, and if you do individual track links, the treads can really be a project. I decided as stated previously to simply use the vinyl continuous tread that came with the kit. I made fairly rapid progress until I bogged down a little bit dealing with very poor fitting storage access doors on the main turret. A bit of Acryl-Blue body putty and patience in scribing solved that problem.
The model was painted using Tamiya acrylic paint and masked with Parafilm.
I decided to be brave and for the first time used acrylic paint in lieu of my usual enamel paints and found that Tamiya acrylic paint used with their new lacquer thinner worked very well. For the first time I also used Parafilm I bought from Tom Grossman to mask the NATO camouflage scheme and liked that material as well. I found out that tanks have headlights and taillights and used silver paint, white paint, clear glue and Tamiya Clear red to handle these little details. I used some chrome Bare Metal Foil to go with the rear view mirrors. I did a little bit of weathering, although I was not quite sure how to go about it properly, but the tank was finished the night before Dem Brudders drove to Phoenix for the IPMS/USA 2010 Nationals.
As I looked at the several other models in the category I quickly noticed that I had left my Leopard looking a little bit too pristine and should have done a bit more weathering. I also noticed some shiny spots left by sloppy clean-up after enhancing the many windows with Future. The worst faux pas was leaving some masking tape over some major windows, something I did not even notice until I was putting the tank away Saturday night after the contest. Oops! Of course the tank won zippo awards, not even the Premier award for its category (back in the day when they had that award for rookies in a particular class), but in the end that really didn’t matter.
Was it worth it to step out of my comfort zone and try something totally different? Yes, for sure. Thanks to Mike! Will I build another tank some day? Maybe, if someone gives another one to me! Do I recommend that our Dem Brudders readers also try something new? By all means. And don’t be afraid to bring the finished subjects to your various club meetings and contests!