Bob Ward’s Custom-built 1:32 Scale Cars, Part 2
Here’s part 2 of the series on Bob Ward’s cars, as photographed and described by Bob himself. Eldon / Revell Porsche 906
As most vintage slot car enthusiasts know, Eldon’s cars from the 60s were never meant to be anything but toys, and the first clue you got was their scale appearance, or lack of it. Eldon cars typically looked like cartoons of the cars they were supposed to be, though some were better than others. The chassis and mechanicals left a great deal to be desired in the performance department, also, though bodies and chassis alike would stand up to endless abuse from unsupervised children and keep running, after a fashion, anyway. Eldon’s bodies, toylike though they were, did have one stellar virtue. The body mount locations were exactly the same as on a Revell car. This meant that you could adapt the sophisticated, for its time, Revell aluminum chassis and mechanicals to an Eldon body simply by making the appropriate wheelbase adjustment and putting body and chassis together with a couple of self-tapping screws. Not that I was ever tempted to do it back in the day; it was definitely a cruel step downward in class for the Revell chassis. But I never forgot it was possible. Then I acquired an Eldon Porsche 906 body as part of a collection. I almost junked it, but on examination I discovered that, unlike every other Eldon body I had ever seen, it actually looked more or less like the 1:1 scale car. With good paint, wheels, and decals it might make a decent looking model.
Some rummaging through my boxes of musty old vintage parts uncovered a Revell 1:24 scale formula car chassis (the version with only one body mounting point at the rear) complete with an original SP510 motor, axles, and a Cox crown gear. However, nothing resembling the 906’s original equipment wheels turned up. What I did find, though, was a set of really cool NOS Mila Miglia real magnesium wheels. As you can see in the photos these are beautiful deep-dish wheels with 10 tiny holes that give them a quite realistic appearance, if you allow for the fact that privateer 906’s raced over the years with many different kinds of wheels. Along with the wheels I found some suitably sized tires to fit them. A modern jet guide and silicone lead wires completed the mechanical package. I assembled the chassis with newer black-finish 4-40 socket head screws to give it a small up-to-date touch.
After that it was just paint, decals, clear coat, and a vacuum-formed interior from a Betta body, and I had completed what is probably the simplest slot car kitbash I’ve ever done.
And the result, to me anyway, came out surprisingly well. I placed the car next to a new Fly 906 for comparison purposes. You can certainly see where Eldon missed on some parts of the car’s shape, and the 60s body lacks the level of detail seen on modern slot cars. Still, the cars are not so far apart that they wouldn’t look okay on the track together. For an Eldon car, that’s amazing. Auto Hobbies Cobra Daytona Coupe
When Auto Hobbies released its Cobra Daytona coupe body kit and RTR car in 1965 it marked what may have been the high point in plastic injection molded body design and manufacture in the first "golden era" of slot car racing. The second one, by the way, is now, and it’s far more golden that the first one was. The number of gorgeously finished and detailed scale model slot cars available today far outstrips any selection ever offered in the 60s, and they come fully assembled, painted, and ready to run now. Anyway, the Auto Hobbies Cobra coupe body was light, accurate, and engineered to be a bolt-on to any of the popular 1:32 scale chassis of the day. Its vacuum-formed windows were considered to be on the cutting edge of slot car weight saving in an injection-molded body kit. The AH body is still my favorite rendition of the Daytona Coupe, even after the release of Monogram’s RTR cars. True, the Monogram car benefits from all the advances in slot car technology we presently enjoy, but somehow it takes one of the most graceful and elegant race car designs of all time and makes it look fat and frumpy. Oh, well…. My model was built from a new old stock body kit and rides on an original Auto Hobbies chassis, the one the complete car kit came with. I left the chassis as stock as I could bring myself to do, but I did add some steel wire stiffening in a couple of places and used NOS Russkit set screw wheels all around. And, of course, I equipped the car with a jet guide and silicone lead wires. The motor is a Russkit 22.
I painted the body with Testor Boyd’s True Blue Pearl metallic over white, the closest I could come at the time to the original Cobra electric blue. The car is painted and decaled as the Daytona Coupe that was in Carroll Shelby’s personal collection. I had a chance to photograph the 1:1 scale car (and 3 other Daytona coupes) at a vintage race at Sears Point in 1995.
An interesting historical note: The body kit was one of an entire case of them that was given to me free by the owner of a slot car raceway that was going belly-up in the 70s. I’ve sold some of them but I still have some left for future projects. 1957 Lister-Jaguar
This one is an Auto Hobbies product, too, or at least the body is. It’s one of the fiberglass body shells Auto Hobbies made back in the early 60s when that type of body was on the cutting edge of slot car technology. It sat around my workshop for years before I even thought about doing something with it. It was molded in a really ugly shade of red and had gotten very second-hand looking before I acquired it. Then one day, I was looking for a body to put on a Strombecker Scuttler motor and chassis I acquired from another enthusiast, and I thought of the Lister. Both body and chassis represented about the same era of slot car history. Open-frame motors and fiberglass bodies were in their prime before vacuum-formed bodies and can motors came in big-time around 1963 or so. The chassis and motor were a perfect fit for the body, but I needed some suitable wheels. I had nothing like the disc wheels used on Listers of that era, but I also knew that many sports-racing cars of the 50s were retrofitted with magnesium wheels, especially in America. I have a large stash of assorted Cox wheels, including the 1:24 scale BRM F-1 wheels which look a lot like several brands of American-made 5-spoke wheels. I had developed a way of converting them to set-screw mounting by pressing an aluminum insert into the center from the back side. Digging into my collection of 60s tires I found some that fit the wheels and filled the Lister body’s wheel openings perfectly. So now I had the basic components of the project worked out. The next question was, what kind of color scheme should the car have? Well, a Lister is a British car, and I’ve always liked traditional British green, so that wasn’t too hard a choice to make. But, I wanted a trim color that would really set off the green, and what better choice than yellow? As it happened, green with yellow stripes was the official Australian national racing color scheme back in the days long past when people still paid attention to such things, But I wanted just the perfect green and yellow. After testing and rejecting several combinations I found the right one in the basic Testor enamel rack at the local hobby shop, but not the part of it you might expect. I found my perfect colors in the flat section. The combination of #1171 Flat Beret Green and #1169 Flat Yellow with several coats of Glosskote airbrushed on yielded a marvelously rich and glossy finish. The Lister’s body design, with the passenger side of the cockpit covered with a panel integrated into the body, lent itself perfectly to an asymmetrical stripe design that turned out to be what I think is the most pleasing paint job I’ve ever put on a slot car.
Paining the wheel centers yellow and polishing and clear coating the rims helps keep the wheels from succumbing to the dreaded Cox wheel oxidation syndrome. The clear coating doesn’t protect the natural magnesium part of the wheels entirely. Every so often I have to put the wheels on my lathe, sand and polish the rims shiny again, and reapply the clear coat. The driver is the familiar Revell "happy face" figure, and the windshield is just a piece of clear Lexan cut to shape and contact cemented in place. The driver and the windshield are the only two parts I added to the body. All the other details were molded in and picked out with paint.
The motor and chassis are box-stock except for a small brass body mount soldered to the rear axle bracket that comes as part of the motor and another one soldered into the chassis directly forward of the motor. Plastic tubing body posts to match, with 60s brass threaded inserts, are epoxied into the body. You need to be really careful when soldering to any part of these old open-frame motors. Any significant amount of heat will demagnetize the motor quickly. The good news is that if you can find somebody with one of the old magnet zappers from the 60s you can get the motor remagnetized without even taking it out of the chassis.
As with many of my vintage car projects the only non-period authentic parts on the car are the guide and the silicon lead wire. This car is very close to what many hobbyists built and raced back in the early 60s, and it’s a really neat reminder of what slot cars were like back when I first discovered them.
My research for the Lister led me to some very interesting material on American sports car racing in the 50s and early 60s and a reacquaintance with the road racing specials of that era. The road racing specials were cars created by American builders to compete against the Ferraris, Maseratis, Jaguars, and other big-name European sports cars that ruled the world of road racing in those days. Some of them were European cars with their blown-up original engines replaced by American V8s. This was often done to save money while gaining performance. Others were built on modified American passenger car chassis and covered with aluminum or fiberglass bodies. Some of them were really crude and looked it, while others featured workmanship the equal of anything on the track. A few, like Max Balchowsky’s Old Yellers, looked crude but were excellently engineered and very potent. And some were cutting edge race cars, built for the purpose from the ground up with design and construction of the highest order. Lance Reventlow’s Scarabs and Jim Hall’s Chaparral 1 are prime examples. After a while I got to thinking it would be fun to create my own road race special in 1:32 scale. I didn’t want to make a whole body from scratch, so I started looking through all my body boxes for something that would serve as a starting point. One body immediately caught my eye, a Classic of England Costin Lister. Not only would it be a great basis for my special, it would also make a fitting follow-up to my Auto Hobbies Lister Jaguar. In addition, the 1:1 scale Listers were really specials in their own right, low-production cars usually fitted with Jaguar or Chevrolet engines. So, taking one a few steps farther into extreme specialdom would really be consistent with the spirit in which they were built.
The Costin Lister has a smooth aerodynamic shape with a tapered nose and tail on an envelope body enclosing the wheels almost completely, making it look much like something you’d see on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It looks like a perfect shape for someplace like LeMans where top speed and low drag are at a premium. Interestingly enough it wasn’t. Its larger frontal area made it less slippery than the "knobbly" Lister. The Costins were still competitive but for the kind of car I had in mind creating in miniature the Costin shape would have left something to be desired in the downforce and cornering grip department. Downforce and grip would be especially important because I decided that the basic idea of my phantom special would be that some American hot rodder with a taste for road racing had acquired a much-used Lister in the early 60s. My mythical hot rodder had decided to power it with one of the first of Chevrolet’s 1963 427 cubic-inch NASCAR V8s and give it tires and aerodynamics to go with all that prime mover. Starting from that basic premise the first thing that had to go was the long, tapered tail. I turned on my bench sander and simply fed the body tail-first into the spinning disc until I had ground it back about halfway to the rear wheels, giving it the chopped-off look of famous 60s cars like the Ferrari GTO and the Cobra Daytona Coupe. Then, reasoning that a 427 was going to need a lot of cooling I did the same thing to the front of the car, opening up the body’s dainty little radiator opening into a gaping oval-shaped mouth ready to take in big gulps of air. Of course, the wide wheels and fat tires to put all that big block horsepower and torque to the ground were never going to fit inside the body as it was, so the next step was to put a sanding drum on my Moto-tool and radius out the wheel openings. With that done the grinding was complete and it was time to start adding pieces back on. I bent strips of sheet styrene and epoxied them into the wheel openings to extend them to the full width of the car. You can’t use plastic cement on a fiberglass body, so CA and epoxy are the order of the day for attaching any added body parts. On the finished car the fenders appear to bulge out from the sides, but if you look carefully at the photos you will see that they only come out as far as the overall maximum width of the body. The difference is that the radiusing and flaring allow the wheels and tires also to come all the way out to the extreme edges of the body, giving the car a much wider track and much more rubber on the road. Next I had to fill that gaping hole at the back end of the body. All it took was a simple flat piece of sheet styrene epoxied over the opening and extending above it. Actually, the styrene extended beyond the body a bit all the way around, allowing me to sand it down to the body’s exact contours and also to create a spoiler of the exact height and shape I wanted. Then I cut another piece of sheet styrene with its bottom edge shaped to the curve of the body’s rear deck and epoxied it in place leaning back against the spoiler. I trimmed the top and ends to match the first piece and filled in the ends with triangular bits of styrene sheet. This gives the spoiler some depth and character, making it more than just a flat piece sticking up from the rear edge of the body. Next, I cut and bent another piece of sheet styrene and epoxied it in place to form the deep air dam beneath the nose and to back up the radiator intake, giving the look of structure back inside it. Finally, I glued several layers of styrene together and formed then into the car’s prominent hood hump, one big enough to cover a pair of big 4-barrel carburetors on top of a high-rise manifold. (I said my imaginary special builder was a hot rodder.) With all the styrene parts solidly glued in place and reinforced with extra epoxy on the inside it was time for body putty. I didn’t want the car to look like a tin knocker’s nightmare, so all the new body pieces had to be smoothly and seamlessly integrated into the car’s overall shape. They couldn’t look tacked on. After a lot of puttying and sanding I got all the contours blended into the body. Emery boards worked well for rough shaping and then increasingly fine sandpaper, down to 600 grit on blocks of various sizes and shapes, completed the task.
The body has very few added details. The taillights are just slices of plastic sprue glued onto the back of the body. Painted red on the face and silver around the edges they look just like the kind of generic taillights, designed for truck bodies and utility trailers, that a special builder might purchase from the local auto parts store. The roll bar is Plastruct, the rear view mirror is shaped from styrene with a piece of piano wire for a stalk, and the driver’s head is from a junk Monogram body. The rest of the driver is molded into the body and just needed to be painted.
Under the body a Tradeship open-frame motor rides in an Auto Hobbies chassis. The wheels are the same set screw converted Cox BRM wheels as used on the Lister but with wider tires. The exhausts are brass tubing soldered to the bottom of the rear axle bracket. As usual I upgraded to a jet guide and silicone lead wire.
I decided to paint the car in the same green and yellow as the Lister so the two cars could be displayed together as if they were part of the same team. At this point I still hadn’t come up with a name for it. Road racing specials are unique and interesting cars and deserve unique and interesting names. Then one day I was looking through my decal box and noticed a scrap from an old decal sheet that had the Exxon tiger on it, and an idea struck me. If the previous car was a Jaguar, this one must be a tiger. But not just any tiger. This one was a sabertooth, the toughest tiger of all time. I cut out the decal, applied it to the nose of the body, which was painted and awaiting clear coat, and carefully painted in two big fangs. The car had its name, the Sabertooth Special. The Sabertooth looks brutal and powerful. It doesn’t betray its Costin Lister origins, either. I’ve had fun asking people to guess what kind of body it started out as. I’ve probably dome it at least 50 times and only one person ever got it right. This was a fun car to build and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result. Coming soon, part 3.