Enter The Clear Plastic Car

I’m sure it must be possible to make a car with a plastic body now. A clear plastic body that is flexible and bouncy. One that springs away from bumps and does not rust. We’ve got plastic bumpers front and back for most cars now – time to extend the material to the rest of the vehicle.

I don’t say that a clear plastic body has to be perfect – it’s not going to look like Diana Prince’s Invisible Airplane in the Wonder Woman comics – and there are going to have to be some metal supports in there to hold up the sides and enclose the passengers.  But heck, we had polycarbonate bodies for our slot racing cars when I was a kid and the mechanic’s magazines were promising them for full-sized cars 50 years ago.

I’m not too fussed about the rust aspect – most cars are kept for a smaller period of time these days and we live in a land that has no snow – hence no ice on the roads. My cars have never rusted out – though that ’75 VW Passat probably would have tried to do so just to add to its flaws.

And the flexi-bump part is not all that necessary – I drive so as to not run into people. But I do want everyone who drives an SUV, tray top ute, or van to have clear plastic back sections to their vehicles…so that I can see to back out when the sods park next to me at shopping centres.

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The Little World – It All Ends Up As Grey Or Brown

Little World builders – as opposed to Little World collectors – generally end up with a more muted palette for their art.

By that I mean, as they are painting and weathering things, initial toy-like colours that can be put on models in a factory are dulled down and authentic colours get painted on plastic assembly kits from the start. Of course this generalisation goes to the winds when it comes to plastic model car kits and hot rod customisers but otherwise it holds.

I weather some of my die-cast models to fit my own Little World, and I use thinned versions of matte paints and varnishes to do so. It is amazing what a thin coat of acrylic dust can do to bring a shelf model to life. The structures that are built in various scales also benefit from sprayed dirt and dripped ( acrylic wash ) corrosion.

But it need not be so. You really have to look into your own soul and discover what rings your bell. You might be the person who dearly loves Disney colours on your models and would be sad and dispirited if they all had to look used. If that is the case, paint them as well as you can, but keep to the bright colours that please you. It is your Little World after all, and you may be a cheery as you want to be.

For the grubby brigade, we soon discover that whatever we do, the world gets dirtier. It does so with brown dust or grey dust – and there are very few other colours of weathering. Oh, the wet portions of the Little World may get mouldy, which can be somewhat green, but you’ll rarely see blue, red, or yellow as a predominant wash. Of course small plumes of industrial contamination can run to vile colours for specific highlights…but you are always still better off with a dark wash of grunge.

I have even seen instances of people using real dirt and degradation to weather their models, and there is certainly something to be said for the uneven nature of nature as it erodes and fouls things. If you can point it in the right direction you need not buy bottles of Tamiya acrylics for $ 5 each. Just don’t wipe your eyes after handling the model…

 

The Little World – Thick And Sticky

I have revisited my childhood and I’m thinking that things has changed down the ol’ hobby shop.

As a kid in Canada I had access to basically four brands of model paint – Revell at first, then Humbrol, Testors, and Pactra. Enamels all, with different characteristics and markedly different vehicles.

The smell of the paints was a clue to which they were – you could tell a puddle of Pactra from a similar amount of Humbrol with your nose. Revell was lousy paint but it had a particular odour – probably sourced from Love Canal. Just as well I graduated to Humbrol early.

But earlier in the year I tried Humbrol 22 – gloss white enamel from the familiar little tin. I was flabbergasted at the thickness of it. Admittedly it was a cold day here in Perth, but it was a cold in Calgary too and the paint was never like this. Fortunately I was not going to brush it on – it was destined for airbrush use and I had purchased a bottle of the recommended Humbrol thinner for it.

Thinning is a sometimes art – more akin to alchemy than science. I use a souvenir teaspoon as the basic measure of quantity and dilution, and am getting pretty good at estimating the amount of paint needed for any particular job. This is a doddle with the acrylics as they flow so readily. But this Humbrol needed two scoops and three dollops before it even approached the consistency of milk. It did go through the gun successfully and it did coat the job, but I made sure that I flooded out the mechanism with about 5000 gallons of mineral turps afterwards to clean the nozzle.

I was undecided about whether I wanted to move back to enamels or not. Next coat on the job was a matt brown – I still used Humbrol and see if it was any better. I was not prepared to reject a useful tool that others seem to employ based on just one experience. If it allowed for multi-layer effects that were less prone to dissolution than acrylic, I decided to continue to pursue it. I still had that much affection for dear old Humbrol and I had always thought their tins the cutest thing in the world.

Addendum: Next day analysis showed that the sprayed 22 Humbrol had done as well as could be expected – given that it was covering a dark plastic with no undercoat. The test wasn’t as fair as it might have been, and should not be taken as gospel. I thinned the tin mix slightly and used a brush to re-coat the job, and it came out splendidly. I was wary of touching it for a week, however, as this was not good drying weather.

I’ll suspend judgement now that warm weather has returned – time will come to try another colour or consistency.

Doesn’t Matter If It Is A Front Porsche Or A Back Porsche…

It’ll still be grey…

That’s an old Canadian joke, and I’m qualified to tell it. In North America there are three colours for the front or back porch of a private dwelling; unpainted  ( and weathering badly…), grey, or salmon pink.

The unpainted ones are seen in the hillbilly states where money is tight and in the New England states where there is more money but the people are tight. They are also traditional in the maritime provinces and out in the bush in B.C. Doukhobors take it further and never paint anything else on the house – it means they blend into the landscape better when the Mounties come searching.

The grey ones painted with a special mixture that consists of any paint in the garage that has not entirely dried out and is contained in a tin that can be prised open. All the blacks, whites, greys, and lesser colours are poured into a tub and mixed up – this gets slathered over the porch. Sometimes it is glossy and sometimes it is matte, and if you don’t get it all done in one day you risk getting both finishes at the same time. No-one ever cleans and saves their brushes after a porch job – it is generally considered hygienic enough to throw them in the nearest bushes.

The salmon pink is also a mixture made from all the brightly coloured tins that have been left over after painting bathtubs, soap box racers, and Finnish houses. It is distinctive and memorable, and no-one ever really thinks it is going to turn out that shade. Not even the salmon. Note that one car maker actually made a car – a small Hyundai sedan – in this exact shade, and they made them deliberately…at least I think it was deliberate. I can say I have seen them about 10 years ago here in Perth. Short-lived, unfortunately.

These vehicles are enthusiast’s cars seen in Sydney and Perth at car shows – though there are certainly a number of Porsche vehicles on the road at any one time – including a somewhat unexplained SUV with curves named after a variety of pepper. My contact with the marque has been very fleeting – an associate of my late father owned a bathtub Porsche in 1966 and there were some occasions when it was repaired enough to go on the main roads. I believe it had prestige value at the time, though the real value may have lain in the pile of receipts from the mechanics. I remember he had the rubber shock mounts between the body and chassis replaced at one stage of the game and the cost equalled the price of my new Renault sedan.

Have I ever wanted to own or drive one? Not really. I do covet the Audi TT and I would love an early 1960’s Volkswagen Beetle in perfect condition, but the sporty Porsche has never rung my bells. I remember James Dean.

 

 

The Little World – You Need Not Listen When They Tell You…

Do you remember when they used to tell you things? Like not to sniff glue or make sure that the drill was grounded before you ran it through the wiring? You always assumed that someone knew better than you and that they were telling you something for your own good. That was what they wanted you to think.

Pretty much how North Korea and your local Centrelink office do right now…and hasn’t that worked out well…

So now I am going to suggest that you cross the flux streams, cut the red wire, and make up your own damn mind about what to do with your hobby. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Case in point: I needed to paint the front of the Goldfisch Tivoli cinema on my latest diorama – a light blue with dark trimming. It’s a large fascia, and there was no way it was going to get done on one bottle of Tamiya acrylic paint – and no-one else had a light blue matt paint anyway. So I determined to mix my own, which is what they tell you never to do. Sort of like ” Don’t sail west Christopher, or you’ll fall off the edge…”.

Good cheap paint is hard to come by these days. If it’s good, it has a price tag that looks like a phone number. If it’s cheap it has the consistency of sewage. But you can indeed find the right combo if you go for the pots of sample paints that the good paint makers put out. They are tasters to let you get hooked on their big-ticket pots…but if you are a Little Worlder and prepared to do the old Dr. Chemistry dance, you can make them into custom colour.

I got the plain white Dulux in a sample pot for $ 2.00 off the clearance shelf. I already had used one on another structure and cleaned out the empty pot. Into this crucible went  1/3 of the sample white, 60ml of water, a little Tamiya X-20A thinner, and a couple of dollops of Tamiya Flat Blue. The important thing about mixing custom colours is not the exact shade that you get, but making sure that you mix enough into the pot for the entire job. Sacrifice 10 ml at the end if you must, but do not run dry at the last post and try to re-mix it. You will fail.

Okay, ingredients in place and shake mixing all done, it was time to apply the stuff. it was going on foam-core board that had been prepped with Tamiya undercoat so it was bound to go on fairly evenly. But there was no way I was going to try to thrust this soup through my airbrushes. Fortunately I had a set of foam brushes from Bunnings – laughably cheap trim items that you would think were just throw-away junk.

Not a bit of it. Given a medium thin mixture of flat paint, the Chinese foam brush is an awesome implement. I got even coverage and no bubbles. Easy clean up, and the brush looks untouched. All this for pennies!

The front of the Tivoli is done. The coat is great and the trim strips are setting it off marvellously. All-up it might have cost $ 1.75, and for the nollekins modeller, that is extremely good news.

The Canvas Car

Well not exactly, though I will take a little time later in this column to tantalize you with a real canvas car…But right now I am thinking about cars as mobile canvases for artwork – the increasingly complex business of showing pictures on sheet metal.

Every hot rod car show I have attended in the last 4 years has had graphic cars – you’ll have seen some of them over that time here on the weblog column. Here are two examples from the 2107 WA Hot Rod Show just gone. They are representative of two motifs but there are many more that can be found.

a. The black Holden ute with Thor on the bonnet and sides. Thor would appear to be a character from either television or the cinema translated to a graphic on the black paint of the car. He is more than a cartoon here, as the screen version is more so – this is a live actor reproduced. Colourful, violent, and dramatic, he would appeal to many of the hot rod hobby and well as to a wide cross-section of the viewing audience.

b. The yellow Holden tray top. A nationalistic theme here, and a rural one, fully in keeping with the nature of the tray, if not of the vehicle. I mean, who could be so mean as to take something as beautiful as this car and slam it over railway crossings and down gravel roads, let alone out in a paddock. As far as loading cargo on the tray and/or unloading it by tilting it…well, would you use the Mona Lisa as a tea tray? Sacrilege.

I will make another post about some of the other artworks seen on cars, but these two are particularly noticeable because the car takes second place to the canvas. As with any art, no debate is possible about the goodness or badness of theme or concept – art is in the eye of the beholder.

But here is the real canvas car I promised…

The Golden Woodie Part 1

Every car show has a gem buried at its heart. These are sometimes flagged by the show organisers and sometimes you just have to find them for yourself. This year at the Perth hot rod show I found the golden woodie. It is for me a true evocation of a custom car.

Just a moment for two asides – if you go to the motoring bookshops you can find very nice illustrated books of the classic 1950’s and 60’s custom cars from North America. Lots of famous names – Barris, Winfield, etc. Sometimes there are colour photos of the cars, though at the time the colour processes were both expensive and rare…and we miss out of seeing some of the images. I like to think that there are 35mm Kodachrome and Kodachrome II slides out here in private collections that still do show the colours of the time accurately. Maybe not taken with all the skill of a pro magazine shooter, but first-rate records nevertheless. If anyone comes across old car photos of any kind they should never throw them out – someone will benefit from them right now.

But the second aside…well a couple of the books I have show some pretty extensive customising done in California in those eras but they are painfully blunt in showing what are some pretty awful design choices. I know, I know – each to their own taste…but if that is the case then some of the tastes evinced by home builders were pretty bizarre. And not just home builders – the big custom boys sometimes reached out for novelty far further than aesthetics could follow. It’s the same with music and clothing tastes of that time and the place – some cause nostalgia and some cause rectalgia.

But enough of the asides. They only serve to point up what I really want to say about this car; it is a truly delightful design and very well executed. I should have wished to see it displayed on a plinth in a compound of its own.

The sign board identified the original chassis as a 1946 Ford Sportsman. It’s been chopped, sectioned, re-engined, and re-suspended. I’ll let you read the sign yourself. And thank you to Valmae and Peter for summarising it at the show – it makes it all the more enjoyable if you know what the bits are.

Okay – wooden bodies – particularly New Guinea Rose Wood ones – are not all that common in the car parks around Bull Creek. Probably just as well, considering what the local drivers can do with the doors of their Toyota 4WD’s. I can only imagine that it must take some rather special maintenance even in the country to keep up the smooth shine. Full marks as well, for the colour paint decision – the rosewood with varnish wants delicate treatment in the metal areas to keep it looking elegant – this Aztec Gold cum bronze is perfect.

Likewise, the temptation to stripe, scallop, flame, or fade is one that every hot rod or custom builder must face. Some give in to siren song of the colourful side and throw decoration at every panel that will hold paint. It’ll work in some cases, but in others they risk losing sight of the lines in the conflicting paint patterns. This car is perfect for the flowing scallop that you see here – indeed square fender Fords of the period nearly always look good with straight scallops. It just seems to echo with our memories of those custom car magazines of the 50’s…I mean the good ones.

Whoops. Is that the time? I’ll have to show you the details tomorrow…