Monday, November 24, 2014

Tidying up the display cabinet

In a bid to improve the look of the display cabinets by completing half-finished projects, and incidentally to stretch the break from the 908, I've been tackling incomplete stuff on the shelf. First up: Tamiya's Lotus Europa, which only needed the dashboard and the body completed.

When I worked in the garage, we had a couple of customers with Elans with the same Lotus Twin Cam motor, basically a converted 1600 cc Cortina motor. I could get into an Elan, especially if the top was down, but I once had a chance to sit in an Europa and really could not get into the car. My safety shoes were too big for the foot well, and I had to bend my head sideways to get in under the roof. I guess there is some truth to the old story about Colin designing his cars for short people such as himself. You don't get into an Europa, you put it on, and if you are 6 feet tall like me, it's a couple of sizes too small.

The classic backbone chassis served through the later Elite and Esprit models, and even made it into the DeLorean which Chapman agreed to design. One of our customers picked up a DeLorean at auction at the Port of New York following the bankruptcy, when the American importer was being forced to pay for his unsold stock. On paper, it looked a lot like an early 911: aluminum 2.7 litre 6-cylinder out back, 5 speed transaxle, 4-wheel discs. Surprisingly, it did not drive like a Lotus, or an early 911, but rather like a heavy, ponderous tank. From an engineering perspective, it was a real piece of crap. However, according to the owner, a tall, handsome, muscular young fellow with blond hair and piercing blue eyes, it was quite effective at picking up women. Apparently it was an even better crumpet-attractor than his other car, a burgundy Series 3 E-Type convertible with chrome wire wheels and luscious light brown leather upholstery. I could just see him pulling up on the bar strip on a Friday evening and opening the stainless steel gullwing doors (which were on hydraulic struts so they opened slowly, which was great for dramatic effect as the young Adonis climbed out, but left plenty of time for the rain to get in and soak your good suit). Anyway we made plenty of money fixing the endemic engineering problems over the one or two summers he had it, while the Jag languished in the garage. By then, prices for DeLoreans had gone through the roof and he traded it for a lightly-used 911 Carrera RS, the one with the 2.7 fuel injected engine and the fat rear fenders. Less effective on the bar strip, perhaps, but a much better car.

So anyway the Europa is almost complete. I messed up the gold pinstripe decals which are very thin and easily rolled up into a sticky mess, so I may just go with the plain black paint, complete with (again) some orange peel. On the other hand, I managed the window surrounds with a bottle of Testors silver paint, a very fine 000-scale brush and a steady hand, instead of the bare metal foil I tried on the Alpine. I find that succeeding at this kind of fine work is like playing pool: I need a glass of a good Chardonnay to loosen up, but I start getting sloppy about half-way through the second glass. It's a fine line.

Business travel and family time will limit progress over the next couple of weeks, but once the Europa is complete, I intend to tackle one of the Profil 24 resin kits I have been collecting. I've had the Audi S1 for some time now, perhaps that will be the first.

Originally posted 24 November 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Japanese are coming! New kits on the shelf

Tomorrow being Remembrance Day (a paid holiday for us), I took today off to make up a 4-day weekend. I dropped in on the local model kit wholesaler and wandered around looking at what he had on the shelf. Of course I wound up picking up a few things ...

The most interesting purchase is a Fujimi kit of a Nissan Fairlady Z 432R (a hot version of the Datsun 240Z, to us Westerners). Now Fujimi kits frequently have no engine detail, and (unless the Japanese text on the box provides this information), you will not know this until you take it home and open the box. This can be frustrating, and as a result I tend to stay away from Fujimi kits unless they are of really obscure cars that I really want. However the box art showed a nice picture of a straight 6 equipped with what appears to be a full set of double-barrel side-draft 45 mm Webers (probably Japanese copies), so I bought the kit.

On opening it, the first thing I noticed was plenty of bits to build up a lovely twin-cam 6. Then I noticed the body has the hood molded in place! So you spend a lot of time detailing the motor, then you can't show it off? This is a first for me. So it seems the panel scribe and saw will see some use here, unfortunately...

I also picked up a pair of Nissan Skylines, both from Tamiya. The first is the original 2000 GT-R from 1970, complete with fender flares, wing and another lovely little 2-litre twin-cam 6. This will replace an earlier Fujimi kit of the same car, which had no motor detail. The second is the 1990 version with a 2.6 litre twin-turbo inline 6, decked out in club racing trim. Both are typical Tamiya kits with plenty of detail. And you can open the hoods on both of them ...

So it was Nissan Day at the model car shop. Combined with a couple of earlier purchases, such as Pete Brock's Datsun 510 Trans-Am car (actually another Nissan), a Honda Civic racer with no engine, and a resin Toyota Celica Group B rally car from Profil 24, the Japanese road car contingent is growing, and joins my NSX dragster with (horrors) a blown Ford big block motor in place of the poorly detailed V6. Note all the neat scoops and vents I built in the flanks, roof and front trunk; on the other hand the cockpit had to get shoved forward something like a foot at scale for all those cubic inches to fit, so a normal-sized driver probably couldn't get into it if it were built at 1:1, unless he were moved to the middle of the cockpit.

I've even got a couple of those silly Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon 4WD Super Exceed 7-seater microvans that you see on the street in Vancouver (no engine detail; kit from Aoshima). We were crammed into something similar in China when we visited the Great Wall at Badaling, and what a gutless little thing it was as it ground up the long slopes out of Beijing, especially with 6 porky Westerners on board (the Chinese driver was probably 115 lb soaking wet). Anyway with a name like Delica Star Wagon 4WD Super Exceed, there rightfully should be some serious kit-bashing in the works for these, no decisions yet but stay tuned.

Yes, yes, I've got way more kits than I can possibly build in a reasonable time while still allowing time, say over the course of this winter, for other things (such as this blog, or maybe the family). I passed that point years ago; the 908 alone will keep me busy all winter if I am not careful. However retirement beckons (eventually) at which point there will be lots of time, and all these obscure kits will be unavailable. And as for the expense, well, hey, it's way cheaper than drinking, smoking, gambling and hanging around in bars. Not that I've ever considered any of these as an alternative activity, I'm just making a rhetorical point here.

Originally posted 10 November 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

956 rolling chassis

A good solid push (painting, assembly) means we now have a rolling chassis, which allowed the first real test-fit of the body.

Not unexpectedly there are some problems, mainly the front wheels which are going to require a larger radius cut out of the lower doors to fit. Also the front track is wider than I expected, so perhaps there will be a need for fenders to cover the wheels.

However the stance is still good and it will be even lower once the body isn't hung up on the top of the front tires -- the gap between the air splitter and the body will close up at that point.

Finally, for some reason, the Testor's #1208 light blue continues to look more like a sea-grey on my computer screen, but is quite nice in the real world. I'd say it's not a perfect replica of the Gulf Oil blue, but it will do, and Testor's orange is just right.

Time for a break, as the blue will have to set for a few days before I can do any major handling of it.

Originally posted 9 November 2014

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Back to the 956 pickup for a break

Needing a break from the fussy 908 kit, I decided to make some progress on the 956 pickup. 

It's looking good: the stance sure is wicked in-the-weeds at this point. A top chop is probably not even needed. The radiused front fenders will cut into the cockpit but this should not be a problem.Some sanding of the putty, along with some sheet styrene work and a couple of coats of primer, gets it to here:

Downside: it's all a bit sloppy but hey, it's a chophouse effort so that's OK. Next: finishing the chassis and interior, making it all fit, then final exterior finishing.

For something similar at 1:1 scale, check out The site's in German but the photos and videos are a riot, for example Note the photo gallery: they cut the thing in half lengthwise and widened it by splicing in what looks like a foot of sheet metal. The pictures aren't clear but it looks like it had a chop as well, the fore-and-aft section added to the roof would imply this was the case.

All in all, my approach (cutting up 1/24 kits) is cheaper and faster, although arguably I'll never hammer around the Nurburgring in one of the kits.

Originally posted 8 November 2014

Sunday, November 2, 2014

MFH's 908/03: Dashboard and cockpit

I found a red tail lamp in the spare parts box with a locating pin that was just a bit bigger (0.0625") than the warning lamp that got away (0.055"). I cut the pin off the lamp, filed it down and rounded it off, then drilled an enormous hole in the dash to make it fit. Overall it worked out well. The photo below, taken through my 4X desktop glass, and with the 3X optical zoom on the camera at maximum, shows the result which is not perfect with this magnification but will pass muster. I am going to leave the gauge as it is; I won't tell if you don't ... can you tell which gauge is the problem? and which warning light got replaced?

Looking closely at the front subframe so far, made as it is of flexible white metal struts held together with cyanoacrylate glue, I realize that it is a bit of a crooked glue bomb, with tubes not lining up so well, and with dried CA glue in a faint sheen across many of the painted bits. A bit depressing to be sure, but OK for a first try of these multi-media kits - even the best builders had to start somewhere, I assume. So I take a breath and press on regardless, knowing that it should still look pretty good in the display case without the 4X glass to highlight all the little screw-ups.

First, though, I have to take a cotton swab drenched in acetone to pick out the worst glue blobs, while staying away from the joints which are weak enough as it is. One big lesson here is that I need to figure out how to apply the CA stuff more neatly and efficiently. Cleanliness is another issue; I washed all the bits in dish soap before starting, but maybe acetone would have been a better choice, at least for the white metal, to get rid of all the mold release chemicals.

Next I mounted the two inner fender splash panels, fortunately nicely cast of resin so dimensionally they are, or should be fine - the filing and shaping necessary to get them to fit arises because the structure behind them is not where it all should be. (Kudos if you can spot the problems in the picture below, again taken through the 4X glass). The glue here is 2-part epoxy, given that most of the joints are resin to resin.

Next is to tidy up some of the paint and install the dashboard and steering wheel. While the paint sets, I've dug out the various bits that attach to the cockpit floor and rear bulkhead and started on the prepping and painting. The next picture shows all the little bits that will go into the cockpit: clockwise from top you will see coils in a vice, relays already mounted to the bulkhead, gearshift linkage, steering wheel, seats and the battery box (white box already mounted to the floor). Two of the relays on the bulkhead sit in little heat sinks made of photo-etched sheet; I guess they expect you to lose a couple of the fins as there are 12 little fins on the sheet but only 8 are required ... I skipped this after 30 minutes unsuccessfully trying to get the fins to stand up in the frame. What is missing now is a couple of decals (Bosch labels on the coils for instance) and the seatbelts before I can button up the cockpit.

As I was cleaning up, out of habit I had a look through the various minuscule bits of scarf, shavings and filings on my desk before sweeping it all into the garbage, and lo and behold, there was the missing warning lamp that got away ... turns out Mr. Carpet didn't get it after all. At times like this, I long for my old friend polystyrene, with reasonably large bits on tidy, numbered sprues.

I'll be away on business for another week, so expect no further progress for a while.

Originally posted 2 November 2014