THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF A CUSTOM CAR HISTORIAN
Early 2000, while on a visit to my parents, I decided to look for a model I built in the early 1980’s. I still had fond memories of it! I found my old model boxed somewhere in a closet in my old bedroom. Upon opening the box, some very good memories came back to me. I took the old model home and give it a place where it could be seen again. You’ll probably wonder why this – not particularly good-looking model- was given a special place. Or, why a rough-looking custom car can be so special to me.
Let me tell you the story behind this customized Volvo Amazone
I built this model in the late 1983’s and finished it in 1984 when I was just 15 years old. It all started on a damp Wednesday morning when I broke my arm at a school baseball game. I was waiting to have my arm set and have the plaster cast put on it. I was quite relaxed and looked around the hospital room. There I saw a lot of cool tools lying around and began fantasizing how I could use them for my model building. As the cast was being applied, I noticed the material they were using. It was some sort of fabric, coated with plaster, which became very pliable when it was soaked in water. I started thinking that this material would be useful for model building—possibly for some sort of mold making.
With the help of a nurse
I had not figured out how it could be used, but that it was going to happen was a definite. So I asked one of the nurses if I could take some of the fabric-plaster home with me. She said she didn’t think so, as they were not allowed to give things like that away. But before I left she gave me a small plastic bag with a few rolls of the fabric-plaster in it and smiled at me.
Being a Dutch model car builder in the 1980s was not easy! There were not many kits in the hobby shops, there was no Internet, and even the U.S. car and model magazines did not reach the area where I lived. So when I found this 1:16 scale Volvo Amazon toy/promo – which was rather accurate – I was very happy. And, it had all kinds of plans to customize it such as chopping the top and more. But unfortunately, the Volvo was molded in a very soft plastic.
Cutting up a Volvo
I could not work with the material, as neither plastic cement nor body filler would stick to it, so I was very disappointed. That was until I came home with the fabric-plaster! With my arm still in the cast, I figured out a way of making molds of the Volvo, and I wanted to try making a casting using the plaster-fabric as a mold, and body filler to make the casting.
flat as possible, as I was not sure whether or not I could make compound-curve molds. Then, I made molds, with the fabric-plaster, of each part. After the plaster had set, I carefully removed the plastic original, leaving nice, relatively smooth molds. I decided to use epoxy body filler putty as the material to cast the parts. I smeared the filler in the mold with my fingers, and after curing, I removed the plaster. The molds were completely destroyed, and some of the plaster was left on the new body parts. But, a bit of water and some sanding took care of that problem.
Now I had all the separate parts, and using some freshly mixed putty, I glued the individual parts to make sections of the body. I then glued those parts together, again with filler, and once together, I had a complete body, which was made entirely out of body filler putty.
Then the customizing process could began. A 1949 Mercury custom/lowrider (Charley Lopez’ Nostalgia Sleeper) that I had seen in an obscure Belgium custom-car magazine called Chrome and Flames (in Vlamish Chroom en Vlammen) inspired the overall look of this Volvo. I chopped the top, lengned and widened it, and just never realized it would have looked so much better if I had leaned the rear window forward, thus, streamlining the body some more.
I cut open the doors in a half-circle shape (similar to the ‘49 Merc,) and created working gullwing doors. I used brass window trim, and incorporated working hinges, also made from brass tube and wire. I inserted some flat-steel plates inside the doors, so I would be able to open them later using a magnet (innovative isn’t that?). The hood was hinged on the front, using hinges made of brass wire and tubing. The engine compartment was made from plastic containers, which once housed my mother’s nylons, and the containers were also used for the inner fenders. The interior was mostly scratch built. The bucket-style seats were made from plastic containers with nice rounded corners, and were mounted on Lego turning assemblies, to make real swivel seats.
The rear bench was made from cardboard, and the small round table and light above it were made from pieces from the scrap box I got from my father. He used to build 1:25 scale models before I was born and when I was still a kid. He only built factory-stock models, so plenty of early customizing parts remained for me to use on my customizing projects. Other interior parts come from a 1:25 scale AMT Kenworth truck. The dashboard started out as the front bumper and wheel a horn ring was added, made from small-diameter wire, to the truck’s steering wheel.
The entire interior was upholstered with real velvet, which was button-tufted by my mother. More truck parts where used on the Volvo as well. Strips were taken from the fuel tank, and used as front bumpers, and the top lights were used as bumper guards. Also, the truck’s engine was used for the Volvo, and the headers were modified to look like ones from a Ford Cobra engine.
The air cleaner was made from a full moon disk from an old AMT kit with some fabric, from my mother, to serve as the filter. The grille was made from metal wire bent over a plastic jig, with ends made from more truck parts, as were the headlights. One has been lost for years. The taillights were made from clear material, into which I filed grooves, and painted them orange and red from behind. The tires from the Volvo model and the wheels were made from Volvo parts.
My car in a magazine!
Beauty rings were made from the truck’s rims. The paint was a custommixed metallic red from Revell and Humbrol paints. When the model was done, I made a diorama out of board, some model train bushes, and hobby paints. I took some nice photos outside in my parent’s garden where I used real trees as backdrop. Because I thought the photo’s were pretty good I send the photos to the Belgium magazine Chrome and Flames.
A few weeks later I received a phone call from the magazine’s editor. He could not quite figure it out. He received some photos of what he thought was a real car. But they came with a letter that described a model car! He also asked me if I could bring the model to an upcoming custom car show in Belgium (a neighboring country of The Netherlands, where I’m from), but unfortunately I could not make that show due to a vacation with my parents.
By the time we returned from our vacation the new issue of the magazine had hit the newsstand and a whole page was devoted to my model cars! The Volvo gave me a lot of experience, and it really got me started on building custom car models.
This car remains very special to me. I’m sure many of you have some early model that you hold dear. Let us know!
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