Building Model Cars in the 1950s and 1960s

Greg Zyla
I want to dedicate this column to model cars and model car builders. Building models was and still is an enjoyable endeavor of my "car loving" life. Just about every car lover goes through the model building days, and I remember back in 1957 my first models were of the AMT variety. To this day, AMT is still the leading company offering model car kits. (Today, it's actually called AMT/ERTL).

I noticed over the weekend that AMT released new "retro" version kits, which are the lower skill level versions and exactly how the AMT kits were in the 1960s. These kits come with a stamped undercarriage chassis and two steel axles that make assembly much easier. I never liked the new kits with the "glue on" detailed suspensions, as they made the kit more time consuming and cumbersome. The "retro" kits allow concentration on the paint and body work more so than the undercarriage.

In addition to AMT back in my days, Monogram, MPC and Revell were also top flight producers, with Lindberg and Johann also in the game. I built all of the early Monogram kits, including the Green Hornet, Black Widow, Slingshot Dragster and the early 1959 Midget. I liked Monogram because they included driver figures with their cars. Over at Johann, Ramblers were my popular purchases, as was the wildly popular Richard Petty 1964 Plymouth.

Other popular kits I remember were the 1940 Ford, produced by AMT. I must have built over 50 of these kits in my day, both coupe and sedan, and I still have several in my collection. When car racing became more popular, MPC came out with numerous kits, including the Ramchargers top fuel dragster while Lindberg featured the 1964 Ramchargers Super Stock Dodge.

Today, the auction sites are loaded with model kits. Many of the original models bring top dollar, and I'm especially happy that many of the manufacturers dusted off the old plastic molds and re-released the retro kits.

My favorite models of all time include the 1962 Chevy BelAir 409 bubble top, which I built like Rex White's No. 4 NASCAR entry.  I also remember the 1958 Volkswagen Micro Bus from Revell and a 1960 Buick with a “3 in 1" option from AMT. The early 1970 style Funny Cars from Revell were favorites, as were the wild four engine Buick dragster of TV's Tommy Ivo and the "Challenger I" four engine Pontiac land speed record holder of Mickey Thompson. 

Granted, models aren't for everyone. However, most of my friends and I loved putting together these models and to this day, building them and browsing the eBay auction sites looking at hundreds of old models bring back some really fond memories. Of course, most all models ended up in the model kit graveyard in the back yard, thanks to either a cherry bomb firecracker or a "crash and burn" party with my friends. 

Let me know if model building was part of your indoctrination into the love of the motorcar.
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