Model Car Building Still Hangs On In The Digital Age

During the early 60’s model cars were huge with teenage boys until The Beatles became a worldwide phenomenon, and young guys slowed their model building to buy an electric guitar instead so they could start a garage band and get girls like The Beatles. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth was like a cult figure to many young guys who really dug his far out custom hot rods for Revell Models. But, Revell was constantly at odds with Roth, because his rebel nature meant outrageous dress such as a formal suit and top hat to premiere a new custom car for Revell or outrageous public events. Eventually Roth felt that he went as far as he could with hot rods and then became the godfather of the custom chopper trike motorcycle. At one time, trike motorcycles were largely only viewed as an ice cream wagon or a police vehicle. But, Roth recreated the trike as a cool chopper that began to appeal to the biker culture. Members of the Hells Angels became friends with Roth, which only helped Revell to finally decide to part ways with Roth. So, Roth became the publisher of CHOPPER Magazine instead of concentrating on the declining market for model kits gig. While Revell’s model kits were mostly custom cars, Detroit’s AMT Models carried model cars in a whole other direction.

AMT was mostly known for offering their famous “3 in 1” model kits during much of the 1960’s. This was a big change from model kits up until about 1961 which were largely without an engine, and mostly consisted of only a fe basic parts. AMT responded to Revell’s custom cars by offering these greatly improved kits where a model could be built either as stock, custom or drag. This meant that even a grocery getter station wagon model kit could be built as a cool ride. AMT at one time had the rights to produce yearly model kits of most of the major new Detroit cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler. But, that left a small niche market for Johann Models to produce some Plymouth, AMC and Studebaker models that AMT didn’t market. And in later years, MPC Models began to further fill in holes in the market by producing a number of Pontiac models not handled by the other brands. During much of the 1960’s into the early 70’s, that meant chances were that most popular new cars could be found as a model kit.

But, as building model kits began to wane, less and less new models got released. And during the late 60’s, glue or paint sniffing by some young guys as well the later problem of graffiti from spray paint, began to put much of the model building paints under lock and key at some businesses until many larger retailers began to slowly do away with model kits and their building components altogether. Today, a model car hobbyist, which generally means a guy well into his 50’s or 60’s has to spot out a hobby shop to find models to build or else has to search Ebay for NOS kits or new model kits, which are largely reproduction produced in China.

Original model kits were commanding high prices, sometimes in the $50 to $150 price range on Ebay, which has only encouraged some of the surviving model kit brands such as AMT to reproduce some of their older out of print model kits.

One good example of a new AMT kit is the 1976 AMC Gremlin re-issue kit that they recently re-issued. It is part of a new original artwork series of re-issued kits with expanded features such as more decals, an art print suitable for framing, and some new styled rubber drag slicks. Of course, all of the original speed parts are here to build the v8 from the Gremlin into a wild hot rod engine.

Today, model cars only sell at about 10% of their popularity of their peak 60’s or early 70’s sales strength. They may be a relic of growing up for many young guys, when cars were far different in those, gas was cheap, and Detroit was the center of the automobile universe.

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