Speedy Bill Smith’s dream of preserving unique, one-of-a-kind cars for everyone to enjoy is really embodied in the Museum of American Speed‘s collection of famous hot rods that were modeled after or eventually became model kits. In one case, the model kit spawned the actual custom car.
If you were a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, you were probably given a plastic model car kit as a birthday or Christmas gift. Companies like Aurora, Revell, AMT, and Monogram started making car kits that were focused on customized hot rods, and racing cars.
Most of these companies relied heavily on customized American cars due to their popularity. AMT hired George Barris, Darryl Starbird, and Gene Winfield to design their car models. Revell hired Ed Roth and then boosted his name by adding “Big Daddy” to his moniker. Hawk Models brought in Bill Campbell as their stylist, and Monogram hired designer Tom Daniel.
Things really blew up when Hot Wheels made miniatures of the life-sized cars. Ed Roth’s “Beatnik Bandit” car models and Hot Wheels car is a perfect example of toys going viral before the internet.
By 1980, the plastic-car model hobby was slowing down and in financial trouble. The cost of manufacturing the plastic models was increasing and sales were slowing. Sadly, there were fewer and fewer of the Red Baron model car kits under the Christmas tree every year.
Forty years later, anything associated with the custom model car world now has tremendous sentimental value. Among the most famous of the plastic car models is a creation that started out as a Tom Daniel sketch.
The Red Baron
Monogram hired Tom Daniel to help compete against the likes of George Barris, The Alexander Brothers, Bill Cushenberry, and Dean Jeffries. Where these other model car stylists were actual car builders that based their kits off of cars they had built, Daniel’s specialty was designing unique and wild creations that were not based on actual cars.
This method of making a wildly popular model car kit reversed the role where an actual car was built from the kit’s inspiration. The plastic model car was placed on display at the 1967 Chicago Toy Fair. With brisk sales, Monogram decided to have a full-sized version built by Chuck Miller at Styline Customs. It was later made into a Hot Wheels car for kids to collect.
This famous Red Baron T-bucket hot rod was finished in 1969 and is now one of the cars on display with the other model kit cars. The link to the Museum of Speed’s internet info sheet on the Red Baron car can be viewed here: www.museumofamericanspeed.com.
Boot Hill Express
Another life-sized car that spawned a plastic model car kit and resides in the Museum of American Speed. Ray Fahrner, a Kansas City custom car builder, created some of the most memorable and radical show rods of all time. His signature creation, the “Boothill Express” is the stuff from which legends are made. He based the vehicle on an 1850 horse-drawn funeral coach which reportedly carried James Gang member Bob Younger to his grave on “Boot Hill”.
The full story on Fahner’s Boot Hill Express can be on the Museum of Speed’s internet info sheet which can be viewed here: boothillexpress.html.
You can check out the entire collection by going to the www.museumofamericanspeed.com website.