My Hardbody Cars
by Bob Ward
1/24 Scale Ford Probe GTP
There was a club down in Oregon where I occasionally raced. In 2004 they decided to put on a race for hard body 1/24 scale cars. I couldn’t be there in person but I arranged for one of the club members to race a car for me. Then I had to think of some kind of car to build. This is what I came up with.
The car I built, this Ford Probe GTP car, is a Tamiya 1/24 scale RC car body on a brass chassis that is something of a scaled-up version of the 1/32 scale chassis I was building at the time.
The motor, if I remember correctly, was an International Group 15 (a Gp15 arm but balanced and epoxied.) It was something mild, because the track power, I was warned, was somewhat anemic for cars of this size and weight. My Probe led the race handily, despite being somewhat slow on the straight, until the motor failed. I found out later it was not because the motor was overstressed but because it had a random component failure. That was the one and only time this car was raced. I sold it in 2009.
Corvette Widebody on Modified Monogram Chassis (Early 90s)
Here’s a car with several interesting features. The body is a Monogram snap-together C3 Corvette, believed to be a 1979. I’ve added Greenwood-style fender flares and a massive full-width air dam at the front and bubble flares at the rear. This car is not a model of any particular 1:1 scale car but there were many Corvettes that raced in this general configuration. The later C3s had the fastback roofline that provided better airflow over the rear spoiler. Many earlier 1:1 scale Corvettes, including one on which I crewed for a few years, were updated to it. If you look closely you can see a gouge in the rear fender flare. This happened in testing before the car’s first race, and I left it unrepaired just to show people that the car was (and is) not a shelf queen.
One thing you will likely notice about most of my cars is that they are not museum-quality models. One reason is that they are meant to be raced and I don’t want to put so much time, effort, and fragile detail into any of them that I wouldn’t put the car on the track and race it if the occasion arose. That’s why many of the project cars you see on my web site show clear signs of the hard knocks and general wear and tear of racing or just running around the track for grins. Another reason is that my time, like everyone else’s, is limited. My experience has been that the difference in hours expended between a runner that looks good going around the track and in article photos and a car on which everything has been made as perfect and highly detailed as possible is about double. I would rather do more cars and try more ideas. In fact, sometimes when I get a car built to a point where I know all the various ideas I built the car to explore will work I sometimes want to just leave it at that and move on to something new. I sometimes have to discipline or bribe myself to finish them. I think I have that in common with a lot of other slot car hobbyists. As of this writing I have at least 10 uncompleted projects on my workbench. I mentioned that to another racer not long ago and he said, “What? Only 10?” By the way, you will see that this car is missing its rear-view mirrors. That’s because I got tired of the original kit mirrors breaking off all the time. It took me a while to come up with a relatively quick and easy way to make mirrors that were both sturdy and reasonably good looking. In the meantime I just left them off a lot of my cars. One more thing I need to go back and do.
If you are familiar with 60s vintage chassis you will recognize this one as a first-generation Monogram. I added a strip of .063” brass to each side and another at the front center to get some additional weight down low. The brass strips also provide a place to solder on the brass side pipes. I really should paint the pipes but I like showing that they are formed from brass. The Plafit Cheetah FK130 motor bolts right into the Monogram motor mount. All the original chassis components are still there, although soldered instead of bolted together. The chassis could be put back almost to its original configuration. The wheels are 90s-era set screw types with Cox 1/24 scale BRM F1 car magnesium wheels turned down to make inserts. The Cox BRM wheels, which I have a plastic bag full of, look enough like American Racing Equipment 5-spokes that I have made them into inserts for quite a number of my cars. They are painted so they don’t oxidize to dust.
You can see here that this car is something of a “lead sled” with self-stick lead on most of the bottom of the chassis. High-tech it’s not, but it worked well enough for the set of rules to which the car was built 20 years ago. Socket head body screws make installation and removal much easier than with Monogram’s original slotted screws, in fact, possible for the front mount.
Another interesting thing you may be able to see if you look closely is that the windows are not the original injection molded part but a vacuum-formed reproduction. The decals are mostly peel-and-sticks, and you can see that some of them are starting to come unstuck around the edges. This car has been fun to race and has held up pretty well for 20 years now. It presently rests in honored retirement, but everything still works, so you just never know when it might be called back to action.
Lola T70 on Dynamic/scratchbuilt Chassis
Did you know that there are hybrids even among slot cars? This is one of them.
It’s another car I built back in the early 90s, and it’s part vintage and part scratchbuilt. The body is all vintage. It’s an original 60s Monogram item, completely different from the recent Monogram Lola T70. I added a few scratchbuilt details including the roll bar, injectors, and front spoiler. The driver is a vintage Cox part. The chassis, however, is something else again.
What you see here is a hybrid chassis consisting of a vintage Dynamic center section and a scratchbuilt pan and front end assembly. How does it all go together?
The top view reveals all. The two 4/40 socket head screws at the ends of the transverse brass strip secure the pan assembly to the center. The third screw, just forward on the car’s centerline, holds the guide holder in place.
The two structures on each pan are body mounts. The lugs pointing outboard engage sockets added to the inside of the body. To mount or remove the body I just spring the body sides out slightly and the body pops right off. This mounting system holds the body in place securely, and I have never had the body come off in a crash. And the car has been in crashes. In fact, I crashed it head-on into a hard wall the first time I ran it. If you look closely at the first photo of this car above you will see a crack across the left-front fender where a whole corner of the body broke off. I could have repaired it to like-new condition, but I decided to just glue the broken part of the fender back in place as another illustration of the fact that my scratchbuilt cars do get raced when the opportunity arises.
Vintage fiberglass Lister-Jaguar
I built this car in the 90s but almost everything that went into it dates back to the 60s. The body is fiberglass, made sometime in the early 60s. At the time there were few slot cars or kits with injection molded plastic bodies and most of the ones being made were more toys than scale models. Vacuum-formed bodies were still crude, fragile, and hard to get paint to stick to. It didn’t take long for enterprising hobbyists to create a cottage industry in fiberglass bodies. Fiberglass was strong, durable, and took surface detail well, though it usually made for a rather heavy body. This particular body is believed to have been made by American slot car pioneer Bob Braverman. I bought it as part of a collection of old slot car stuff and it sat in a box on a shelf for decades.
As it happened, I had actually met Braverman, quite unexpectedly, at Riverside Raceway back in the 70s. A friend of mine had bought a D Sports Racing car for SCCA racing but didn’t have a suitable tow vehicle. He convinced me to use my somewhat disreputable looking station wagon for the purpose. He had always wanted to race at Riverside, so we set off down Interstate 5 with the race car on a trailer and a somewhat sparse set of spares and equipment packed into the wagon’s cargo area. We made the trip from Seattle to Riverside in 21 hours, not entirely at legal speeds. In the wee hours of the morning, coming down out of the Siskiyous into northern California I was driving and my friend was asleep. Seeing a long straight stretch ahead I decided to see how fast the wagon would go towing a race car. I got the rig up to just over 100 mph before I ran out of nerve knowing the somewhat questionable construction of the trailer. My friend slept through the whole thing. Later, going through the San Joaquin Valley, he was driving, doing about 85, when we spied a CHP car, blue lights flashing, rushing up behind us. I was just thinking how glad I was that it wasn’t going to be me getting a big, fat ticket when the good officer blasted by us at 100-plus without giving us so much as a glance. Only in California, or so I thought at the time.
We arrived at the track and put the race car in the tech line. Standing there and looking around at all the cars nearby I noticed a Formula 5000 with the name Bob Braverman lettered on it. I walked up to its driver and said, “Are you the same Bob Braverman who used to race slot cars?” “Yes,” he replied, “but I’ve grown up.” Clearly he intended that to be the end of the conversation. But, at least I can say I met him.
Anyway, back to the slot car. Some work with 600-grit sandpaper gave the body a pleasingly smooth surface. I airbrushed it with Testor Model Master flat paints and then shot it with several layers of Glosskote from a spray can with the shiny result you see above.
Everything in the chassis and running gear except 70s guide, braid, and lead wire is early to mid-60s vintage, all NOS at the time I built the car. The motor is a Pittman DC196. With its built-in rear axle bracket it serves as a stressed chassis member with an Auto Hobbies front chassis assembly. The wheels are Cox magnesium 1/24 scale BRM wheels converted to set screw mounting. They resemble American-made alloy wheels that often replaced the original wheels on many of the 50s and early 60s British and European sports cars that populated the modified classes in SCCA racing at the time. In the view above you can clearly see the pattern of the fiberglass cloth on the inside of the body.
As of this writing the car just barely runs because the motor is desperately in need of remagnetizing. So, for now my Lister is a shelf queen, but one of these days I’ll find a place to get the motor zapped and it will be trackworthy once again.
One of my favorite parts of the slot car hobby is building “phantom” cars. These are models of cars that never existed but could have. An early example of this is the car I call the Sabertooth Special.
This car pays homage to the era of American road racing specials, the 1950s and early 60s. Road racing specials (RRS) were relatively low-cost, mostly V8 powered cars built by Americans to compete with Ferraris, Jaguars, and other expensive foreign sports-racing cars in US events. American engines, most notably Chevrolet V8s, were cheap and plentiful and any hot rodder could build one into a competent racing engine using parts developed by the rapidly expanding American speed equipment industry.
The cars ranged from crude one-offs consisting of a fiberglass body and a V8 engine mounted on a shortened passenger car frame to creations such as the Scarab and the early Chaparrals that combined Detroit horsepower with chassis and body designs equal in quality to anything coming out of Europe. A subset of the type consisted of imported cars with American pushrod V8s installed in place of their original, expensive to maintain, and finicky to tune overhead-cam engines. These cars often received significant modifications in other areas, sometimes making them look quite different from their original configurations.
The Sabertooth is my idea of what might have been done near the end of the RRS era around 1963 or 64 if somebody took a foreign sports-racer, gave it a huge transplant of V8 power in the form of a Chevrolet 427, and then upgraded tires, bodywork, and aerodynamics to try to convert all that power to winning performance on the track.
I don’t have a “before” photo of the body I started with but a pic of the full-sized car will give you the idea.
My starting point was a Classic (UK) fiberglass shell of a Costin-bodied Lister-Jaguar similar to the full-sized car shown above. I started the modifications by carefully pressing the nose of the body into the spinning disc of my bench sander, turning the Lister’s tapered nose and small radiator air inlet into a shorter, blunter nose with a gaping inlet suitable for the cooling needs of a Chevy bigblock. Then I turned the body around and ground off the rear of the body about halfway to the rear edge of the wheel openings. I then used my Moto-tool with a sanding drum to radius out the wheel openings.
I used sheet styrene to make a flat rear body fascia incorporating a large blade spoiler. I also fabricated and epoxied in place fender flares that allowed the wheels and tires to extend out to the full with of the body. I also added an air dam under the nose and a hood hump big enough in scale to have accommodated a high-rise intake manifold and a pair of 4-barrel carburetors on a full-sized car. A lot of work with body putty, emery boards, and sandpaper blended all the new body contours into a coherent shape.
If I ever do another one of these I will replace the blended-in rear spoiler with a bolt-on one modeled as having slotted bolt holes for height adjustment.
The chassis is essentially the same as my earlier Lister. The main difference it that the motor is a Japanese-made Pittman clone. Again the wheels are Cox magnesium BRM 5-spokes modified for set-screw mounting.
The finished car has just the brutal look you would expect such a car to have, right down to the sabertooth tiger decal made by painting fangs on an old Exxon tiger decal. And for years now I’ve had fun asking people to guess what kind of a car it is. Almost none of them have replied that it was something imaginary.
Ferrari 612 CanAm
I’ve always liked the old circa 1970 Aurora 1/32 scale injection-molded bodies. For their time they were very well modeled and also sturdy and raceworthy. I’ve accumulated several each of the McLaren M12 and the Ferrari 612 plus one of the Mirages that I built into a car long ago. That one is awaiting restoration.
The chassis these cars were sold with are another matter. Just as the bodies were scaled-up HO (1/64 scale) bodies the chassis have many of the features of an HO unit. The bodies cry out for something better. So, I built this…
It’s essentially one of my later 70s-80s club sport chassis tailored to the dimensions, tire sizes, and body mount system (the same as on the Lola T70 earlier in this article) needed for the Aurora body. The wheels are 90s set-screw type with Cox magnesium Ferrari F1 car wheels turned down as inserts. The Faas gears were used almost universally in 1/24 commercial track racing back in the 70s and 80s. The motor is an integrally mounted Mura Green Can with a Group 12 armature that provides plenty of power for small home tracks.
The body is original and unmodified except for the mounting sockets on the inner body sides, a wire-filled plastic tubing roll bar, and sheet styrene canards. Overall width is 2.75 “, making the car a bit too wide to race properly on some plastic track systems. The photo below gives you a good idea of the extreme width.
I have on my to-do list a project to build one of these bodies into a car using a current-production plastic chassis and related running gear. I’m considering narrowing it to 2.5” so I can race it with my other plastic-chassis kitbashes on my Scalextric Sport track. These bodies turn up on eBay fairly often and there is a resin clone available from at least one cottage industry manufacturer.
Copyright © 2014 Robert M. Ward. All rights reserved.