Memory Lane: Models from Spare Parts

Model Car Parts - Etsy

You could have a field day with leftover parts!

My brother and I built a lot of models, especially in the weeks after Christmas. Nothing like pretending to be sick (I doubt my mother was actually fooled) and spending the day in bed, putting together car and airplane models.

Many of these kits gave you spare parts galore, and after a while your inventory builds up. But that was an opportunity to build weird contraptions that didn’t actually exist! Extra car bodies, airplane wings, and battleships’ gun turrets–you could put them together into any crazy thing you pleased!

My favorite creation had a jalopy body, long legs made of oversized exhaust pipes (think War of the Worlds), a swiveling gun turret, a smokestack, and a number of attachments whose function was purely conjectural. It stood on a shelf on our bedroom wall, defying analysis. I wish I had a picture of it!

Do kids still build plastic models? Do they still scavenge the unused parts for imaginative creations? It certainly gave the imagination a workout, and was light-years more fun than anything we had in school.


10 comments on “Memory Lane: Models from Spare Parts

  1. I built a lot of models, as a kid. It was an almost universal hobby among boys, when I was growing up. I mostly did cars, but also a few airplanes. I was never an ultra detailed builder, who simulated the chrome strips, etc. However, I extensively customized models.

    AMT made 3 in 1 kits, which could be Stock, Custom and Competition, so there were spare parts galore, and I had quite a hoard of engines, wheels, tires, and other 1:25 scale auto parts.

    The makers of these models knew the times, and provisioned their kits accordingly. When wide oval tires came along, most kits included optional wide tires and custom wheels. To this day, I remember a Model T Ford which was otherwise stock, but rode on modern, low-profile tires, and custom wheels. That was a long time ago, but I have a clear mental picture of it, to this day.

    It was the era of drag racing, so wide drag slicks, engines with huge superchargers and other drag racing hardware pieces were abundant. I once built a Ford Torino with a tube front axle from a rail dragster, tiny spoke front wheels and huge wrinkle-wall slicks on the back. It was preposterous, but it looked fantastic.

    There was a lot to be learned from all of this. I learned about engine parts, especially, but there were a lot of things one could learn about suspension systems, as well. If you were going to stuff huge tires under a car, and have it be convincing, you had to have some ideas about suspension systems.

    When I got into my 20s, and moved out of my parent’s house, my interest in models dissipated, quickly. I still loved them, and even to this day, I still explore the model-car aisle any time I happen to be in a store which sells them. What changed was that I didn’t have the follow-through to actually finish the model. I built a handful of models as an adult, and usually did a much better job of painting and detailing these models, than I would have as a kid. That may be why I rarely finished models as an adult; my standards were much higher, and my interest in building a model didn’t last long enough for me to finish a model to my standards, so most of my adult model projects ended up partially finished, and eventually were discarded.

    I see model kits for sale, these days. The prices have risen dramatically, and the price of spray paint, etc. has risen so much that it was quite possible for the combined cost of a kit, the paint, and other supplies to approach $50. When I was a kid, a model cost $1.50, and a can of spray paint was 69 cents. I got a cheap airbrush and could beat the system by using bottle paint (10 cents each) and in those years I actually built some pretty decent models.

    Ah youth.

    1. I always wanted one of those, but never got one. It was a great idea; a way to show someone how a complex mechanical device actually worked. That’s also, more than likely, one of the reasons I eventually left models in my past. When I was 18, I did a ring, valve and bearing job on a Ford 289. Looking back, I did a poor job of things, being inexperienced and young, but I did actually take an engine completely apart, replace some parts, reassemble it, and have it run, so that was very informative, and very, very satisfying. If you rebuild an engine, every single time you hear it start, there’s a surge of satisfaction.

    2. That’s the tricky part of all mechanical tasks. There’s no worse feeling than struggling to reassemble something and having parts left over. 🙂

  2. Model cars and planes had spare parts? I had dinosaur models and I never had any spare parts left over.

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