My model making started with cut-out cardboard aero models in the Forties, moved to SMEC and Scamold car kits and onto Highway Pioneers and other plastic kits which followed in the Fifties. Then I joined the Army as a Chaplain and the ‘Moving’ part began! Assembled plastic models did not travel well when subjected to the tender mercies of the Military Forwarding Organisation, besides which space became a problem, so much of my modelling moved to slot racing and collecting to Dinkies, Corgis and occasional Italian ‘exotics’ like Mebetoys, Mercurys, etc.
In the early sixties two English magazines, Model Maker (later becoming Model Cars) and Model Roads and Racing, catered to enthusiasts and the great mover in the English collecting scene, Dr Cecil Gibson, ran the home-produced duplicated ‘Model Car Collector’. Some high class ‘slot’ bodies were made in GRP or Glass Fibre reinforced Plastic and a new mould-making material (to me anyway) made its appearance, ‘coldcure’ silicon rubber but it was expensive stuff.
In 1964 Rex Hays produced a book of 1/24 scale plans entitled “Grand PrixAnd Sports Cars” and the stage was almost set. I was on a posting in Cyprus at the time and scaled down his drawing of the 1924 P2 Alfa Romeo to 1/43 so that is would fit in with the aforesaid Dinkies and Corgis etc. I picked this car because my elder brother had one of the large tinplate CIJ Alfas and also because its outline would be easy to cast since the rear springs were concealed inside the tail!
However the moulding material was expensive and so, as a subscriber, I put an advertisement in Cecil’s magazine telling of my intention and asking if anyone was interested in buying replicas so that I had a chance of defraying my costs. Cecil expressed an interest and so did some other pioneer collectors including Tony Kaye (now in Massachusetts), David Pressland and Derek Bannister (assistant organiser of Modelex) as well as collectors in the US, Switzerland, Italy and New Zealand (Cecil’ magazine got around a but for such a small circulation).
I carved a ‘master’ out of polystyrene sheet which I had cemented into a block and using a one-piece, open, Silastomer mould I cast each body using gel coat, glass fibre ribbon and casting resin – a very laborious process. The reactions of my first customers were favourable even though the P2 was one of Rex Hays’ least correct plans; none of us was as informed in those days. I followed this with a 1924 GP Sunbeam, which I must admit was rather narrower than life or the Hays drawing,
Then I got posted back to Surrey, life became busier and more people heard about me on the collectors grape vine and requested models which I had not got the time to build. I also met other collectors for the first time and saw a metal Autokits/Wills Finecast ERA in Derek Bannister’s collection. I took a trip to Wills’ works in search of information and came in contact with centrifugal casting as a production process but patterns needed to be made in metal and my ‘kitchen table’ methods and skills were not up to fabricating metal body masters at that time. But wait, a firm called ‘Denzil Skinner’ was near to my Surrey home and produced model military vehicles by the centrifugal process (Col. Skinner has since died but two of his ex-employees still are in the business i.e. Bob and Tony of Hart Models). They did the master and cast what was probably the first of all 1/43 metal kits, Brian Jewell’s ‘Marc Europa’ Ferrari. By Col. Skinner’s kindness I was able to experiment and found that thin, fairly flat pieces of GRP could be used as masters when metal powder was mixed in the resin so a set was made up in my Sunbeam mould and we were off!
Customer reaction was varied, they liked the opportunity to build their own but did not like the difficulty of building the body out of four separate pieces which could be difficult to align, so it was ‘back to the (kitchen table) workbench’. Further experiment produced two-part moulds which enabled masters to be actually (kitchen table) cast in metal and a 1927 Delage followed. I made a ‘production’ mould for the P2 but was not satisfied with it, so only about 3 metal P2’s escaped. Round about this time John Day started the operation which really got the 1/43 scale metal kit hobby on to commercial lines.
Then I got moved again! This time, on a nine month unaccompanied tour in the Arabian Gulf. With a good deal of spare time on my hands there (one can only write so many letters in one’s time off). I carved the masters for a 1937 Mercedes W 125 and Auto Union C and D types. The master for their steering wheels was cast by an Arab in the local souk! But the body masters were cast in the old reliable silicone rubber when I got home. Being ‘short toured’ in the Gulf, I returned home after four and a half months to be posted to Germany, unaccompanied at first so some built-up, resin Mercedes and Auto Unions went out from there. Since I was away from UK firms, I needed some one in UK to act as agent. ‘Mikansue’ took on the job dealing with producers and doing marketing through their mail-order business.
Models of a 1906 GP Renault, 1924 GP Voisin and a 1928 Miller ‘Packard Cable Special’ followed as I moved through two German postings and on to Wales where a kit of the 1928 ‘Black Hawk Stutz’ Record car was ‘mastered’. The final kit ‘master’ of that period, the 1936 German GP Winning P3 Alfa Romeo, was commenced in Gibraltar, continued in Aldershot and completed in Belize! That was in 1976.
I was then resident in the USA in late 1990’s, retired from the Army and from the civilian Ministry. I got back in the limited edition, scratchbuilt market with a greatly revised 1928 ‘Black Hawk Stutz’ Lockhart Special Record car. I have been lucky in that I have never had to make a living from the model business so I was able to indulge in my own rather twisted idea of what were interesting cars and be happy if other people agreed. I tried to produce kits that were correct in basic shape and detail but easy to assemble. I think that concept fitted in with what people wanted in the early days, since they were more likely to be collectors rather than builders by preference. If the early enthusiasts had been faced with the multiplicity of photo-etched parts that we face at present, most of us would have thrown up our hands in horror and put the kit back in the box! And at times I wonder if a simpler line of kits might not still be a success.
Arthur ‘Paddy’ Stanley is living back in the UK. This article first appeared in Four Small Wheels 3/98 and is reproduced here with the permission of Grand Prix Models and Paddy