Designer Posts

Designer Notes: Cox Gas Powered Airplane Models

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Cox Falcon Gas Powered Airplane

Cox Wings Gast Powered Airplane

Cox Wings Falcon Philippe de Lespinay

After the slot cars, I was put in charge of Cox Gas Powered Airplane Models, which was their core business along with gas powered models of cars and other toys. These were powered by the famous Cox .049ci marvel, entirely produced on “Coxmatic” screw machines. Specifially, I was head of the newly created styling department, then of the Research and Development department while keeping a firm hand on styling.

Cox Wings Falcon Philippe de Lespinay

Cox Wings Falcon Philippe de Lespinay

Cox studied the possibility of converting their U-control aircraft line to electric as pressure against excessive noise and use by children of dangerous fuels mounted. The miniature rechargeable battery technology was in its infancy, but we designed, developed and put into production several electric airplanes, the most commercially successful being a Supermarine Spitfire. The project was named “Falcon” after I drew this F16 that would have been propelled by an electric motor mounted in the tail.

The Falcon project led to several prototypes, the red one at left having survived. It was never put into production in favor of another design after visual testing by a group of 9-14 year olds. (A couple years later Cox would release a similar jet-styled plane, the F-15 Falcon, with the propeller in the front.)

Cox Wings Racer Philippe de Lespinay

Meanwhile, another project began, that of a low-cost, gas powered aircraft line. The “Wings” project led to a series of aircraft in which this dream machine I designed  gathered the most votes in a test. The original line drawing is shown here. 

Cox Wings Racer Philippe de Lespinay

The original line drawing is shown here as well as a wooden mockup and a production airplane under its blister pack. These are old factory documents.

Designer Notes: Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

For many of these kits, there is very little original information still available. I was able to scan some of the prints I had kept, that constitute apparently the only surviving company archive as things were thrown about as the company changed hands several times.

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

All what survived of the MATRA MS5 documentation for the mold makers. This was the second kit I did for Heller after the Alpine A210. The model and decals represented the car of Jean-Pierre Beltiose.

Heller Matra Forumla 2 kit

Here I am in the MATRA MS5 at Velizy. This was Joe Schlesser’ F2 car with the Cosworth FVA engine. Great and fast car!

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

In the early 1970s, AMT released some Heller kits under their own brand. The Matra was paired up with aHeller Brabham Cosworth BT15 F3 Formule III kit and featured new box art.

AMT Matra F2 Brabham F3

Designer Notes: Heller Ferrari 330P4

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.


Heller Ferrari 330P4

Heller Ferrari P4 330P4

One of my favorites Heller kits was this Ferrari 330P4. It was drawn strictly from pictures, as I was never allowed to approach the actual car at the 1967 Le Mans race. The kit turned good but the pattern maker made a mistake in the roof line.

Heller Ferrari P4 330P4

I built this kit for the company to use in promotional photos, but used two sets of body parts so as to have the nose removable from the main body, which it is not possible in the actual kit.

Heller Ferrari P4 330P4

Heller Ferrari P4 330P4

Here I am at my drawing table in 1966, at the Heller design department, rue d’Hauteville in Paris. The pictures on the wall are the telltale of some of my favorite machinery.

Philippe de Lespinay Heller model

Inside Scoop: Meet Charlie McHose, Shelby Mustang Designer

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

McHose with one of his design sketches.

Anyone who’s interested in American cars can name the principle engineers of the Shelby Mustangs. Carroll Shelby, of course, and Brock Yates, the automotive journalist, are usually cited as the folks who turned a sporty but mild-mannered coupe into a performance beast. But there were a lot of visual cues that set the Shelby cars apart, and you might not be familiar with the names of the folks who handled those aspects.

Charlie McHose is one of those people. He kindly took some time to talk to hobbyDB about his days on the project and shared some photos from his archives as well.

Fresh out of college in the early 1960s, McHose went to work for Ford Motor Company in England. He did a lot of detail work on interiors and grilles for Cortinas and other European models before moving to Detroit. “I worked on the first Mustang a little bit and also some refrigerators.” Yes, Ford Motor Company dabbled in appliances in those days. “Then one day in 1966, I was told I was heading to California to work on a new project.”

The first generation of Shelby Mustangs was designed as something of an afterthought, a way to spice up the performance and image of very successful but modestly performing model. Unlike those first cars, the 1967 Shelby was developed along with the incoming car, so McHose was involved from May through July of 1966. The skunkworks were set up in a couple of old airplane hangars at LAX Airport in Los Angeles. (Sadly, the runways were not used for testing, which would have been even more awesome).

“When I first arrived, we didn’t have any cars to work with yet,” he recalled. “So I started on aluminum wheel designs. After a few weeks, we finally got a couple of cars… a fiberglas body and one beat up metal prototype to work with.” The cars were not complete models, missing the interior, glass and trunk lids. (In fact, the steel body was misshapen because that particular car had previously been used for some rather hard seatbelt testing.) Charlie’s main order of business: get to work on the scoops.

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

From left: Early roof pillar treatments included windows and flush vents, but inspired by the GT40’s scoops, the final design was more aggressive.

Visually, some of the most important differences between the base Mustang and the Shelby version are the hood scoops (to help the engine gulp in more air) and the side scoops (to cool the rear brakes), and the roof pillar scoops (functional parts of the cabin ventilation, but mostly there to add extra visual interest). McHose worked on them all.

“The hood was a completely different part from the standard Mustang,” he said. “Not only was it fiberglass, but they decided to make the front fenders a few inches longer, so the entire hood grew as well.” So rather than bolt-on parts, the scoops are perfectly integrated into a whole new hood. “All of this was in the days before computer design,” said McHose. “We sketched, drew with markers, built shapes out of clay.” The roof scoops were add-on pieces that covered already functioning vents, but the fender scoops were designed to cut into the decorative vent-like character lines of the regular model and actually do some work.

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang Designer

The longer front end required a bigger hood and featured McHose’s scoop designs.

Most of the engineering and interior modifications were handled elsewhere. McHose says he didn’t get to work directly with Carroll Shelby much. “By this stage of the project, Carroll had already made most of the engineering improvement decisions, so he just came around to check in and approve what we were doing,” said McHose. It’s not like Mr. Shelby was being indifferent to this project, however. He just had some other things going on as well. “Carroll spent most of his time in the next hangar over working on the GT40s, getting them ready for LeMans.”

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

The integrated rear spoiler was inspired by the tail of the GT40.

Speaking of which, SPOILER ALERT! Inspired by the tail end of those GT40s, McHose also helped design the integrated spoiler on the decklid and rear quarters of the car. The final roof pillar scoops also echo the look of the GT40 as well, instead of the rear-facing vents that had been proposed at one time.

While in California, McHose got to drive a first gen GT350… as his daily driver! And not just any old ’66 GT350… “This wasn’t a factory production car, it was prototype number one, according the serial number.” Lest you get too envious, the car had already been raced, tested, modified, and generally beat up to the point that it was not in pristine condition. “It drove like a truck,” he said. “It sounded like a tin can, except when you downshifted to accelerate. Then it sounded terrific!”

McHose’s participation in the project was done by late summer, and he didn’t see a finished car until that fall in Detroit. In fact, he says never owned a ’67 Shelby himself. “Back then, employees would buy a new car from the factory, drive it for six months, then sell it and get another new car,” he said. “I eventually got a ’68 Shelby for about six months and moved on to the next car.” Many of the features he designed had already been changed for the new year, so he has some minor regret not snagging one that he worked so diligently on.

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

McHose with his daily driver, 1966 Shelby prototype #1.

If participating in the creation of one of the most iconic cars wasn’t enough of a career coup, he also worked with a young designer named Larry Wood at Ford. Larry, of course, would go on to Mattel and become involved with Hot Wheels as their one of their chief designers, a gig he still does today. And after his days at Ford, McHose would reunite with Wood for several years at Mattel.

McHose is modest about his contributions to what is considered the most potent and beautiful version of the Shelby Mustang. “Pretty much all I did was work on the scoops. I’d been working in Ford’s show cars studio, and they could have sent any of us. They sent me.” he said. “Back then, one department worked on the front of the car, another group worked on the back, another created the interior. We had guys cutting out cardboard templates to gauge how the various shapes would align. It’s a miracle all the parts of a single car all fit together in those days.” That may be the case, but in the for the Shelby, oh, did they fit perfectly! And we have Charles to thank for parts of that.

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

Charlie owned this blue ’68 Shelby Mustang for a while before moving on to another new Ford. (All images courtesy of Charley McHose)

Charlie McHose Shelby Mustang

Meet Frank Kozik, Designer of the Smorkin’ Labbit

Frank Kozik kidrobot labbit

If you’ve ever seen Smorkin’ Labbit vinyl art toys from Kidrobot, you might wonder what kind of person would design such a thing. With their hostile eyes and cigarette dangling from their mouths, they aren’t the friendliest creatures. It turns out Frank Kozik, the San Francisco artist who created the character for concert posters and other projects, is quite the opposite. And he was kind enough to chat with hobbyDB about his creations and the design process.

Like many successful artists, his career started out as something fun. “I would always invent characters, even as a child,” he said. “Things got serious around 1998 or so when I made the connections in Japan to have my works made as products. An amateur hobbyist goes pro, basically.”

Kozik medicom labbit

Kozik has worked with several toy companies over the years, but is probably best known for his designs for Kidrobot. His favorite design so far is the Ride ‘Em Bob Labbit. If you don’t have one in your collection, that’s understandable… Kidrobot only produced 450 of the blue “Ancient Bob Slug” version.

As elaborate as that toy looks, Kozik says a different Labbit was the most complicated to produce. “Bony Bunny, the first skeleton Labbit with Medicom presented quite a few engineering challenges,” he said. Looking at it, it’s easy to see why. The top half of the creature is a removable shell to expose the bones, and lining keeping it lined up can’t be easy. “It was early in the genre and factories had not quite gotten it together, so figuring shrink rates for the separate pieces got complex.”

The skeletal theme continued with a simpler version for Kidrobot, this time with a Labbit that showed flesh/fur on one side and when turned around, the skeleton body.

Kozik kidrobot labbit skeleton

The angry eyes and smorking… er, smoking, themes carry on with a lot of his toys such as the Mongers series (anthropormorphic food). One of his recent departures from this them depicts a certain North Korean dictator as a whiny baby.

Kozik baby huey kim jong un kidrobot

He said the process form sketch to finished product can take six months to several years. “Average time when there is a system in place is 12 months.”

Kozik kidrobot labbit ride em bob

His outside interest include collecting “Original pre 1970’s Disney attraction posters as well as original art, books, vintage toysweird stuff in general.” His favorite toy is described as “a wooden rabbit pulling a cart from a tiny company in Oregon from the 1940’s.” Overall, he tries not to get too obsessed with collecting things. “Stuff is cool, but don’t define yourself by it.”

In case you were wondering where the term “Smorkin’ Labbit” means, Kozik has a wonderfully random explanation. “Several years ago, I did version of my rabbit with a company in Japan,” he explained. “It was supposed to be ‘Smokin’ Rabbit,’ but they printed it ‘Smorkin Labbit,’ which sounds about a billion times cooler so thus it became REAL.”