Meet Philippe de Lespinay, Model Car Designer, Historian

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Just about everyone involved with hobbyDB collects or plays with or at least has a keen interest in toys and collectibles. But every now and then, we run across someone who also has work experience in the toy and game industry. We’ve met designers, marketers, even company founders, and it never fails to amaze us how much knowledge they have to share.

Philippe de Lespinay is one of those amazing folks… he started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer and 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 wrote a book titled Vintage Slot Cars and was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. He’s also on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

Heller Matra Brabham Cosworth Formula 2 car kits

Experience counts a lot in the toy business. “I had owned and assembled some of their complex early kits, some of them featuring mechanical action that was to never be seen again,” he said. “Their Mirage III and Etendard IV aircraft models had working retractable landing gear that was controlled by nylon fishing line over coils. Pulling a lever would raise the gear that was then locked in place, and a spring action released it open again. It required high precision during the assembly and was simply too much for my young fingers… but it was so neat!”

Philippe de Lespinay Heller model

After he was hired, de Lespinay worked on several 1:72 scale aircraft models (French prototypes, naturally) but soon moved to other departments. “My heart was with cars and bikes, so I pushed Leo Jahiel, the company president, to begin a series of 1/24 scale car kits representing models that were not being produced and that would prove popular. The only model of a car Heller had done until then was that of a 1/20 scale Renault R16, a very complex kit that sold rather poorly, so I had to do a lot of convincing. After lots of commitments on my part, I was given the green light.”

His handiwork can be seen on instruction sheets and product blueprints. As impressive as these are, remember, this was well before the days of CAD/CAM and 3D printing. All those precise drawings and model bucks had to be created by hand.

Every Friday, we’ll be highlighting some of the many models he worked on over the years, along with his precious insights. His archives include anecdotes about production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds when he felt like adding a little extra detail or function to what were already incredible models. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well!

Here a list of all the posts:

  1. Heller Alpine Renault A210
  2. Cox Can-Am Manta Slot Car
  3. Heller Porsche 907
  4. French Slot Car Racing in the 1960s
  5. Heller/AMT Renault r8 Gordini
  6. Heller Brabham Cosworth BT15 F3 Formule III
  7. Heller Ferarri 330P4
  8. Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2
  9. Heller Porsche 917
  10. Cox Gas Powered Airplanes
  11. Heller McLaren M7A
  12. Cox Magblaster and Interceptor
  13. Heller Olivier et Liore et Olivier 45 Bomber
  14. Unreleased Heller Matra kits
  15. Heller Brabham Ford BT26
  16. Heller Lotus 49B
  17. Heller Morane-Sauliner 406
  18. Heller Ferrari 512M
  19. Balsa Wood Cox Alfa Romeo 33 Slot Car
  20. Unreleased Heller Porsche 911R
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