Designer Posts

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

George Barris SuperVan Cruises to Auction

SperVan movie poster

One of George Barris‘ bigger custom projects is going up for auction, the mighty SuperVan. If you don’t remember the 1977 movie “SuperVan,” that’s okay… it was a largely forgettable film, starring nobody you remember. But the van itself… now that’s another story.

George Barris SuperVan

Barris started with a Dodge A-100 Tradesman van and made a few modifications… And by a few, we mean a lot. An entirely new body was crafted with giant, panoramic windows (including an opening windshield), solar panels and a huge ramp side door to give riders access to the interior. The folks at Dodge thought it was neat, but didn’t do much with it, and after a bit of time on the show circuit, it sort of vanished.

Then in 1977, director Lamar Card set out to make the ultimate disco vansploitation film and got ahold of it for his movie. (To be fair, he was also the executive producer of “Heart Like a Wheel,” a pretty good biopic about a really good drag racer, Shirley Muldowney… but we digress.) Anyway, the entire interior was done in red crushed velvet, starring a rotating bed with a disco ball, and a new, wild paint scheme was added.

SuperVan Back to the Future II 2 Biff

The van would appear in several other movies, including a cameo in “Back To The Future II” as a city bus (above). At least that was a pretty good movie. You can follow the auction at Barett-Jackson Auctions January 23-31, 2016. The photo below shows how it looks today.

SuperVan disco ball Dodge A-100

hobbyDB to document Liska, Tanahara (and every other Legendary Automotive Artist)

What do automotive illustrator Hans Liska and customizer Luis Tanahara have in common (besides creating amazing art involving automobiles)?

Both designers are started to be archived here at hobbyDB:

MercedeseBenz Advertisement Illustrated by Hans Lisker

Mercedes-Benz Advertisement Illustrated by Hans Liska

  • Hans Liska (1907-83) was an Austrian-born painter whose oeuvre spanned themes from WW II to ads for Mercedes-Benz to flamenco to cities and landscapes. He worked as an illustrator for many national and international companies such as DEGUSSA, Ford, Märklin, Mercedes, Quelle and others. His work is documented here.
Mooneyes Custom Sledster Tractor Trailer Rig by Luis Tanahara

Mooneyes Custom Sledster Tractor Trailer Rig by Luis Tanahara

  • Luis Tanahara has worked for Boyd Coddington Garage, Hot Wheels, Jada and other diecast brands. He is perhaps best known for his sleek Sledster and other heavy duty hot rod truck designs. You can see his work here. You can contribute the museum as well…  Have a model of one of our cars we haven’t listed? Score some sweet promotional gear at a car show? Make your mark and add it to the catalog!

Boyd Coddington Custom Car Online Museum now open on hobbyDB 

Our online catalog of collectibles is now the official online home of the Boyd Coddington Custom Car Museum. We are working directly with Boyd Coddington Jr. to create a comprehensive showing of his vehicles as well as the models and other collectibles based on them.

Boyd Coddington's CadZZila on hobbyDB

Week 1: CadZZila custom coupe

Week 2: The sleek, elegant, CheZoom

Week 2: The sleek, elegant, CheZoom

We’ll add to the collection every couple of weeks, so check in often! You’ll find the first few cars listed already and their related collectibles on our portal page.

And you can contribute the museum as well…  Have a model of one of our cars we haven’t listed? Score some sweet promotional gear at a car show? Catch any amazing photos of his rides in action? Make your mark and add it to the catalog!