Model Car Kits Posts

Airfix Expert Peter Allen: A Question of Scale

This is the first in a series of articles about the history of Airfix by hobbyDB Advisory Council member and life-long Airfix expert Arthur Ward. This one is an introduction to Peter Allen and an article by Peter called “A Question of Scale”.

I’ve known Peter Allen for nearly thirty-five years. We first met when I visited Palitoy, a subsidiary of General Mills, who had purchased Airfix from the receiver in 1981 Back then I’d just started on my first ever book, The Model World of Airfix.

Peter joined Airfix in the early nineteen-sixties, when it was of on the brink of two decades of phenomenal growth. Before that he was a toolmaker for Lines Bros, working in Tri-ang’s main tool room. Whilst there he was involved with Arkitex, a construction toy introduced as a response to Chad Valley’s Girder and Panel Building Set which was selling well since its launch in 1957. Later on, Peter worked on a lot of new product designs for Tri-ang’s Spot-On vehicle range.

After leaving Lines Bros he joined Airfix. “When I first joined Airfix we had only one pattern maker on site,” he told me. “I think he must have done an awful lot of overtime! The original Patterns for the kits were all done in brass which is not the easiest metal, although being soft it is reasonably easy to work, but if you’ve made a mistake this is really difficult to make it and you’ve got to remake it.”

peter-allen-roy-cross-with-their-kits-one-300-dpi-cropped-copy

Peter Allen (on the left) with Airfix legend Roy Cross. Designer and artists are in Mr Cross’s Kent studio, discussing Airfix kits they both worked on.

One of Peter’s many highlights whilst at Airfix was the design of the company’s 1:12 scale Bentley blower Superkit, released in 1971 and still in the range today.

He was also involved with some of the ex Hawk Weird-Ohs such as Freddy Flame-Out and Toilway Daddy, all distinctly American in character, released by Airfix under the Krazy Karacters label. Ton-Up Tony, a leather-clad café racer astride a bright red motorcycle was seen tearing a long a stretch of the then, relatively new M1 motorway, was Airfix’s own design and observant fans will recognise the Aerial Arrow the inconsiderate leather boy is riding is actually a famous Airfix kit which was available up until the late 1970s.

Alongside countless aircraft, military vehicles and conventional road cars, another unusual kit Peter designed was the 1:32 remote control Saladin Armoured Car toy, a now very rare collectable. However, amongst die-hard Airfix fans peter is perhaps best known for the 1:24 Harrier, like the Bentley another Superkit. Such was Airfix’s determination for scale accuracy that the young kit designer was packed off to No.1 (F) Squadron, Royal Air Force Wittering to study real full scale examples of operational versions of the Hawker Harrier GR Mk.1A prior to the kit’s release in 1974.

Now without further ado, please enjoy Peter Allen’s: A Question of Scale.

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Airfix Bentley

blog.hobbydb.com/…0/Question-of-Scale.pdf

In 1955 Airfix announced the release of its first 1:32 scale kit of a model car, a 1911 Rolls Royce; the start of a range of historic vehicles. This range was expanded to seven vehicles by 1959. In 1961 the decision was made to include modern vehicles in the range, the first four being:- Austin Healey Sprite Mk1, Renault Dauphine, Sunbeam Rapier and the new Morris Mini Minor.

The first model car I designed was Vauxhall’s answer to the Mini, a 1964 Viva, my second being the 1902 De Dietrich and the third was the first of a new (proposed) range, a 1:24 scale ‘James Bond’ Toyota. At 1:24 scale we could introduce greater detail, i.e. opening bonnet showing engine detail and transmission.

Two years later this range was to be extended with the addition of a 1:24 scale 1930 4½ litre Bentley. John Edwards knew of my love of old cars and this became my next project. It was the year of W.O. Bentley’s 80th birthday and the Bentley Drivers (or was it Owners) Club arranged a private Bentley Meeting at Silverstone in W.O.’s honour. Somehow John obtained entry passes and Jack Armitage and I had a fantastic day out. To see these amazing cars hurtling around Silverstone before a limited audience was spectacular. The majority of historic Bentleys built that still existed were assembled there for the occasion.

At the end of the event all the cars were lined up on display, the four ‘blown’ Bentleys of the Birkin team grouped together, Jack’s comment to me was “you’re doing the Kit, which one do you think and why?”

Of the four Birkin cars one was a single-seater and not recognisable as classic Bentley due to the body design. Another was the long wheelbase car we already had as our 1:32 scale model. This car was housed in the Beaulieu collection, although privately owned by a Mr. Rose. To me the car did not look authentic, the torsion bars under the chassis, along with the handbrake, had been chromed. This left us with two short wheelbase cars. My choice was based on condition and we sought out the owner, Neil Corner. The chosen car was No.4 of the Birkin team and had been financed by Lady Dorothy Padget, it was known as the Pau car as it had finished second in the 1930 French Grand Prix at Pau. The decision was made to use Neil’s car and John Edwards and I flew to Newcastle and drove down to County Durham to measure and photograph it. Neil Corner had an amazing collection of historic racing cars, all winners of impeccable pedigree, including a Le Mans Jaguar. The Bentley was eventually sold to the son of J C Banford (JCBs).

Several weeks into the design of the kit John Edwards was called to a meeting with John Gray. The outcome of the meeting was the directors were concerned about the 1:8 scale model cars being released by Japanese manufacturers. The question was what were the implications to change from 1:24 scale to 1:8 scale. John Edwards asked me to summarise our options. Experienced designers decided at what scale the master patterns were made. To achieve the level of detail required I was drawing at twice full size, i.e. 1:12 scale (master pattern size). To move to 1:8 scale and modify the drawings was not an option to recommend, far better to re-draw than try to modify the designs. The existing drawings were less than 1:8 scale, the moulding thickness would have to be changed. All drawing sheets were pre-printed with the legend DO NOT SCALE DRAWINGS and IF IN DOUBT ASK. However, if the toolmaker knew and trusted the designer, as a check they would measure the drawing. My recommendation for 1:12 scale was based on the fact the designs could be saved with minor drawing modifications (wall thickness). I felt that at 1:8 scale the kit could start to look more like a toy than a detailed model. Another factor was at 1:8 scale we would have to increase the number of components due to moulding thickness. The decision was made to produce at 1:12 scale.

The component design took an age to complete. We had never undertaken such a complex model and it soon became apparent that the photographs we had taken were insufficient for the detailing required for a 1:12 scale model. Neil Corner was contacted and we were given access to the car in the underground car park of the Dorchester Hotel – the car was to be the centrepiece at a ‘Bentley’ dinner.

The way we designed the kits was to draw, detail and dimension each component. John Edwards contacted Rolls Royce (who had taken over Bentley in the 1930s), to see what information could be supplied by them. Their reply was not good “due to the Rolls Royce factory being bombed in the Second World War, Rolls Royce are unable to supply any drawings”. If the drawings had existed in reality they would not have been of great assistance. What the new owner purchased from Marques such as Rolls Royce and Bentley was a motorised rolling chassis complete with dashboard, instruments and steering wheel. This was delivered to your selected coachbuilder. The motor manufacturers also gave maximum permissible body overhang dimensions and weight limitations, which if exceeded invalidated their liability.

From the measurements and photographs we had taken of Neil’s car I had to prepare full general arrangement drawings (master plans). In starting to break the kit down into components it soon became apparent that our ethos of one shot of the mould equals one product would not hold. Like Topsy the project just ‘grew and grew’. This Kit was going to be a major introduction to the modelling world. We did not have a moulding machine capable of taking a mould of that size. In fact I believe at that time no manufacturer produced moulding machines capable of taking a mould of the projected size. We had to run two main moulds. One advantage this gave us was we could mould in two colours (British Racing Green and Black), the main colours of the car. The black mould included the components to be chromed and aluminium plated. On a model this size we had to include a large third mould to produce realistic looking tyres. A fourth dedicated mould was necessary for the transparencies (windscreens, headlamp lenses, etc.) plus a fifth mould for the motorised gear train.

The motorisation of the car was a requirement of John Gray, this was something I argued against with John Edwards. The only place to hide the electric motor and gear train was in the engine block. The drive, as in a car, came out of the rear of the engine block into the clutch assembly, through the gearbox to a universal coupling with the transmission shaft angled down to the rear axle. In the rear axle housing was a gear and pinion, the latter being pushed onto a metal axle. This axle was splined in the centre to hold the pinion, also splined on both ends to secure the wheels. The motor ran at an incredible speed so the gear train had to be sophisticated to produce the required torque. Motorisation did not compromise the model as I included alternative components, i.e. the switch was via the handbrake. However with the weight of the assembled model plus the accuracy of the assembly I doubt if many achieved a working model. With all the mouldings available to me I only managed to build two models that laboured slowly and noisily along. My recommendation was to have two rear axle stands lifting the rear wheels so the motorised transmission could be displayed, this suggestion was rejected by John Gray.

The main Bentley tooling patterns were made at 2:1, i.e. 1:6 scale and for me the greatest news was the moulds were to be built on site. Moulds built in the Airfix Toolroom were always the best. The engineer (toolmaker) and I had worked together on a previous model; he had also been responsible for tooling one of John Edwards’ finest models, the Dennis Fire Engine. He was a superb craftsman.

With the number of components to be tooled and the physical size of the moulds the tooling, like the component design, took time to complete.

Our first mould tests were good and the weeks into production were not too drawn out.

The current buzz words with modern companies is ‘team work’; we were doing this in the 1960s. The drawing office commissioned the build of the patterns, this was also agreed with the toolroom. The mould design was agreed between the drawing office, tooling manager and the ‘mould shop’. These reviews taking place in the drawing office around the designer’s board.

Over the years as the higher series kits became larger the instruction leaflets had changed. With a model as complex as the Bentley we had to ensure our instructions were foolproof (hopefully idiot proof). The decision was made to produce a manual (booklet), as a series of large folded sheets would have looked overwhelming to the consumer.

Prior to the Bentley the largest and most complex kits in the range had been designed by John Edwards, my largest model being the JU 52. By the end of the Bentley component design I was saying please never again a project like that.

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By the time the Bentley moulds were finished John had died. We did not have the benefit of his experience as we went into production.

Jack Armitage gave me a free hand on the instruction book. To ensure the modeller did not botch the final result I led them through a series of structured assemblies that allowed the glue to dry before these major components were built into a final structure, (the old fashioned written instructions with the phrase ‘set aside to dry’ never worked). To the instructions I added new symbols guiding the modeller to position completed sub-assemblies into a final construction. One area that caused deliberation was the dashboard. In the larger 1:72 scale aircraft it had long been the norm to print a cockpit display in the instruction leaflet for the modeller to cut out and glue to the panel. For me this was not an option at 1:12 scale. The transfers, (we had not started to use the strange American word decal in the 1960s), could not be applied to the front of the dashboard as some of the dials would be too small to accept them. After much thought my solution was to mould a clear instrument panel that fitted into the rear of the dashboard and apply transfers to the back of this panel, these being viewed from the front. A great idea but it was difficult to get the transfer manufacturers to understand what I wanted. We had to print in reverse. What the modeller slid off the sheet was a black transfer, when they turned the moulding over the dials were visible. We had to print a note on the second print run of the transfer sheet and the instruction booklet, “apply transfers as shown to reveal instruments” (if all else fails read the instructions).

The final decision to be made was how to package the model. I favoured a clean box showing the Bentley at full model size and mocked up a pack. The design was accepted with the same illustration being used on the Instruction Manual. The pack design was in production for several years before being replaced by an ‘action’ illustration.

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The photo of the Bentley is a late catalogue illustration; the artworks are from the original Manual. The memo is from John Gray to Jack Armitage, the draughtsman referred to is myself.

Elva is Newest/Oldest Official Archive on hobbyDB

elva gt160 modelsElva, a British Sports and Racing Car manufacturer, is the latest Official Archive to appear on hobbyDB.  This Archive is a little different, though, as the company’s last car was produced almost fifty years ago. But the Elva name lives on under the tutelage of Roger Dunbar (a.k.a.. ElvaRacingRoger), who is currently reviving the name for a new production car. He also happens to be the Curator of the brand on hobbyDB.

If you’re not familiar with Elva, that’s understandable. And unfortunate, as Elva made a series of relatively inexpensive race cars as well as production models of small, fast, sports cars. The name comes from Elle Va, French for “she goes.” Their early sports racing cars were seen on circuits on both sides of the pond, used for hill climbs and budget-minded racing series such as Formula Junior. Faster is usually better, so Elva race cars were found mingling with Lotus, Cooper and all the other serious manufacturers of the period.  The cars were continually upgraded and used a number of power units including Coventry Climax, Ford, Cosworth, DKW, Porsche, BMW, the V8 grunt from Buick and Chevrolet to make lightweight race winning cars. The cars are still raced around the world, often still bringing home trophies.

elva service truck

Roger Dunbar drives the Elva Service Truck to historic races and other events to fly the flag.

There was enough early success on the track to create their first road car, the sporty 1958 Courier roadster. It was essentially a front mid engine car using MGA ‘B-Series’ engines combined with swoopy, gorgeous fiberglas coachwork.  Development of the sports racing cars continued during the 1960s, New models included the beautiful GT160 coupe that attracted much attention but due to competition rules changing, just three prototypes were built.

elva headerDunbar’s history with Elva is extensive. He has been with the company since 1970s, and in 1986, formed the Company Elva Racing to provide specialist parts and undertake vintage restorations and race preparation. “This involved in particular the marque’s sports racing cars and the Courier models on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said. “Elva Racing Models was just an extension of the intense interest in the marque.”

elva gt160 coupe

The Archive features information on the real cars, as well as various scale models. Many of the cars are made by Axel’R with cooperation from Dunbar. “We’ve commissioned various 1/43rd models of the GT160, Elva-Porsche, and Elva-BMW sports racers in different formats.” He said. As for what cars to expect for future scale offerings, Dunbar says “Whatever will attract interest and that we haven’t covered yet.  However there has to be an Elva connection.”

elva mclaren kitsIn the 1960s, slot car manufacturers produced a number of excellent kits of the McLaren-Elva series. Monogram, Tamiya, and AMT also offered some of their cars in 1/24 scale kit form.

As for Dunbar’s favorite full size vehicle, his answer is kind of tricky… “It’s the lovely old 1947 Elva Engineering van, which is a Morris Commercial type PV,” he said. So, not a sports car, but an exact replica of the support van for the original company. It can often be seen at Goodwood and other events. “I commissioned a stunning 1/43rd scale model of the full size van. We also have the Ford E83W pickup. Both of these vehicles represent the original workhorses used by Elva Engineering in the late 1950’s.” Of the more sporty cars, he would choose the Elva GT160.

elva truck models

There is a surprisingly bulky award winning book detailing the history of the company available via David Bull Publishing entitled “Elva: The Cars, The People, The History” by Janos Wimpffen.

While the new Elva road/track car is close to being announced (and perhaps a model of it will be appropriate sometime) it’s nice to know there are faithfully produced models of the previous era available and maybe others on the way. “I have worked with various very talented model makers based in the UK and Europe who have skillfully produced excellent models on our behalf,” said Dunbar. “I’m always happy to hear from people who have an interest in Elva.”

Have you ever owned an Elva car? Big fan of the marque? Let us know in the comments!

Challenger Joe Has a Great Store and a Cool Story

Challenger Joe RothpearlChallenger Joe is one of the newest sellers on hobbyDB, and his hobby DB store is a bit different. So is his story. Challenger Joe (Joe Rothpearl, but he prefers to just use the nickname online) is a car guy… he likes all kinds of interesting rides, but you can probably guess his favorite, right? Yeah, he loves some MOPAR, but specifically Dodge Challengers.

“I built model cars as a kid,” he explained, “whatever cars caught my eye at the time.” But when he was a teenager, his perspective was locked in forever when his friend let him drive his 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. “Cool cars stop you in your tracks when you’re a kid. I was 15, so I didn’t have a license yet, but we did some donuts in that car, and I was hooked.” (He fondly remembers the /66 1/2 Charger owned by his family when he was three.) Like many of us, he went on to own other cars over the years, some more interesting than others, always longing to recreate that initial burst of excitement.

model cars

Joe enjoyed customizing model kits and shooting them outdoors in real lighting.

When Dodge first showed off their new retro styled Challenger concept in 2006, the bug bit him again. “I figured there was no way ever they would really build that car,” he said. But when they came out with a production model a couple years later, his jaw dropped. But he still didn’t get one yet. Then, when his father and father-in-law died not too far apart, he decided life was too short to not drive a cool car. “I went online to look for the exact package I wanted and found one only 10 minutes away…”

Not just any Challenger, though… he bought his with the upgraded RT package (kind of rare), the Super Track Pack (way more rare), the Classic Package (unusual) and in a particular hue (Billet Silver Metallic) that turned out to be very limited. “The tsunami in Japan disrupted the supply of certain colors for all auto manufacturers for awhile,” he said. After that, Dodge moved on to other colors. According to Chrysler, his car is one of only nine ever produced with that exact set of colors and options. Rare as the car is, he drives it daily, including the harsh winters of upstate New York.

About the store.. You may have noticed he deals primarily in models of Dodge Challengers. Part of that comes from the fact that he collects every possible mutation of those models and has a few extras. The collection includes early models from Matchbox and Hot Wheels (The Rodger Dodger is one of his all time favorite models) as well as newer models in every conceivable scale.

dodge challenger diecast

Besides this wall of miniature Challengers, which is about half of his 1:64 collection, Joe collects records and comic books.

The other thing about the store… all of his proceeds are being  donated to charity. “The money will all go to the Rochester Challenger Miracle Field,” he said. Wait a second, did he get to name this place? Nope, there’s a division of Little League baseball for kids with various disabilities, called the Challenger Division, and these fields are designed to cater to their needs. On top of his donations, hobbyDB is waiving its usual fees for his store so the maximum amount can go to good causes.

Joe deals with his own struggles daily as well. He gets debilitating migraine headaches on a regular basis and has also had a couple of neck surgeries. Despite all this, he’s an unrelentingly positive guy. “I have some good days and some not so good days,” he said. “I’ve tried all kinds of therapy, but when I’m in my Challenger, I feel no pain. It’s the best medicine.

dodge challenger diecastAs we mentioned, he’s a car guy in general. “I like any car that’s interesting,” he said. “I don’t want to get caught up in the negativity of only liking one brand or one model and saying bad things about the rest,” he said. “I’m a positive person. I like to make people smile. It’s my super power.”

His website, as the name indicates, is devoted to the Challenger of the Day. It might be a real car one day, or a model the next. “It’s nice to mix the different interest groups together,” he said. “I just like bringing people together for common ground, making people smile.” Visit the Challenger Joe Store on hobbyDB and you can help do that too.

dodge challenger diecast

Ten Model Car Brands With Unusual Histories

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Anyone who’s collected model cars for any amount of time has become acquainted with the major diecast brands as well as some of the small-market, niche-oriented companies. There are a lot of older brands that have gone by the wayside, or have been bought and sold so many times you aren’t sure who they are anymore. Here are a few diecast oddities to add to your collection.

Jet Wheels/AMT Pups

jet wheels amt pups mustang

Jet Wheels was a company that made realistically proportioned 1:65 scale models with working suspension and opening hoods or other features. The earliest cars from the late 1960s were in fact made by AMT, (they called the series “Pups”) who then sold the business and the molds to Mego. The original range of 8 American street cars was augmented by a series of Formula 1 cars as well as some garage and track accessories. Some of these were later released under the Tuffy and Super Speedy names, but they eventually faded into history..

kenner fast 111'smini macks dump truck

Fast 111’s

Kenner’s foray into 1:64 scale diecast only lasted a few years in the late 1970s, but they made some interesting cars. Some of them were souped-up models of production cars, while others were far-out fantasy rides. What tied them all together was the rear bumpers, which stuck out and angled upward so you could read the license plate. Each of these cars represented a different state, so the plates were kind of a big deal. The packaging also had a neat feature, a transferable “title” that was to filled out by the kid who bought it and then filled out again if it was traded or sold. Clean copies without writing on the back are somewhat rare these days.

Mini Macks

This range of toys included a variety of construction equipment such as dump trucks, loaders, and tractors, not all of the Mack brand vehicles. This was one of several brands available from Zee Toys in the late 1970s. Detail is surprisingly vague, as they appear to be direct, unauthorized knockoffs of Matchbox cars from a few years earlier. With different wheels and the wording removed from the base, they just seem a bit “cheaper” than the originals.

Zylmex

zylmex ford thunderbird model a

zulmex supervan barris

Here’s another brand from Zee Toys, one that tried a little harder than Mini Macks. Detail is again pretty basic, especially the interiors, but at least they were trying by creating their own original molds. And they even made a model of the George Barris SuperVan, so that has to count for something, right?

tough wheels 32 ford

Tough Wheels

This was a brand of inexpensive, crudely detailed cars perfect for letting your kids play with in the sandbox. In a strange twist, instead of these cars being based on another well-known brand, the molds served as the basis for a revival of another popular brand. In the early 1980s, as Dinky was headed for bankruptcy, Kidco rebadged some of these cars under the Dinky name, a sad step down in quality. Despite the crude detail, Tough Wheels managed to score a few licensed properties such as M*A*S*H vehicles.

Burnin’Key Cars

burnin key cars

Then there were the Burnin’ Key Cars, a subset of Tough Wheels. These came with a very cool feature: a spring-wound motor that was activated by a slightly out of scale key. As with the Tough Wheels brand, they managed to finagle licensing deals with some popular TV shows, including Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider. For several years, the Burnin’ Wheels name lived on as a Matchbox brand and then again as part of Maisto. Each change of ownership brought vastly improved designs and packaging.

Doepke

doepke jaguar

You may not recognize the name, but if you’re of a certain age, you should know their cars… Doepke started off as a family company in 1946 making military vehicles and other toys. The owner’s mother suggested they make some more peaceful toys, so they created some very large scale kits, about 1:12 scale, of a Jaguar XK120 and an MG TD… The bodies are made of thick diecast metal, while other parts were white metal, plastic or stamped steel. Both cars featured working steering and suspension. The MG was branded as the “MT” so they may not have had the rights to produce that particular model. While only available for a few years, these kits were huge sellers at the time.

Fresh Cherries

fresh cherries

Hard to say if these models were meant as a sincere tribute or something of an ironic joke. This division of Motor Max made models of Pintos, Gremlins, LeBaron wagons and such… not exactly the keys to real-life excitement. On the other hand, it’s been hard to find models of these cars if you did want them, and Fresh Cherries cars were nicely detailed with delicate luggage racks and other bits. They came in several scales including 1:24, 1:64 and 1:87, all in high quality packaging. They even did 1:16 radio controlled versions of some of these cars, and you have to admit that’s beyond awesome.

Grell

grell trabant camper

It’s understandable if you don’t recognize this brand… This German company made mostly promotional models of Trabants and Wartburgs and Moskviches that were given away not in cereal boxes, but in cases of beer! In fact, only a few of their models represented common Western European marques like Volkswagen or Jaguar. Some of their packaging evokes a strong Cold War era image, something you don’t see every day at any scale.

hallmark road rover

hallmark road rover

Hallmark Road Rovers

Wait, Hallmark? Like the card company? Yep! In the early 1970s, Hallmark introduced a series of overtly cartoony cars called Road Rovers, which looked almost like balloon creations. They were roughly the size of 1:64 scale cars, but because they are so oddly proportioned, scale is irrelevant here. The early cars were all metal and represented familiar vehicle types such as fire trucks or Volkswagen Beetles. After a decade hiatus, the brand was revived in the mid 1980s with plastic bases. The new line included reinterpretations of several of the originals plus designs that transformed objects such as vacuum cleaners or piggy banks into cars.

Designer Notes: Unreleased Heller Porsche 911R

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Philippe 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 Porsche 911R

This car also not make it into production, unfortunately. The 911R was at the time, THE car to have if you wanted to win the GT class

heller porsche 911R kit

Notice how the views from the ends show the cross section of the hood and the rear glass at certain measurements. In a way, it’s a miracle that a 3-dimensional model could be created from drawings without any assistance from a computer!

heller porsche 911R kit heller porsche 911R kit