Famous Show Cars that Became Model Kits from the Museum of American Speed
For a lot of us, just looking at the picture above will trigger fond memories of the basements and kitchen tables of our youth. The smell of model glue and Testors enamel are burned into our memories as vividly as those of mom’s casserole or grandma’s cookies. Models gave us a way to build custom cars and stretch the creativity that many of us would go on to apply to full-size hot rods, customs, and race cars. Some never stopped building in miniature. It’s still way easier and cheaper than customizing in 1:1 scale.
With those fond memories in mind, we looked to the Museum of American Speed. Several of the hot rods that inspired some of most famous and beloved model kits in history can be found in the collection, along with a few of their miniature counterparts.
Full disclosure, this is not the original Outlaw. Instead, it’s an amazingly accurate clone built by noted Roth expert Fritz Schenck. But no conversation about hot rods that became models would be complete without paying tribute to the genius of Ed Roth, his revolutionary Outlaw, and the millions who were inspired by both (including Schenck, whose clone may be the best one out there).
Fiberglass had been in use in the automotive industry for years, but Roth’s use of the material to create a swoopy, T-based creation was revolutionary. He was inspired by the famous picture of Henry Ford hitting the prototype plastic trunk of a ’41 Ford. Roth sold the “Little Jewel” to pay for all the chrome. The shiny stuff combined with the radical profile made the Outlaw a sensation. And, it drew the attention of the Revell model company.
When Revell approached Roth with the idea to make it a model kit, he was thrilled. But they had an issue with his name. Ever wonder where the “Big Daddy” nickname came from? Revell thought Roth’s name needed a “boost,” and he became Ed “Big Daddy” Roth from that moment forward.
The Red Baron was having a cultural moment in the late 60’s. He shot down poor Snoopy’s doghouse in 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the Royal Guardsmen novelty song "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" was all over the radio. We’re not going to speculate where a genius like model designer Tom Daniel might have gotten his ideas, but he wouldn’t have had to look far for some WW1-era inspiration.
Unlike the others on this list, the Red Baron was a model before it was a car. It was released by Monogram in 1968 and went on the sell over 2 million copies. It even became a Hot Wheels car. The full-size car you see here was commissioned by car show promoter Bob Larivee and built by Chuck Miller at Styline Customs in 1969.
The model kit featured a 1914 Mercedes Benz 6 cylinder out of a Fokker biplane. Miller took a more domestic approach and fit his hot rod with a ’68 Pontiac overhead-cam inline 6.
The finished car won the Sweepstakes at the Oakland Roadster Show in ’69. Its popularity made it a staple of the car show scene well into the 90’s. It’s currently enjoying a more sedate retirement in the Museum of American Speed.
The short version of this car’s very long story is that a car crazy kid named Dave Stuckey bought a ’32 Ford Tudor from a used car dealership in Wichita, Kansas in 1954. He went on to work for the legendary Darryl Starbird and his Deuce hot rod was in a constant state of flux. Its transformation was captured by the hot rod publications of the day. In one feature it would be a tangerine color, in the next it was dark burgundy. Sometimes it changed so fast that the same magazine feature would show slight differences from picture to picture.
After spending some time as an unchopped but much-channeled hot rod, it went under the knife at Stuckey’s own shop to be transformed into its most famous version in 1960. The chopped, cantilevered top and hemi mill made it a car show standout. Starbird arranged for Monogram to buy the car and use it to promote the model kit.
The car would go on to lead a colorful life that included multiple transformations and even a fire that almost took it out for good. Read the full story here.
The Boothill Express is a wild show rod that epitomizes the creativity and kookiness that that came out of the 60’s. It’s also based on a carriage with a bit of a spooky connection to builder Ray Fahrner’s home of Independence, Missouri. You see, the Boothill Express is built from the funeral coach that reportedly carried Jesse James’ pal Bob Younger to his grave on “Boot Hill.”
Fahrner’s creation featured a Chrysler Hemi, TorqueFlite, and the requisite 60’s rake courtesy of Cragar SS wheels in the rear, Goodyear slicks, and spindle mount skinnies in the front. This is the first version, and it reportedly has never run. Fahrner would go on to built a couple clones that would in fact drive in and out of the shows under their own power.
When this car hit the scene in ’67 it caused a sensation. Monogram immediately released a model kit, and of course it featured a skeleton in a cowboy hat with a six-shooter.