How to detail scale models and die-casts like real concours show cars

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In my world of preparing cars for concours events, sometimes I get asked to work on something unusual. One such project was when one of my clients in the Philadelphia area was expecting a special visitor for his collection of 7000 Mercedes-Benz tin toys, models, and die casts. Representatives from the factory itself were coming for a visit, but the cars and shelves were dusty and disorganized. I was given the task of making them shine just like the real thing. After about a month, I had cleaned and detailed every car. It was quite the undertaking, but it inspired a project for my own toys at home.

Now that we are all separated by the coronavirus quarantine, I would like to discuss how to properly prepare your model cars for a virtual concours. This requires no special tools, just simple stuff to make your vehicle stand out from the rest of the crowd. Luckily, judges of these virtual, die-cast concours are not sniffing out improper hose clamps and incorrect hardware, so all marque anoraks can rest comfortably knowing that they won’t be able to prove what they know about your particular car. Leave that for the next club meeting …

Prepare the equipment

mcnair isolation concours model detailing-23
Tim McNair

Basic tools depend on the severity of dust accumulation and type of car. Makeup brushes, cotton swabs, perhaps a can of compressed air, and your favorite quick detailing spray will do the job nicely. Bring plenty of clean microfiber towels along for the ride.

Time to get to work

For the general dusting, I like to find a box or plastic bin large enough to fit the subject to be cleaned. Line the bottom of the box with a microfiber towel. I use this box to capture all of those tiny fasteners and photo-etched wiper arms from being blasted across the kitchen. No, you will never find them. Trust me.

Start with your compressed air. You know the can you bought 10 years ago to clean your ergonomic keyboard of crumbs? Who knew that you’d use it now? Lightly pull the trigger and spray as much loose dust as possible. Be careful, since the can gets very cold; spray in short bursts.

Now grab your best makeup brush and loosen the rest of the dust from around the vents and openings. Touch up the wheels, open doors if possible—including the hood or engine bay—and give them all a quick brush as well.

Next, I would look in the box for your spare parts, retrieve as many as possible, and place them in a dry coffee cup to later attach them in the last step.

Ready for the fun part?

Spray a small amount of your detailer onto the corner of a microfiber towel. Wipe the painted surfaces lightly, as well as the “glass.” Follow with the corner of a dry towel and be amazed at the gloss. You’ll be thinking about how you should have done this sooner, before leaving it in the shelf in the garage for the last five years.

Now for reattaching small parts. Wiper arms and antennae, doorhandles, latches, and knock-offs can be reinstalled easily with white glue. PVA, Elmers, Aileens—any kind of white craft glue is a good start. Why? You don’t need a lot of strength, it dries clear, and when you mess up, it cleans up easily with water. Use magnifiers or readers (because let’s be honest here, we all have them) and your cosmetic tweezers, and apply the glue using a toothpick. See, you are now an expert.

Prepare the car for photos

I use a simple white poster board background and an LED desk lamp. This seems to work fine for me since makes the car pop, but I know there are plenty of better methods, so whatever fabric or lighting you have will do!

Finally, you can prepare your story, upload those pics—and best of luck at the only concours that will accept everyone.

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