My Brothers Speedster - The way it used to be
As most of our friends know my brother, Bill, is in the process of restoring his ’58 Speedster. The job is actually coming along quite well, of course slower that expected. All the metal work is done, the paint is new and shiney, and even the engine and transmission are back where they belong. Each phase of assembly is another victory as the car is prepared for it’s first Spring ride in 30 years.
Little additions like door handles and side trim make the car sparkle like it did 52 years ago as it rolled out the factory door. The brakes are all back on the car and I don’t believe they looked that good when new.
Bill bought the car in 1965 and by then the Speedster had had a hard life including time on the racetrack. The original ivory had been changed to a Cadillac metallic blue and while the ivory dash remained the red seats and door panels had been replaced with black ones. The bumper uprights and over ride bars were missing and only one of the original chrome wheels remained. Back in the day those things really didn’t matter because the cars really weren’t worth much but to modern collectors original colors and parts are important. That meant that the car would be restored to its original configuration but not the way it was all those years that Bill and his wife, Beverly, drove it. To them it would always be the blue Speedster.
Last year at the annual Porsche Swap Meet at Hershey PA I saw a fellow in a booth that was selling small models of cars that could only be described as barn finds. He had built small plastic models and then he aged them with splotches of paint and dirt to make them look like old abandon wrecks found in a barn or field after many years. It was very original and very well done. There were examples of many different cars but it was the examples of the 356’s that got me thinking about Bills old car.
I though that what he needed was a model of his Speedster the way it was all the years that he drove it. Something to remember the car with all it’s faults and problems before the ugly duckling became a swan. He could always take his friends out to the garage to show them his pristine show car but he could only tell them how it looked before the restoration. A model done with all its warts parked in his garage the way it sat for 25 years was what he would get for Christmas.
With months to go and the internet to help I set out to get the parts and pieces that I would need. Beverly, and my niece Evelyn, were able to sneak into the garage and take photos of the inside walls and I had photos of the car in the disassembly process that would help make the diorama accurate down to the last dirty rag on the floor.
Finding a model of a ’58 Speedster wasn’t that tough but it was cast in red so paint was needed. First I sprayed it ivory and then taped over the dash and some other parts and sprayed it with a can of Cadillac metallic blue that came off the shelf at Auto Zone. According to the photos I had it was a perfect match.
I haven’t owned any Testors paints since high school but they still sell them in the same square glass bottles and any craft store has them available. They even have that plastic glue in the metal tube on the shelf. Well, it’s actually behind the counter these days, liability being what it is now.
The internet was helpful with some of the other parts although well into the project I discovered that most accessory parts like small tool boxes, benches, etc come in 1/24 scale and my model was 1/34. That meant that the red Snap On rollaway I got in the mail was almost as big as the car itself. Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Like a lot of folks, Bill had lined most of the garage wall with pegboard to make hanging things easier. Duplicating that down to postage stamp size was a job for the IT expert at my office. She printed off a page as small as she could get it and then I spent some quality time at the copy machine until I had it sized down to the correct spacing between the holes. Boy, were they small.
The shelves in Bills garage were the plastic type from Home Depot so it was easy to just cut pieces out of balsa wood sheets and then use a hole punch on each corner to make room to push a small dowel through. As with most of the pieces that I made, it wasn’t the construction but the gluing and painting of the parts that took the most time. I pushed the dowels through five shelves on two corners and then applied the glue. I then set the unit up with the shelves spaced evenly and allowed it to dry overnight. The next night I did the same thing with the two remaining corners so that by the third night I had something that was ready to paint. Two nights of spray painting, one side at a time, and it was done. That meant that it took about a week to get to a set of shelves together but the total time involved was only a few minutes.
Drying time gave me a chance to look around and find other things to make that would look like the stuff in the photos that I was using. I fashioned a hanging towel rack out of a piece of tin can, the roll of towels were from a dowel I had. A luggage rack hanging on the wall was made out of a paperclip. I cheated when it came to the calendar on the wall. A downsized copy from one of the photos glued to the wall looked just right. The bamboo window shade (pretty classy garage) was done with pieces of balsa wood and the hanging shop brooms were just short wooden dowels stuck into pieces of black foam padding cut to look like bristles. The engine grill was just too small to make so I just drew one on the wall above the workbench.
One of the kits I bought had a chair in it that was a match for the one in the garage and a little brown paint on the seat and back rest made it look perfect. A couple of tires from another model I had laying around stacked in the corner looked like the Volvo tires that he uses in the winter and some painted plastic strips glued together even looked like the engine hoist that he has leaning against the shelves. The grinder in the corner was a little tougher because I had to figure out a way to attach it to a little table that Bill uses after I made it from a piece of rubber tubing.
To duplicate the garage floor I cut a piece of thick cardboard the right size and then dripped some used oil on it. After the oil had soaked in I set it up behind a wire wheel that I have on my workbench and the proceeded to clean the rust off a couple of old parts. In short order the grinder threw dirt and crud all over the cardboard and it was just the right size, very small.
To make the car look right I filed a flat spot on one of the tires to make it appear flat and put some scratches in the finish with an Exacto knife. I had to trim off the bumper guards with a pair of nail clippers since the pictures from years ago showed them missing. The cone shaped drivers mirror was fashioned from a piece of leftover plastic and painted silver. To create the correct license plate I found a website of a company that recreates period correct plates for your vintage car. They let you set up the proper numbers with the correct colors and state logo so that you can see what it would look like. I set up a Maryland plate, blue with white letters and printed it on our color printer. Two attempts at reducing the size and I had just what I needed.
The closer the diorama got to completion the more things I thought to add to the scene. It was a good thing that Christmas was near or I would still be fiddling with it. Even though everything was glued down except the car and the jack, it was too fragile to ship by normal methods. My son, Rob was driving down to his uncles after a Christmas visit to Boston, and he was kind enough to take it down in the van with the family.
It made the trip easily. Well sort of easy. One wheel came off the car while traveling through New Jersey (maybe the car never liked NJ) but Rob was resourceful and got some glue at a CVS and it was back on before delivery. I guess that he didn’t look like a glue sniffer, they didn’t even ask for ID.
Bill was surprised and pleased with the result and I had a great time doing it. Every car project should turn out so well. And only last a few months.
The attached photo shows the end result with a 356 rear reflector placed on the garage floor to give you some sense of the actual size. The reflector is about 2” wide. I hope that you enjoy seeing it as much as I did making it. I know that now it will be easy for Bill to remember how that Speedster looked all those years ago.