12 March 2015

Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe Model

1. Introduction
Models of U.S. cars – putting aside military jeeps and trucks – are extremely scarce in the 1:72 scale. In fact, as of March 2015, there is only one model kit that fits the criteria, and that is the 1942 Ford sedan produced by ACE. One may turn to die-cast metal models, but in the 1:72 scale there isn't much on offer either. Some die-cast models made by Hongwell have come to my attention, and from those I snatched a model of 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe to add some diversity to my collection of tractors and other GSE.

2. Kit
The Hongwell's die-cast metal model represents a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Hardtop Coupe very well. Considering the scale, there is a lot of fine metal and plastic detail, as well as very nice stencilling. I see only one serious accuracy issue: both axles are placed around 2mm father back than they should have been, and this damages the car's beautiful profile. A couple of press form seam lines mar the exterior slightly, and the bonnet inexplicably lacks the Chevrolet V-shaped badge (which is duly present on the trunk lid). The model should not be blamed for its unpainted interior, though: this is pretty common in the die-cast world, even for the much larger 1:43 scale.

3. Construction
Disassembling the model was a challenge: Hongwell has chosen rivets instead of screws for attaching the model's chassis to the body. Those rivets were so tough that I had to have them removed by a precision drilling machine at my father acquaintance's workshop.

Although the Hongwell's model is good in itself, I believed it could be made better. These are the improvements I've made:
 - The whole chassis plate moved ~2mm forward for more accurate positioning of axles in relation to body.
 - Plastic side windows removed so as to allow a better look into the interior.
 - Front seat scratch-built from plastic (the original part was missing entirely – obviously, a factory defect).
 - Custom-made photoetched steering wheel, pedals, windshield wipers, rearview mirror and license plates added.
 - Original wheels replaced with ones having more realistically looking hub caps (taken from another Hongwell die-cast model).

4. Painting & Markings
I chose not to repaint the exterior so as to preserve the delicately stenciled 'Bel Air" names and body trim (in silver in gold, which I cannot imitate with home-made decals). Original plastic interior looked like a black hole and I have, of course, painted it, trying to pick colors to match the exterior, as was customary in those good old years. Dashboard dials and license plates received home-printed decals. Tires got airbrushed whitewalls and radiator grilles got dark wash to bring out the relief.

I don't have any data to prove that the Bel Air Coupe was employed by any of the U.S. Armed Services, and a civilian car has, strictly speaking, no business sitting near military airplanes. Still, I used this beautiful car model to imitate a PR photo resembling this one.

5. Reference Data
[1] Basic information on the Bel Air in Wikipedia: link.