‘First Pancake’ key takeaways

Thinking back to those halcyon days of yore -you know, like a week ago- when I thought I was going to make a museum quality showpiece on my first go, I can scarcely believe how utterly disappointed I am with my first attempt at this whole modeling thing. So many things went so wrong that I won’t bore you by listing them all. Having said that, I am quite pleased with a number of things that went right with project First Pancake. In an attempt to preserve what is left of my tattered self-esteem, I’m going to focus on those instead.

ellipticalFirst, I should mention that painting fine details is a problem for me. Ever since I quit drinking (to say I quit drinking is no longer accurate. After being a very serious alcoholic for over a decade, I quit cold turkey, as detailed here, and abstained from alcohol completely for about eight years. Recently I have began drinking in moderation again. When I say moderation, I mean only on vacations and at select social events; perhaps four or five times a year), my hands tremble like Michael J. Fox on speed. It has gotten a bit better over the years, but I still don’t have a steady hand. To overcome that while trying to paint the fine details on this model, I wrapped my hand around the handle of the elliptical machine in the room and held the parts like you see in the picture. It helped a lot, of course it did nothing for the hand that was wielding the paint brush. At least this way I was trying to hit a stationary target with a moving one instead of a moving target with a moving one. To combat that on my next project, I have ordered one of these: Elenco Helping Hands which will not only hold things steady for me, but also magnify them. Hopefully that will make the process easier on the next go.

enginebayLet’s start with the engine bay (click the image for a larger version). My twitching got a bit out of hand on some of the detail on the sides, particularly around the window wash reservoir (at least I think that’s what the white part on the far side is) where I splashed over onto the body paint just a bit around the edges. Aside from that, I’m pretty pleased with the way the engine compartment came out. I could spend a lot more time on it right now and make it look even better, but I don’t want to spend much more time on First Pancake. I think I pulled this off pretty well.

enginebaytopHere that is again from the top. Among the other things that I was happy with in the engine compartment is that I was able to get the radiator hose to line up from the engine to the radiator. Even though I haven’t built one of these things in 30 years, I know I was never able to pull that off before. I also got the radiator cap, hood ornament, window wash cap, battery, brake master cylinder, battery terminals, and even the hose clamp on the radiator hose, painted up to look pretty good. I see in the photo that I have body paint splashing through at a couple of places on the battery. I’ll hit that with a bit of paint when I go back to touch up a couple of other things later. You’ll also note that the hood is not in place in any of the photos. That is because while the hood itself looks pretty good, the small piece where the scoop is supposed to be is being a real bitch. I wanted to make the hood flat instead of using the raised scoop, which required a lot of sanding and trimming. Unfortunately I ran out of paint along the way. I have a small bottle of touch-up paint in very nearly the same color which I am using to try to remedy this. I have it almost the right color now, but it still doesn’t fit quite right. Hopefully when the paint dries I can glue that sucker in place and it won’t look too bad. Also absent in the photos is the air cleaner, which I keep sanding and repainting to try to remove blemishes. Again, hopefully I will be happy enough with it to put it in place eventually.

interiorwindowNext up is the interior (I encourage you to click through for a larger version of this one). I just can’t say enough good things about the interior. It is far from perfect, but it is still the highlight of this build. I am fairly confident that I will be able to learn from painting this one and improve upon it on the next build. The next build will also not have a black interior. The black almost feels like cheating because it hides blemishes so well. I do hope I am able to get results when the color isn’t so forgiving. I know one thing: I won’t be using semi-gloss paint on the interior in the future. The steering wheel in particular looks pretty bad because of it in the current build.

backThen there are some things that I tried just to see if it was possible. Here in the shot of the back (the masking tape on the bumper is just there because the flash kept reflecting and ruining the photo), you’ll see some passable free-hand painting on the tail lights (although I missed it a bit on the back-up lights), but the reason I took this picture was to showcase the exhaust pipes. Having finished the whole exhaust system in grey, the tips of the pipes were just a blotch of grey. It looked horrible. Since I already knew this one wasn’t going to be the centerpiece on the mantle, I decided to see if I could make them look a bit better.

exhaustI figured I could drill them out, paint the interior of them black give them chrome tips to make it look a bit more realistic. Of course I don’t own a drill bit small enough to drill into the tiny piece of plastic, so I improvised by using the tip of my Exacto knife and drilling it in small circles until I had what looked like a reasonably thick piece of pipe left for the exhaust tip. Once done with that, I painted the inside of the pipe with flat black (the hole is cone-shaped and only perhaps an eighth of an inch deep) and then painted around it with silver metal paint. The result looks pretty good. This is a close-up of the driver’s side exhaust tip. The passenger side one doesn’t look nearly as good because I didn’t sand them to remove the excess material from molding. Again, this was to see if I could do it and it looks pretty darn good. When I do it on the next model, I will make sure I have those pipes smooth and round and finish them off with some Bare Metal Foil to really make them pop.

frontangleThe model doesn’t look that bad, really. Just look at that grill, all the time that went into that really shows. (as an aside, I didn’t modify any of the images on this page. The gleaming reflections in the photos that look like they were added to give it some sparkle are just how they came out on the camera) Most of the trim molding lines came out nice and straight (thought I did miss it at a couple of places). I know there are parts of it that my OCD is simply being overly critical of, but there are also many, many places where I can do better next time.

My New Kit arrived today, which is nice, because the things I have left to do with First Pancake are all the type of things that I have to either paint or glue something and then not touch the damn thing for several hours. Of course the paint for the body of the new kit didn’t arrive. Just like last time. This time it was UPS that fucked me. The shipment is sitting in their warehouse in Phoenix, has been for almost two days now, but they’ve rescheduled deliver from 12/30 to 01/04 because a truck was late. I don’t know how a truck can possibly be five days late, but it managed to pull it off. I’m sure UPS would blame the holiday and the weekend, but my paint doesn’t celebrate holidays and also doesn’t care what day of the week it happens to be.

Additionally, the box the new model came in somehow got wet during shipping. The parts are all sealed in bags and the decals appear to be fine, so I’m not going to send it back. The actual box it came in is pretty trashed though – both the Amazon shipping box and the sealed box with the model. How the water got through the Amazon box and plastic wrap to destroy the inner box is something of a mystery. Nonetheless, I have another project to work on rather than, quite literally, watching the paint dry on First Pancake. Let’s hope my optimism about the new project isn’t as misplaced as it was with the last one. I’m very confidant that with what I’ve learned from First Pancake, I’ll be able to do a much better job with this one.

Will the lessons never cease?

assembledPurely from a ‘learn valuable lessons for the next project’ standpoint, project First Pancake has been an overwhelming success! The list of things I’ve irrevocably fucked up is rather impressive.

Final assembly turned out to be something of a bitch. I won’t waste to much time detailing just how wrong it went, but suffice it to say that a number of pieces didn’t line up quite as well as the instructions would indicate. Yours truly then exacerbated the problem by assembling a couple of pieces in the wrong order. The next thing you know, I’ve got a broken fan under the hood (I put the broken blade facing down so it won’t be seen) and the rear bumper is separated from the body by a very noticeable amount. That is not even mentioning that I currently have some pieces of it shimmed up with scrap sprue while I reglue other pieces that I managed to break off during the process. Indeed, I am learning up a storm over here.

Honestly, this thing looks better in the pictures than it does in person. I’m thinking that once I finish it I may just take a picture of it and put it on the mantle in lieu of the actual model. At the very least, I need to make sure that no one looks at it from any closer than about three feet, which seems to be the magical distance at which it still looks pretty good. Perhaps all the lessons I learn will make the next one look good from two feet, then the next one from one foot, then decrease the distance by inches until you can actually hold it and it still looks good.

It is rather frustrating, but it shouldn’t be. I watched a ton of videos and read countless articles on various techniques, but that doesn’t mean I know how to do any of it. I shouldn’t have expected perfection. It’s like if you decide one day that you want to play baseball; you can buy a bat and a glove, watch hundreds of games, read all you want about how to swing the bat -where to hit the ball- to knock it out of the park. But the first time you swing the bat, it’s not likely to be a home run. Understanding how to do something is far different than actually doing it, it seems. The good news is that my frustration is directly attributable to my own boneheaded mistakes and rather than wanting to give up (take my ball and go home) I’m excited to finish this one -as terrible as it will be- so I can try to make the next one better. If that fails, I’ll just go with the showing off pictures instead of the actual models thing, that seems to work pretty well.


Project ‘First Pancake’

In the past, I’ve seen where people have given names to their model cars. They are usually affectionate names like Purple Thunder or silly puns like Steven Squealberg. Following in that vein, I’ve dubbed the GTX, my first model car in thirty years, First Pancake. Despite all my research into painting techniques and various building tips and tricks, I keep fucking it up in ways I hadn’t previously considered. As mentioned in a previous post, this one is the first pancake: it just doesn’t look as good as the rest of them. I’m learning from each of the aforementioned fuck-ups, so hopefully project Second Pancake will come out a bit better.

interior1Nonetheless, work continues on the GTX, and the interior of the car continues to be the best feature. The dashboard in particular looks really good. With all the parts in place now, it is a pity I am going to have to stick it into the car where no one will ever get to see it. The images make the seats look almost blue, but without the flash they are very nearly black. In person, you can hardly tell the difference in color between the seats and the dashboard. I wish I was able to get a sharper picture of it before it gets tucked inside the car but my camera just won’t let that happen.

sometapeAnother problem I’ve run into (and another one that always plagued me when building these in my youth) is getting the exhaust and manifold welded together. I’ve looked over all sorts of tips and tricks for this, the most common of which seems to be alligator clips, but even with alligator clips, I find it still slides. I decided to take a crack at it with just masking tape. I just placed a piece beneath the portion where they connect, applied some glue and pinched the tape back against itself. I did it this way because the tape sticks to itself way better than it sticks to the paint, and it also allowed me to continue pinching it together once every couple of minutes to ensure it was still tight without fear of damaging the bond. I glued only the exhaust and manifolds together first, thinking that lining the whole undercarriage up might put pressure on it from unusual directions. This worked quite well, but I did get some bleeding of the silver paint into the grey paint and vice versa.

trimpaintI’ve got the glass in, bumpers on and trim painted. It doesn’t necessarily look as bad as the new nickname would imply, but there are many things about it that simply could look much better. There are lots of blemishes in the body paint, the bumpers don’t quite line up, etc. I had planned to use Bare Metal Foil for the trim pieces (as I did for the grill) but gave up on that not wanting to waste the foil on a car that isn’t going to be anything close to presentation quality. The trim doesn’t look nearly as flat as the photo makes it appear, though it would look considerably better with foil instead.

I’m coming up with a regular laundry list of things I’ve learned from building this thing. Like, apply the mirrors at some point before doing so will destroy the paint job. Paint the window trim before you install the window. Make sure to buy a small bottle of paint in the same color as the body for touch up (and parts that should be body color but it isn’t immediately apparent that they should be). It is much easier to add another coat of paint than to remove one. The list goes on and on.

I should have First Pancake finished within a few days. I still have some final detail painting to do under the hood, still need to do final assembly and still need to add the decals. Aside from that, it’s as done as it’s going to get. I’m hoping that I’ve learned enough from the first one to make the next one come out a bit better. The next kit I chose is a Revell ’50 Olds Coupe. This is a level three kit, which is probably far more ambitious than I have any business trying. Time will tell.

I’ll add photos of project First Pancake once I complete final assembly and get the decals in place.

Testing my patience

When I was young, I always liked building models. At least I enjoyed the idea of building models. In practice, I was far too impatient to do it with any sort of success. I would greet each new kit I would get (my aunt, Janice, would get each of us a kit every year for Christmas) with an enthusiasm that is hard to match in my adult life. It was the enthusiasm of a child, but always mixed with the ultimatum that this time, I’m going to do it right. Fast forward an hour and I have realized that the paint on the body has brush strokes all through it, I’ve managed to get a big fingerprint right in the center of the hood, and somehow there seems to be cat hair under the paint on the trunk (we didn’t have a cat). My disappointment would be almost as great as the initial enthusiasm. Being ten or twelve years old, I didn’t have the patience, dexterity or supplies to finish a model like it looked on the box. I could usually get the engine to look okay, but the rest of it would look horrible.

I lacked not only patience, but also proper supplies. The buy-in to build a model kit can be as little as the cost of the kit and ten bucks worth of glue and paint, but you can’t get decent results with those meager supplies. Buying the proper supplies -primer, liquid enamel paint, spray paint, clear coat, knives, sprue cutters, glue, clear glue, sandpaper, sanding cloths, sanding sticks, buffing cloths, needle files, polishing compound, and on and on- can get horribly expensive.

boxphotoIn my adult life, I frequently see other people building models and think with the proper supplies, I could do that. With inspiration from my brother-in-law, I’ve decided to put that to the test. To the right is the model kit I’ve decided to start with. I wanted to build a ’72 Roadrunner like the one I rode around in with Dave back in high school, but the kit for it doesn’t exist. The nearest I could get was a ’71 GTX. I’m going to make a couple of slight modifications to the kit (which I won’t list just yet as I’ll have to see if my ability to do so matches my eagerness to try) and have found paint that should get pretty close to the one from my teenage days. I’ve spent far more than I care to admit to acquire some decent, entry-level supplies (entry level for a serious adult modeler – which is still quite expensive) and have done considerable research into painting and finishing techniques. We’ll see how it goes. Here I should also note that I have so much confidence in my ability that I actually bought two of these kits with plans to experiment with different paint colors and techniques on one of them (which will ultimately become either spare parts or trash).

The first issue with these model kits -the part that, to me has always screamed amateur- is the pre-chromed pieces that come in the kits. In the kit I am building, the bumpers and a few other pieces come already chromed. The issue with that is that the grill -all of it- is in chrome. Not just the parts that should be chrome -the trim parts running around the edge of it- but the whole thing, even the parts that should be a dark color because they are, theoretically, the parts where you can see through to the radiator. In the picture from the box (inset above) you can see that they have painted those parts dark to make the grill look more realistic. I’m not sure how they managed that since the portions that need to be painted dark are only a couple of millimeters wide. I know I don’t have the ability to use a brush with that level of precision.

Before I decided to buy a model and give it a go, one of the things I researched was how to strip the chrome from these pre-finished pieces. I found a video on youtube that said it stripping the chrome was as simple as soaking the parts in bleach for a few minutes. I was a bit skeptical, since that seems so darn easy. The first thing I did when I got the kit was to clip a piece of scrap from the chromed pieces and try this (the videos I found are all British and the bleach they use is thicker than what is available to me, so I wanted to check it on garbage first). It turns out that it was just as easy as the video shows. I got the cheapest bleach available at the local dollar store for my purposes. It took about two minutes for large, flat pieces and about ten minutes for pieces with the smaller detail (like the grill of the car I am working on). I actually soaked it for a few minutes, rinsed it, soaked it a few more minutes, rinsed it. I agitated it while doing so to get some of the pesky bits that were stuck in the corners, but in about ten or twelve minutes, it was stripped down to white plastic.

primegrillThe grill of this model was one of two things I thought I might have issue with, and thus the part I wanted to work on first. I didn’t snap a picture of the grill with the chrome or during the chrome stripping (there’s a link above to a youtube video of the process), but once I got it stripped and primed, I was pretty happy with the results. Getting the chrome off of it made the details really pop when the primer coat hit it. My particular kit had a lot of stray edges and plastic around the headlight openings and throughout the detail work which took me a good half an hour to clean up with an x-acto knife and a q-tip, but it cleaned up pretty well.

grillaHere is what it looks like with some flat black and bare metal foil applied. It’s not perfect, but it’s my first model detail painting in a couple of decades. Now if I can get the body paint down, I’ll have passed the second major hurdle I was expecting. (As an aside, I can’t continue working on it because I’m still waiting on the paints I ordered from Hobbytown.com. Do not buy supplies from them. They were one of a handful of sites that had the color of body paint I wanted and they offer flat five dollar shipping, which is what suckered me in, but four days after completing paypal checkout for my order, they still haven’t even processed the order, let alone shipped it. I reordered many of the paints from TowerHobbies.com, in slightly different shades so I wouldn’t have duplicates, and they had them in the mail the same day. I should have them tomorrow – meanwhile, Hobbytown still hasn’t processed my order. Very frustrating).

The second thing with this car that I thought I would have issues with is what has plagued me since I first put brush to plastic on my first model: the body paint. Youtube has a ton of tutorials on how NOT to make it look like your car was painted by a developmentally challenged six-year-old, and I watched most of them. I found this 5 part series to be quite informative. A lot of the tips are really no-brainer type stuff, but the tutorial is broken into smaller videos which makes navigating to the part you are interested in easier. Part three has a lot of information on polishing the paint once applied, and while I won’t be using the same products they did (which are horribly expensive) the same techniques will apply to any finishing compound.

primedMy biggest takeaway from all the videos I watched was the whole part of applying many thin coats instead of one thick coat. I can clearly remember trying to get all the paint on in one application when I was doing these as a kid which led to pooling and dripping. When I applied the primer to this one, I did it in three very thin coats. The photo here is after finishing the third coat. I still need to hit it with some wet/dry paper to smooth out the texture (I’m going to wait a day or two since I still don’t have the body paint anyway), but aside from that it looks pretty darn good. I used an 1800 grit sanding cloth between applications to remove blemishes and take excess paint off of the emblems, trim and door hardware (which probably wasn’t strictly necessary) and it left the final coat looking pretty darn good. I could leave it as is and it would look better than the finished paint job on the last model I built (some thirty years ago).

body2I finally received the paint I ordered from Hobbytown -a full ten days after ordering it- so I could get to work on the body. The color I chose is called ‘Lime Gold Metal Flake’. Note the words metal flake at the end. In my naivete, I assumed that metal flake paint would go on just the same as normal paint and just look kind of, well, flaky. Nope. Not at all. My first two mist coats were impossibly lightly sprayed -to the point that the car was still mostly primer after completing them- but there were still pools and drips galore in the paint. It took a ridiculous amount of sanding and smoothing to get it to look even remotely uniform in color (this could also have something to do with the age of the paint. This color has been discontinued but I don’t know for how long. It could have been sitting on the shelf for years). The picture I posted here doesn’t do the finish justice; it is very smooth and looks wonderful… Except some discoloration on the driver’s door that I just couldn’t sand/polish away. It’s like I told my brother-in-law, It’s going to be like your breakfast pancakes: the first one never looks very good.

There were a couple of other issues on the body paint front: 1) I was nearly out of paint by the time I started doing the scoop on the hood (which is in black on the model image, but which I wanted to make body color and it doesn’t quite match). 2) I failed to install the side mirrors at any point during the painting process. I have them painted, but not installed. If I attempt to install them now, it will totally fuck the body paint and I used the entire can trying to get the rest of it smooth. It looks like this one might not have side mirrors.

interiorHaving now established that I not capable of finishing the body paint in anything approaching a professional manner, I jumped right into the interior detailing. My first attempt was with a brush and came out horribly. So interior pan number one got thrown aside. Interior pan number two, I took a different approach and bought some off-the-rack Krylon Fusion paint in a satin black finish (I bought several cans in other colors as well). This stuff goes for four bucks a can, is about three times the size of Testors, Model Master or Tamiya paint and dries enough to work with in fifteen minutes instead of hours. I wouldn’t try to do a body finish with it, but for interior and undercarriage type stuff it does the job just fine. I sprayed the whole pan in satin black then went back in and added wood grain and silver where necessary. I also hand brushed the seats, tufted parts of the doors, and the center console in a semi gloss gun metal color which is why they appear to be a slightly different color. This part came out okay, but I got a little sloppy with the wood grain color. It was a lesson learned.

The motor presented me with another dilemma. This one was just about color. Mopar has used way too many colors for their engines over the years, some of which were used only briefly (some only for a single model engine). The 440 six pack on this one should be done in a pale orange. However, I remember the engine from Dave’s Roadrunner being red. This could be the product of a faulty memory or aftermarket paint, but I do know that Dave’s didn’t have the famed 440 six pack (I believe the motor was dropped in 72 to meed stricter emission guidelines). Red was a color used on other Mopar engines at the time though, so that is what I went with. Also, I’d be lying if I said that not wanting to buy a bottle of orange paint for this motor and knowing I would never be able to use it again wasn’t a factor. Below, you’ll see the standard 440 six pack color on the left (and, incidentally, I believe that is the body color I was trying to match) while the image on the right is the non 440 six pack color I was shooting for.

engine1For the engine, I went with another Krylon paint, this one in a satin red. I painted all the engine parts this color (including the chrome) before going back over it with a brush and Chrysler Engine Red paint. The red engine paint is a close enough match for many muscle car motors so I’ll get some more use out of it later on. The only piece of the engine that I didn’t do in standard engine color is the carburetor. This came finished in chrome, which I painted over with some metallic gloss silver to look a bit more like an actual engine component. It pained me to paint over the shiny chrome valve covers and air filter (which were usually the first two pieces of any V8 motor that I would rush out and get in chrome when I was driving such cars). Keeping the first pancake theory in mind, I’m not going to do a lot of detail on the engine. I did the belts and pulleys, hoses and etc. but I’m not going to go so far as to do the starter and other components since this model will likely be hidden away once I finish my second pancake.

dashNext up was the dashboard. Having learned a lesson from my freehand painting of the wood grain in the previous image, I took the time to lay down some 10mm Tamiya Masking Tape for this. The edges of the wood grain are much sharper in this one and without a lot of bleed. The masking tape was worth the few bucks and it is much easier to maneuver around uneven surfaces and corners than a larger tape. I also purchased some FrogTape for use on larger areas. The dash is supposed to have wood grain around the instrument cluster and stereo knobs as well, but I didn’t think I would have been able to pull that off even with masking tape. Instead, I did it all with Krylon satin black and followed up with some flake silver paint to circle the instrument clusters and coat the knobs as well as the GTX logo in the wood grain. The dash looks so much better than the interior pan. Already on my way to my second pancake!

treeI still have a ways to go on this, but I do have most of the painting done (I’ve found, as many modellers lacking supplies have, that it is easier to paint the small parts on the tree and touch up after the fact than to cut them out and paint them later. If I build another model I will probably invest in some alligator clips on a stick so I can cut the sprues and trim the rough edges to eliminate painting everything twice). I went my own way with most of the colors here. The whole thing is painted with Krylon satin black and most of the rest of the components are painted up and ready to got. I thought the steering wheel would look better in silver and wood grain than black with a wood center that was recommended. The silver for the exhaust manifolds and gray for the pipes feels right (and hopefully will look right, too). I did the leaf springs, axle and differential in the gun metal semi gloss so it would be a different color than the flat black frame (I don’t think it looks right when you flip a model over and everything except the exhaust is the same color). I also have a drive line from the other kit that I did with both black and gray to try to make it look not so brand new. I’ll see which one I like better.