Saturday, May 18, 2013

Side Project: Quick n' Cheap HO Automobiles

With all this scenery and road building going on at Dunes Junction, I took on a side project to bring some more man-made visual features into view.  My 70s and 80s era layout could use some 70s and 80s era heaps and rustbuckets to stay on theme--Northwest Indiana is the rust belt, after all--so I dug into my backlog of projects to get a few quick n' cheap vehicles into the rotation on the layout.

The starting point for this little side project is the Motor Max Forgotten Classics Six-Pack. I stumbled upon this inexpensive little gem of set for cheap a year or so ago at Engine House Hobbies in nearby Gaithersburg, Maryland.

This die-cast set is a virtual who's who of completely forgettable 70s and 80s US-badged jalopies--
Motor Max Forgotten Classics Six-Pack. What a bargain!
and just the kind of workaday visual cues of a place and an era that puts Dunes Junction in Carter/Reagan-era Indiana. Back in those days, there was a strong 'Buy American' theme to auto-buying trends in the region, tied to the declining steel and heavy manufacturing economy--so these and similar cars are evident in photos of the South Shore from that period.

The set includes a '74 Gremlin and '77 Pacer, both made by the now-defunct AMC, which coincidentally operated a plant in South Bend, Indiana; and four Ford products, including a '77 Pinto custom wagon, an '81 Escort, an '84 Tempo, and '75 Mercury Bobcat (a 'luxury' Pinto).

The lineup.
Out of the package, they would be acceptable 'background' models, but they are too chrome-y and too shiny. To get them ready for the layout, I needed to kill the shine and emphasize the excellent detail with paint effects.

I started by dissassembling them to simplify the paint effects and endullenation process. All but the Gremlin can be disassembled by removing the small screws that hold the die-cast bodies to the plastic chassis tubs; the Gremlin is riveted so I took other steps later in the process.

The paint effect is scandalously simple: a 'sludge wash' of acrylic paint, water, and dish soap. wiped off when dry. It's an old airplane modeling trick used to accentuate panel lines.  Fine Scale Modeler, sister publication of Model Railroader offers an awesome explanation of the technique. Once the sludge wash is dry, it gets wiped off with a tissue or cotton swab, leaving neatly accentuated recessed details. I applied the wash to panel and door lines, as well as chrome wheels and grills.

On the move. I think Wayne and Garth might be in that Pacer . . .
Good old Testors Dullcote comes next. Dullcote will fog up any clear parts--so I only applied it to the die-cast car bodies and the wheels. For an old or weathered vehicle, this might be desirable--I've seen a neat windshield wiper effect done with a semicircle-shaped bit of masking tape. I was too lazy to un-rivet the Gremlin, so I masked its windows with bits of damp tissue pushed into place with a tooth pick.
Indiana license plates only on the rear back then. The custom Pinto wagon (my least favorite vehicle of the lot) got Illinois plates, which are the customary front-and-back

After the Dullcote dried overnight, I reassembled the autos. A final finishing touch: era-specific license plates. I found some license plate images on Google and reduced them to HO using Photoshop, then printed them, cut them out, and glued them on. This detail fills in an important visual gap and ties the cars to the era and place of Dunes Junction.

Have a look and see what you think . . .