Model Mayhem

For model-car builders, anything is possible if you think outside the box.

Story: Branden J. Peters

Photography: Gabriel Milori

The model car culture has changed a lot since most of us were kids. Back in the day, companies like Revell only offered basic model kits, with maybe a little paint for variety. Today, thanks to online retailers and hobby shops, builders can trick out their whips with specialized rims, custom parts and pearl or candy paint. Almost any custom feature made for a big whip is also available for its small-scale version.

Santiago Hernandez, aka Mr. 1/16th—who built the scale whips you see here—got into the hobby as a kid watching his dad build model cars. Santiago is part of a vast community of model builders that includes model car clubs from coast to coast (such as the nationally known NNL model car shows), numerous model car-building organizations, and several magazines and websites dedicated to the hobby.

Many model car builders pattern their scale cars after the artists who put their blood, sweat and money into real custom cars. “Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego and a few different areas took a lot of Americana [cars]—like the Caprice, Impala and Pontiac—and revitalized them,” says Santiago. “The biggest thing right now is everyone is leaning toward the old-school muscle cars, with a bit of Miami Donk flavor to them. So in a sense…we do the same thing: We take the base and sculpt our image of a model car.”

The time it takes to build one of these beauties varies based upon how detailed the builder wants it to be. The average person can put a car together in six to seven hours, depending on how long it takes the paint to dry, but a lot of veteran builders take months to perfect a car.

Unlike many areas of car culture, the model-car community is all encompassing. Competitions, which are held around the globe, usually include several classes for age and skill level. The more competitive shows with cash prizes are run like real car shows, with multiple categories that include best paint, best interior and best scale. Entry into the hobby is the price of a kit, which usually starts around $20 for a 1/24th-scale car (popular sizes range from 1/6th to 1/24th)—but a good, highly detailed model can cost a grip. Between buying the kit, photo etching, paint, wheels and so forth, Santiago says that a top-notch model can range from $500 to $3,000 or more. That sounds steep, until one considers that some highly sought-after, fully assembled vintage scale models are currently selling on eBay for as much as $75,000.

For those who want to get into the game, Santiago has some words of advice: “Do your research, find out what kinds of cars you want to build, never be afraid of the plastic—remember, it’s plastic, it can be repaired—and enjoy yourself.” Follow those rules and you may be able to cop your dream car after all…you just won’t be able to drive it.

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