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Hagerty Employee

How plastic model cars stoked interest in their real-life peers—and vice versa

Most car enthusiasts older than about eight years old have likely assembled a plastic scale model car kit at one time or another, though the hobby is long past its golden years of the 1960s. It shouldn't surprise you that like their full-scale siblings, much of the history of plastic scale-model cars took place in and around Detroit. While California's Revell and Chicago's Monogram were major players in the model kit industry, they didn't concentrate on model cars. It was companies in the Detroit area, Jo-Han, AMT, and later MPC, that provided the foundation for the model car kit industry.


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I started building model cars when I was 4. The local Kmart had one gigantic aisle devoted to model cars. The funny thing is, it seemed every dept. store had a model aisle in the toy section back in the late 70s/early 80s. From my experience back then, whether it was dept. store, or hobby shop, the biggest selection for model cars was Monogram and Revell with a small spattering of the ones that supposedly paved the way. 

Community Manager

Good point, I remember Kmart had the largest selection in my area.  How times have changed! 


Models were where most of started. I just found a box of cars I built as a kid and plan to put them in a display case. 

I still love to work on a model now and then but today they are very difficult to find locally and the $5 kits are $25 today. It is sad at these prices even if kids were interested they just could not afford them. 

heck I am about to start on a Lego Lamborghini. It has a working gear box and AWD. Price $400. 

With $500 play stations and the rest it makes it expensive to be a kid anymore. These prices when I was a kid could get me a real car lol!


At least many kits have been reproduced so you can find most of any at a reasonable price to build vs an original kits collector price. 


I started constructing models in the mid 1970's. It was long after the heyday of the model building craze, but we had a couple of good hobby stores in our dinky town. I built a lot of AMT models, as the one store sold them for less than the MPC and Revell models. In 1975 I could get a model, a tube of glue, two cans of spray paint, one of the small bottles of paint and a crappy polyester brush for about $5.00. Of course, that's like $25 in 2020 dollars. I think I'd spend closer to $50 today to replicate that haul. 


There's a guy on YouTube called maxsmodels (I think) who covers a lot of this history. It was kind of fascinating to see how many paths crossed and who did what in an industry that influenced my childhood greatly.

Intermediate Driver

I remember the 3 in 1 AMT kits, and I bought the '57 Fairlane kit to mock up how I wanted to paint my '57. Car's long  gone sadly, but the kit is still around some where. At least I have that memory.  

Intermediate Driver

The article made me smile with reminiscing.  I was 7, in 1964, when my dad bought me my first model car - a '64 Ford Galaxie fastback hardtop, with a space for batteries and four headlights which lit up!  I had a weekly allowance of $2 back then, and most models were $2 to buy, and by the time I was 12 I even had my own model making desk in my bedroom, which was pretty cool to my friends, who also made models!  By the time I left home for the Air Force at age 18, I had 200 model cars in my collection.  When I came home after basic training and school, on my way to England for my first tour, I went home to find my mom had thrown all but two or three of my cars out.  "You're not a kid anymore, what's the problem?"  I think a lot of moms did that, otherwise some of the more rare models would be less rare these days.  I never did tell mom how much value those models would have had in decades to follow.  I still have one 1966 Mustang promotional right here in my office, but that's the only one I still have from that timeframe.  

Intermediate Driver

i too started my interest in cars via models. built a crap load. me and my buddies would get together and trade parts. built AMT, Revel, Monogram and Jo-Han. the Jo-Han hearse kit was a favourite. i found that the lady from the king kong kit with some arm adjustment, was the right scale and size to fit in the casket. i was a "different" child. still am. i still have most of my 60's kits

New Driver

I started building models in the mid sixty's not only cars but airplains and military boats and vehicles . Most didn't survive my teenage years my brothers and I started putting those Esta rocket engines in them and race them down the driveway were they mostly crashed and burned . But building thoses engines lead me to rebuild my first 327/365  engine when I was 15 and kept it in my bedroom closet ( my mom and dad put up with 3 gearhead boys ) . Once I turned 16 I bought a 65 Chevelle Delux 300 and put it in it . Years down the road I bought a 70 Nova ( in 74 ) after driving the Nova from my home outside Chicago to Daytona , California to Canada . Having put over 120,000 on it in 78 I built my dream model engine a 350 with a Dyers Blower and thats way it remains today . When I would take my kids to all day car shows I would bring a model car along and we would build the cars . They wouldn't always come out right but they sit on the shelf with all my dicast cars

Intermediate Driver

Well, you totally skipped Revel, which was a huge model kit maker (for model builders). There was also Airfix (British) for those playing with HO model trains (I was a kid, after all).


But the biggest omission, IMO was the Monogram Big T 1/8 kit. I first saw that as a 10 year old and knew it was the kit I wanted. Eventually (12) bought it on a  holiday in the USA and kept it for years.


Again, thanks to mom for throwing it (and all my other built models) out when I went to university. I did keep my Revel space models such as the Saturn V model which I now also have as a Lego kit.


"fabricated four", I love it!  I don't know if you originated it, but it's a nice touch.  I was very much into making model cars in my youth; my total builds approached triple-digits and my nephew has them now, many in display cases.  Thanks for the history and the memories.

Intermediate Driver

The kit I remember most was the 1/8th scale 1965 corvette model I got for christmas in 1966. I was 16 and already into models and reading hot rod magazines. Now I'm 70 and still building them. I have built 100s of kits. I have friends that I've built kits to match the real cars they owned and for myself also. Yes they have got me interested in the cars I've owned and wanted to own.

Intermediate Driver

I'm surprised you didn't mention how all the big model car companies ( AMT Revell, MPC, Monogram, Jo-Han, Aurora ) cashed in on the slot car racing boom in the mid 1960s. Using their beautifully detailed 1/24 scale model bodies mounted on in-house designed slot car chassis. It was great fun for a few years. ... Gary


How well I remember saving my pennies (literally) and then going into the one department store in Twentynine Palms that sold plastic model kits, and buying whatever I had had my eye on for the last month. And the thick aroma of glue filling my room, at what cost to my developing brain cells I hope never to find out. And very carefully painting everything with a tiny brush, millimeter by millimeter. And that fateful day in 1958 when my father looked at my carefully displayed finished products and said "why do you waste your time with this crap? You don't learn anything from it" (meaning anything that would increase my future earning capacity) and in one swoop gathered up the models I had spent years building and dumped them in the alley trashcan. And I couldn't even cry about it because in those days, boys weren't allowed to cry. And I also remember how every time we moved all of my toys mysteriously disappeared. 


I was around 7 or 8 when my dad and I built a Blue Devil destroyer model (which I see is still being produced).  He of course did most of the building.  But that got me hooked.  And I started with cars after that. 

After reading some of the comments, I realize I'm not the only one whose models suffered the fate of "mom's cleanup while at college".  The Matchbox cars and cases were given to my nephews, who proceeded to destroy most of them.  Hot Wheels suffered the same fate.  The now-impossible-to-find air conditioning parts (including under-dash and dash pieces) off the Road Runner safely stored in the attic - gone.  But the most painful one was the '71 Cuda model. Painted parts separately.  Detailed the seats and dash. And built with great care.  Gone.

I find some consolation in a stable of Mopars - all 1/18 die cast.  The details in those things are quite remarkable.  And they all fit just fine in the garage.

Community Manager

And most die casts appreciate in value almost as well as a classic muscle car!  Hard not to go wrong with them, provided you buy them new. 


You are very lucky to recover 50% of the original cost, now. Especially the
Danbury and Franklin Mint, or GMP race cars. Go to any retirement area in the South to a local flea market or swap meet and see. Everybody that wanted one got one, or are just waiting for giveaway prices...
New Driver

A large case of "If Ida known then what I know now".  Thanks Mom, for chucking all my models away as junk, built and un-built.  Going to the 5 & 10 to see what's new, sigh.

Pit Crew

I still have many of the kits I built and enjoy sharing them and many old unbuilt kits with my grand kiddos. Thanks to all the folks who manufactured great fun for 1960 kids


The Monkee Mobile was designed by now retired Ford designer Howard "Buck" Mook. He is still very active in the art world with his paintings and numerous collector cars.
I worked at Fundimensions (MPC-Lionel-Craftmaster) 1975-77. Most fun job ever, but the pay was abysmally low. Toteff had totally control over marketing, box art, and product  decisions. Never saw him much in the design department, but GM got the 20th Century license for Battle Star Galactica and Star Wars which provided a nice ongoing forever kit products. Couldn't do a "toy", as that was all Kenner Toys products.
We also did Lionel Power Passers HO scale slot cars, which was a good idea, that came out a year too soon. Sold several hundred thousand for a couple of years...

Pit Crew

I enjoyed my models as a kid in the 70s. I also enjoyed my older brothers models, just a little too much. I broke some of them and he gave me an a$$ whippin' LOL. I tried getting my sons into them but they weren't interested. I had a big box full of various models in various stages. I gave them to a friend of mine that still enjoys building them. He has health issues so this is his piece of mind.


Not sure how many of you reading this still actively build or collect car model kits, but want to point out that Scale Auto Magazine just closed up if you didn't know.  That was a real life paper magazine that shut down after 41 years, probably the best made and most complete model magazine of its time.  Its corporate parent promised to move model car content to its other magazine, FineScale Modeler, but hopes are low, as that magazine is devoted to military, ships, sci-fi, etc., and they probably won't have room to include but a few token car model stories.  They also shut down the Scale Auto website, which had years of how-to's, forum posts, and reader photo submissions.  The hobby had grown from contests, new and reissued products from the major manufacturers listed in this story, and aftermarket "cottage industry" folks who make resin bodies and photoetched parts to detail or convert existing kits.

So if you are a Hagerty person reading this, or someone with good business contacts, and would like to see a platform for promoting the model car industry (which is closely integrated with the full size car hobby), I'd like to make a pitch for contacting Kalmbach Media and see if you can grab up the Scale Auto brand, or promote the success of the next most promising (but currently struggling) publication, Model Cars Magazine.

The plastic is great but so is having a way to share and learn about the hobby besides FaceBook and YouTube!


Great Article, and Great Comments!

Was always a Car Crazy Kid, right through to today...


Was hooked on the 1/24th and 1/25th size, and got into Slot Cars of the same scale, though it was easier to race the Aurora HO  1/64ths at home, 'cuz the Slot Track were monopolized by the Big Kids...


By the time I could really afford to indulge my cravings, however, I was wrenching with the above-referenced Big Kids on Real Cars, and because I 'knew stuff' I was allowed to hang around, 'cuz I would rather do that than play with 'Toys' like the Babies.  Soooo, I stored those kits I couldn't live without in a box in the attic, to maintain my Hangin' Out with the Big Kids Image.  NOW, I have over 50 un-built kits from AMT, Revell, MPC, Jo-Han, and Others; Whoo-Hoo!


Your next Article can be on Hot Wheels...

Just Sayin'...