It’s hard to have something as cool, outrageous and downright overdone as Gold Rush just sitting on your shelf staring you in the face. It’s completely overwrought seventies-ness calls out to be freed, to let loose upon the world all that shag carpet and disco have to offer. Well, like Pandora before me, I couldn’t resist the temptation for long and I decided to take the plunge and see just what kind of adventure I could have building this almost overly eccentric expression of MPC’s wild side.
Before I continue, though, I need to make what appears to be an obvious (under?)statement. The Internet is a big place. That “information superhighway” has a lot of traffic and travellers on it, and I was interested to see what others had done with Gold Rush, so that I could aim to at least meet my peers on equal terms. Doing a few internet searches, though, didn’t turn up much. If you look up “MPC Dodge Gold Rush Van” on Google, you’d expect to find lots, right? I mean, it’s a cool looking kit, it’s somewhat uncommon and it’s got a retro vibe you couldn’t even cut with a chainsaw. However, I got nothing. Zilch. Zip. This got me thinking: “Why isn’t anyone building this thing?” I mean, they just rereleased Bad Company, which is another version of Gold Rush, so there must be enough interest.
Keeping my bemused astonishment and this lack of built Gold Rushes in the back of my mind, I emptied the contents of the kit onto my modelling table and got to work. Only later would I find out the answer to my question, in a most MPC-appropriate way.
Flared for Your Displeasure:
One of the first things I did was to see how all the various flares fit on. Some of MPC’s flares are an amazing fit. The ones on their Omni are actually very good, and a dry fit of the Cavalier’s flares was also promising back when I built it. So, I eagerly tried fitting the almost half-length IMSA flares to the van’s back end. This is when I had my first pangs of serious doubt. Let’s face it, there are always pangs of doubt when even handling an MPC car kit, due to the flash, iffy forming and usually dodgy fit of things like seats and engine block halves, but those are all expected.
Unexpectedly, I found that the flares aren’t that easy to fit after all. The problem was that they didn’t seem to conform to the van’s contours anywhere. They got very close in places, but in those locations, the fender wells didn’t line up. It’s clear where the flares are supposed to go, but they just don’t quite go there. The contouring at the back of the flare, where it has to meet the ‘corner’ of the van was just not right, and I could sense that this was going to be a problem later. I had toyed with the idea of maybe leaving the flares off, painting them and then sticking them on at the end.
Yeah….. I don’t think so.
With greater trepidation, I tried fitting the front fender flares. These are much thinner, and also incorporate the running boards. I taped the main IMSAs onto the van’s haunches and tried to locate the front flares. I’m sure all of you out there in “internet land” are shocked that they didn’t fit worth a barrel of monkey farts. Well, that’s not quite true. The flare itself located pretty well on the fender. The problem was that the running boards didn’t like the van’s body, and they sure as shootin’ didn’t meet the flares! If you look at the box, the flares and the running boards meet up to form one Uberflare; not so much in real life. Of course, the two boards were also different lengths, so this lead to the need for some careful sanding. I wrote off the fact that the boards and flares didn’t meet as something I could live with; it was easier to leave it than fight with it, and it looked okay.
The chin spoiler, though… that’s something altogether different. If you look at the box (And how can you NOT?), you notice straight away that Gold Rush has one of the most pronounced and ridiculous chin spoiler treatments of any model van. The thing looks like some kind of primitive tribal decoration crossed with a Kirby vacuum cleaner from the 1940’s. Clearly, this is a major part of the kit’s charm. Of course, MPC gives you this as a separate piece. The problem, though, is that there is ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE TO LOCATE IT. There are two tiny, thin and not-quite-appropriately-contoured surfaces right at the front of the van that can be used to glue on this MASSIVE chin spoiler.
It doesn’t take a MENSA committee to see that this is just not going to work. A quick test fit proved it, mostly because it wasn’t quick. There was no way to hold both the van and the spoiler and have them join. Clearly, a lot more surface area was needed. Normally, I’d just glue on a couple of sheet styrene tabs as locating guides and I’d be off. Oh, but Gold Rush has different ideas! You see, the evil gnomes at the MPC Customizing Department (also known as the “Fatty Rolling and Flare Adding Committee”) decided to make life harder than that. The chin spoiler flares out, so there’s still no easy way to add a locating tab, without bending and curving it to match the spoiler’s contours!
Rather than try to do that, though, I decided to bring the spoiler to the tab. I used the curving pieces of the van’s normal body contours as locating tabs. I mixed up great gobs of Aves Apoxie Sculp putty and formed it all around the intruding body bits, on both sides. Basically, I buried these erstwhile tabs in putty like old Jimmy Hoffa in a bridge pylon! Once the putty was dry, it formed a cast around the tab, and held things in place. Sadly, my putty’s pretty old, so it didn’t have the holding power it should. I was able to slide the spoiler off the tabs! This was actually even better! I was able to do some other work, and then slide the spoiler on when I was done!
Getting My Fill:
It comes as no surprise that there’s some body filler needed on this kit. You have to expect that when building most cars, especially old MPCs. I saw it with the IMSA flares already, but I wasn’t ready for the trouble this kit would give me.
Looking at the kit it was obvious that two worlds had collided. One was the outrageously flared world of the Show Rod, which, combined with a Dodge, had resulted in Gold Rush. The other was the similarly outrageous world of MPC, which we all know is the undisputed champion of mould reuse. Thus, there were these amazingly aerodynamic-looking flares just dumped onto the stock Dodge van body.
So what’s the problem?
Doors. Doors are the problem. Look carefully, and you’ll see that Gold Rush has two side doors on the right side of the van. This is normal for this kind of Dodge. However, if you look again, you’ll see that the flares go right over them. So, then, the question is this: Do you cut door seams into the flares, and retain the doors, fill in the doors completely, or take the easy route and make it look like a weekend hack job custom by just leaving the door blocked with the flare? Clearly, I wasn’t willing to do the last; Gold Rush is too rare to waste that way. I decided to go full Show Van on this kit and eliminate the doors. I also decided to eliminate all the badging and door handles as well. I figured that the van was already heavily customized, so why not finish what MPC started and smooth it all out?
The idea was simple. I mixed some Tamiya Putty with acetone to make a nice thin liquid, and I applied it to the side door lines. I also applied it to the pits in the doors once I sanded the handles off. No sweat, I though. Once mixed with acetone and dried, Tamiya Putty is easy to work with. It is, but after doing it for the SIXTH TIME even an easy job gets to be a pain in the patoot. For some reason, no matter how many times I filled and sanded, the seams kept coming back. Like the proverbial bad penny or poorly dressed used car salesman, the door seams just kept showing up. It got to the point that I despaired of ever actually being able to eliminate them. You can run a bad penny over with a train, and the same may even work for the used car salesman, but that’s not going to fix Gold Rush.
This is when I hit on what proved to be an ingenious and extremely useful idea. Paint. Not just any paint, but Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) White paint. I needed something that had some body to it; some thickness and a bit of stickiness, but something that wasn’t reactive to ANYTHING. I needed something I could blob over the cracks and that would leak in to all the holes and seal things, but not soften or loosen it. The MMA white did the job perfectly. It is a very tough paint, and once it was dry and I sanded it, it stayed in place, saving me from my seams.
This was so good, that I also used it on the contours for the IMSA flares and for where the chin spoiler meets the front fender flares. This join was not good. In fact, it was a step-change in height and angle. Granted, the box didn’t made it look like the chin and flares were one piece, but in reality, the disconnect was shocking. This is where the “retouched photo of actual model” takes on a new meaning. Retouched? No, making a photo of Phyllis Diller look like Farrah Fawcett is retouching. The box picture of Gold Rush is just a lie, plain and simple! To get my revenge, I decided to integrate them completely! Once the gobs of filler got the chin spoiler largely integrated with the front flares, I used the White Paint Trick (WPT) to finish it off.
To make life later a bit easier, I took this opportunity to glue some very thin styrene from a printer cartridge pack onto the back of the chin spoiler. I then bent this up and into position to be used as a locating guide for the grille. Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing to stop the grille from falling into the van, save the two very small (and improperly aligned) edges and where it meets the hood above. Because expecting this to work is pipe dreaming at its best, I figured a big, solid plate to which to glue things would be the best solution. I hope it works out!
Goin’ All Out:
Since Gold Rush is all flares and shaved door handles, it only made sense to keep the crazy vibe going. One thing I didn’t’ like about Gold Rush was its exhaust. It was STOCK. WTF? All this crazy flaring, not to mention the shag ‘n’ buttoned-Naugahyde interior, custom grille and bumper, and the exhaust is just one puny little pipe? THAT is ridiculous, unlikely and just wrong. It messes with the universe in a way that just begs Karma to give you a swift boot where it hurts. Clearly, something had to be done.
I decided to give Gold Rush what it deserved (No! Not a 12-gauge blast at close range, but that’s also appropriate) and set about fitting a true dual custom exhaust system. No mufflers (lame), no Cats (more lame) just straight through bad-assed, chrome plated pipe organs! I was thinking of side pipes, but that was too easy; too cliché. No, I wanted more extreme. I decided to run a pipe back to the IMSA flare, then split it INTO the flare. This would give the impression that the exhaust was going into the flare, and wrapping around inside it. This would make sense (kinda); the muffler could be in the flare, and the breathers on the front of the flare could be used to keep the system from overheating and melting the flare and interior. It was wild, cool, and a bit silly; PERFECT! I then went and drilled two holes in the flare just aft of the fender. This would be where the pipes would exhaust.
I cut some styrene rod that was roughly the same size as the original exhaust, and bent the main lines to match where the originals would meet up with the exhaust manifolds. I then drilled two holes in each side of the lower body to duct the pipes into. At this point, I cut a second “sub pipe” for the split, and glued it in place. I repeated this on the other side of the van, making sure to take the staggered attachment to the engine into account. I then used some 1/8” styrene tube to make the tips. It should come as no surprise that I used the “ribcage splitter” design from my Trans Am as an inspiration here.
Even with the custom exhaust, there was still something missing. It seemed odd that a van as wild as Gold Rush wouldn’t have a spoiler. The problem would be finding an appropriate spoiler. Thankfully, Round 2 solved my problems! The good folks at Round 2 decided to reissue MPC’s old “Bad Company” van, the 1982 annual on this ‘70s Dodge. Bad company has some cool custom parts, including a see-through roof panel and a spoiler! To make things better, it’s not just any spoiler, but a double-decker whale-tail! I knew the fit would be dodgy (and it was) and that it would be littered with injector pin marks (it was), but I also knew that said spoiler would be the best hope for a low-effort custom solution. After cleaning it all up, I tried a test fit. It wasn’t half bad! It was much better than the chin spoiler!
Then came the idea to use the roof panel from Bad Company. Why not? A glass roof in such a custom van makes perfect sense. This is where I owe a big personal “thank you” to Round 2: the Bad Company I got didn’t have the glass rack in it. However, they were kind enough to send one along to me! Thus, I was able to pinch the glass roof for Gold Rush. I cut out the clearly-marked panel in the roof and found that it wasn’t a perfect fit. However, to simplify things, I glued in two styrene rails on the ceiling. These will provide a ledge to support the roof; I’m going to mount it on a few posts and make it an opening roof, so you can more easily see inside it!
Well, with the body finally nailed together, I can get to painting it and working on my favourite part of any van: the interior!
Next time we’ll take a look at the insides of the Gold Rush!