Fads. We’ve all seen them come, and we’ve all seen them go. The problem with fads is determining if they are indeed just fads, flashes in the proverbial pan so to speak, or if they are something more. Something with lasting potential. Because fads are largely dictated by the tastes of a large number of people, it can be very difficult to predict them in advance and it can be just as hard to determine when they will fall from favour. After all, something can be a big deal one day, and then gone the next.
The other thing with fads is that they happen in every aspect of culture. From music to fashion and from food to technology, new ideas are constantly coming and going, or are finding a solid, permanent place in society. Some notable fads that haven’t proven to be of any long-term importance are Poodle Skirts, Pet Rocks and Laser Discs. Others include the telephone, the car, the airplane and video games, not to mention that biggest fad of all, that nuisance known as the “internet”.
If you read that last line with a raised eyebrow and thought to yourself: “Aha! I see what he did there! I can smell sarcasm when I see it, er… or something…” then you’re right. However, you’re also wrong. For, you see, there were times in history when all those things were considered to be nothing more than passing fancies, ideas that were just silly, and whose time would soon pass. They were seen as useless wastes of time, and that was by those people who were supposedly “in the know”! With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how wrong they were, but at the time things weren’t so clear-cut.
One thing all those “fads” have in common was that they were technologically-based, and that the technology at their time of introduction was both primitive and, in some cases, dangerous. Take cars, for example; they weren’t called “horseless carriages” for nothing! Early cars, from the late 1800s in Europe and early 1900’s in North America were just that, and were not particularly durable, safe or even practical. There were no standards for early automotive design, and everybody just went with whatever ideas they had. That’s why there were so many different powerplant options, body styles and control systems used in these “ancient” cars.
However, these “fads” hung on just long enough to see the technology mature to a point where, all of a sudden, the car went from an impractical rich man’s toy to something that could be of use on a daily basis. The general configuration for a car became more standardized, with things like engine placement (in the front, vs. under the floor), driveline design and suspension (actually having some!) benefitting greatly from early mistakes. The revolution of pneumatic tires further improved handling and ride, and by the late 1900s many of the cars being produced were actually sound pieces of engineering.
A good example of this was the first Hupmobile, in 1909. If you’re not familiar with the Hupp Motor Car Company, you’re likely not alone. Since they died in 1940, it’s not a name that is really heard much anymore. Indeed, Hupmobiles weren’t purchased to the same degree as Fords, Chevrolets or other cars of their day, but they were popular enough in the teens and twenties. Hupmobiles were all mid-priced, four-cylinder cars until 1925; at that point they tried to expand upmarket, and that’s when things started to go wrong.
Things began well enough, though, and the Model 20 runabout, introduced in the company’s first year of 1909, was a definite hit. It was a sporty two-seater with rakish lines and a price tag much lower than would have been expected. It had a lot of hallmarks of higher-cost “high performance/sporty” cars, including a lack of front windscreen, a curved dash (vs. a plank that protruded rudely behind the hood), bucket seats and even a hood tie-down strap! Most of these things were found on much higher-line marques, like Stutz’s famous Bearcat. In a way, the Hupmobile Model 20 runabout was much like the 1988 Fiero GT of its day. It was a racy-looking two-seater with good performance and all the sporting touches. Just like the Fiero was a “budget Corvette”, the Model 20 could be thought of as a “baby Bearcat”, and thus enjoyed a certain popularity as a result!
Nowadays, Brass-Era (BE) cars aren’t really something a lot of people long to build models of. They’re too far in the past for people to feel nostalgic about them. The shapes and even layouts of cars have also changed a lot, and many people now don’t find BE cars even to be that car-like anymore. Thus, there aren’t a lot of BE cars released nowadays. Sure, there’s the Revell Germany Model T, but there were so, so many makers back in the early days that most, like Hupmobile, have largely been forgotten. (Note: Hupmobile was one of the most successful of the early makers, surviving until WWII. There were a tonne of other, more local makers, that were literal flashes-in-the-pan!)
There was, however, a time when that wasn’t the case. Just like how Matchbox created Models of Yesteryear replicas to cater to a specific market, there was also a desire to model cars from the Brass Era, especially in the ‘50s and ‘60s. After all, in the ‘50s, the Brass Era was only 40 years ago. That’s like me being interested in cars from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, which you know I am! Heck, my Trans Am is 40 years old now, and I think it’s pretty hot! Thus, when you consider that, it’s no surprise there were a lot of people who would have been more interested in the “ancient” horseless carriage-type of things back then.
As the previously niche hobby of modelling began to be more widespread, plastic kits began to appear in the 1950s. This resulted in an explosion in modelling interest by young people, and it really did go from niche to fad in a short time. One of the earlier kits to come out was a 1904 Rambler, produced by Kaysun. If you don’t know Kaysun, I’m not surprised. I didn’t know them either. Hawk got their moulds when they died. After the Rambler, they produced a model of the 1909 Hupmobile Model 20 Runabout. This, again, fell to Hawk when Kaysun packed it in (I believe they only made the two kits). This Hawk rendition was one of the many kits that Alan sent to me in his massive four-pound box o’ awesome! Since it won the poll (by a very narrow margin, I must note), I thought we’d take a look at it first.
For vintage collectors, this box is a scream! Even though the Hawk is a much, much newer repop, it dates from 1964, and it’s no spring chicken now! Everything about this box is awesome, but in a much different way than I think old MPCs or Matchboxes are awesome. There’s something simple and classic about this box. It is definitely a piece of its era, but it has a class to it. Not only that, but it it’s less “sensational” than other boxes, both layout- and art-wise. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but it reminds me of a box you’d see for some other kid of consumer good, maybe something like crackers, or drinking straws. It’s a box you see and know from the fonts, colours and composition that it’s old, and you say: “Man, that’s an old box! How cool is that!”. The box is, itself, a statement, let alone how it presents what’s in it.
As for the main art, it’s simple and very unusual, in some ways. The white band that takes up about the left third tells you everything you need to know. It’s very dressy and simple, with a variety of fonts. I do love the addition of “A wonderful addition to any car collection”… the box is begging you to consider this little runabout instead of another ’64 Mustang or GTO kit. Even then, it seems, Hawk had a feeling that against more modern competition, the little Hupmobile might not draw attention.
One thing that is amazing is that this is in 1/24 scale. Why is that amazing? Well, don’t forget that back then so much was “box scale” that getting a kit in a “normal” or “established” scale that’s still in use today is something pretty cool. Add to that the fact that the kit is moulded in two colours, and it’s actually even more advanced than a number of kits that would come later! To be fair, though, one of the colours is black, for the tires alone, so it is a bit of a cheat, but it’s not false advertising! I like that the series is called “Highway Classics”; Hawk thereby admitting even in ’64 that the Hupmobile was fairly old news. I wonder… did they even have highways in 1909? There wouldn’t have been many, I don’t think.
The box art continues the subdued, classy vibe. The interesting part is that the art is a photo of a completed model. You know I hate that, in general (‘80s and ‘90s Revellograms are terrible for this). But here, the image works, and on a number of levels. Its simple and clean, like the Hupmobile itself. The airbrushing and use of the “spotlight” effect really adds to the vintage look, and reminds me of a lot of old advertisements I see in LIFE magazines from the era. The most amazing part, though, is that there are modelling supplies also in the picture! There are two jars of paint in the background (Those Testors 7ml jars just don’t change, eh?) with the lid of another in the bottom right corner. I love the paintbrush on the left side; it almost manages to intrude on the “spotlight”! This drives home the fact that this is a model, while subliminally telling you you’re going to have to paint it to make it look good.
At the same time, the box conveys the appeal of modelling in general; craftsmanship. The Hupmobile was a well-crafted car that outshone even more expensive competitors. This box art shows a continuation of the “craftsman’s spirit” by highlighting the finished model in a spotlight, and highlighting that it IS a model. It subtly implies that both vehicle and kit are for those who have both taste and skill. The finished model is there to not only show you what’s in the box, but to convey that, when done, you should take pride in what you’ve made. That’s something missing from the contextually-bankrupt and boring Revellogram boxes I’ve already hated on. While it may seem outwardly boring, the box is really a nice work of art, and is, not surprisingly, a demonstration of yet another kind of craftsmanship: that of the graphic artist.
Because the box is small (about the size of a 1/144 airplane kit now), there’s not much to see on the sides. Both tell you that the kit is a 1909 Hupmobile, and one side tells you it’s from 1964 Chicago, while the other tells you that the kit will fit into any collection. Given the small size of the box, I feel that this is not just hyperbole. The ends of the boxes let you know that this is kit 635-50, and have an unadulterated version of the “spot lit” box art. That spotlight effect really makes a difference, as the on the box ends looks somewhat pedestrian.
Inside the top-opening and surprisingly sturdy box were two Ziploc bags of parts, the instructions and the main chassis/fender assembly. I cannot say how the kit came originally, but there are some pieces still on runners, so I assume it came basically like an MPC – a few small sprues of parts and then the wheels and chassis were separate. Did it all come in a bag? I really can’t say. For some reason, though, I’d almost bet against it, since my ancient Strombecker Pinto didn’t seem to.
The first two impressions you get are “Small” and “Yellow”. This thing is moulded (save the tires/wheels) in very bright yellow plastic. It’s a simple kit, without a lot of parts, but what’s there is hard to miss due to the brightness of the colour used. Amazingly, the plastic doesn’t’ seem to be too different from what we would expect from a ‘70s or ‘80s kit! It’s very glossy and fairly brittle. If you’re not careful, you will cut yourself open on the razors edges that are the insides of the fenders!
Being an old kit that is a repop of an older kit, I was expecting a bit of flash. I wasn’t disappointed! However, I was impressed by how little there was. All car kits have mould lines that need cleaning up, and the Hupmobile is no different. However, for out-and-out flash, I’ve seen far worse in far newer kits. There’s a bit on the engine and around a few of the fender-support bars, and the boot of the convertible top has some, but by and large, this kit popped out pretty cleanly from its moulds! I was particularly impressed with the tires, which are extremely well-cast, and barely even have a seam or mould line on them! So, how could Kaysun do that then, but others couldn’t much later? Remember “Craftsmanship”? Yeah…
On that note, though, you like are wondering how detailed this kit is. Well, it is and it isn’t that well-detailed. By modern standards, it’s pretty basic. It’s a curbsider, meaning that it has no engine. There’s a pan to represent the bottom of the engine, but that just means we’ll have to paint the underside of the hood, back of the grille and the firewall flat black. Of course, this also means the kit is on par with nearly every Tamiya car ever made, so it’s in good company there! The rest of the detail is fairly minimal, but that’s also in keeping with the simple nature of the car. The grille texturing seems nice, and the hood ornament (well, radiator ornament, I guess) is not only nice, but still intact!
If you, like me, at first thought that this kit is missing a piece, namely one of the long leaf springs, don’t be alarmed! If you’re used to more modern cars (but not too modern) then you may be thinking “There should be two leaf springs – once for each side!” That’s what went through my head until I saw the instructions. This may be a more advanced car than some of the horseless carriages that preceded it, but it still uses a single transverse spring at the rear. Thus, this kit really is complete, despite the odd number of springs!
The floorboard has some corrugation texture (that I’m not yet sure is legit), but there’s no woodgrain on the firewall/dashboard. This is a shame, because this was usually highly polished wood, but a decal, or some veneer, can maybe be used for this purpose. I’ve also seen it painted body-colour on some cars, too. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a case of “over restoration” when you see it as bare wood; just like how pickups will often have their beds “restored” to polished wood, when they would have originally been painted black. I ran into that when I was building my ’64 Fleetside, and it seems the same phenomenon could be at work here.
As on any BE car, the lamps are a major part of the charm. The two Firewall Lamps (not sure what you’d call them) are intact, but have sink marks in them. The same is true of the tail lamp. This can be fixed, of course. What is harder to fix is the fact that these are solid. In this case, Bare Metal Foil will have to do to replicate the reflectiveness of the glass in these lamps. Less easy, though, will be the headlamps. These are nicely rendered for the age of the kit, but they have no glass. They’re just open “pots”. This is a big deal, because acetylene lamps always have glass. So, some clear sheet styrene will be needed for this.
I’m amazed that, despite there being no engine, that you do get a flywheel for the cranking system. Since the car ran on magneto vs. battery power, there’s no battery, and the magneto switch is replicated on the “dashboard”. The food pedals and brake/shifter levers are adequate, but not terrific. You can really see where we get “bucket seats” as a term, when you look at the two seating units. They have a bit of variation moulded into them to give the impression of “squish” on the seating surfaces, and this will look great highlighted with pastels.
Unlike most extant examples of the car, though, the model just has straight, unupholstered seat backs. I do like that you can see an outline for the back window on the folded up convertible top. Nice touch, Kaysun! Even cooler though is the one thing that gives BE cars their distinct sound and is something of a trademark of the breed – the bulb horn! The horn on this model is classic in it’s curly-elongated bulbiness. It looks like a cross-breed of a bugle, an old perfume bottle and an extension cord! Awesome!
The instructions for the Hupmobile are very interesting and unusual, especially to those of us more used to newer instructions. The front side of the single, folded-in-thirds page, has a write up about the car, some other views of the completed kit, and notes on painting. Of course, it’s all black and white, but every little bit helps! In today’s world of crowded urban centres, I get a certain thrill by seeing that this kit was made by the “hawk model company, chicago 56, illinois”. Chicago 56. No five-digit ZIP Codes. Just 56. That tells you a lot. It’s also weird that it seems they had E.E. Cummings do their company addressing, since it eschews capital letters even for proper nouns. It’s intriguing, but the grammar-Nazi in me quickly gets his hackles up when I see stuff like this.
The actual building part occurs on the back side of the instructions, where there are three different views showing where everything goes. I’ll be honest, it’s not the most clear set of building instructions I’ve seen. In keeping with the age of the kit, and the assumed literacy of the modelling public, there are a LOT of words. In today’s age of multinational, pictorial instructions, to see this much wording is a jolt. I do love that the parts are all labelled, as it gives you a chance to learn more about the car and its parts. And that is another part of the charm of these old kits. They took themselves seriously as both a hobby and as an educational tool. Less sizzle, more steak. There are some lessons to be learned in there. I’m not sure why they chose such a “western” font for the titles and numbers, but it does make you want a sassafras and to play poker on a table made from a barrel. Maybe that’s just me…
Notice there’s not a mention of decals anywhere? That’s simply because there aren’t any. These cars often had ornate pinstriping, but that’s not part of this package, so the modeller is left to his/her own devices to figure this part of the painting out, should there be a desire to include them. Keeps it simple, at least, and I doubt the decals would have survived anyway. Mind you, the decals in my Farpro Japan kits are just as old, and they still largely worked…
The Brass Era is a long-gone, very romantic time in the history of the automobile. While the mass appeal of this era in motoring history has largely faded away, I will admit to always having found cars of this early epoch to be most interesting. They exude a pioneering spirit and attention to detail that is different from more modern cars. These cars are almost an elemental force, since they have almost no creature comforts and contain no real “technology” beyond the internal combustion engine itself.
Like biplanes, I have never built a Brass Era car. Of course, part of the reason is that, until now, I’ve never had a chance to. This kit isn’t common by any means, and the relative rarity of Brass Era models in today’s market means I was never really able to take the plunge into this fascinating world. Thanks to my good friend Alan, though, I can now correct that oversight!
Despite this kit’s apparent simplicity, it is by no means for inexperienced modellers; not if you want to do it right. I know it was for relative tyros back when it was made, but rarity and the level of skill needed to successfully bring this kit to completion have moved the bar significantly. This is no longer a pocket money kit, since they’re very hard to find. Thus, I would only recommend it for those who have a goodly amount of experience with modelling, and who have a good number of tools on hand. A photoetch saw set will help get the finer parts off the runners, and cleaning up the flash in some hard to reach spots will require several types of knives and plyers.
Despite its age, I’m sure this kit can be built well. It is my hope that I can do it justice. I have no idea how I’m going to do the Brass on it though; it seems nobody makes a good polished brass paint! So, again, extra effort beyond just glue and paint is going to be needed on this buggy.
I’m very excited by this kit. It’s different, interesting and it’s a great piece of both motoring and modelling history. It comes from a time when modelling wasn’t the established hobby it is now. The folks and Kaysun, and then Hawk, banked on the fact that modelling, just like the car itself, was a fad that would take hold. The fact that this little gem sits in a stash with hundreds of other car and plane kits does bear witness to the fulfillment of that hope. This is an awesome example of a model that blazed a path, just like its subject did, into a world that could have rejected it as easily as it embraced it. Thankfully, both cars and models took off, and we have companies like Hupmobile and Kaysun to thank for it!