The automotive industry has always been about cutthroat competition. Never a good place for the head-in-the-clouds type of tinkerer or idealist, the savage truth is as it has always been; it’s a dog-eat-dog world and everyone is wearing the proverbial pair of Milk-Bone underwear. It’s no surprise, then that in the early days of automotive manufacturing in North America, there were dozens upon dozens of makers all hand-producing small numbers of cars, and just as many would enter the market as those who would be unceremoniously swept aside by the fortunes and vicissitudes of history.
A perfect example of this is one name almost no one, yet everyone, will recognize: David Dunbar Buick. Yes, that Buick. The same Buick of “Wildcat”, “Riviera” and “Grand National” fame. And yet, not the same one. Buick, and the car company he created, were, as it turns out, very different things. Unlike rival Henry Ford, who clearly held the control of Ford Motor Company with an iron fist (after some questionable finagling in the early days), Buick received severance from his own company in 1906, only three years after he started it. Why? Well, as it turned out, D.D. Buick was more of an inventor than a salesman, and he was more focused on the technology of his engines than running his company, which led to him being bought off.
Originally a plumber, D.D. Buick was quite an inventor. He became interested in internal combustion engines and had a few failed “false starts”; he had two other car companies before the Buick that we now know. So, it seems that D.D. wasn’t the kind to exert a lot of influence on an industry that has as much mercy as an adder with a toothache.
But that’s not so, for despite his failures D.D. Buick came up with something rather revolutionary, something we now know as the “overhead valve” engine. Most cars, at the time, used side valves, but Buick’s engine had them at the top, in what was then called “Valve in Head” configuration. This produced more powerful engines, and early Buicks were quite quick; hence the “White Streak” appellation. (Note: Most early Buick cars came in an ivory or just-off-white colour.) As we all know, the OHV engine is still around today, as is the Buick brand. So, while David Dunbar Buick himself might have been chewed up and spit out by the relentless automotive industry, his legacy still lives on.
His “Buick Motor Company” of 1903 was taken over by Willian Durant, who focused on the business end of things, and by 1909 the Buick company was doing extremely well. It was a cornerstone of the now-giant (but less so after 2009) General Motors Corporation, and created plants and sales numbers that rivalled what the early Ford Motor Company could put up. They offered a number of models that ranged from roadsters to touring cars by 1910, and in a surprising twist, the Buick name became a symbol of status in China. This is something that continues to be true to this day; if GM wants to sell something in China, it’s best to slap a Buick label on it!
Surprisingly, given the importance of Buick to North American automotive history, it is a brand that gets relatively short shrift from kit makers. There are a few evergreen subjects like the Wildcats, Rivieras and Grand Nationals, but compared to Ford and Chev kits, that’s just a drop in the bucket. However, I recently came across a Buick kit that I’d never seen before, and it was a doozie! This was the Life-Like Hobbies 1910 Buick Model 10, in the surprising scale of 1/32. I picked up this little curiosity at a toy show, as part of a Vintage Car Haul. To my surprise, it handily won the poll I posted, showing it was the kit that everyone wanted to know about!
So, let’s check it out, then; this little gem from ages past! While Life-Like is not a maker we hear much about anymore, they certainly had a diverse portfolio back in the day. Everything from railroad buildings to replica firearms, from sailing ships to motorcycles and from horse-drawn cannons to Brass-Era (BE) cars, could be found in their catalogue at some point. A number were old Pyro kits, and this 1910 Buick is one of those; sort of. It seems that this was a Pyro kit that didn’t get released, so it’s only thanks to Life-Like that we have this memento of a time when Buick was not only the lynchpin of GM but an automotive empire unto itself.
Despite the fact that this is a 1/32 kit, the box is as big as a standard 1/25 car today. That should imply that it’s fairly empty, and that is indeed the case. I can only imagine that Life-Like couldn’t be bothered to create a new-sized box, so just used their standard size for this model. The box art itself isn’t very impressive or dynamic. There’s a very-period moss-green background (Rather like the carpet in the townhouse I grew up in!) and a Life-Like logo in the top left corner. The bulk of the box, though, is dominated by an appropriately off-white Buick coming at you in a low-three-quarters view.
The Buick is so big, the back corner doesn’t quite fit on the box! The perspective is a bit odd, to be honest, and it makes the car look a bit cartoonishly nose-heavy. Still, it’s a decent illustration of the Buick and its layout, and shows most of the high points of what you can expect in the kit. The car’s soft folding top, big brass headlights and accompanying acetylene generator (on the running board) are notable, as are the leaf springs running ALONG the axis of the car, rather than across it, as on a Ford.
The fairly heavily spoked wheels sport surprisingly aggressive-looking tires; I would have thought that a set of white tires might have been preferable, but that’s just me. Oddly, while there is a nice brass radiator shell, there’s no sign of the usual “Buick” script that would normally be attached across the rad’s surface, nor is there any indication of spare tires. Those would have been de rigeur for a car in that era. Performance is implied by the multiple tie-downs that attach both the roof, and the windscreen, to the front end of the car. While it is art, rather than a photograph of a finished kit, I actually prefer the box on the Hawk 1909 Hupmobile; it looks classier. For some reason, this art just kind of looks like it wants to have attitude, but can’t.
On the side of the box is a smaller version of this artwork and a reminder to “Drink your Ovaltine!”. Wait, no… however, it is a “bloody commercial”, in that you’re prompted to use Life-Like landscaping materials and railway kits. How they would fit in, I have no idea, but I guess there’s no such thing as bad publicity. The neatest part, though, is the price. It was a thing, for some reason, to print the price right on old model boxes. I guess inflation wasn’t a thing? Well, this one has a price of $2.98 in Canada. Was that a lot? Not sure. Google tells me that’s about $22 today, and while I didn’t pay that for it, I am sure I would have had I seen it in a store!
The other side of the box is a cross-sell for other cool, BE cars. I gotta get my hands on that Lanchester one day – what a bizarre contraption that looks to be! Also on this side is the small print that says the kit is made under licence from Pyro. I like the cross-sells in this case; gives me something to hunt after at the next show I go to!
As expected, the box is pretty empty, reminding me of those ever-annoying potato chip bags that are packed by weight, not volume. I guess maybe the contents of the Buick settled during the last 50 years. Honestly, my first thought was that half the kit was missing! This is because the construction of BE cars, as models, is very much unlike more modern cars. Most of us are used to seeing the large single-piece body shell of the car taking up at least a solid third of the box’s volume. However, as I learned from the Hup, BE cars don’t come that way. Instead, they come broken down into smaller sub-units like floor, hood bits, side walls, etc. Despite this, though, I did check to make sure it was all there, and it was!
Inside the box are three sprues of an off-white plastic, as well as a small clear sprue and six thin, very shiny, black tires. Not only that, but for the first time in my possession, there was a brass rack! Yes! Unlike the Hup, which had every brass bit in plastic, this one has them plated in a very shiny brass finish.
The first thing I noticed about the kit is that all the parts are small, except the wheels. They struck me as being the right diameter – for a 1/25 car! That’s how big the old-style wheels were, and unless you’re lucky enough to have built a lot of BE cars, it’s still a bit of a shock when you see it! Of course, the rest of the parts are small because this is a 1/32, you know, the same scale as other greats like the EXP and the Grenada that I have.
As I mentioned, this car is broken down into a floor/frame pan, separate fender/running board units and the main body is broken down into two halves. This could prove tricky, I’ll admit, to get looking great, but I do like a challenge! There are also a couple pieces for the roof, some support bars for it, and of course the wheel rims. There are seats (with backs, Tamiya!) and hood bits. The best part, though, is that this little guy has an actual engine, unlike the Hup which was a curbsider!
Upon inspecting the pieces, all I can say is… WOW. Compared to the other kits I got at the same time, the detail on this one BLOWS ME AWAY. I wish I’d gotten more of the Pyro cars he had, and will definitely do so if I see any more in the future. This thing is amazing for a kit that’s 50+ years old; heck, it’s amazing for a kit TODAY! The floor pan and dashboard are all detailed with embossed woodgrain; this means that a nice paint job and a wash/highlighting will bring out the wood without resorting to scribbling on my own grain! The texturing on the soft top is fairly heavy, but once painted and subtly washed it will surely look the part of heavy canvas-like material, perfect for the job. The seats have that uniquely BE “diamond” pattern on their seating surfaces. If you’ve ever seen real BE cars this “couch-like” nature of the seats is a very distinguishing characteristic, and the deep pattern on the Buick’s seats give the impression of plushness. Again, a wash will make these things pop!
Sadly, that brings us to the Brass Rack. While it’s nice to have “real” brass, and the addition of plated brass parts adds immensely to the impression the kit makes and shows a dedication to quality, it’s also a bit of wasted effort. Why? Well, all that work is really for naught. Look at how the brass parts are attached to the racks; once they are cut off there will be large “holes” in the brass. These will be impossible to touch up with any known paint. I know this, because I tried desperately to find such a paint for the Hupmobile! Even worse, the attachment points on the brass rack are extremely thick, so a lot of sanding, and thus plating removal, will be required.
Despite it all, the only way to properly build the kit is to strip the brass off (Iike I’d do on any chrome rack) and re-do it with Molotow chrome and my own “brass coat”. It won’t be as nice, but it will be consistent and seam/bump free, and that’s more important. One nice thing is that you do get glass for the headlights and dash lights on this kit, which saves a bit of fiddling around.
The tires, sadly, are this kit’s weakest point. They’re too shiny, look fake, and need a good sanding. There’s also not a lot of care put into trimming them down, and a couple of them have significant flash on them. Thankfully, there are six of them, so you can choose the best four for rolling, and use the other two for the mounted spares. Yes, there are indeed mounted spares on this kit, despite the fact that they aren’t shown anywhere on the box!
The instructions for this Buick come on a single sheet of triple-folded paper. It’s clearly old, but it’s nowhere near as fragile and newsprint-like as the instructions in similarly-aged FROG kits. There are only seven steps to the kit, which makes sense given its low piece count and small size. The instructions are hand-drawn, as expected, and are generally clear, at least at first look. However, I will say I do find them a bit confusing when it comes to the actual placement of some of the parts.
There are a lot of arrows showing things going places, but there are very few instances of showing the parts properly in place, especially on the right side (driver’s side) of the car. There are also no box illustrations showing this side of the car, so the internet is going to be your friend on this one, I think. Oddly, too, none of the engine parts are numbered; you’re just supposed to figure it out on your own from the shape of the parts. Now, if you’re an experienced builder, that’s just how you go about it anyway, but it’s still a bit off-putting. Thankfully, the parts are indeed uniquely shaped, so it won’t be a show stopper.
Sadly, things get really confusing in Steps 6 and 7; the mounts for the spares are just kind of vaguely hinted at; there’s no detail as to how or where the actual connection points are, and the same goes for the roof support bars. Overall, the instructions will make for some good guidance, but modelling experience and external references are going to be a must to make this thing go together like it should.
The world of scale model production is almost as remorseless as the full-sized automotive industry, and the last 70 years have seen a lot of companies come and go. Some were innovative, and some produced garbage, but a lot of them have been lost to time. Sadly, Pyro and Life-Like seem to be among those that, despite producing interesting models, have been ruthlessly consigned to history by the very nature of the industry itself.
Thankfully, the 1910 Buick Model 10 is a good reminder of those days now long-past, both in terms of modelling and in terms of subject. The kit looks like a good replica of a car very few will encounter today, as it’s now over a century old. With the kit being half that old, even finding it will likely be tough. Still, both the car and the kit exude a large amount of charm and harken us back to simpler times.
The Life-Like Buick doesn’t appear to be a difficult kit on the surface, but I’m going to suggest being wary. There are a lot of thin and fragile-looking parts like the roof supports and straps, as well as the tiny drive shaft, that will not abide careless handling. Not only that, but the thick attachment points of the often-delicate(ish) brass parts call for a different approach to getting those pieces off the rack.
I can’t say how good the fit of the kit will be, because I can’t test fit anything, unlike on my Hupmobile. Still, the moulding looks pretty good, and with a bit of cleanup I wouldn’t expect too many unfriendly surprises. Painting may be difficult, though, because of the strange way in which the body and interior are broken down. I do fear for a good fit of the plated parts; they give the impression of being a bit too thick for what they should be doing.
Overall, then, while this is an interesting and loveable kit, it’s not one for a novice. The rarity and cost of the kit aside, this one looks like it has some potential to bite tyros in their backsides, and patience and experience will be needed to carefully undo any mistakes that are made. Like the industries that spawned the car and the kit, this model looks rather like a Venus Flytrap – inviting but very dangerous if you don’t know what you’re getting into.
However, if you want something different, love BE cars or want to have a truly “retro” experience in terms of both kit and subject, then the Life-Like 1910 Buick Model 10 is definitely one that I would recommend. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the history of both modelling and the automotive industry, and it should give you a good feel for how far both have come in a relatively short time.