When you look back at the history of the automobile, there are a couple of examples of cars that stand out as being truly “basic transportation”. These were cars whose sole purpose was to convey their passengers from Point A to Point B, with little in the way of frills, style or even comfort in some cases. Cars such as the Model T, Volkswagen Beetle and Citroen 2CV (the famous deux chevaux) epitomize the concept of the “people’s car”, a vehicle for the masses whose purpose is served merely by being, rather than by necessarily being good.
However, by the 1970s, with the era of the “personal luxury” car in full swing, it can be hard to imagine such a car even being considered. Even the most basic of cars seemed to be oozing pretentions of supposed greatness, like vinyl tops, Landau bars and ever-softer suspensions. Despite the dwindling horsepower and ballooning weight of cars in this environment, there didn’t seem to be a call for a reversal. That’s why the Chevette Scooter came as such a shock to most people.
Chevy’s first “world car”, the South American-sourced Chevette, was introduced in 1975. It sold well, and despite some quality and handling issues, and its diminutive size, it secured a vital foothold in a market segment that was quickly being overrun by Japanese imports. However, what GM wanted to offer was a new-era Model T. They wanted a car that anyone could buy; basic transport in the purest sense of being an engine, some seats and a roof. The best platform for this was the smallest of the Chevy family: the Chevette.
Thus was born the most cut-rate version of America’s most cut-rate car: the Chevette Scooter. The name might have been meant to invoke a peppy image, but if you think of what a Scooter is, a bike with no pedals, or a lame attempt at a motor bike, then perhaps “Scooter” wasn’t the best choice on GM’s part. However, it did get the point across. The Scooter was the simplest Chevette you could get. Frills like carpet and a back seat (!) were not included. Even chrome trim was eschewed for the sake of cost! Unsurprisingly, sales of the new economy-level Chevette were never all that high, but the model was offered for much of the car’s run.
Given that MPC produced annual kits of many cars (for both kit and promo purposes) it’s not really a surprise that they would issue a 1979 Chevette model. It is surprising to me, though, that it was only issued in a radically customized form as “Bear Bait”. Usually, MPC issues a kit in its conventional form first, and then goes nuts with repops in odd colours, with weird custom graphics and pieces. The Cavalier, Omni and others follow this trend, but then again the ’82 EXP doesn’t. Hmmm… Well, whatever the case, the only way to get a ’79 Chevette is as “Bear Bait”, but thankfully, it can be built stock as well.
As I thought I could tell through the bag, the kit is a typical MPC offering in that it is nicely detailed and fairly well thought out. There are a few things that gave me pause, though. One thing that worried me, and rightly so, was that the firewall was not attached to the body and that there was no real “engine bay”. This shows the kit’s heritage; the original would be from 1975, when having a full engine tub wasn’t common. Another thing that worried me was a small chin piece that makes up the bottom of the front “intake” below the grille. This fits onto the chassis, and isn’t attached to the main body shell. This is a problem because the chassis had a slight warp in it, and I was (rightly) worried that this would cause problems in final assembly.
Other than these issues, the kit itself seemed quite good, and there was a lot less flash than I’m used to MPC’s offerings. Even the plastic tires looked okay, although the whitewalls were extremely thin; far too thin to be useable as they come. The engine detailing is excellent and looking at the instructions proved that there were no A/C components. This means that MPC, whether intending to or not, got the dash right.
A Case of the Scoots:
Once I got the kit out of the bag, and did some research on Chevettes though, some interesting things began to make themselves apparent. I began to wonder if, instead of a normal Chevette, this kit actually represented the Holy Grail of Baseness; the Chevette Scooter. “Surely not!” you say. It didn’t say that on the box and it doesn’t say “Chevette Scooter” on the fender, it only says Chevette, and that’s moulded in. Fair enough. However, there are other arguments that can be made both for and against this kit being a Scooter.
Firstly, this Chevette has no A/C. Okay, that’s fair enough. You can tell this because the dash only has the centre two vents, for the newly-improved –for-1979 flow through ventilation system. Cars with A/C had four vents, one at either end, near the doors, for the A/C system, plus the centre two. Most Scooters wouldn’t be ordered with A/C, but many Chevettes wouldn’t either.
Secondly, this Chevette has a glove box lid. Why does this matter? Because the Chevette Scooter was SO basic that you didn’t even get that. Okay, so it’s not a Scooter so far, then, right? But the dashboard is inherited from an earlier, non-Scooter manifestation.
Thirdly, and quite tellingly, there don’t seem to be any real armrests on the door. The normal Chevettes had vinyl door coverings and full arm rests. The Scooters had painted cardboard (yes, cardboard) inner door coverings, and NO armrests. Score one for Team Scooter.
Fourthly, there is a back seat, and carpet. However, you could order a Scooter with carpet and a back seat. I don’t know why you wouldn’t just buy a normal Chevette at that point, but you could do this. So, this is neutral.
Fifthly, the hubcaps could also go either way. You could get a fully chromed wheel disk similar to that in the kit, or you could get a small chrome hubcap on painted silver wheels that also look like the wheels in the kit. It’s a matter of painting, so there’s nothing to dissuade me from making a Scooter based on the wheels.
Finally, and to me decisively, the bumpers tell the tale. Chevette brochures and sales videos make a big deal of the load of standard features you could get in a Chevette. One such oh-so-magnificent feature was standard bumper rub strips. However, the Scooter didn’t have them. This kit doesn’t have them, either. Now, it could be that MPC just made the moulds for the promos before the rub strips were standardized, but it doesn’t matter. The only way to get a ’79 Chevette with ‘clean’ bumpers is to get a Scooter.
So, while there was evidence both for and against, I decided that the bumpers and armrests (or lack of therein) had it, and I would build this little kit as a Scooter. I actually found a few good pictures of a beige Scooter on the net, and set about recreating the little toad in plastic.
Building the Scooter:
Building the Scooter wasn’t much different than building any other MPC car kit. I started with the body, this time though, so it would have a chance to dry while I did the other parts. I mixed up a colour based on Model Master Acrylic Sand, added some white, Light Grey and a bit of yellow and got a colour quite close to the beige-y cream of the Scooter I saw on the net. I primered the body, and then airbrushed this paint on. It went on nicely, and in a couple of days, I began the first pass of Future.
After the Future had dried under a lamp for about a week, I sanded it to get the high spots out. I then applied a few more light coats, and let them dry for a day. The idea was to not use as much Future as I have before, because it takes forever to try when applied thickly, and sometimes the lower coats aren’t even try when the top ones are. This can lead to problems.
With the second coat dry, I applied one heavy coat to give it a smooth finish and left it to dry under the lamps for another two weeks. Note that I only put the car under the lamps when I’m home; I don’t leave it there when I go to work. Never leave plastic near a hot lamp unattended!
With the body doing its thing, I was free to move to the interior. I used MMA Dark Tan for the base colour, and mixed up a pastel to shadow it. I tried to get a colour that wasn’t so dark that it looked like dirt in the cracks; I only want a shadowing effect. To get the colour right, I took a drop of paint and added a tiny bit of back to it. I then matched THAT colour with my pastels. This was very effective, and is how I would recommend setting the colour to anyone trying this method.
When I worked the pastels into the carpet, though, I was disappointed. It just looked like it was dirty, not shadowed. However, the good folks at MPC always give nicely bumpy carpet texture, so I was able to drybrush the raised parts with the original Dark Tan, thereby “fluffing” the carpet, and making the pastels look like shadow again. This was extremely effective and essentially rescued the interior for me. I was going to have to repaint it if that didn’t work, but it did! I also drybrushed the pastels into the seat cracks and the “stitching” on the doors.
The Scooter I found on the net had black fender wells in the passenger area. They were neither colour-keyed nor covered. Thus, I painted the fender wells in my interior black. I flat coated the entire interior, and then mixed up a satin coat to apply to the vinyl areas, to give them a bit of shine. I applied several thick coats of full-strength Future to the fenders, though, to give them a “painted” look.
From what I could find, the dashboards on Scooters were all black, so I did mine that way. I opted not to cut out the glove compartment door. No one would see it, I figured, and I didn’t paint the lock so at least you can’t be sure if there’s a door there or not.
The Engine went together beautifully, as expected. I used a slightly altered form of St Lawrence Blue (a train colour!) for the block, since MMA “GM Engine Block Blue” is way too dark. I gave it an orange “Fram” filter, just for kicks. I used MMA Aluminum for the tranny housing, with Steel for the oil and tranny pans, as well as the intake manifold, alternator, fan and pulleys. I used black for the timing belt cover, belts, starter and distributor. I gave the block and metal bits both a black and a brown wash to bring out the textures on them. This is really one area where MPC shines: their “cast” components like blocks and manifolds have a texture built into them, and a light wash really makes them come to life.
Because the Chevette is a Scooter, chrome is almost completely verboten. I stripped the chrome rack anyway, since he valve cover and other engine bits should be painted to be correct. To be authentic, I sprayed the grille and bumpers in MMA Silver, which gave the perfect “painted” look, without being too shiny. I didn’t even Future them! I painted the headlights with MMA Light Grey, to give them some character.
Most of the Bare Metal Foil I used on this build was for the tail lights and marker lights. I used Tamiya Clear Orange and Clear Red over the foil to get the look of the tail lights, and used MMA Light Grey for the backup lights. I never cease to be impressed how well a thick coat of clear paint over BMF gives the impression of those old 70’s and 80’s lights.
The windows were a major problem, though. They’d been scratched due to their terrible packaging, and they had to be completely sanded down. Nothing is scarier than seeing the windows for your car model completely opaque with sanding marks. However, by taking the sanding films all the way to 12,000, and then applying one more light sand at 4000, I got them to the point you could see again. After this, some Tamiya Fine and Finish rubbing compound got them looking pretty darn awesome.
As I mentioned earlier, the tires were styrene, and had a thin whitewall marked in them. I used my scribing tool and my knife to “open up” the whitewall area, and used a white Gel Pen to marker in the whitewall! It worked like a charm! I first painted the entire tire black, and then just ran the pen along in the whitewall. There was very little touching up to do, and if I ever have recessed whitewalls again, I know this is far easier than hand painting them (I tried that, too…). Many thanks to Janet, my sister-in-law for the use of her crafting supplies; she was the one with the gel pen! I used the “vinyl” coat I’d mixed up for the interior on the face of the tires. Two coats of this gave them the same shine as applying wax to normal “rubber” car tires.
For more details on the build process, look at the five updates I’ve had on this build:
Normally fitting it all together is a pain in the backside when it comes to cars. There was no exception here. After I got the body sanded to 4000 grit and then buffed with the Tamiya rubbing compounds, I tried to put in the windows. There was a bit of float in them, so I stuck them in what seemed the right position. Yeah, well, guess again. By the time I found out they should have been pushed backwards a bit, it was WAAAAY too late.
I found that I had a problem when I put in the interior bucket and chassis, and found that the firewall didn’t match the cowling. GRRRRR…. You can read more about that in
Chevette Update 5
However, by doing some “constructive” surgery, I was able to get the car to go together.
Amazingly, the chassis seemed to fit into the body quite nicely, but that slight warp did, in fact, come back to bite me in the backside. Just as I thought, the “chin” bit didn’t look right. I only discovered this AFTER I had the grille on; the line of the “chin” didn’t match that of the bumper, thanks to the warp in the chassis. So, I had to break out the chin piece and snap off one of the locating tabs, so that I could re-glue it “level”. This was a pain, but it hid the chassis warp perfectly, so I can’t complain!
I then noticed that the inside of the clip is very visible and very beige, from the front. I had to wheedle in a #0 brush between the grille and the radiator clip to paint this black. It took two coats, and was a serious pain. However, all’s well that ends well. I don’t know why I didn’t think to paint it black when the grille was off; that would have been way easier. Oh well, live and learn!
The Hubcaps were painted with Alclad chrome, and then the outer parts with MMA Silver to match the bumpers. A tiny bit of black wash was put in the cooling slots, to make them look more “open”. These went into the tires beautifully, and you can’t really tell the tires are styrene at all! The tiny bit of chrome on the hubcaps goes with the chrome on the door handles. However, the emblems were painted silver, as they should be. Even those weren’t chrome on a Scooter!
This has been my most fun build ever. Part of that is because I had a lot of people cheering me on several forums, and because a lot of people told me their Chevette stories and fond (and not-so-fond) memories of their T-Cars. Because of that, this little beige toad of a car has a very special place on my shelf, and is my most “human” build to date.
The kit itself is excellent; although not one I’d give a beginner. That’s what AMT kits are for. 🙂
This model builds up into an incredibly believable replica of one of America’s last attempts at creating truly “basic” transportation. It’s interesting to note that while the Chevette is often relegated to the metaphorical “junk heap” and the Honda Civic of the same era is often lauded, they both shared a lot of similarities. Some (all?) Civics used the same cardboard door panel as the Scooter, and were so basic as to have a semi-automatic transmission and a manual choke! At least the Scooter had a proper tranny, and was less fragile. Also, I still see the odd T-Car around my city, but I haven’t seen a Honda of that age in over 15 years; they all rusted away.
Thus, this model stands as a tribute to an often under-appreciated and unsung warrior in the econobox wars. For that alone, it was worth all the effort!