You know the old saying about being able to walk the walk if you talk the talk? That applies to everything, from night clubbing strutting to dominating the streets automotively. However, there are, as we all know, a lot of cars that just “talk the walk”. Throughout the history of motoring there has never been a period of such peacock-tail pretention coupled with soggy-cookie performance as during the Automotive Dark Ages. This lamentable period began with government imposed pollution and safety restrictions (Thanks, California, for ruining it for the rest of us!) that came into effect in about 1973, and were “met” through a combination of poorly-thought out and rather not-so-well executed changes to the mechanicals and styling of the cars of the era.
During the next decade, also known as the “Malaise Era”, engine power plummeted, horsepower and torque were but vague memories and even safe and reliable operation of vehicles degraded. No vehicle class, though, was harder hit than Muscle Cars. Almost overnight the breed died off like cultists at a Kool-Aid party. Very few survivors struggled on in the face of the new reality, but in most cases, the nameplates of the venerated fire-breathing muscle machines of yore were all that were left. A perfect example of this was the Road Runner. From its late ‘60s pinnacle of affordably overpowered performance motoring it had become nothing more than an appearance package on a number of less-than-inspiring Plymouth body shells. The last one to wear the badge was the Volare.
By 1980, even the Volare was at an end. The time of rear-drive mid-sized cars was quickly drawing down, with the Japanese and even North American competition fielding newer and more modern down-sized, front-wheel-drive machines. Thus, it can be said that the 1980 Road Runner was the saddest of the sad, and the last of last gasps. By this time, the Road Runner package consisted of three “Road Runner” badges, interesting (and I believe unique to this year) racing wheels and some other “performance” appearance tricks like a black gas cap and maybe some interior luxury. The engine was still the detestable Lean Burn 318 and what you got was really a barely-warmed over econobox that was about 4 years out of date.
Still, that having been said time has not been unkind to these cars. Compared to their forebears they are a cruel joke, to be sure. But by today’s standards there are so few of them left, and their styling is so different from what we see today, that they actually stand out in a good way. I will admit to thinking less than nothing positive about Volares growing up, yet I see one now (usually on the internet; none exist in the flesh near me) and I smile and think how cool it is. Time heals all wounds, it seems. Properly dressed up and in good shape, a 1980 Road Runner is a pretty cool looking car today, and will turn just as many heads as a 1969 model if you’re just driving down the street. Yes, that’s sad but true. It’s that rare and unusual that the impact on the average person will be same as that of a technically superior car.
Since I love losers so much, and I particularly enjoy reminding everyone about the Automotive Dark Ages, I love it when I can find kits of the cars from this often-forgotten time. Thus, I was thrilled when Round 2 brought out Fuzz Duster, MPC’s wild custom 1980 Volare Road Runner! This model has gone through the usual “annual” process of being updated from the mid 70’s so it’s likely that only this version of the Volare remains. For me, that’s a great thing, since I can now build the last of the last, and have a chance to emplace the final mile marker on a Mopar great’s long journey into obscurity.
The kit is typical MPC stuff, and for me, that means a mix of giddy excitement and puzzled apprehension (at all the flash) upon opening the box. For more details, check out my Out of Box Review.
The first thing you have to decide when you build this is whether or not you want T-tops. The car does come with them marked in, but also moulded in. So, if you want to build a closed-roof T-topper, you’re set. If you want to cut them out, the markings on the underside of the roof are very clear and this will pose no problem. There’s a separate centre bar that can be glued in place to complete the “open” version, and the instructions clearly show that should you do this, you have to cut the front window from the rear and discard the ‘joiner straps’. This is also no problem.
Of course, I never do it the easy way. I wanted a solid-roofed car. Like my T/A. I actually prefer solid roofs on a car, since I don’t like the sun beating on me and these old buggies need as much structural support as they can get! (Don’t forget, ‘70s metallurgy was not widely recognized as a high point in quality or durability!) For this option, it’s a lot more work.
To start, I had to fill in the trenches on the inside of the roof. I used a bit of melted styrene for this to begin with. Once this was in place I sanded it down and then used a lot of Tamiya Putty, thinned to almost liquid consistency with acetone, to fill in the gaps. Just like on Gold Rush, though, I found this constantly sinking and shrinking. So, to give me a ‘neutral’ top layer, I applied a thick-ish coat of Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) flat white. This paint is amazingly hard-sanding, and allowed me to get a very smooth transition. This “fill with paint” may seem odd, but this is the fourth time I’ve used it, and it works!
With the roof filled from within, it was safe to work on the outside. I was afraid of sanding through the thin spots on the roof, so that’s why I did it in this order. To get a proper ‘hard top’, I had to sand off the bars on the outside of the roof. I liked that the mould the T-top edges on, that’s a nice touch, but it made so much more work for me. For whatever reason, it took a lot more sanding than I thought it would, but after much elbow grease I had the top nice and smooth. I kept polishing the roof down to 4000 grit in order to make sure it would primer fine. Interestingly, after primering “ghost lines” showed up on the roof; small indents where the raised lines were! I had to use the white paint filler trick here, too, and after a lot more work things looked good. It’s never easy building a loser, let me tell ya!
At this point, I also decided to re-scribe the drip mouldings and all window frames. These are very soft, and as a result they’ll be difficult to paint later. Rescribing them made a big difference, and I cannot recommend it enough! I also checked the fit of the bumpers. It’s not bad, and they do fit under a lip at each end. I (wrongly) thought it would be enough to support the bumpers for final attachment. IT ISN’T. I suggest building some kind of positive location for the bumpers. Believe me, it will be a huge help, and may make the difference between success and failure, as you will see. FML.
Other than the usual bit of sanding and de-flashing, though, the body was now ready to go. If you don’t chose a hard-roof option like me, then you won’t have much of this excitement! However, there’s plenty of chances to screw up still, as the “great spoiler debacle” was about to prove!
Okay, it’s a given that a sporty accessory is a spoiler, right? Spoilers are a great way to make a car look different, and car companies change them up from time to time to easily freshen up what might otherwise look like last year’s model. If a body style lasts long enough, it’ll probably go through a number of different spoilers. Add to this any custom spoilers, and you have yourself a veritable smorgasbord of potential trunk lid decorations. In the case of Fuzz Duster, there are three possible choices. One is obviously the custom one. It is a three-piece whale-tail (OF COURSE it is! Looks just like a Porsche dontcha know…) and has no place on a stock car. The other two, though, are a bit confusing. One is clearly a lip spoiler, and test fitting it showed it fit the contours of the car perfectly. The other is a bit more of a clunky spoiler that wraps down the side of the car, but doesn’t really integrate to it. It’s actually a lot like the spoiler on late 2nd Gen Firebirds, like Faust.
The instructions aren’t super clear, and since I’d chopped off the one I thought the car had without paying attention to the number on it, I just blithely went ahead and glued it on. The fit was quite good, and after a bit of sanding and shaping it was all good to go. I should have looked more at the box and the pictures on the internet. I don’t know why I didn’t. But in a true example of “measure once, cut twice” I found to my horror that I’d cocked it up. I had used the earlier ‘70s spoiler! I needed to use the one that wrapped down the body.
Oh for… So, I had to pry off the nicely integrated spoiler so I could put on this other, correct one. Clearly, this didn’t go easily, since I’d glued it heavily. I had glued it to primer (I’d forgotten about it before I’d primed, or it would have been plastic-on-plastic) so it wasn’t SO bad, but it left a big enough mess. Thankfully, the new spoiler almost covered most of the damage, but once it was on a new round of sanding and clean up was begun.
Let that be a lesson to you: Look, check, look and check again before you do something where there are multiple choices. The internet is your friend. Use it.
When I go the kit, I began looking for pictures of nicely restored, or original, ’80 Road Runners. There are not many of them out there. The few that are didn’t use the red decals like those with the kit. I assumed that Black, White and Silver cars would come with this colour of decal. I eventually found a perfectly restored example for sale, and saved every pic I could. It was a beautiful car. Black with red interior and decals, and red wheels with chrome centres and rings. Looking at Faust will tell you why I’m attracted to black and red, but it goes deeper. Those two colours combined were always a way to tell a car that was at least trying to be sporty, and it is a striking combination!
I painted the inside of the roof and walls using the same MMA Guard Red as the interior. It was flat coated with Delta Ceramcoat Indoor/Outdoor Matte Urethane Varnish but left matte, to look like fabric. This was then masked and the car got one more coat of Colourplace Grey Primer from Wal-Mart. I buffed the primer slightly with a rag and then applied two thin coats of MMA Gloss black. I should have applied a thicker coat, I think. I did sand through these on corners once they were dry. I touched this up and applied another thin coat. At this point, though, I applied a thin coat of Future before putting the car in the dehydrator at 45°C for about 8 hours.
I gave the kit another moderately heavy coat of Future and baked it for 16 hours. Then I sanded off the high-spots using 4000 and 6000 grit paper. I kept all sanding and polishing to a single direction, as this is critical, especially on black, to minimize scratches. One more light coat of Future prepared the car for the few decals.
The decals all looked the same on the sheet. They aren’t numbered. So, I just picked one and went at it. Fail. One, for some reason, was of thinner font that the others, at least that’s how it looked when I put them all on. Of course, it was the first one I put on, so I had nothing to compare it to. It would have been best on the trunk, but of course it ended up on the passenger door. Shoot. The decals went on fine and looked good once on, but that unfortunate difference in font does take away from the finished product. However, it also means that the driver’s side is now the ‘display side’, so I had to be careful about sanding it very precisely!
With the decals on, I gave the car two HEAVY coats of Future, about 20 mins apart. I sprayed the first one until it just clouded, then baked it at 50°C for about 20 mins. I then hit it again until the paint went white. I let this bake at 42°C for the next week, about 15 hours per day. For Future this is essential to make sure it’s dry. After I did my first pass sanding at 8000 grit, I re-dried the exposed paint (there was a slight whiff of Future still) at the same temperature for another 4 day, 15-hours-per-day period. This ensured the Future was good and hard for final polishing.
Final polishing was down to 12000 grit, and then I used Tamiya Fine and Finish compounds. These were applied with a damp cloth IN ONE DIRECTION ONLY. I buffed with a dry cloth and used Novus 1 between the two compounds to clean stuff up. I also used a VERY SOFT toothbrush (like for teething babies) to clean the left over compound from door cracks and the like. After all was said and done, I applied two light polishes of Novus 1 IN CIRCLES. This blended the scratch marks still on the car, and really made the paint look good. It was a risk but well worth it. I will use a circular buff (or two) with Novus 1 going forward on all cars!
I also painted the underhood insulation using AIB and left it matte to differentiate it from the framing. There was a nice bit of texture on there, and the effect is surprisingly good. I love it when companies bother putting detail like underhood matting and stuff in; its’ a sign of quality to me.
I then unmasked the interior. FAIL. (Notice that word keeps coming up? Yeah, so did I.) Everything was fine until the final piece of tape brought a chunk of the T-top filling with it. I was shocked! How did THAT come out? It was made of glue-melted styrene, glued and melted in place! Must have been all the thermal cycling on the body, I assume. Regardless, I opted just to put some red paint in there and call it even. I could have filled, sanded, repainted… but no. It’s hard, if not impossible to see, and it wasn’t worth wrecking the body’s nice paint.
I painted the window trim in MMA Aircraft Interior Black, which is quite flat, as per the real cars. I had a hard time figuring out if the rear windows were surrounded in black or chrome, but I went with black for consistency. I then applied Bare Metal Foil (BMF) to the trim above the rocker and the door handles. I also used it for the rear view mirrors, both internal and external, and the rear corner lights.
I stripped all the chrome on the kit and repainted it with Alclad Chrome. This works well, not perfectly, to replicate the brightwork on the car. The grille and headlight surrounds were painted with AIB, since a ‘blacked out’ grille was supposedly sporty. It was how the Big 3 tried to convince buyers of European-like performance and handling. European cars had flat black, so when buyers saw it, they automatically thought of performance. Okay… well, it’s one of those things that only came with the Road Runner, and I’ll admit that I do like the look. I then painted the headlights and parking lights with Model Master oil Chrome silver to give them the look of not-quite-chrome that you get from old sealed beam units. The corner lights were painted with Tamiya Clear Orange.
The tail lights were a problem. They’re not right. The 80 Volares had a split tail light; the one half was red, the other was a backup light. So, I had to etch a split in the red plastic tail lights. I then inserted them in their bezels and covered the entire assembly in BMF. I painted the red with Tamiya Clear Red, and the backup with Silver. Note that the lights, and their holders, are side-specific! Be careful when painting them that you get the orientation right! This time, after the spoiler debacle, I was careful to triple check before doing anything. Another problem came when I put the tail lights and their bezels in the car. The fit was poor, and a lot of pressure was required. The BMF wrapping around didn’t help, but it does need to wrap around or it shows badly. I think I should have left the bezels chromed, actually.
On the real car, there is a ring of red reflector material around the main lenses of the tail lights. This corresponds to the “gap” between the bezel and the red plastic piece. Since the whole thing was foiled, I decided to get fancy. I took a red calligraphy pen (it basically is a marker of clear red paint, or acts like it in this case) and simply outlined the tail lights with it. It seemed to work okay, and a second pass made it look even better. Well, at least on the driver’s side. The passenger side light didn’t go so well. I have no idea why, but the marker wouldn’t adhere at all right, and it ran. It was a disaster. So, I have one good tail light and one bad one. It kills me, because the effect is just what I wanted, but it looks goofy because one’s bad. Still, I tried and next time I’ll plan ahead for it a bit better.
The last bits of chrome that needed paint work were the half-red, half chrome wheels. As it turns out, the wheels are legit! For 1980, the Road Runner had a unique (almost truck-like) spoked wheel. The spokes were an accent colour, and the rings and centre cap were chrome. However, the wheels in the kit are wrong. They’re the old-style Mopar “performance steelie”. My brother loves them. I hate them. I think they look like cheap Volkswagen crap, to be honest. That perforated, silver-painted steelie is very objectionable to me, and I was disappointed that this was what I had to work with. Still, I got creative and managed to do okay. I painted the inner part red, and took it right to the centre cap, rather than to the “cap flange” that’s normally chrome on those wheels. This made the wheels look quite different, and was a passable simulation of the real thing. I used Nuln Oil to darken the “holes” around the periphery. Once I inserted these rims into the Ice Wax-shined pad-printed tires, I was blown away how good they looked!
Final assembly on an American car kit is hell. Those who’ve built one know. The Japanese have a nice, precise and positively located fit for both the interior and the chassis. Everything just clips in place. Not so here. The windows fit in fine, and once the Tacky Glue dried with them in place, I was able to locate the interior bucket/firewall, but found there was no place to really glue it. I ran some Tacky Glue down the sides for support but that was all I could do.
I then fit the chassis and found it to be a rather good fit. I applied some more Tacky Glue to the underside of the interior bucket first, so it had something to stick to, and then ran as much ProWeld glue down the interface of the body/chassis as I could. I held this in place (using rags, to avoid marring the paint) for about 15 mins, and when all looked like it was staying in place, I heated the car at about 30° for a couple of hours to dry the Tacky Glue.
Then it was time for bumpers. This was a disaster. I foreshadowed it before, but as you can guess, they didn’t go well. The Tacky Glue doesn’t dry fast enough to hold them in place, and there’s not enough positive location to give them something to rest on while it dries. I had to manhandle the bumpers way more than I should have, and the Alclad wore off in spots. Much swearing later, I tacked the bumpers on with CA and ProWeld and just walked away.
I had no choice but to use BMF on the bumpers to re-chrome them. My BMF is old, though, and has a slightly goldish tinge. It was also badly fragmented, so it wasn’t a smooth process in any sense of the word. When I was done, I had something that looked okay, but certainly isn’t what I’d hoped for. I honestly think this kit could have fared okay at a show, but the problems with the tail lights and bumpers killed that hope. Next time, I’ll do what my brother suggests; cut off the chrome bits carefully and use BMF to just cover the bare spot. He does it on his cars, and it’s amazing!
Putting the tires on was easy, and the last step was to put on the mirrors and gas cap. Of course, I lost the gas cap somehow, so I had to replace it with something from the spares box. It was small and round, and painted in AIB it did the job perfectly. The mirrors were a fight, as always. I suggest pinning them, and will do so on my next build.
The 1980 Volare-based Road Runner is not in the top-10 most sought after cars list. It’s a pretty sad end to a great nameplate and it wasn’t that stylish in its time. Now, though, the boxy styling and pseudo-aggressive look is quite striking, and the car seems much cooler now than it likely deserves to. The fact that MPC made one back in the day isn’t surprising, since that kind of “annual” was their bread and butter. What IS amazing is that this kit was brought out now, and with nice new decals and awesome lettered tires to boot!
Like all MPCs, this kit is a handful. Great detail overall is offset with somewhat vague engine placement and a general lack of positive location. This is a typical problem for most American car kits, but MPC certainly doesn’t buck the trend. This will make the model difficult for novices who are trying to get a very good result. If you’re a beginner, or you’re building it with someone who is, be prepared that there may be some frustration. I wouldn’t suggest it to someone unless they’ve built a few like it, or have a lot of experience with other kinds of models.
Still, if you have the will to bash on it, the Volare can look really good. It’s an interesting piece of history and the style will stand out on your shelf or at a show. I think this can be built as a show winner, although mine won’t ever do so. This is one of those kits that requires very careful planning and execution, but will reward this work with an excellent result.
Overall, I enjoyed the kit and I’m pleased with mine, but I’m also still cheesed at the bumper and tail lights. So, take my pitfalls into account and you should have an easier time. If you want a subject that can be built anywhere from mild to wild, Fuzz Duster is definitely it! I would recommend the kit just because of the subject matter alone, but the new tires and decals are nice bonuses to be sure.
If you’re looking to chart the demise of the muscle car, or have a thing for Below-Par Mopars, then this kit HAS to be on your shelf. It’s that simple. Go grab a piece of history and give this kit a whirl. We need more like it!