Academy 1/24 Daewoo LeMans GSE (OOB)

The automotive industry has a love/hate relationship with its own history. In some cases, makers will do all they can to keep a particular nameplate going, while others are simply cast to the winds without a thought. Then, there is the third category of nameplates, and those are the saddest of all. They are the great names of yore, the storied appellations of great cars that either evolve to, or are resurrected to… SUCK. Nameplates such as these end up being perverse mockeries of their former selves; sad, pathetic and depressing reminders of how the greatest can fall.

The nameplates in this category are many. Some include Charger (in its Omni guise), Challenger (in its Mitsubishi whatever-it-was form), Tempest (a Corsica/Beretta redress) and Nova (in its horrifying “Corolla-Nova” incarnation). However, while no brand is entirely safe from this (Don’t forget Mustang IIs, Ford-folk!) there are some brands that did seem to suffer more from this than others. One of those, it seems, was Pontiac.

For some reason, even though Ponchos have always sold well and been fun, sporty cars, the higher ups at GM seemed to have had it in for them. Of course, when they nuked Pontiac in 2010 they got the last laugh, but that was just injury to insult. For the decades leading up to Pontiac’s untimely death, GM had, for reasons unbeknownst, been using Pontiac as a dumping ground for all kinds of imported bad ideas. One of the worst had to be the LeMans.

The LeMans name had been applied to Pontiacs for many years, and in the 1980s was the Poncho version of the Monte Carlo. This is a pretty good gig for a nameplate in the “era of lowered expectations”. While some LeMans iterations were better than others, it was still a car that was supposed to be sporting-ish in spirit. Well, when the nameplate was resurrected in 1988, it all went to hell. The next car to wear the LeMans name was an Opel Kadett. Hmm… this was a small econobox of a sedan or an oddly ugly three-door econobox hatch/beater. But, it got worse, because the car was made in South Korea by Daewoo. Oh Lordy…

If you’ve forgotten Daewoo, let me remind you that it sucked. Hard. Like a Hoover on steroids, Daewoo sucked for a living. It built crappy cars poorly, and then died as it deserved. Sadly, before it was dead, GM brought the Daewoo LeMans to North American shores as a Captive Import. There was no reason to make it a captive – the horrible little runt couldn’t run away if it tried. Known under a list of aliases that would make a special agent blush, this little Daewoo did little to fire the imagination, or buyer loyalty, of the car purchasing public. They are largely reviled and long since rusted to oblivion.

They were so bad that I, of course, LUST after a kit of them. But who, WHO, would even waste the time to design a kit, let alone the plastic to produce it? I despaired of ever having a kit of what might well be Pontiac’s nadir on my shelves. But thankfully, the South Koreans don’t seem to hold the little zit in as nearly as much contempt as we in North America, because Academy made a kit! Yes, Academy, the maker that has proven to be even better than Tamiya and Hasegawa in many respects, bothered to kit this car! (Word on the street is they may have also done a Pony and an Excel. I MUST HAVE THEM!)

So, what’s it like, you wonder? Is the build quality and material better than on the real thing? I imagine it is! So, let’s all put on our safety goggles and coveralls, because believe you me, you DON’T want to contract whatever it is this rolling disease had!

The Box:

One of its many names in Korea (and other markets unfortunate enough to be subjected to this terrible car) is the Daewoo Racer. However, this abomination is about as racy as an uncovered piano leg in Victorian England, so don’t’ get too excited. The closest thing to racing it does is rusting, and that it does well. With that in mind, then, you wouldn’t expect too much in the way of box art excitement. That’s good, because you don’t get it.

BOOM! That's classy, folks. With whitewall tires and... well, that's it. The LeMans box art is as stunning as the real thing!

BOOM! That’s classy, folks! With whitewall tires and… well, that’s it. The LeMans box art is as stunning as the real thing!

The box lid consists of a plain white background with blocky writing telling you that this is indeed an Opel-Pontiac LeMans GSE. The bulk of the box lid, though, is given over to a very sedate front three-quarters view of said LeMans. Just like the real car, the illustration is pretty innocuous-looking. There’s nothing hideous about the sedan; it’s just a red car with pretty much no distinguishing features. In fact, it would make a good getaway car for a bank robbery since it blends in so well with everything else. Mind you, you need some “get” for a getaway car, so maybe that’s a bad choice…

The artwork is actually very nice and quite detailed. It shows the odd-looking wheel covers to good effect and even includes a very stern looking driver. I think he must be concentrating on trying to keep the car running long enough to get home and set it on fire. Really, what else could possibly be on his mind? A few interesting things include the fact that the red car has a beige interior (Blech!) but an oh-so-sporty (i.e. cheap) black dashboard, as well as the fact that the wheels have whitewalls. Really? It’ll be interesting to see if the model actually has these whitewalls marked in or not.

The box is actually very large for a kit of this size. It’s typical of Japanese car kits; the kit is packaged “wide” instead of “deep”. This gives more of a canvas for box art, sure, but it makes the pictures on the side smaller. I don’t really know why everyone doesn’t put car kits in American-style boxes, but that’s because I’m used to them, I guess. Regardless, on the side of the box are a couple of pictures of the built kit. You get three views, as well as a repeat of the box art.

This is where it gets weird; the built kit looks HORRIBLE in comparison to the artist’s rendering. Why? Because it has so much coal-oil blackness on the bumpers, the car immediately looks to be cheaper, dirtier and more worthless than the art! The real question is, why is it painted thusly? Which is correct, the almost acceptable looking art, or the closer-to-what-I-remember beater-POS of the built kit? Maybe, as the builder, I get to choose? Some research is definitely needed here, but the POSsibilities seem nigh-endless.

Can you taste the coal-oil goodness of those bumpers? Now that puts the "S" in "POS"!

Can you taste the coal-oil goodness of those bumpers? Now that puts the “S” in “POS”!

From what I can tell, the GSEs have the painted bumpers and look nicer. The lower-line cars have the greyish bumpers. However, while this isn’t quite the Pontiac version we got in North America, so it’s hard to say what goes on. I like the Gunship Grey that lowline models were supposed to get, so I think I’ll just do it that way, even if it isn’t correct!

The Kit:

I know that Academy/MiniCraft has been around a while. I know some of their kits are rough, but that newer Academy kits literally blow the doors off of any other kit. Their 1/72 WWII planes and OV-10 are amazing, and the T-50 Golden Eagle trainer can easily stand on even ground, detail-wise at least, with the biggest of the big boys. However, the LeMans is not that new a kit. It’s from when the car was current, so I expected it to be a little “rough around the edges”, shall we say.

Overall, that’s exactly what you get when you pop the top on this kit. It’s typically Asian in that it is a curbsider. That’s a real shame here, because I would have loved to have made a replica of the wheezy, rattling little box that passed for an engine on the LeMans. However, such glory is not to be had here. The kit is actually very simple, with a body, chassis, interior door panels and seats, and then a few extra bits.

It's a basic kit, but it's a basic car, so no harm, no foul, right? Here's the entire kit laid out for you.

It’s a basic kit, but it’s a basic car, so no harm, no foul, right? Here’s the entire kit laid out for you.

Once again, Japanese/Korean car kits are, to my mind, disappointing. They may look fine done up, but there’s just not much too them. Compare the detail and part count on this to any MPC (or heck, even Monogram) from the same time, and this thing looks like a joke. However, that’s a rant that goes for almost all Tamiya cars too, and it’s nothing against this kit, but all Far Eastern car kits as a whole.

That aside, though, the detail on the Lemans is not that great. There’s not a lot of it, and things like carpet texturing are not going to be found here. The plastic is quite brittle, too. It’s not as translucent as I’d have thought; it feels solid for the most part, but the red is a bit see-through. Overall, the quality isn’t terrible, but it is a bit rough. There’s cleanup needed on most parts, and prominent seams on the main body will have to be cleaned up.

Despite any failings it may have, however, the LeMans also inherits the good parts of Japanese/Korean car kits too. All racks are separately bagged, as are the wheels, tires and windows. This means there’s no chance of getting MPC window/tire melt, and for that, I am very glad. The tires are the typically soft rubbery material found in Tamiya’s cars, and it does seem like there’s a raised lip for doing whitewalls! EPIC! However, there’s also a problem; the windows are tinted.

Okay, so you’re thinking maybe that’s not a big deal, but look again. They’re tinted a very unrealistic blue. WTF? Why? Why blue? Who came up with that? I don’t know, but I wish they’d have thought twice about it, because quite frankly, I’m not impressed. It looks dumb, it isn’t stock, and it’s pretty deeply tinted. This means that what little interior there is will also be seen through the tint, and look weird.

On the box side, it shows a smokey black tint. That’s barely acceptable, and I’d prefer clear, but to have to deal with the bluish windows is a bit disappointment. Even worse, that makes the taillights and headlights tinted as well. This is REALLY unacceptable, but seems to be the case with Academy’s Korean car kits. The only solution is to cover the offending lights in Bare Metal Foil and deal with them using clear Tamiya paints. This is what I normally do for lights that aren’t the right colour, so it’ll work. It’s just dumb to have to do it because the tail lights were moulded in CLEAR BLUE.

If you noticed on the box, it says that this kit is motorized. I don’t generally like motorized kits, because too much is sacrificed for the gimmick. The LeMans is no exception, but it is kind of cool to think that, if you wanted to, you could have your very own LeMans toy to let lose in your basement. I’m strongly tempted to just put the motor in and let the thing go nuts, but the modeller in my chidingly says “no”. Still, if you were to motorize your LeMans, you can bet it would be faster and definitely possess better acceleration than the real car. Oh, and I’m not talking about “scale speed” or “scale acceleration”, either.

Instructions and Decals:

Given the simplicity of the kit, there’s a surprising amount of paper used for the instructions. I think the reason for this is that there is a lot of empty space on the instruction sheet! The steps are all very simple and well presented, so I don’t foresee anyone having trouble getting this kit to fit together, beyond deficiencies in the kit itself, of course. A lot of the instructions have to do with installing the motor, so if that’s your bag, carry on!

The good thing about a simple kit; simple instructions. Even a novice car builder or a child can make this model. I'd love to throw in a child labour joke here, but the car's in bad enough taste already...

The good thing about a simple kit; simple instructions. Even a novice car builder or a child can make this model. I’d love to throw in a child labour joke here, but the car’s in bad enough taste already…

One of the best parts of the instructions is the driver figure, and he appears in Step 5. This is where the box art falls apart. Rather than the severe-looking paragon of driving concentration that is the Korean salaryman depicted on the cover, you get a guy in a racing suit! He appears to be Caucasian, and is wearing what I assume are fire-retardant pants, safety boots and a racing jacket. He’s even got his 5-point harness on!

Yeah, he's ready. BRING IT! He's fireproofed and ready to burn rubber! Well, warm it slightly, maybe. At least he can defrost it, right?

Yeah, he’s ready. BRING IT! He’s fireproofed and ready to burn rubber! Well, warm it slightly, maybe. At least he can defrost it, right?

What?

Like, seriously… What?

This is the driver in the kit. The illustration was NOT a mistake!

This is the driver in the kit. The illustration was NOT a mistake!

So, to begin with, there’s no 5-point harness in a LeMans. Secondly and maybe more importantly: HOW FAST DOES HE THINK HE’S GOING TO GO?? I mean, this is a DAEWOO. You can’t make this thing fly if you drop it from an airplane into a Tornado! Why any pilot would think they need this level of protection is beyond me. I can see the fireproof suit – the LeMans does have “fiery deathtrap” written all over it. This is a GSE, which in the Pontiac guise means it did have a 2.0L engine pushing out 95 hp. However, as far as I can tell from what I can find on the net, this particular car is NOT the same as a North American GSE.

Apparently, the LeMans name was Daewoo’s descriptor of this POS’ sedan version, which this is. There’s no Pontiac scripting on the car’s grille, the emblem in the grille is NOT the Pontiac Arrowhead (but it is close) and the whole rear-end treatment is wrong for a Poncho version. Also, there is a picture on the internet of a car identical to the box, and it is ID’ed as a 1.5i.

So, there’s no need for the racing harness at all, it would seem. All I can think of is that these LeMans were also used for some kind of rallye work, which kind of explains the decals. The best part about the decals is that you get racing credits! Yes, to go with your 5-point harnessed driver, you get racing credits! The decals aren’t all that well made, and there are some alignment issues. However, this is greatly ameliorated by the fact that you get a Marlboro racing credit! It is so incredulous given how “Big Tobacco” has been demonized in the last decade or two.

Racing Credits? What? I think Marlboros might be the only thing more cancerous than the car!

Racing Credits? What? I think Marlboros might be the only thing more cancerous than the car!

The decal instructions also show a place to put some cheesy “turbo” decals. Why? Again, I got nothin’. There never was a turbo engine for this, so I think it’s either wishful thinking or trying to predict the future. Either way, I doubt adding more pressure to the fuel/air mixture would help this ugly and anemic little blight much.

Conclusions:

I love this kit. Sure, it’s extremely simplified and pretty rough, and the tinted windows are a bother. Oh, and it’s a curbsider with a motorized feature. Despite all this, I still love it. Why? Because it’s a LeMans! Of all the things GM would like us to forget, I’m sure this is one of them. (Maybe the Volt too, but I think we already have forgotten that, no?) To be able to have a kit of something so reviled and horrible, but that was so successful in its own country, is a great feeling.

The kit is very simple and anyone should be able to build it. I could be wrong, but the only thing standing in your way could be bad fit when it comes to the actual kit. This is very possible, but I wouldn’t count on it and let it scare you away. This is a great kit for a child especially after you motorize it, if you choose to. There’s not much to go wrong so I would recommend the kit to both novices and more experienced folks alike.

Overall, this is a solid kit of an epic failure of a car. It recreates the classic “born to rust” vibe of the LeMans quite well, and for that I give it kudos. Do you like to root for the underdog? If so, then grabbing this kit is essential. It’s also a great counterpoint to any other, more powerful car (or every other more powerful car) you might have a kit of.

So, if you see one of these, snatch it up. They’re interesting conversation pieces and will definitely add that “je ne sais quoi” to any display of model cars. What else can you expect from a beater like this?

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