In 1975, North American motorists were introduced to a new kind of car. More than 6 years before the hoopla of Ford’s “World Car” Escort, the Chevette hit the showrooms across the continent. However, the T-platform of the Chevette was not new; it had been in production since 1973 in Brazil where it was also known as the Chevette. Given this heritage, the diminutive little mid-70’s Chevy was a true world car, although other parts of the world got more variety (including a pickup truck version!) and for far longer (the last Chevette was sold in 1998, according to Wikipedia!).
The Chevette was Chevy’s new fighter in the increasingly important compact car segment. Against such similarly styled competition as the Honda Civic, GM felt they needed a “secret weapon”, but that the Vega just wasn’t cutting it. Let’s face it, the Big 3 just didn’t understand how to make small cars. There had been earlier attempts to import Vauxhauls, Simcas and other foreign marques by the Big 3, but these were odd nameplates to many buyers, and they never took off. By simply restyling and rebadging the Chevette, Chevy had a chance to make use of a proven small car design without “rocking the name recognition boat”, so to speak.
The Chevette might not have been the best small car ever, and it had its share of problems (there were some quality issues, but then again, it was the 1970’s!). The layout was decidedly anachronistic, being a compact, rear-drive car, but the hatchback styling fit well with the trends of the day, and the rear-drive was probably a comfort to people used to American-style driving experience.
Given the number of Chevettes sold, and MPC’s penchant for making kits of the “everyday beater”, it’s no surprise that they issued a Chevette kit for 1975. Of course, MPC was never one to back down from issuing annual kits (a practice now long, and sadly, gone, it seems), so it’s not a surprise they updated their Chevette kit when GM updated the real thing! In 1979, the Chevette underwent a transformation. A new, more formal, and more Citation-like (ooh! Foreshadowing!) grille and flatter hood signalled a fairly significant restyle. As always, MPC was right on top of it!
Normally, I would assume that there was a conventional 1979 Chevette kit but can’t find any record of one on the Internet. If someone has one, please let me know. While I might not have a straight stock Chevette, however, I DO have something better: “Bear Bait”, a radically customized semi-ralleye/semi-street version of Chevy’s leading econobox.
I’ve said it before (and I think I’ve written it before) and I’ll say it again and again. I LOVE MPC KITS! These guys really, really got it, at least in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. They knew how to make box art. To me, the boxes of some great MPCs are like the Andy Warhol paintings of their segment. They drip charisma, ooze excitement and nearly drown in an unabashed tidal wave of Zeitgeist. If you want to feel the gritty, still-a-bit-post-‘Nam-angry-but-starting-to-feel-the-optimism-of-the-high-tech-80s spirit of the era in which these kits were made, all you have to do is drink in one of their boxes.
I almost mean that literally. Bear Bait’s box is one of the best, most powerful examples of smash-you-in-the-face box art I have EVER seen. You will have to come up for air to take this whole thing in. Front and center is a beautiful piece of artwork. You will not see a Chevette looking meaner, more dignified and more clown car-like ridiculous than this. I can almost guarantee that. From the ralleye lights to the air dams and flares to the gaudy purple/red/orange “sunset stripe” panels on the hood and flanks, Bear Bait’s main illustration will take your breath away.
The campy fun doesn’t stop there though! If you look on one long side, you can see a write up about the kit with the MPC traditional “scale picture” of the kit. The first thing you might notice is that Bear Bait isn’t very big. Of course, a Chevette isn’t exactly a monster, the “ette” being extremely appropriate for this little commuter car! The second thing you might notice is that the text is both English and French. This version of Bear Bait, at least, is made in Canada, and that means that the packaging is bilingual.
The other long side of the box is just as entertaining, showing you as it does the awesome features of this customized bad boy street machine. You can see the aggressive stance and bigger tires of the customized Chevette, as well as the nicely-coloured interior, and deep-dish finned wheels. It gets SERIOUSLY HARDCORE however, when you see the 1.4 or 1.6L (hard to tell which) I4 engine!! It has a custom intake (I think), and might even make close to like, 90, HP! I guess it goes to show that in every generation, there are those guys who will tart up the outside of a car to make it look bad-assed, without really doing a whole lot to the powertrain.
“Who are they?” you ask. “Who are these ‘guys’ of which you speak, these ‘Proto-Ricers’, if you will?”
That’s a good question. MPC of course, answers this with no mercy by actually GIVING YOU kits of said guys! There are also two figures included with the Bear Bait; one is standing, rightfully proud of his Badboy Bowtie Bruiser and the other is kneeling, with a tire iron or socket wrench in his hand. (I assume he is plotting to cudgel his buddy and take sole possession of the fire-breathing beast behind them. Why else would he be kneeling with a tool in his hand?) These two guys ARE “those guys”. They are Sam and Harold. How do I know this? I just do. They look like a Sam and a Harold, although no offence is meant to any Sams or Harolds living or dead, known or unknown. That’s just what I thought when I was looking over the kit. “Hey, look at these guys Who are they? They’re Sam and Harold!” That’s how it went. That’s the power of Bear Bait. It’s like modelling catnip! Pass me some Twinkies…
This is the first MPC I’ve had with figures, but the 1975 Chevette (Dude, so need that!) came with them and other accessories too, for a ralleye setup. Thus, they were included with Bear Bait. But, don’t despair, because Bear Bait comes with EVEN MORE stuff! That’s right, looking on the short end of the box (the jokes write themselves, I know) you can see just what MPC is giving you as a bonus! Bike Stickers! This is proof positive that the target audience of this kit were those too young to drive. It’s an odd juxtaposition for me, personally, since so many modellers now are in their 40’s and 50’s. This seems like a relic from a simpler time, and it is. However, I think it’s also a better time, when kids did like to model. Sure, maybe not all Bear Baits ended up as show winners, and maybe some were shot with BB guns or blown up with firecrackers, but still, kids enjoyed their time with them. For that reason alone, the promise of Bike Stickers is a very heartwarming, charming and innocently funny addition to this very, very retro package.
Okay, enough with the box. Truthfully, though, the box is a scream, and is more interesting than the kit itself in some ways. It is the very essence of potential. The kit, however, is the very essence of, well, of MPC. That’s both good and bad.
The bad, is that MPC really didn’t know how to package a kit worth beans. In the box, you get one “bag o’ kit” that you hope has everything in it, four rubber custom tires, two taillights, instructions, an axle, one sheet of decals and one sheet of Bike Stickers, plus a chrome rack and the windows. Unfortunately, the entire car (save that which I listed separately already) is in a complete state of disarray in the bag. Parts are loose, long ago having attempted an escape by self-detaching form their sprues. Engine bits, interior bits, custom pieces; they’re all just jumbled together. It’s too dangerous to open the bag until you go to build the kit, so I didn’t bother.
Through the bag, though, you can see some very promising things. The engine looks like a typically well-detailed and well-appointed MPC power plant. There’s good surface texturing, and a peek at the instructions shows all the accessories are separate. If only other companies had learned this. MPC rocks engines hardcore. The body seems nicely done, too, and there are small Chevette scripts where appropriate. The interior is also typical of an MPC; heavy carpet detail (Perfect for shadowing with pastels!), excellent door panel detail and nicely done seats (With backs!). The dashboard looks like a ringer for the one in the brochure I found online, and the steering wheel looks good too.
Looking at the chassis, the detail is awesome, as always, but I was disappointed to see that the exhaust was moulded in. I found that odd, since the Omni of the same vintage has the pipe separate. Also, the tires give me pause. Sure, there are rubber units for the custom version, but where are the skinny rubber pizza cutter-like tires for the stock one? The answer is the same as that which greets any builder of an Omni 024; they are in halves in the bag. Thankfully, the tires on this and the Omni both are just straight styrene. This is in contrast to the AMT Monza I have that has weird black “nothing-can-glue-me” tire halves. At least the styrene will glue and sand well. To get a rubbery finish will require some flat coating, but that’s doable.
The chrome rack is typical in that it’s very shiny, but the chrome is too thick. Stripping and Alclad Chroming is my preferred method of dealing with this, and I think it will work well. The stock hubcaps are included in this kit, and are completely dorky. They should complement the glue-together tires perfectly! The windows, unfortunately, are a bit rough. Since they were not separately bagged, or protected in any way, they have a fair amount of scratching on them. Some serious polishing will be needed to get them back to perfectly clear. I’ve found that if you go right down to 12,000 with fine detailing cloths and then do another 4,000 sand, followed by Tamiya rubbing compound “Fine” and then “Finish”, it will all work out.
The nice thing is that, if you don’t want to build the full-on Bear Bait, you can still build an excellent replica of a stock Chevette. That is, of course, what I want. All the right pieces are there, and none of the custom stuff has to be cut off. In fact, if you want to customize it, you have to cut the rear wheel opening s bigger. This is the right way to do a 2-in-1 kit; I hate working to make a custom stock. Congrats to MPC on realizing this!
As you can see on the box, the decals are pretty ‘70s-ish. They would look at home on a giant street van, but on a Chevette, they’re overkill. Unfortunately, my decals did not survive all that well, and because they weren’t stored in either plastic or with tissue, they have curled and yellowed. Still, they’re very interesting, because unlike later decals, the entire sheet is ONE PIECE. This is like a set of aftermarket decals; there’s no break between the individual decals, so trimming the film is absolutely essential. It’s easy to forget how convenient things have become. Looking at this sheet really drives that home.
In addition to the wild striping/panelling, you also get some very entertaining decals for the rear windows. For the side windows, you get two little caricatures of souped-up Chevettes gunning it and leaving the cops behind. For the back window, you get a cartoon police cruiser, and the wording “Eat My Dust, Smokey!” Now, if you missed it, or you weren’t born in the ‘70s, that’s the whole point behind the Bear Bait name. Yes, the customizers are so sure that this particular Chevette will attract attention from the police, and that they will be able to outrun said police (a la Smokey and the Bandit) that they called the car Bear Bait. A Bear is slang for a state trooper, named after their “Smokey the Bear” hats. Hence the “Smokey” moniker also applied to them.
This whole exercise, from the name to the decals, smacks of something so far beyond delusions of grandeur that it is more than comically absurd. A stock Chevette will barely outrun a soap box racer, and that’s when both are going downhill and all-out! To think that a slight warming over, and the addition of lots of extra weight in flares and air dams is going to help this is not just laughable, it’s surreal. But, then again, the whole kit is an exercise in automotive surrealism. I guess that makes Sam and Harold the Salvador Dali and Max Ernst of the auto world!
Now, I hope you didn’t forget about the free Bike Stickers! If you did, you suck. Plain and simple. Also in the box, and in better shape than the waterslide decals, one finds a small sheet of decals to help you pimp out your BMX or banana-seat ride! These decals are of the self-adhesive type, similar to those found on GI Joe toys from the 1980’s. They are in the form of racing credits, so they definitely give you street cred if you use them. I find it ironic that all the decals are for products that a bike would never use, but that’s beside the point. The decals are fun and interesting, and I’m amazed my copy of the kit still had them in there when I got it second hand!
The instructions are on the biggest, heaviest piece of paper I’ve yet seen in an injection moulded plastic kit. They’re so huge because the English is on one side, and the French is on the other. This means all the steps have to fit on one side. To MPC’s credit, they didn’t shrink down the instructions or make them hard to read to accommodate the dual language format required in Canada. I think it would have been easier for a builder and MPC to make two smaller, separate sheets, but there’s no sense in “what iffing” on this one. If you need a tablecloth or a durable piece of drapery, then the instructions will have a nice second purpose once you’re done.
They are typical MPC instructions in that they are very clear, precise and easy to follow. There’s no question where things go as with some instructions. Looking at them, you can see that MPC really did put a lot of work into making sure its Chevette was just as good as its Camaro and Trans Am kits, despite the lack of ‘glamour’ that a non-Bear Bait Chevette generally gives to those driving it. Like the instructions in most MPCs, I give these ones very high marks indeed.
I think the best part about this kit is that, like all MPCs, it is a diamond in the rough. Sure the custom flares and stuff are a bit much, but they are fun. They’re likely MORE fun now, because we can see just how ridiculous things were, and how seriously people took things that were so outwardly over-the-top. That’s just one of the ways in which the Bear Bait Chevette works, though.
One thing you don’t see now is models of “everyday” cars, and MPC was always a master of those. Given the importance of the Chevette, and the numbers sold, this little immigrant deserves a lot of credit and a bit of kit-based love. Yet, despite this, only MPC ever stepped up to the plate to do what was right. For that alone, I applaud this kit.
However, this kit is a solid kit in its own right. It has excellent detail and texturing, and seems very accurate, both inside and out. The hallmark MPC attention to detail is evident in this kit. It should be a fun and different build, and I’m looking forward to it.