Keeping things fresh is a difficult, often nearly impossible, order of business. This holds for everything from menu planning (at home and restaurants) to fashion, and it certainly applies in the world of automotive design and sales. While nothing succeeds like success, the annals of automotive history are full of designs that succeed at first only to fail shortly thereafter due to “consumer burnout”. Simply put, often it’s a case of “everyone who wants one already bought one”. Since it’s economically infeasible to roll out a brand new product every couple of years, the automotive industry has gotten very good at figuring out the best way to refresh what’s already on the shelves to do for another year.
Perhaps the second generation Trans Am/Camaro (i.e. F-Bodies) are one of the most notable of these efforts, since the same basic car sold for 11 years with really only cosmetic changes. However, the F-bodies aren’t the only GM products that needed warming over. In fact, as the power-sapped, reduced-excitement and pollution-controlled Automotive Dark Ages rolled on, it became readily apparent that the smaller, thriftier cars would need some extra panache to cover for their built-in inability to get the adrenaline flowing.
The first step was to bring in something to offer besides the Vega. While this pocket-sized Camaro look-alike had debuted to much fanfare (as would the Citation a decade later… hmm….), by 1975 its star had faded and taken a bit of a beating; the name was now synonymous with aluminum engine failures and savage rust, among other things. While keeping the mechanicals (by ’75 most of the bugs HAD been worked out), Chevy stylists went to town to create something fresh: a new small car, the Monza. The most exciting Monza model was the surprisingly swoopy 2+2 that had a very aerodynamic silhouette. This car once again used Camaro styling cues to imply a kinship with, and sportiness similar to, its stylistic big brother. Of course, that’s where the similarities largely ended.
The Monza stayed in production until 1980, but was sold through ‘81 until replaced by the Cavalier. During that time, several cosmetic changes, as well as some engine changes, were made to the car. Of course, the Monza was the subject of an extreme, almost obscene, amount of badge engineering, ensuring that every GM passenger car division had a version. With that much product, keeping it fresh was a constant battle, but the Monza did well and was well-liked for racing too; both professionals and amateurs found a lot to like in the light weight, rear-drive layout, and Monza Drag Cars and IMSA performers were surprisingly common.
It’s no surprise that the Monza was a darling of the model kit industry, although the number of makers who kitted it, and variants of Monza kits that were made, seem excessive, even so. I guess it all goes back to the old belief of “modelling what’s cool with the kids”. That was a major consideration back in that time, since kids and more casual builders made up so much of the hobby.
Of course, the whole argument about “keeping things fresh” applied just as much to model kits as it did the real cars. The 1970s was a decade that, from a modelling perspective, could almost defined by the primacy of the “annual” kit. These were often based on promos, and were kits that were updated every year to conform to the “newest” product. Of course, when the real product doesn’t change much, it’s a mixed blessing. Sure, there’s little to retool, but there’s also little reason for consumers to buy what is basically a duplicate kit. This is where companies like MPC really earned their money. Rather than just hitch their wagon to the annuals, MPC took the ’78 Monza 2+2 and used it as the basis for a veritable harem of kits that were produced for years. From drag cars to customs to IMSA Customs to IMSA Drag and Pro Street hybrids, MPC knew how to get one more shot out of tooling that had long been paid off. Just like GM, they figured out that a few new bits and some wild new decals would, with the right mix, create something that looked fresh, even if it had been on the heat rack a while. (I’m sure notable fast food restaurants were green with envy, not just the mould on their out-of-date buns!)
A perfect example of this is the MPC “Street Spyder”. This was one of nine (Yes… NINE!) variants of the Monza that MPC put out between 1975 and 1981 (even more than GM!), and it was also the first of the “radical” variations. Sure, the annuals had a custom form to them, as shown on the boxes, but the kits were identified as the annual kit. However, as we all know from examples like Wild Breed, Bear Bait and Gold Rush (among others) once MPC gives the kit a new “code name” or non-annual identity (NAI), then it’s ON. Generally, bad taste in custom accessories and wild decals follow and any self-respect the car may have had is ground to powder by the mill of tastelessness. So it is for Street Spyder. So it would be for those that followed.
So, let’s take a look at this marvel of badge engineering and mild retouching, and see what happens when the boys at MPC’s “Krazy Kustoms” division are let loose on GM’s largely unassuming H-body. If you’re wondering why I’m doing Street Spyder, the reason is simple. It was part of a three-way tie in the “Monza Mayhem” poll I did a while ago. It was my nephew’s favourite, and mine too, so I decided to declare it the “winner”. It also has the coolest decals and most awesome box.
If you know MPC’s wild customs, then you can guess what’s coming. That’s right, it’s a totally-themed, eye-burning, ridiculous kick in the face! Now, we all know (or do now) that the “performance” package on the Monza was called the Spyder. No, I don’t know why. Let’s just assume that GM had a reason. Of course, since Spyder is acoustically equivalent to “spider”, it only makes sense that any radical custom trading on this name is going to involve spiders! Heck, GM’s own “Spyder” package used spiders the way that T/As use flaming chickens, more or less, so we can’t blame MPC here.
However, MPC will never let you confuse precedent with tasteful use. No. There’s no tact, no taste only optical assault on this box. The top third of the box is taken up by graphics associated with the name. Oddly, the “Street” part is clearly not important, as it is only seen at the very tip-top left, in staid, boring almost completely inappropriate (for the rest of the box, that is) block capitals. It’s blue. It says street. Move beyond it. Why? Because when you do, you get bitten by the Spyder, baby!! “Spyder” is written in fat, cursively-styled writing that is in blue and white. However, I think it’s supposed to evoke liquid metal, or a highly reflective chrome surface. With a thick black shadow behind it, though, you’re not going to miss it regardless of how your brain interprets it. This is some of the most stylish writing on any MPC box I’ve seen, but it’s made even more extreme by the “Sunset Spider” behind it. (By the way, “Sunset Spider” sounds like a good name for a local band. Feel free to credit me and send me 5% of all profits should you make said band and strike it big.)
Don’t forget, this kit comes from 1977; it is a “slit mouth” ’78 Monza, after all. At that time, “sunset stripes” were all the rage – check out anything from back then and you’re liable to find a lot of stacked red-orange-yellow. Heck, I’ve got Tonka vans and HWs with the same colour palette. That’s just how it was done. As you can see from the box, the Sunset Spider takes no prisoners, and his (her?) glory spreads full-across the box. As if to warn you, more black capitals state that this is an “IMSA STYLED MONZA STREET ROD”. Yes, I know it should be “IMSA-STYLED” with a dash; it just proves crappy grammar is timeless.
Less timeless, but more offensive, is the crazy mishmash of custom Monza that is charging at you and filling most of the box top! It’s silver, with sunset outlines on its IMSA panels, a giant Sunset Spider on the hood and a huge “SPYDER” window band! Add to this the thick black bumper and pointlessly-orange air dam, and right away you KNOW it’s an MPC. There’s no question. If there was, the prominent MPC logo would tell you, but there’s TOO MUCH SUNSET in your eyes to see it properly, I fear!
There’s a lot of extreme to the Street Spyder. For one thing, it is indeed IMSAly-inspired, and those flares are gonzo on a street car! The huge wrap-around spoiler only adds to it. But that’s not the weirdest part to me. No, the weirdest part is that the car reminds me of a cross between a Sugar Skull and a zombie. If you’re thinking “Okay, enough MPC fumes for him for one day” you’re forgiven. However, check it out: the car has no headlights. To me, the headlights on a car are like the eyes on a face; they give it character, make it seem “alive”. This thing is blind. It’s like some crazy monster from the deep, or like some kind of soulless creature of the night. If zombies had Mardi Gras, they’d drive to it in this thing. This would be the parade marshal’s car at Zombie Gras.
The fact that the “eyes” are blank, and covered with spiders only makes this more disturbing. It’s literally like spiders living in dead eye sockets. It’s creepy at a primal level. The “eye spiders” are EVEN weirder, since their legs are all separate segments. It’s that granularity that makes them look like decorations on a Sugar Skull, to me. Add the flamboyant colours and the “Day of the Dead” motif just keeps on rolling at ya!
On the one side of the box, you get the patented “MPC Full-Sized Illustration”. This shows that the Monza’s not a big car. We knew that, though. It also shows just how wild those flares are! The entire front fender is one flare, and the rear is so long it eats up around 40% of the door. The rear overhang on this thing is nuts, too, as you can see how much the rear is left to tape down. Also in this view, you can see the rear window covers, also sporting some sunset-stripped covers that the instructions call “cowls”. These are some kind of air scoop. Interestingly, the wheels on this Monza aren’t factory stock at all; they’re some kind of eight-spoke mag, which to my eyes doesn’t look at all like ANY Monza wheel. This is good, a car like this better not have lame-o standard wheel covers!
Sadly, the other side of the box is the same illustration, although it does have the “chromy” Street Spider logo on it. It tells you some of the cool features, rather than illustrating them separately. Personally, I like that on old MPC boxes. Having the “cool extras” called out always makes me giggle, as some are cool, and others are… well, yeah. It is nice that here, they do have a dash on “IMSA-Style” for the custom options, so I will begrudgingly say they tried to get it right. You know it’s not a reissue, because it says “Made and Litho in USA”. No Round 2 will say that!
I was expecting this thing to be moulded in silver. After all, it says “Paints needed to complete model as shown: Red and Black” on the “full-size” side. Since the car is silver (to my eyes), that told me it would be moulded thusly. Not sure how they were going to get the orange air dam, but that’s an academic concern. Upon opening this box I found the kit was in… white! Huh? Like a big lump of H-body shortening, the Street Spyder that greeted me was entirely that milky white that MPC (and AMT to be fair) loved so much. In reality, this is a good thing, since it has to be primered and painted anyway, and white’s easy to cover. Still, it was surprising.
Of course, the biggest fear on any old MPC kit is the dreaded “Tire Melt”. I bought this in Richmond, MI, at Ashbrook’s hobby shop, and they are awesome enough to let you open and inspect a kit before you buy it! Amazing, no? It is, because I’ve never had a shop let me do that on old merchandise. This could have even been original factory sealing that was on the kit, but they didn’t mind, so I cautiously, and nervously, took a peek at the glass… SAFE! In fact, the glass was amazingly clean! It is hard to believe this thing is over 40 years old, I tell you! The bulk of the kit was in the usual “MPC boil-in-bag” bag of parts, with a separate chrome rack and two red tail lights. There was a metal axle, of course, and four tires.
Much later, I opened up the bag specifically for this review, and huffed in that trapped ‘70s air. I think I could just make out some Zeppelin playing in a wood-panelled basement in the distance… This Monza comes with a pretty good load of stuff. You get the normal stuff, like body, interior and chassis, plus full engine, seats, dashboard, etc. However, you also get all the IMSA flares, the side window “cowls”, the various air dams and spoilers and of course louvers. You also get some racing stuff, like a roll bar and “mesh” for the window. This is very crude and I wouldn’t recommend using it, but it’s there.
The detail on the kit isn’t bad. There’s good carpet texture on the interior bucket, and the door panel detail is very soft, but there. It didn’t photograph well, or I’d put a pic in of it. I was amazed at how good the seam lines on the window pillars were; compared to some kits I’ve seen, they were nearly invisible. They’re not, and they’ll have to be sanded, but compared to the Round 2 AMT Pinto they were amazing! However, that’s about all I can say was amazing as far as flash is concerned. The Street Spider has a lot of excess plastic on it, and that’s what you’d expect from an MPC that’s already a few years old in the moulds.
The louvers are particularly bad for flash, and the seats are even worse. While the seats are nicely patterned and will look good once painted and pastelled, they are rough. They do, though, have full backs, not just the hollow ones you see in Japanese kits. SEE JAPAN?! THAT’S HOW IT’S DONE! The detail on the chassis is actually very good, with good texturing and some little lines put in. However, having the stock exhaust built in is stupid. I don’t mind a painting exercise. I’ve made built-in exhaust and engines look separate before (like on the Civic), but it’s a problem here because this thing can be equipped with the almost de rigeur side pipes. It’s going to look hellishly stupid to have side pipes or headers with the rest of the exhaust still bolted on there. All that can be done is paint it chassis colour and hope no one notices.
They’ll likely be drawn in by the equally moulded-in driveline, which WILL be tough to paint realistically, since the differential and rear axle box is SUPER THICK. Again, all you can do is try your best on this. There are two settings for ride height, at both front and back. That’s unusual; normally you just jack up the arse end on a car like this. It turns out the lower on the front is “street” with the upper being stock. That means you can really put the nose into the ground on this thing! Not really appropriate for an IMSA car, but neat nonetheless.
The model’s heritage as a Promo shows badly on the chassis, and completing the hatefulness is a pair of large round pockets. These used to be the holes for screws, I’m assuming, to bold the darn promo together. The inside of the trunk shows circles where the receiving “holes” would have been. This explains the over simplified chassis. However, it also means that the interior has a very positive location, and this is a godsend on an MPC. Usually, the interior just floats around until it finds its spot. Not reassuring. So, there’s an upside.
Looking at the racks and the instructions, the engine looks okay. I don’t know my Chevy mills, but I’m going to assume it’s either a 305 or 350, not the 262 that was also available. There are some separate engine accessories, and there’s a high-rise manifold too. This is for the “IMSA” version, although it looks more like a drag engine to me. It has dual carbs, or a fuel injector, which is pretty forward thinking!
Oddly, the kit comes with wide tires for the rear end. They’re considerably beefier than the fronts, and they have appropriately staggered rims on the chrome rack. I wasn’t expecting such a size difference, and in fact I would have bet on equally-wide tires on all corners given the “non-drag” version of IMSA racers. The tires are lettered, though, so if you want some white letters on your Street Spider, you’re in! The rest of the chrome rack has the side pipes, headlights (not necessarily needed, as we know) and inappropriately chromed engine parts. It’s not a large chrome rack, but it’s nicely done. The clear red tail lights are detailed, but should be foiled over and painted with clear red to look more realistic.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions on the Street Spider are typical MPC. There is the chance for some confusion, because whenever you have three variants of engine/exhaust going on, there’s a chance something’s going to get messed up. If you plan ahead, though, it shouldn’t be too bad. The drawings are all that loveable hand-drawn style you’d expect from a ‘70s MPC, and it adds charm if not precision. The interior could get a bit dodgy, since the roll bar install has a lot of dotted lines going every which way, and the instructions aren’t clear (at least they weren’t to me upon first glance) as to where the decal of “Spyder” goes in the rear side window. Looking a bit, though, you can assume you’re to paint the window red and apply the decal right to it. It doesn’t actually fit on the “cowl” piece, as shown. That’s not how it looks on the box, I can tell you. They also say to paint the airdam red. I guess my eyes are playing tricks on me on the box lid then. I still think Orange and Silver is a better scheme than white and red. Hot Wheels would agree.
There are some left over custom bits from the ’76 annual, and the ridiculous driving lights on the bumper are one of them. They show them “optional” and I’d leave them right off, no matter how you do this thing. Also, they say to leave out the rear seat for the racing form. Okay, makes sense. However, if you do that, you still have the seat bottoms moulded in, and there’s a big hole where the seatback goes. I think there’s a bit more work to do there….
The decals, of course are amazing. I just hope they work. I’ll be scanning them (like I do all old decals) before I ever try to use them. I’m going to assume that some Testors Decal Bonder will work on them like they did on Gold Rush. The decals are colourful and wild, and the “sunset” nature of them comes blasting through. There are some racing credits, as you can usually assume there will be on any MPC race-capable car kit, and the two big bowties are a typically Chevy thing to have on there. I don’t know where you’re to put the single spare spider, but the trunk sounds good.
When it comes to crazy, far out and ridiculous customs, MPC is a hard customer to beat. They’re the masters of taking a normal car and just going so far over the top they’re back on the bottom again. Street Spyder is no exception. With all the wild flares, crazy decals and other custom features, the Street Spider is definitely one-of-a-kind. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one built, but I can tell you that I sure hope I do one day, and that it’s mine!
However, underneath all the craziness lurks a converted-from-promo MPC annual, with all the good and bad things that entails. There’s a tonne of flash and chassis detail is dodgy. The interior’s good, but still will need some work. You can imagine fit won’t be the best, but a dry fit of the interior chassis and body did give me a good feeling for this; better by far than any AMT of similar vintage! Still, this kit isn’t going to be one for a beginner. The box says “Intermediate Experience”, and that’s a good starting place. Like all MPCs, this is likely going to need some elbow grease, four-letter words and some real love for the subject.
One thing you can’t do with this, which kinda sucks, is build a stock ‘78+ Monza. There is a ’78 annual that will do that, but this isn’t that kit. With only two normal tires and two big ones, and wheels to match, you won’t be going stock any time soon. In fact, I don’t know if the wheels will stick out too far without the flares on! So, if you’re like me and you want to build a slit-mouth stock, you’re going to have to go elsewhere. However, if you’re like me in another way, and have several Monzas, then you can forget stock and go all out! After all, MPC did; it would be dishonourable not to!
Note: The general shape and size of the flares on this thing look to be roughly correct for making a ’77 Monza Mirage. This was a special package with IMSA flares and special red/blue stripes on white paint. They’re not common, but they are cool. HOWEVER, there are a few things to note: 1.) You’ll need a ’76 or ’77 kit to put the flares on; there are no “slit-mouth” Mirages. 2.) The front flares are actually too big for a stock Mirage; they stick out too far. This means mods or take-it-as-you-get-it. 3.) You’ll need to make your own Mirage decals. 4.) There’s no gas cap on the driver’s side rear flare. This is a big omission, but not unexpected from MPC. I’m not yet sure how, or if, it can be fixed. Still, if you’ve got a ’77 or earlier, you could try it. You’ll need a car with conventional wheels/tires anyway!