One word, so many connotations. Sure, a van can be just a covered truck, hauling people or things from Point A to point B; this is, after all, what they were built for. They were there for economy and work, hence names like “Econoline” and “Tradesman”. However, like so many other things, vans can be so, so much more.
As the 1970’s progressed, the Vanners and the emergence of Vannin’ culture showed us that vans were, quite literally, blank canvases. Their unexciting slab sides and boxy shapes became not just things of functional beauty, but true objects of the customizers’ art. More than any car could ever hope to be, vans were proven to be objects of limitless potential. After all, with all that room inside them, a Vanner could transform a van both inside and outside. Wild paint jobs, murals, lights, pipes and custom bodywork took a van from a stodgy box to an almost cubist caricature of the muscle cars they replaced. Crushed velvet, beds, studded Naugahyde, wood panelling and shag carpets converted the interior of a van from an empty box to an overdone, hyper-testosterone-fuelled mini-bordello.
Nothing about Vanning was subtle. Bigger, louder, more extreme; these were the watchwords. The pale “Street Van” packages offered by Dodge, and similar ones from Ford, couldn’t even scratch the surface of what could be done to a van once in the hand of a skilled and dedicated Vanner. However, what the Big 3 couldn’t do in 1:1 scale, the plastic model companies COULD do in 1/24, 1/25 and even 1/20! A perfect example of “wretched scale excess” is the series of customized Ford Econoline vans from MPC.
History Lesson: MPC’s Econoline
Back in the day, starting in 1971, I believe, MPC started offering the Ford Econoline van in 1/20. At the time, this was an increasingly popular scale for cars; it allowed bigger, more feature-laden models to be made and sold at a higher price. The first issues of the Econoline were innocent enough; a three-in-one that could be built as a stock “mini bus”, ambulance or pit-crew truck. This was offered a few different years (don’t forget, MPC was the KING of the “annual” kit!) and led to the Ironside van, from the TV series of the same name.
The 1974 kit, though offered a customized version as well, and from there, things just got out of control. MPC has a LONG history of completely ridiculous customs, and when it came to vans, it was “no holds barred” Like real Vanners, the ScaleVanners at MPC went nuts, turning the humble 1/20 Econoline into various other forms, including the low-riding “Wizard” and “Super Van” kits, as well as the hyper-customized “Visible Van” complete with fireplace and glass panels on the doors and roof. There was also the police-themed “Slammer”, don’t forget!
That wasn’t enough, though, and the ScaleVanners took it OFF the streets and created Street Vans that were Off Road Vans, including “HighJacker”, “Bounty Hunter” and “Shock Treatment”, all of which were the same basic kit with different inside and outside custom touches. HighJacker was camping and off-road themed, while Bounty Hunter and Shock Treatment were more like Street Vans on steroids.
As awesome as these van kits were, and they WERE awesome, they have long since disappeared from normal circulation. Online, examples go for quite a bit of money, and no one thought they’d ever see the light of day as normally issued kits again. Then, Round 2 bought up a TONNE of moulds, and apparently in there was the mould for HighJacker.
Now, thanks to Round 2 and their Retro Deluxe line, we in the modern age can experience, once again, the overblown campily-machismo-fuelled excitement of HighJacker! Get your pointy cowboy boots, handlebar moustache, Ted Nugent 8-track and CB slang dusted off, because HighJacker is here, for real, and it WILL dominate your display shelf like Burt Reynolds owning Buford T. Justice.
Because Round 2 is smart, they have taken to reproducing the original box art. They know that even a cool kit can’t make up for cruddy box art; they likely learned that from AMT and Ertl. So, the HighJacker reissue is in a replica of the original packaging. How cool is it? Well, it’s darn cool, and it’s BIG. The box is easily the biggest car box I have, and it is definitely a product of its time!
Front and centre is a picture of the HighJacker itself. A big, black, high-riding van (with an extremely “loud and proud” decal of a red HighJacker blastin’ off-road all along the side) HighJacker dominates the package. However, in case you didn’t read the van on the box, the large “HighJacker” writing in the top left corner should do the job. To further whet your appetite, there is a cutaway of the HighJacker in the top right corner. If you’re showing me a cutaway drawing of a van, and there are guns, wood panelling and buttoned Naugahyde in there on the front of the box, then I KNOW the rest of the box is going to rock.
And, rock it does! The one long side shows views of the different features, including the steerable front wheels (very unusual for an American kit, especially of this age), bed, off-road lights and hi-rise suspension. It’s all very fun and tongue-in-cheekly serious at the same time. However, it’s also very true to what you’d expect in the ‘70s, because the photos of the interior are terrible. You can barely see what they’re trying to show! This is sad, because the interior is amazing. However, trust me; just buy the kit and you can see it for yourself. The other long side has a direct side view, but not a 1:1 like on other MPC boxes; this van is just too big for them to do that. They do say it’s 9” long, but they don’t say how high. Interestingly, they also say that it is for the experienced modeller. That’s a nice way of saying “This kit is hard; we warned you!”, so consider yourself on notice! It also tells you that HighJacker is “The wildest off-road van ever!!”. I would advise you to believe the good folks at MPC; they knew whereof they spoke.
The box is nice, big and exciting. It oozes ‘70’s charm. However, you don’t build the box. The real question is “What’s inside the box?” If you’re thinking of the line from UHF: “Nothing! There’s nothing in the box! You’re so stupid!!”: don’t! There’s PLENTY in the box; you’d be stupid for leaving it behind!
The van body comes packaged on the short side of the box, but takes up the side tip-to-tip. There are two BIG bags of white parts, two bags of windows, a bag of tires, the decal sheet and instructions. There’s also a very bright chrome rack, a separately bagged clear red sprue of tail light lenses and a catalog. Surprisingly to me, there were no metal axles; I expected one for the rear end but was wrong, it seems.
I was immediately struck by the SIZE of the thing. I have a few 1/20 kits, and there’s always some “scale shock” when you see the pieces are bigger than normal, but the body on the HighJacker is HUGE! It has the rear and side doors moulded separately, and the sunroof is open. The plastic is the same thick, white stuff that Round 2 seems to use for all their car kits, so it should sand well and glue well. HighJacker looks like a 5 pound block of shortening, though, as a result of the plastic’s semi-translucent, almost fatty, nature.
There are a lot of parts in this kit. You get full suspension, plus all the interior bits. The chassis frame is separate from the floor, which is apparently typical for a van kit. The two bags are broken down into “mechanical” and “living space” components more or less. The “mechanical bag” has all the parts for the drivetrain, including the suspension components. At this point, it’s prudent to talk about the engine. As you know, I consider MPC to be the undisputed king of model motors. Well, HighJacker takes it to a whole ‘nother level. Not only do you get a nice engine with separate components, nicely textured block and tranny housing and a well-detailed 4WD adapter, but you also get a lot of internal detail, too. Some model engines have the feature of including a camshaft or crankshaft detail. HighJacker has both, the cam and the crank, as well as ALL 8 PISTONS!! I’ve never seen a model engine come with a full piston set before! Oddly, none of this is called out in the instructions at all…
Interestingly enough, the “mechanical bag” also shows some vestigial remains of the Econoline’s other incarnations; there are a set of basic, “dog dish” wheel covers from the normal version of the van, as well as the ambulances sirens. These may seem like wasted plastic, but you never know when they’re going to come in handy in the future! Free spares are always nice!
The “living bag” consists of the inner walls of the van, the camping gear, a range hood, stove/sink combo, some pillows and the “under bed storage”. The “bed” surface is actually a separate part in the box. All of the panels and cabinets are, of course, wood grained. The carpet on the floor pan has a definite texture and so do the door panels and lower walls. This van quite definitely wants to put the “shag” in the wagon, so to speak! The detail all looks very nice, and is surprisingly crisp given the age of the moulds. Of course, since this is/was an MPC, there is flash on everything, but that’s something you have to expect.
I was surprised to see that the inner panels of the van’s body are separate. There is one large insert for the “closed” side, which encompasses everything from the back door to the firewall. The insert on the “open” side goes from the back corner to the side doors, and then does the passenger’s front door. Given that MPC’s fit is always a bit dodgy, I’m concerned that this arrangement, while seemingly easy to paint, may make things very, very difficult. Still, the idea is good, so kudos on that one.
The camping gear is neat, with a rifle, shotgun, bow and a quiver of arrows, as well as a frying pan, coffee pot and thermos for use in the ‘kitchen’. There’s a bed roll, too, although why you’d use this if you have the posh accommodations of HighJacker’s “honeymoon suite” is beyond me.
What’s most interesting, to me at least, is that in this bag are even more remains of HighJacker’s other forms. Visible Van was a very “civilized” cruiser, and included such luxury touches as a fireplace, TV, and premium stereo system with big headphones and a reel-to-reel tape player. Even though these things aren’t for use with HighJacker, they are in the kit. Sadly, not all of Visible Van’s trappings are included; gone are the fancy spindles and the back for the TV, as well as the base of the fireplace itself. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use what’s in HighJacker’s box to customize the van your own way; it would be silly not to!
The chrome rack looks nicely plated; it doesn’t appear to be too thick in spots, which can always be an issue. The tires, too, are great. They are very soft, are well-treaded, and have, get ready for it… letters on them! Finally, some lettered tires on a new kit! This is the way tires were meant to be. There are also some heavy seams on them, so don’t forget to do some sanding before you put them onto the van!
Decals and Instructions:
The decals for the HighJacker are very impressive. There is a different decal for each side of the van, which is something that one often saw on “Mural Vans” back in the day. I like the decals, which show a version of the HighJacker bounding along a rocky road on one side of the van, and then the same scene, but from the back side, on the other side of the van. I do, however, have some regrets about them as well. They are typical of MPC’s “custom decals” in that they’re quite cartoony, which is really NOT in keeping with the Vanner tradition. I’d like to have seen custom stripes or some murals as options, but this is not MPC’s way, and never was. None of their custom vans really capture the true, all-out graphic spirit of Vanning, despite the size of the decals. Still, the decals are neat and definitely period, and if you know someone (or are someone) who’s able to make custom decals, or even do nice airbrush work, you can always replace the decals with something yourself. Personally, I think a blue-purple-grey scene of woods at night with a full moon, wolves, a mystical-looking waterfall and a nude bathing forest spirit girl would be a lot better, but you’d need “Lone Wolf” titles to go with it. See, I have the imagination, just not the ability!
The real problem, though, with the decals is that the decal for the door side is ONE PIECE. It is not cut to allow the doors to open. This is a BIG problem, since it’s going to be hard to close the doors and put the decal on, and then cut it. My suggestion: Scan the decal, print it out, figure out where to cut it, and then use that as a template. It’s a lot of work, but cheaper than ruining the decals!
There are also problems with the instructions, and sadly, they run deep. The first problem is that none of the “extra” option parts are called out. This isn’t a surprise, but for those unfamiliar with the history of the HighJacker mould, it will be very confusing as to why there’s a set of logs, a TV and some stereo equipment that doesn’t get used. More importantly, there are parts wherein the instructions are vague or just plain wrong.
As for vagueness: in some drawings, not all pars are numbered. In Step 14, for example, most parts are numbered, but the front under-bed storage faces are NOT called out. They may be easily identified, but in a kit with so many parts that go unused, it’s not a good idea to create more confusion. An example of something being just plain wrong is Step 15’s and 16’s instructions for the doors. In Step 15, they show on the left rear door going together using piece 90B. There are written instructions to use part 90A on the right hand door. Okay. However, in Step 16, which shows the assembly of the side doors, part 90A is called out. That’s just not correct. The pieces for the inside of the side and back doors are numbered confusingly, and in two cases illegibly, on the rack. The key is to note that the back of the door inner panels are labelled “rear” and “side”, respectively. Using common sense, and some test fitting, will go a long way on this kit it seems!
I am not even sure if the instructions given are faithful reproductions of the originals. Since this mould has seen so many iterations, and perhaps not all of them had the same instructions, maybe the original HighJacker’s instructions were this bad and vague? One thing that is missing in these instructions as well as those for Wizard, are detailing tips as to how to build the full engine provided. In the original instructions (at least for the ’74 Econoline kit), the positions the pistons, cam and crank used to be called out in a separate detailed instruction, so that they were in the right alignment! This bit of detail is not present in later versions, but thanks to this site,
you can see how things went together originally.
HighJacker is an epic piece of Vannin’ history, and to have it reappear on the shelves of hobby shops across the world is a definite act of awesomeness. It is big, impressively detailed and should really be a great kit for letting your imagination run wild. I can’t imagine too many car buffs not wanting to let their “inner Vanner” out for some scale fun on this one! With so many options and extra parts, you can make a model that tells a story without even having to have any people in the picture at all.
The box says this kit is for advanced modellers, and I believe it. With lots of flash and questionable fit, it is not for the faint of heart. The iffy instructions don’t help, and I can’t but feel that many people are going to start this one and give up in frustration. Take the warnings seriously; if you don’t think you can build this, get some more practice first. It’s worth doing a good job on, and I’d hate to see someone get down on themselves, their skills, or modelling in general trying to do too much with such a clearly challenging kit.
This one is going to take a LOT of work. Is it worth it? I can’t help but think it is. I’m pumped about it already! We all know that we shouldn’t be a knockin’ if this van is a rockin’, right? So, let me put it this way; I don’t think we’re going to be grazing our knuckles on the back door of the van any time soon. That’s how rocking this thing is!