Monogram 1/20 1981 Turbo Trans Am Pace Car (OOB)

The middle 1970’s saw the end of the first Muscle Car Era. By then, stringent emissions and crash standards had pretty much wrung the life, fun and spirit out of driving. What the gas crunches of the 1970’s couldn’t finish, the Japanese invasion of economical small cars pretty much did. Thus, North American auto enthusiasts, in the span of a decade at most, had gone from being able to purchase high compression and high horsepower street dominating muscle machines to having to settle for econoboxes and cars that pretended to former glories.

While it might not have had the muscle of the 1973 SD 455 Trans Am, Pontiac was determined to do all it could for the “Gen 2.4” T/A that entered the market in 1979. It had relatively refined aerodynamics, functional spoilers and a new-yet-old appeal. It also had a large, flat hood, which was perfect to mount an even bigger version of the famous “Screaming Chicken” or “Fire Chicken” decal that had, by then, become synonymous with Poncho’s top-line Firebird.  By 1980, the much-vaunted (and missed) 400 and the less-vaunted (and not-so-missed) 403 were gone from the Firebird engine lineup. To make up for it, the folks at Pontiac produced the 301T. This was a turbocharged 301 with modifications and strengthening, to improve horsepower to 210 and torque to 345lbs.

Now, the 301T is not the most beloved engine in history, and it suffered greatly at the hands of detractors who wanted it to be more like a 400 or a 455. However, for its day, the 301T was a very advanced piece of machinery. Not only was the engine the only turbocharged V8 in production, it was also carbureted, which meant a ton of work went into making it functional at all. Pontiac was rightly proud of the Turbo Trans Am. It seemed to be the answer to all the conflicting requirements of the day. Because of this, GM touted the car strongly. Despite its detractors, the Turbo T/A had the fortitude to be a pace car, and paced races twice in its two-year existence, proving its abilities. In 1980, it was the pace car for the Indy 500, while, in 1981, it was a NASCAR pace car. Of course, special paint packages were offered to commemorate these events, and these cars are rare and desirable today.

There were quite a number of Turbo T/A kits, in quite a wide variety of scales. There were the large “Trophy” series ones from MPC that rolled in in the enormous 1/16 scale, and there were normal 1/24 and 1/25 ones. However, there was also the “somewhere in between” 1/20 kit, put out by Monogram. Today, by and large, 1/20 seems like a weird scale. However, this was a semi-common scale back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it’s not a surprise that the Turbo T/A would get this treatment as well.  This time, we’re taking a look at the 1/20 Monogram 1981 Pace Car edition Turbo T/A.

The Box:

The box of Monograms “big” T/A is actually not that impressive. It has that early ‘80s look to it, but it’s not as exciting as MPC boxes by a long shot. It has a picture of the completed model on the front (no doubt retouched), and that’s about it. The box is big, though, so you do get a nice view of a Turbo T/A, and that’s a sexy, sexy thing in and of itself.  On the side of the box there are a few shots of the assembled model and a pretty generic write up. I guess that the subject matter was what was supposed to sell the model, because really, the box doesn’t do it on its own.

That's a lot of Poncho, and I guess it has an understated kind of style to it, even if it's not that exciting.

That’s a lot of Poncho, and I guess it has an understated kind of style to it, even if it’s not that exciting.

Still, it’s a cool box to have, especially if you a.) love T/As and/or b.) have a 1981 Pace Car. It would look cool as a display piece in a window or on an air cleaner of a real Pace Car at a car show. Other than that, though, it’s not really a box that jumps out at you or even really screams for you to save it when you’re done. I will, because it’s old, but that’s the only reason.

The Kit:

The model itself is quite large. The T/A is not a small car, and this conveys it well. Since everything is “just that much bigger” than a “normal” 1/24 or 1/25 kit, you get a real feeling of heft on the parts. The tires are large and have nice tread on them, as well as having good, raised letters for doing white letters. This is essential on a T/A, as I have found out by owning my own Turbo T/A.

Here's what you see when you pop the top! A T/A is a big car, and this box barely fits it, and that's WITHOUT the nose cap!

Here’s what you see when you pop the top! A T/A is a big car, and this box barely fits it, and that’s WITHOUT the nose cap or rear bumper!

The kit is moulded largely in white, with the body, hood, bumpers and engine in this colour. Given the age of the kit, it has stayed very white, and that’s a miracle! The interior is moulded in red, which makes for a very visually striking appearance, especially when first opening the box. This is very rare for a North American car kit; usually they are just in one colour, and that’s it. There’s also a rack of smoked glass for the windows, T-Tops and (unfortunately) headlights, as well as the requisite rack of chrome parts for engine bits and the distinctive “turbine” rims of the Turbo T/A.

Liberated from the box, you can see the multi-coloured moulding, something very rare on an American kit.

Liberated from the box, you can see the multi-coloured moulding, something very rare on an American kit.

The most important feature, though, of any T/A kit is the decal sheet. Since this is a 1981 Pace Car, the decal sheet has the requisite Pace Car graphics, as well as the two-colour black and white hood bird. In 1980, the hood birds were very colourful; in 1981, GM cut costs (and corners, as always) by reducing this to a two-colour decal.  It may look odd, especially to me who’s used to more colourful plumage, but it is correct.

There detail on the kit isn’t bad, but it’s not as good as I’d expect for a kit of this size. The dashboard looks nice, but there’s no “engine turned” texture to replicate the “disco dash” of the real car. There’s also not a decal for this. The seats are nice, but quite plain; the hobnail cloth of the Turbo T/A’s interior could have been much more faithfully replicated.  As is the case with most Monogram cars, the engine bay needs work, and suffers from “bottle melt”. This is the term I use to describe how engine bay bottles and other accessories (like the master cylinder, for example) are moulded into the kit, but don’t stop where they should. It’s bad enough to see this on a smaller scale kit, but at 1/20, on a white car, this will really, really show up.

As always, the chrome is spurious, since the real T/A has almost no chrome on it at all. The wheels on a real Turbo T/A are most certainly not chrome, and nothing in the engine bay is either. That means anyone wanting to do this kit correctly will have to use the old Easy Off trick to strip the chrome. One major sticking point with most Turbo T/As is the Turbo itself; usually they are poorly or incorrectly moulded.  The turbo on this kit isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but it’s not quite right compared to the real thing, either.

What is this?

On the box, and so far in this review, it has been assumed that the car is indeed a 1981 Pace Car Turbo Trans Am. That the car is a Turbo is not in question; everything turbo-related (that matters) is there, including the special hood, hood bird and engine.  However, there are problems with both the year and the Pace Car-ness of this kit.

Firstly, let’s look at the year. The kit is supposedly a 1981. Sure, the decals are right for an ’81, and most people would say that’s all that matters, since the ‘80s and ‘81s looked the same.  However, that’s not true. The 1981 T/As have a large chrome “fire chicken” moulded into the gas door in the middle of the full-width rear taillights. This kit, however, does NOT have that very distinct feature. Right away, that means that this car is a 1980, not a 1981. Secondly, there’s a problem with this being a Pace Car. In 1980, the Pace Cars had the deluxe interior package, like on Faust, albeit in a more appropriate colour. However, in 1981, the Pace Cars got a very nice set of Recaro seats, which are totally different from those in any other T/A until that time. You can tell they aren’t normal T/A seats, since they are supportive and comfortable! Of course, they also look completely different, and they don’t look like the seats in this kit! The seats in this model are the normal T/A seats.

All of this points to the fact that this model is NOT actually a 1981 Pace Car, but a 1980 Turbo Trans Am. It could be a Pace Car, but there’s no way to tell, since there isn’t any physical difference on an ’80 Pace and normal T/A. What is interesting is that the Turbo Scoop doesn’t have the “turbo charge” lights moulded into the back of it, which theoretically makes it an early 1980.

Instructions and Decals:

The instructions are exactly the same as other Monogram car instructions. They’re passably rendered and not too complicated, but there’s nothing useful written on them.  There are the usual arrows and stars, showing what to put where, but that’s it. “What else do you want?” you may ask? Well, some car instructions call out interior trim and engine colours, accessory colours and so forth. No such luck here. Also, the drawings are only somewhat detailed, so using a subsequent step’s picture to determine what goes where may not necessarily work.

You can tell which page was exposed, right? It's odd, because this kit was sealed when I got it, but the instructions still dirtied like this!

You can tell which page was exposed, right? It’s odd, because this kit was sealed when I got it, but the instructions still dirtied like this!

Despite its size, the instructions reveal that there's little about this kit that's difficult or even unconventional!

Despite its size, the instructions reveal that there’s little about this kit that’s difficult or even unconventional!

The decals look nice. Since my example of this kit was still sealed when I opened it a couple of years ago, I’m not surprised they haven’t yellowed. As mentioned earlier, they seem to be accurate for a 1981 Pace Car. Unfortunately, this means they are NOT accurate at all for what is actually provided in the box. That’s a problem; either you build the car to the decals, and have it be wrong, or you will have to get a whole new set of Turbo T/A decals somewhere.

Yes, it's monochrome, but it is awesome! I don't think the big bird is compensating for anything... Why do you ask?

Yes, it’s monochrome, but it is awesome! I don’t think the big bird is compensating for anything… Why do you ask?

Conclusions:

As the owner of a Gen2.4 Turbo T/A, I am very happy to have this kit. I am hoping to do it up as close as possible to my Turbo T/A, Faust. Since this kit is actually an ’80, this makes my job a lot easier. Thus, I am very biased in saying I’m pretty pleased with the kit.

Overall, the kit looks nice, but no nicer than any 1/24 or 1/25 car kit from Revell or Monogram.  The lack of extra detail at 1/20 is a bit disappointing, but if you can get past this, and the “bottle melt”, then the big 1/20 Turbo T/A is a perfectly acceptable kit. I’m sure the fit will be a bit dodgy, but what Monogram kit’s isn’t?

This is a good kit for a beginner since the parts are larger, and it may be easier for them to handle. It’s also a great kit for an advanced modeller since there’s a lot of opportunity to go to town on the superdetailing aspects of the kit. Basically, there is nothing to prevent any builder from having fun with this kit. The fact that it’s a bit rare now may prevent casual purchasers from picking one up, but if you see one and you like the subject, go for it!

Let’s face it; at the end of the day, you’re going to have a pretty good replica of what I consider to be one of the nicest T/A designs in history, and it’s going to be big enough to dominate most displays. Can’t argue with that!

 

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