Out with the New, In with the Old
Early in the 1960s Aurora Plastics Corporation asserted themselves
as the front-runner for all major styrene model kits. This era yielded
a new horizon for model builders by introducing kits based on popular
movies and comic heroes. Aurora dabbled in several figure kits in the
1950s however; the kits never reached out to the modeling enthusiast.
In the 60s, kits such as "Batman" and "Superman"
captured the imagination of children and parents alike. Finally, an assembly
kit was produced that challenged both the builder and the painter.
From the brick wall on Supermans base to the soft sculpts of Batmans
defined muscle tone, builders had the opportunity to create a true masterpiece
to showcase their talent. Easy to follow instructions and painting guides
enticed the builder to take their abilities to the next level. These kits
challenged even the most skilled modeler of the 60s. The early enamel
paints were thick and glossy and truly nightmarish to use. It was not
un-common for young builders to layer on paint to attempt a smooth finish
on some areas. Also, mixing paint to achieve specific colors was not a
common practice by most young model builders. Glues were not of the caliber
of what we have at our disposal today. In the absence of "Super Glues",
builders had a tendency to (literally) pour glue on to hold these kits
together. The molded capes and action poses made for a frustrating assembly
process for these type kits. With the interest of vintage kits and/or
baby boomer toys, it is not uncommon to see an individual restore one
of these models. All too often these assembled kits surface and are sold
at yard sales for little or nothing because enthusiasts do not think they
are going to be able to salvage the kit.
Generations pass and these kits have been re-released in several different
variations. The bulk of the kits have remained the same with some parts
receiving makeovers. These kits have been re-tooled and dropped some of
the original parts. Some of the most notable changes to them are the removal
of the engraved chest and cape (Superman) emblems, new head sculpts. Aside
from the obvious changes on the Batman kit, the subtlest change has been
one of the most frustrating things to replace on this kit. That piece
is the owl. On the original kit, there is an owl sitting atop the main
tree on the base. Though the piece had minimal tooling and detail, it
is one of the main selling points to a vintage kit. When looking for a
kit for a collection or display, the items such as the owl are "must
When restoring a vintage model, make sure you have plenty of supplies
on hand. For a total restoration, be prepared to spend several days or
weeks on the project.
Paint removal may be achieved by using a product called "Easy Lift
Off" (Also known as "ELO") which is available at most hobby
stores for around $15 a can. The key to a complete restoration revolves
around stripping of old enamel paints I have had my greatest success with
this product. By removing the layers of enamel a builder can bring out
the original details of the kit. When using ELO, it removes the paint
and does not damage the original styrene plastic. NOTE: The plastic will
achieve a hazed or grayish tint after the paint is removed. Be sure you
were some sort of eye protection and rubber gloves when using this product.
Glue residue left behind during the assembly process some 30 years ago
make this particular Batman kit an easy one to pass by at your local flea
market. Complicating the restoration process even more is the fact the
seller used a hot glue gun to secure the loose parts for an easy sell.
When looking over your project, make a mental note of the placement of
parts. With no instruction sheets the builder may have difficulty in proper
placement of replacement parts. This is particularly true with the Batman
model. The branch placement on the base is crucial to the display.
Filling the seams can be done efficiently with Squadron Putty. This filler
putty sets up in less than 30 minutes and is sandable in just a few hours.
The superhero kits pose a unique problem when filling seams. The leotards
that the figures wear should have all seams filled and sanded so they
have a smooth transition from arms to torso, legs to boots etc. When filling
the seams and painting, the difference between filling and sanding or
just a box stock assembly is what separates a display piece and a toy.
This particular Batman model required more than the average amount of
putty so the areas that were hot glued could be blended into the sculpt.
The area of the upper chest around the cape received the most emphasis.
The hot glue melted the chest and caused it to severely pit in some areas.
Also, the left arm of Batman was not positioned correctly during the original
assembly and was actually _" lower at the shoulder. Heavy layers
of putty are not recommended on any kit but this was one of the exceptions.
After all the seams were filled and the putty was given ample time to
cure, a light sanding with 550-grit sandpaper was applied. The light sanding
blended the mold lines and feathered out all the seams that created a
very clean looking piece. Once the sanding was complete and a base coat
of flat black was applied, the figure was set aside and work was started
on the base.
The base has some nice detailing but was missing some parts. The original
tree and owl were present but the smaller tree was missing its branches
and the two bats, which are perched on them. Another item missing was
the Bat-A-Rang . I went to my local Toys R Us store and picked up the
Revell re-cast of this model (retail priced at under $10). Much like restoring
a classic car, there are times when the work calls for new parts. Fortunately,
the parts I needed from the Revell kit were unchanged over time. As always,
anytime a kit is restored and replacement parts are used it is best to
document the replacement parts. That way the kit cant be sold as
an all-original kit in the future. The newer parts are not molded in the
original colored plastic so it is easy to distinguish the newer parts
from the original. Once the model is painted it becomes harder to recognize
these particular replacement parts. Once assembled and painted, the finished
kit becomes a great addition to a collection.
As you can see, there are no "lost causes" with the modern
supplies available to the modeling enthusiast. Kits such as these Revell
re-casts are wonderful ways to introduce young modelers into the hobby.
Until next time, Keep your brushes clean and your shop well ventilated!
Special Thanks! There are individuals available on the web that sell resin
re-casts of some of the harder to find parts. "Cult of Personality"
has casts available of the original owl (sculpted by Henry Frickle) and
replacement Bob Kane head sculpt. These can assist a vintage buff on a
limited budget to transform their Revell kit into a pseudo original Aurora.
These resin parts sell for around $10.00 a piece (add shipping and handling)
and have a very rapid delivery to the customer. They also have recently
completed an Adam West head sculpt for the Revell Batman Kit. Also available
are a custom Godzilla head and hand that you can use to transform your
Polar Lights Godzilla into a Subway crunching terror. For the Revell Superman
kit, they have heads you can use to turn the model into Space Ghost (two
versions) or The Tick. Another item available is a custom Space Ghost
base for your customized kit. Currently, "Cult of Personality"
does not have a website; to inquire on purchasing these items contact
Tom at, firstname.lastname@example.org . These resin parts are very well made and high
quality. You wont be disappointed with any of their items.
I would also like to thank Rodney Labbe for sending me the vintage Superman
and Batman kits I restored for this article.