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Out with the New, In with the Old


Early in the 1960’s 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 1950’s however; the kits never reached out to the modeling enthusiast. In the 60’s, 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 Superman’s base to the soft sculpts of Batman’s 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 60’s. 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 have."


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 can’t 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, bwain@webtv.net . These resin parts are very well made and high quality. You won’t 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.