First off, I'd like to say that these are my recollections. When I've discussed some of this stuff previously, there have been misunderstandings. For instance, I was told, very early on, some things about the molds being scavenged for their beryllium cavities. Later, that story changed after many people were up in arms in regard to that having happened. Nobody wanted to claim having been involved, so they just said they weren't. I can just see a few of those guys throwing stones at you guys (The SLM) for publishing such "distorted" stories. So, let me reiterate--these are simply my recollections of the Aurora Racing Scenes story. If it is wrong, attribute it to 40 years of having the memory nudged by various factors.
As to Aurora Racing Scenes, Jim Keeler was certainly the initiator of that series. At the time, there was a president there named Chuck Diker. Chuck was an Ivy League marketing guy who was put in as president when he married into the Tishman family. The Tishmans were/are real estate familywho owned Aurora prior to selling it to Nabisco. He came up with a magic formula for model kit success based on what he saw with the company. It wasn't related to subject matter or quality; There were three secrets:
1. Make it a Scene (like Prehistoric Scenes, Movie Monster Scenes, Comic Scenes)
2. Make it Snap Together (See also above)
3. Make it have Glow in the Dark (like Monsters of the Movies)
Jim decided that they needed to go after his old crew at Revell with their new Drag Racing products, so he came up with a 1/16 scale series that would be Snap-together Scenes (not sure where the Glow was to come in), and ended up selling it to the company.
I just wasn't sure exactly what he was refering to, as I hadn't used the term in any of my background at the time. Jim went on to tell me, and I said, sure, I can do that. He said that he wanted to start the project and let's talk about getting started. Now, he was willing to put something like half a million dollars into a very complicated project based on the drawings of a guy who had asked what a pattern drawing was. He had more hair about it than I would have under the same circumstances...but I will always be grateful that he did.
To get it started, I worked out a week's vacation, the next week after we talked if I remember, and Jim flew out here. Since I had lined up all of the teams and everything from people who I had just worked with on drawings for other things, we sort of followed through the week. The first day we went to Sid Waterman's shop and photographed the Donovan engine (John Weibe's 0001 block), the 426 and 392 Chrysler parts there, except for the Crower Injection, which I had sitting at the house after doing some work for Crower. I called them afterward and asked them what they wanted me to do with all of these fuel injector units that I had sitting there, and they had forgotten that I even had them. I gave them back, but probably could have still had them. They certainly would have made great paperweights, assuming you went through a lot of tornadoes. We also shot a lot of photos on the 426, mainly from the Allison Brothers car, if I remember correctly.
The second day we went down to Anaheim to Nelson Carter's place. I had done quite a few projects with Nelson, and he said he would be happy to help us out. We got there and the entire car, except for the rear end, was disassembled on the lawn. I think Keeler thought he had gone "Through the Looking Glass," as it was like driving up to a full shop scene. I guess that was part of the reaction from Jim, although I wasn't to know about it until much later. We did everything on the 426 and the Woody Gilmore Funny Car Chassis there.
I think the next day we went down to South LA, Watts area, to shoot the 427 Chevy motor from Lee Jones' Funny Car. We were supposed to have done that engine as part of the initial program, but, obviously, it was never done. The reference was, however, used for the motor details on the Accurate Miniatures McLaren kit a few years later.
The Racing Scenes pages from the 1975 Aurora Catalog.
I know that we ended the week shooting out at Ventura County Raceway for
a race on Saturday. This was a track that had been set up at Camarillo
Airport, which is just across the freeway from where my daughter now lives.
It was the only race I am aware of ever being run there. We did the photo
documentation on the driver, Bob Pickett, the then-current shoe for the
Super Chief. We shot him in the car, standing, and sitting in driving
position on the back of the ramp truck (Photo
We also did some pretty good material on the Pinto bodies out there, including
the California Charger and Gary Densham's car, along with the Vega bodies
from Braskett and Burgin (a Kirby Buttera) and the Bays and Rupert (not
sure whose body that was). We also shot more of the photos of the Buttera
IFS setup on the Braskett and Burgin car, although it was more closely
matched to Don Schumacher's1970 car.
Seems like we had another day of buzzing around, during which we started to do some product research and general "modelkitguy" stuff. That also got me started with Air Enthusiast and Air International magazines, and I have the entire collection dating back to 1972 to show for it.
Jim went home, I developed photos and started drawing, beginning with the driver and cockpit area. It was quite a first drawing for a thing like this as I look back.
just kept sending drawings back there until we got to an ending place.
Jim had seemed to be happy with what I was doing, and I know that the
patterns looked pretty spectacular when I saw them.
Remember that this was all being done in the evenings while I was still working for General Motors, and was all done out of my bedroom in West Covina.
An interesting side note on this that I have never really written previously is the "medical" side of this thing. I have always been on the large side, and was at one of those points where I had really messed up my back a couple of years earlier and wasn't able to exercise because of it. I had let me weight get up and, right before Jim came out, had started on the magic bullets of the time ... prescription diet pills ... speed.
Jim, on the other hand, had just gotten out of the hospital from having ulcers. His stomach was churning out acid like nobody's business so he had to eat every 12 minutes, as it seemed to me on my pills.
first day, Jim showed up at the house with his rent-a-car to drive to
our first stop. The car was one of those Hertz purple Javelins, which
was not something in which I really wished to be seen. But, since it was
his deal, I loaded my stuff in the car and we headed out about 8 or a
bit later. He wanted to stop and grab breakfast, so we did. Restarting,
we headed down to Waterman's, but first we had to stop for a midmorning
snack, which we did.
After shooting for maybe 90 minutes, they were shutting the shop for lunch, so off we headed again for lunch. About 3, Jim thought we should head out for a break, so we went to a restaurant where we ended up with more food. Then, maybe 5:30, we left to have dinner on the way home. We got back to my place about 9, I would think, but we had to stop to get some desert first. I got out of the car and told Jim I was driving the next day as we were never going to get this thing done if all we did was sit in restaurants, and I wasn't going to do it.
next morning, we stopped at a Longs Drug Store and Jim filled up his bag
with a bunch of Snickers bars, I think, and bottles of Maalox, which he
proceeded to drink all day like they were bottles of Coke. We finished
up the week that way, him toking on antacid and candy bars, and me buzzing
on the pills. I worked through this thing and apparently impressed them
with how much of this I got done. Of course, being on those damned pills,
I didn't need to take much time off for food...or sleep, it turned out.
As I got close to the end of the initial phase, I realized that I was
now actually starting to get hungry and the pills weren't doing much there,
but I was still doing without much sleep.
I knew they had gotten the last of the sheets of the part drawings, I
told Jim that I wanted to know if they were going to continue into the
next part of the drawings...which would have been a fuel dragster, the
Chevrolet engine, and some starting line diorama pieces if I remember
correctly. I told him that if they wanted to do it, I would. If not, I
would not take on anything for another six weeks (or whatever it was).
I asked him to let me know that afternoon, which he did, telling me that
they were going to need to complete these items and that we would work
on the others for the following year (which, of course, never happened).
I went home, flushed those pills down the toilet, and went from sleeping about 3 hours per day to sleeping every minute that I wasn't at work or going to work. I guess you could say that I got into the model business because of drugs.
|To explain what Jim and I did that week, I have to say that it was pretty impressive. I pulled a bunch of the photos together that I had from doing all the cutaway drawings, which require a lot of similar information to what we had specifically for the Racing Scenes shoots, but it was in a lot more individual part detail. If any of you ever get to SoCal and want to take a look at the proof book from this, and the rest of the stuff that went into this series, I think you would be impressed.|
When I got all of my negatives processed and proofed (the negs were from a 6x7 Pentax, so they were contact printed at wallet size), I pulled all of my other research photos together and started figuring out what parts would go into the car, as they wanted to be able to select from various pieces and parts for the project. I ended up with quite a list of pieces that needed to be drawn, especially since we were going to do the Donovan/392 a Big Block Chevy and 426/KB motors, plus a dragster that would be added later.
Another aside; One of the things that Jim did was to come up with this rather strange, I thought, story about how I shouldn't put dimensions on anything. Toolmakers weren't supposed to be able to work from dimensions...yeah, sounds pretty outside of my experience, but I was the hired gun so what the hell? I drew everything in 1/8 scale, which is what Jim told me the product was going to be. I figured on that happening, but I did everything as a small scale real part, not as a model part. I always figured that they were the modelmakers, I would just get them all the correct shapes and details, and they could modify it to turn it into a kit. I still use a bit of this philosophy today, and have never really had a problem with it. It does spook some of the longtime model guys who were trained for all the draft angles and that sort of thing. These drawings were done without any compensation for draft angles, and, all the parts (heads, blocks, etc.) were drawn from the external view. They were split in the shop during the model-making process.
They wanted the driver compartment and driver drawing first, as they wanted to get started sculpting that. I ended up doing the seat, cage, chassis rear, pedals, controls, clutch can, Lenco, reverser, and all of that stuff, with the driver shaped in from all the angles so they could put it together. For a first drawing, it is actually pretty impressive since there is so much going on. And, the thing actually ended up fitting!
remember getting a call from Jim about halfway through and he was pretty
giddy about something. He said that they wanted to check things out before
all the patterns were done, so they took one of the prints that I had
sent and cut a set of them apart--like automotive paper dolls-- just to
fit the car together and check everything. He said that he couldn't believe
it, but everything fit. My reaction was, "Well, isn't that the idea
"Yeah, but nobody ever does it that way," he replied.
Somehow, I figured that there was something basically wrong if modelkits got done from drawings that didn't fit, as it didn't seem like that much more trouble to hang onto the dimensions and all that and carry them through. But, of course, I wasn't getting trained into anything as I was doing this 3,000 miles away in the bedroom of my then- current home in West Covina, California.
The actual drawings that were done make up 22 sheets of mylar film, with many parts on most of the pages. They include all the parts for a generic chassis that was to have switched between the axle and IFS front design, but eventually was changed back to the single version so it was more correct.
A pair of Tom's drawings illustrating the crankshaft/piston assembly from the 392 instruction sheet.
did the two rear ends, which were both used. I think we had 4 different
front wheels and 5 rears (or vice versa), but actually used two of each.
For the engines, we had a set of 5 blower cases, 6 end plates, 4 sets
of injectors for the blower, and full clutch sets for a Hays and a Crowerglide,
including one that would have featured all the floaters and the plates
I never saw the actual patterns until after I moved to New York to help finish the program, so I will discuss those later.
I will mention that Jim was absolutely the perfect guy for me to be working for on a project like this. He wanted something done, but had really not done the hard part design before for himself. Modeling and sculpting, certainly, but not the type of drawing that went into this thing. He gave me the rope to either pull this thing along or hang myself...something I am not sure I would have had the nerve for if my butt had been on the line, as his was, for a project this major. And, if he had tried to micromanage the thing...well, let's just say that I don't work well under those conditions.
I have said it before, but would like it to be public knowledge that I have always been grateful to Jim Keeler for pulling me through that next "looking glass" in my career path and allowing me to get my foot in the door doing this type of work.
I kept drawing and shooting more cars and reference at the races, including doing that first Keith Black aluminum block; I actually drew it from an artist rendering and some of the drawings, but really, I had it completed before they were even close. We also had reference on the Milodon aluminum motor, and on a rear-engined dragster. The dragster was rather strange in that it was a Tuttle car, and his cars looked different from most of the others of the time. Probably a good thing we never did that project, as it turned out. I also shot a lot of things to add a starting line scene set, using the track details at Ontario at the Supernationals in late 1972.
These pages from Aurora's 1974 catalog display the entire Racing Scenes series.
|The drawing of
the project was completed during the fall of 1972, and the pattern work
had been started with a shop in Langhorne, PA, while the driver figures,
standing and seated, were done by Bill Lemon, one of the best figure sculptors
in the business. These were probably the most accomplished patternmakers
I have worked with in a very long replica career at this point. Of course,
I still don't know why they couldn't work from dimensions. Even now, that
still makes no sense, but I was the newbie in the business, so what did
early 1973, I had decided that I would like to have a shot at doing
this full time. At the same time, Keeler was trying to figure out if
I would consider moving back to Long Island to work on this stuff at
Aurora. Turns out we both started to ask on the same phone call, making
it much easier for both of us. I ended up flying to Chicago for Hobby
Show; probably one of the more exciting professional trips that I have
ever taken. If any of you have ever gone to the old Hobby Shows, this
was an absolute wonderland for anyone who can relate to all of the different
aspects of the Hobby world...it was simply amazing!
One of the first things that Jim [Keeler] and Andy Yanchus, the project manager for many of the non-traditional categories of the Aurora business, did was to sit me down to tell me what I was really working on...a very bad sign, I thought. That was when the whole scene concept was sprung on me, along with the "big" 1/16 scale concept.
Since I was actually drawing what I thought was to have been 1/8 scale, it didn't strike me as being so large at the time. I realized that there were some things that I might have done a little differently to strengthen some areas if I had known. I basically draw scale "big parts," so it really didn't make all that much difference, but it was a little puzzling why you wouldn't want the guy designing the product to know exactly what he was working on. It did, however, explain why they didn't want any dimensions on the drawings.
A little bit of amusement came when I put in my order for "whatever drawing board or equipment I was used to." At GM, you sort of got whatever was needed. So, I ended up with this rather large Hamilton drawing table and desk that probably cost more money than the rest of the drawing boards in the R&D department combined. Hey, they said to get what I was used to...
started working on things getting ready for actual parts to get back,
but was seeing the results of the pattern work. I learned that they were
only going to do the Donovan and the 392 engines (which were originally
going to be a single engine) while the Keith Black 426 would have been
the second. The pattern on the 426 had, by then been stopped, but it was
certainly impressive. The patterns for all the parts that were actually
being produced had been destroyed in the casting process by that point,
but there are still some photos around that show how impressive they were.
However, I still have the 426 pattern.
The various groups in
the company were getting together to discuss how to market and sell
this project. Of course being New Yorkers, they had no clue what this
drag racing stuff was about. During one of the meetings, the president
of the company said that he thought we should show the car going around
a turn like up at Watkins Glen...they were a little familiar with that
because of Aurora's Road Racing line. Nobody else said anything. I mentioned
that we would not do ourselves any good with any customers for this
stuff if we did something that far off. I was going to an AHRA Grand
National event out on the end of Long Island at New York National that
weekend. The head of the R&D group agreed that I should recruit
someone to come in and show off a real funny car so they could at least
see what these things were.
We had the body off so
they could get a look at the chassis, and see what the deal was with
the body. I was going to take some photos of the car and the proceedings,
then let Charlie answer some questions and tell everyone a little about
the car and its purpose. I told the exec group that they would want
to stand back a little when the car fired. "We're used to loud
cars; we've been to Indy." I sort of smiled and headed out in front
of the car.
They asked if we had any
plans to fire the car. I told them that we had absolutely no plans to
fire the car any time for the rest of the day. That answer seemed to
suit them just fine. They then asked if they could come in and take
a look. They spent the next hour or so kibitzing with everyone while
the car was cleaned up and loaded. At
least we didn't have to show the car going around a curve at Watkins
Glen after that!
molded parts for the car started to come in, the driver figures and the
bodies showing up first, well before any of the chassis or engine pieces.
I wasn't as aware of certain things as I would become, but the bodies
looked a little toylike to my eye. Since I had never done one of them,
I didn't get too critical, and I didn't know enough to really look into
it very far. I know that the bodies did look like something, but the toy-like
grills, headllights and overall shape was different from what I thought
a reproduction of those bodies should be. More on that shortly.
About six weeks or so after the bodies arrived, a huge carton of test shots arrived containing all the chassis, chassis accessories, and both engine models. The chassis was molded in black, the accessories were in a light silver, and the engines were molded in a dark gunmetal. I dug into the things to be able to see what was actually coming out of my drawings, and couldn't believe how good that stuff looked.
I did some rough test fittings on everything, and assembled a complete car with the blown Donovan mounted. It looked absolutely great! I don't think I've ever had a more satisfying moment looking at a product that I had been involved with.
the fun started. I pulled the Vega body, which had been sitting on a shelf,
waiting. I was absolutely shaking when I put the body on the hooks and
dropped it forward onto the car--especially when it stopped at about a
45° angle. It was hitting something very solidly. I looked under it
and found it hitting about halfway up the canard struts.
I about passed out. I couldn't believe I had misssed it that badly. I frantically went through the body and part drawings measuring various parts and adding dimensions-remember that nothing was actually dimensioned on the drawings. I must have gone through those drawings about six times trying to figure out what the hell was wrong, and everything added up right. I finally just pulled the canards off and tried again. It stopped at about 20° this time, sitting well up the headers. Back to all the drawings.
All this time I never thought to compare the drawings to the actual body. I finally looked at the body, noticing the tumblehome that had been built into the body--a trademark Art Center technique of stretching out a car. I had previously had a discussion with the head of the body development group for the A/FX cars, who, I was to learn, was promised the design "rights" for the bodies on the Racing Scenes. He picked up the wheelbase and overall dimensions, but neglected to figure on certain functional dimensions--like the rocker width on the body.
Simply by looking at the car, I knew who had done it as sure as if he had scribed his name on the body. I put the chassis back together, grabbed the Vega and Pinto bodies and headed over to the other R&D building. Rick was there (I won't go further with his name for obvious reasons). I put the assembled chassis on his desk. He oohed and aahed over that, then looked up and asked how it looked with the body on. "Here, put it on and see." He got the same result I did, looking up and asked wonderingly "Gee, why doesn't it fit?" "Because, you fucking a-hole, you made the damned body an inch too fucking narrow, you dipstick! What the hell were you trying to do? The drawing that I sent had all the right stuff built into it, and this body has nothing to do with that." He replied that he didn't use it because the sides just looked too flat.
"Too fucking flat. You tool, they are fucking flat. Haven't you ever seen one of these cars? A picture or something?"
to say, that it is about as close as I have ever come to disassembling
someone professionally. I wanted to give you a bit of the feeling that
I had when this nimrod thought that he needed to "fix" the appearance
of the cars to look better. It was very frustrating to say the least.
We ended up having to rework the bodies as much as we could, but they
never fit as well as those first test shots.
The tool grooming on the
project was supposed to have been done by Keeler, who ended up in car
accidents, got sick and was befallen by a couple of other things on
the trips to Windsor for the actual grooming. I ended up going up there.
What was supposed to have been two or three days to complete the project
and get it finished, stretched into twelve for the tooling director
and me when we discovered that most of the fits and grooming had not
|That fiasco actually
ended up delaying MPC's entire 1974 Annual kit line because of this tooling
being in the shop. Another funny thing was the fact that I ended up getting
rousted by the hotel guys in the middle of the night; we had registered
for 4 days, and 12 days later they were a bit concerned about getting
paid for my room. This wasn't helped by the fact that I was supposedly
paying in cash since I did not have a credit card at the time. Eventually,
they actually apologized profusely and took off because our tooling guy
had been staying at this place for years. I could easily have been dragged
off if not for that.
In spite of everything, the project finally got completed and shipped. As most of you know, however, Aurora had no reputation for quality modelkits, their stuff being more like plastic parts in the box; cheap. They were pretty much just activity toys, and now people were expected to pick up the Racing Scenes kits, and pay double the price of the very nice Revell 1/16 scale kits to build a car. Not an easy sell; in fact, nearly an impossible one. The project never proceeded past those original products as far as the tooling, unfortunately. They never really sold. The sales group did not know what to do with them, the hobby trade didn't understand them coming from Aurora, and most modelers passed on expensive model kits like this coming from Aurora.
I did get one of my more satisfying moments, actually seeing a product I had designed on the shelf of a store for the first time, at Time Square Store in Hempstead, Long Island. Then, a guy walked down the aisle and started looking at them! What a wonderful high, even if he didn't buy anything. He actually looked at them over anything else! That put me on Cloud 9 for the rest of the evening! I still find that very satisfying as a part of the process for diecast, models or anything else that I have worked on.