Top 5 Chevy Model Kits of All Time

It’s a safe bet everyone reading this magazine has built at least one model car kit in their lifetime. If you’re over 40, the likelihood goes way up. Regardless of age, it’s a fact that many car fanatics—from Detroit designers to local mechanics—are also model builders. Arriving conveniently in the years when we’re in our late childhood and early teens, 1:25-scale plastic model car kits often serve as our first introductions to the world of Chevrolet. They’re also an excellent way to exercise our “real car” building instincts when we’re otherwise unable to do so because of school, marriage, incarceration, or inconvenient living arrangements.

For me, at age 55, I can say I’ve been a model car fanatic for nearly half a century, and yes, my very first model car kit was a Chevy. You’ll read about it here. Though I’ve built models of plenty of Brand X machinery, here, I’ve conjured a humble list of what I consider to be the five most influential Chevy-themed model kits of “my time.” Here’s hoping this story rekindles good memories, or maybe even triggers your next Chevy model car purchase.

Badman ’55 Chevy Gasser by Monogram
As if its bright-yellow plastic parts, Boss 302 inspired “vert-agonal” fender graphics, mile-long traction arms, front beam axle, wheelie bars, and chromed in-grille Moon tank weren’t enough to bend my 10-year-old mind when I first saw it in 1974, the 1:24-scale Badman gasser’s key features were its translucent red windows and hoodscoop. Taken together, the finished kit tickles the retinas without the need for paint.

Like most Monogram custom car kits of the early 1970s, the Badman was designed by Tom Daniel, one of the team that “put the hot in Hot Wheels” a few years earlier at Mattel. Though mature eyes now see the kit’s many inaccuracies: its 6-71 supercharged V-8 connected to a three-speed manual transmission and the “396” engine has siamesed exhaust ports—like a small-block—none of it takes away from the Badman’s overall cool factor. I’ve purchased at least 10 of them over the years, how ’bout you?

 

The original box art (on right) featured brightly colored illustrations with a fictional Winternationals cover showdown against another ’55. Around 1977, kit photographs replaced the box art illustrations as President Jimmy Carter’s administration bolstered truth-in-advertising laws. The goal was to crack down on misleading packaging in toys and other items targeted at kids. Moving forward, kit makers were forced to show the actual contents of the box—for better or worse—thus the photographic depiction on the newer box (on left).
The Badman kit was based on an existing Monogram 1:24-scale replica of a stock 1955 Bel Air that was released in the early ’60s. To cut costs, remnants of the early kit’s integrally molded dual exhaust plumbing were left intact during the metamorphosis into the Badman. Monogram also retained the original kit’s 265 V-8. It wasn’t until I was about 15 that I realized the Badman’s siamesed header tubes are incorrect for a 396 big-block. Also note the aforementioned three-speed manual transmission, another cost cutting item left over from the original kit tooling.
This slogan got me in trouble with my fifth-grade homeroom teacher. I shouted it across the classroom to a friend and Mrs. Reese thought I was swearing. After I showed her the Badman box art, she still thought I was up to something.

 

Jungle Jim Camaro Funny Car by Revell
Revell was already well known for dozens of highly realistic plastic model car kits by 1971 when the very first, of many, Jungle Jim Funny Car kits was released. But unlike the exquisite Skippers Critter Anglia gasser, Mooneyes Dragster, and Mickey Thompson Challenger land speed record kits from the mid-1960s, the Jungle Jim Camaro Funny Car is not one of them. Seemingly designed by Revell’s B-team or less-skilled apprentices, it suffers from heavy-handed details, chunky workable steering, and the Camaro body shell is very poorly proportioned. Worst of all are the super-wide, cartoon-like slicks and flash-encrusted five-spoke chrome wheels.

So why is this abomination one of my top five? Simply because it time warps me back to the very first day I ever wore corrective eyewear (glasses). I was 12, and after years of shirking a proper eye exam (I knew I needed glasses since I was 8. I feared the geeky stigma that came with them), Mom finally cornered me. To ease my unhappiness, she bought me this very Jungle Jim Camaro kit on the way home from the optometrist. Thanks to my new glasses, I fully enjoyed the fire burnout box art. By the way, in the years since, the “geek glasses” have served me very well. Thanks, Mom!

 

I clearly remember how the Jungle Jim fire burnout box art image grabbed my newly corrected vision. Probably shot by Jon Asher or Steve Reyes at Orange County, this is exactly the kind of labeling the Carter administration discouraged after 1976. Notice the huge two-piece slicks and droopy body proportions.
Half a decade before they were forced to do so, Revell depicted the built kit on the side panel. Note the printed message: “Photos of actual Revell model.” Model companies retain professional builders to assemble box art models. Revell knew contrasting paint was a must to avoid the bland, out-of-box reality of the blue-and-chrome contents.
By 1971, Jungle Jim had abandoned 427 Chevys in favor of 426 power. The kit depicts this fact—plus the bizarre inclusion of an optional Ford SOHC (finger points to block), something Jungle never ran. In the background lurks the box to Revell’s far superior Jungle Jim Monza Funny Car kit. Released in 1976, it was designed and rendered by Revell’s A-team and is part of a much more realistic series of 1:25- and 1:16-scale Funny Car kits campaigned by Gene Snow, Ed McCulloch, Pisano & Matsubara, and others. The 1:16-scale editions are legendary and came with actual hollow drag slicks!

 

Twister Chevy Nova Altered Wheelbase Funny Car by AMT
I’m a few years too young to have seen AMT’s groundbreaking altered wheelbase Twister Chevy II Funny Car as a new model on the hobby store shelf. When these things were the hot deal in the 1967-’69 period, I was still pushing Matchbox cars through piles of mashed potatoes. But that hasn’t stopped modern-day reproductions and re-releases from setting things right.

When new in 1967, AMT whipped up a simple pan-type chassis with a shortened wheelbase to suit reworked (with altered wheelbases and hoodscoops) body shells of its ’66 Mustang, ’65 Falcon, ’66 Mercury, ’63 Tempest, and ’65 Chevy II. After plugging in a suitable Ford, Pontiac, or Chevy engine, AMT had something for Funny Car fans to build without spending a ton on multiple chassis and suspension tools.

The Twister isn’t an exact replica of any particular real-life race car, but with its stubby wheelbase, Hilborn eight-stack injected Rat, front beam axle, and gutted interior, its less-is-more vibe captures the Match Bash aesthetic perfectly. I got my first Twister as a built-up parts car at a model car swap meet (yes, they exist!) around 1981. But after Model King re-released the once-rare kit around 1999, anybody with $30 could build their very own Match Bash Nova with factory fresh plastic.

 

The original 1966 box art (left) avoided paying licensing fees by depicting a generic yellow Match Basher. With the exception of the engine, body, grille, bumpers, hood, and glass, the rest of the Twister kit was shared with Ford- and Pontiac-bodied altered wheelbase models to maximize AMT’s investment in tooling. After laying dormant for decades, Model King revived the kit as the Rat Packer with identical parts.
The Twister logo cautiously hints at Huston Platt’s Dixie Twister Chevy II Nova match racer. Ironically, the real-life speed equipment logos (Moon, Mobil, Champion, etc.) can no longer be used by modern-day model kit makers without paying a royalty fee. That’s why today’s Rat Packer kit includes the generic flamed decal sheet (bottom). This deserves a re-think. Many kids’ first exposure to aftermarket speed equipment logos came via model car decal sheets. It was, and is, an excellent form of free advertising.

 

Funny Hugger II Camaro Funny Car by AMT
With the successful launch of the hastily rendered Twister Nova and others, AMT decided to spend some real money on fresh Funny Car subjects. Among them were the Funny Hugger, a 1967 Camaro flip-top kit released around 1970, and the Funny Hugger II, the 1969 Camaro flip-top featured here, which was released around 1972.

I bought my first Funny Hugger II in 1973 at the local drug store and remember being mesmerized by the exciting box art illustrations. Then again, without a single photographic image of the kit hiding inside the box, it took a leap of faith to make the purchase. But me and my model building friends generally knew the AMT brand logo—as well as MPC, Revell, Monogram, IMC and JoHan—was trustworthy from past experience. Lesser brands—Palmer, Hawk, and Lindberg—had to be approached with caution. Their fanciful box art illustrations often concealed terrible model kits and sometimes showed components that weren’t included in the box.

Like virtually all AMT kits (and many from MPC), the Funny Hugger II required paint, but with a twist; while its body shell was rendered in pure white polystyrene and needed coloring, the tube chassis was molded in metallic silver. It was something I’d only seen in AMT’s huge fire truck and military model kits of the day. But when the re-release hit the scene around 2005—once again courtesy of Model King—the gray was gone, undoubtedly to simplify manufacturing.

 

Unlike some earlier flip-top Funny Car kits, AMT’s Funny Hugger II could only be built as a flip-top Funny Car; there was no “stock” build option. This minimized the compromised accuracy of the 2-in-1 kits, which had stock-proportioned body shells and wheel openings. The kit on the right is a rare original with the metallic gray frame. The box art is also from the original release. The modern-era Model King re-release uses an entirely different box.
The original Funny Hugger II decal sheet contains some thought-provoking items. The SPEEDY Hadrian moniker rhymes with the names of real-life Chevy Camaro Funny Car heroes Dickie Harrell and Terry Hedrick. Harrell (who was sadly killed in his Camaro Funny Car in Sept. 1971) signed a licensing deal with rival kit maker MPC to replicate his 1969 Camaro flip-top. As for Hedrick, his Super Shaker Camaro wore similar panel paint to the box art rendering but was never immortalized in 1:25-scale. Again, note the gray plastic chassis on the original release.
Marketing specialists have charts and graphs defining which color combinations are most attractive to youthful eyes. If the vivid hues splashed across the Funny Hugger II box don’t make you drool, too, something’s wrong. Many car enthusiasts were first exposed to automotive slang terminology via model kit boxes … “Mom, what’s a 454 Rat motor?”
Again, with the delicious use of complementary colors, the Funny Hugger II side art shows the frame in purple, the driver tub in yellow, and the blown big-block in orange. AMT even used the bottom of the box to promote its 25th Anniversary. Founded in 1948, AMT originally stood for Aluminum Model Toys, but moved into polystyrene replicas in the early 1950s.

 

1970 Chevy Monte Carlo by AMT
This was my very first 1:25-scale plastic model kit … ever. The year was 1972, I was 8 years old and Mom wasn’t convinced I was ready for stinky (and toxic) model cement just yet. AMT’s screw-together 1970 Monte Carlo was part of its short-lived Motor City Stocker Series (which also included simplified replicas of five other American cars from the 1970 model year). Priced at $1.00, the Motor City Stockers combined the external realism and detail of a $2.25 glue kit with the simplicity of a snap-together dealer promotional toy.

As soon as I pulled its big 1:25-scale body from the box, the pre-assembled 1:64-scale Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Corgi cars I’d been playing with, collecting, and trading with my friends suddenly seemed so lame. I remember examining the kit’s Rally Wheels and marveling at how they looked just like the real ones I saw in traffic every day. The same held for the grille, speedometer, and dual exhaust system.

The only downsides were the sealed hood and engine plug between the front wheels. But they only served to make me even more curious about the world of glue-together model kits where miniature replicas of just about every Chevy ever made seemed to be available at the local hobby shop. It all started with this kit!

 

Though simplified for fast assembly, the Motor City Stocker Series edition’s 1:25-scale dimensions made my palm-sized Hot Wheels cars seem boring. The instruction sheet’s crisp illustrations also caught my eye. I taught myself the principles of drawing and perspective by tracing over them with pencil.
The simplified Motor City Stocker Series used a plug to fill the space between the front wheels. This detail fueled my desire to see what I was missing. More recently, around 2002, AMT released a fully detailed 1970 Monte Carlo SS 454 kit that takes the Motor City tool to the next level.

Honorable Mention
C4 Corvette by MPC

Despite taking a beating from the video game arcade boom of the late 1970s, the domestic model kit industry continued to hobble along into the 1980s. One of the bright spots was MPC, who doubled down with a series of strong model kit offerings that reflected popular tastes. One of MPC’s best kits of the time was the C4 Corvette.

Not only was the real-life motoring world excited by America’s totally renewed sports car, MPC re-ignited model builders’ curiosity with new levels of detail and accuracy. To help fan the flames, MPC released a limited run of 1984 Corvette kits molded in metallic gold. They were found in specially marked boxes, while the normal run was molded in black plastic. I remember being amazed by the crisp detailing of the suspension and chassis.

 

MPC was granted access to Corvette Design Chief Dave McClellan during development of its C4 tool. Monogram and AMT eventually released their own C4 kits, but MPC was in there first. The red ’85 model and its box were featured in the January 2007 issue of Car Craft (pg. 70) as part of a story I wrote involving a low-buck ’85 C4 I owned at the time. I always geek out on models and kits of “real” cars I buy.
Corvette fans know that 1984 was the only year Cross-Fire Injection was offered. For 1985, it was replaced with Tuned Port Injection. Right on cue, MPC updated its 1984 Cross-Fire–injected 350 with TPI for 1985 Corvette kits, as seen on these instruction sheets (compare sections 4a). MPC was so thorough they even accurately replicated the revised TPI accessory drive front dress (compare sections 3a). Modelers take their details as seriously as “real car” people!
MPC satisfied truth-in-advertising mandates with lightly retouched photographs of professionally assembled models. The top box is from 1984, when MPC’s Golden Opportunity sweepstakes awarded a new 1984 Corvette to a lucky participant. The fine print on the entry form said that in lieu of the Corvette, the winner could opt for “$15,000 in cash,” probably offered in case the winner couldn’t swing the sales tax on the Corvette’s $21,800 base sticker price.

Bloopers and Blunders

Chevy Chevette by MPC
Since it takes roughly the same amount of money and resources to take a model car project from idea to reality—about $500,000 in modern funds—you’d expect model makers to shoot for the stars every time. When MPC released this Chevette kit in 1978, plenty of hobbyists complained that the effort should have been expended on any other Chevy product.

Whether this model kit was a knee-jerk hangover from the days when MPC automatically released yearly kits of significant annual models or a brave experiment to put some mpg in MPC, we’re sure the project wasn’t a grand slam like MPC’s 1978 Pontiac Firebird Special Edition or Dukes of Hazzard General Lee Charger—both of which broke the million-unit mark.

We have to ask, was the Bear Bait graphics and decal theme a shrewdly calculated tie-in to the big rig/CB craze of the mid-1970s or was it a last minute “think of something … anything” Hail Mary so the kit wouldn’t bomb on its own terms? While the resulting kit is a very decent replica of Chevy’s T-car, MPC management took a huge risk green-lighting such a mundane kit during the rocky road that was the kit industry of the 1970s.

 

The decal sheet’s “Eat my dust, Smokey!” proclamation played into popular frustration with the national 55 mph speed limit, which went into effect on January 4, 1975. The Chevette kit saved a few bucks by rendering the tires from the parent kit’s silver plastic instead of vinyl. Note how the catalytic converter is rendered in its full, imposing size. The spirit of this kit is light years away from the lawless mood behind Monogram’s Badman ’55 Chevy from just a few years prior.

 

Two Cubes Too Many: A Boss 429 Corvette? The mid-1980s saw a strong revival among domestic model kit makers. In particular, Revell transitioned from making fanciful dream machines and customs toward accurately rendered muscle cars and classics of most popular makes. In 1989, Revell surprised Corvette modelers with a “1969 Corvette 429 Coupe” model kit. Did you catch that? Yep, despite plenty of proofreading, the kits left Revell’s Des Plaines, Illinois, plant with two extra cubic inches added to the kit box’s vehicle description. Though confined only to the box lid (not repeated on the instruction or decal sheets), the “429” error appears five times on every afflicted kit. It’s thought that a few thousand of these “error boxes” reached consumers. They’re uncommon but not rare.

 

From Koveleski To Lowe, Auto World Is Back In Action If you’re over 50 and built model cars as a kid, you probably remember seeing the Auto World annual catalog at your corner drug store. Based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1958 and operated by a man with the interesting name of Oscar Koveleski, vintage Auto World catalogs offer a fun trip down memory lane. The best ones are from 1958-’78, the golden age of model car building. Today, the Auto World trademark and business model have been revived by the man who revived Johnny Lightning, Thomas Lowe. With a love of vintage plastic model kits, watch Auto World (autoworldstore.com) for news of re-released kits you never thought you’d see again. Hey Thom, do us all a favor and reprint vintage Auto World catalogs.