Started: Feb 2021
Finished: In Progress
The new movie Ford v Ferrari, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon, dramatizes the true story behind one of the most famous car races of all time: the 1966 edition of 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the film’s title suggests, the endurance race was essentially a battle between the American and Italian automakers, and their cars: the Ford GT40 Mark II and Ferrari 330 P3.
Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not normally a car modeller, however this story really interested and inspired me. I naturally wondered if a model of the Ford GT40 Mk.II was available and came across the new offering from Meng, in 1/12 scale no less. My normal aircraft scales of 1/48 and 1/32 are tiny compared to 1/12 but I was motivated and keen to try something a little different. So come along with me on a journey of discovery as I see how my aircraft modelling experience will be of use in the world of cars :)
My very first step on any new modelling project is to hit the books (or in this case the internet). Luckily it turns out the Ford GT40 is pretty well documented and the very car that Ken Miles and Denny Hulme (No. 1) drove in 1966 is preserved in a museum today. As a way of helping any of you who may also be wanting to build a GT40 I've compiled a short list of the most useful (and interesting) videos and photos I found in my searching:
I'm not sure why but I tended to jump all over the place with this build rather than just follow the kit assembly sequence. I think this was mainly because I on unfamiliar turf and wanted to understand how best to approach the build before committing to glue or paint. Dry fitting is the way I approach this "discovery" phase on my aircraft models so I figured that would be a good place to start. It was here that I started to realise one important engineering decision that Meng had made with this model. It is designed to be assembled completely glue free. This is designed to be achieved by the use of friction fit and screws where needed. I've come to realise since that this is a common technique used for these larger scale car models and is even employed by the likes of Tamiya.
As I was examining each major part of the model and comparing it to reference material I realised that there were several areas where some extra effort in detailing would be beneficial. I mean 1/12 scale really lends itself to super-detailing. It was in these spots that my build began. First up was the interior of the rear shell. The fastener detail here was quite pronounced on the real car.
To replicate the fasteners in 1/12 scale I punched out several 0.8mm discs from a sheet of 0.5mm black Evergreen plastic. I specifically used black so I could see my work more easily against the white kit plastic. This allowed me to visually check alignment and placement. There is no rocket science used here but I think you will agree worth the effort.
The Meng kit allows for each of the main body panels to be easily removable much like the real GT40. Even though the engine is in the back there is still a lot of interesting things going on in the front of the car. Using video walkarounds I was able to take screengrabs from different angles to give me a better sense of what things could be improved on the kit parts and what was fine to leave as is. One thing I did learn from my reading was that no two of these race cars was exactly the same, even though they all started life on a Ford production line. This means I've probably used a bit of poetic license in what parts I chose to tweak and what I didn't.
More fasteners were added to the kit chassis parts and some small surgery undertaken to better represent what I was seeing in the photos. These days I am a bit more careful to clearly mark with pencil which parts need to be cut away and which need to stay as is. A razor saw, sharp knife and rigid sanding stick were used to carefully remove the plastic and clean up as needed. One benefit I was starting to appreciate of working in 1/12 scale is that everything is so big and hence easy to work with.
A dry test fit of the main forward components including the radiator and more of the main chassis resulted in everything clicking into place. Large components are designed by Meng to be secured by screws of various lengths around the model which will allow everything to be painted first and then cleanly combined without glue messing this up.
Of course the more I looked the more small things I found that could benefit from simple enhancements. One example was the interior air ducts which were provided as plain holes in the firewall by Meng. To give some realistic depth I inserted some hollow tube on the inside and also applied some fasteners around the outside to dress this area up a bit.
While continuing my focus on the front I did some reading about the engine cooling system used by the GT40 Mk.II. This revealed a feature I had never heard of before, a "dry sump". You see the engine sump itself holds no oil. Rather an external tank, which is installed in the front compartment (away from the engine), holds the oil and uses high pressure braided hoses running the length of the car to carry the oil from the tank to the oil radiators (in the back) and then onto the engine itself for lubrication.
Meng has done a nice job of molding the oil reservoir and provides various sizes of vinyl (flexible) tubing to replicate the high pressure hoses. I did not feel these looked at all convincing for areas where the real car had metal braided hoses as found on the oil tank and around the engine. I dug through my spares drawer and to my pleasant surprise found several bags of model car accessories I had collected many years previous when building some 1/20 Tamiya F1 kits. Amongst this stuff I found some scale braided hose which looked to be about the right size for what I needed here. Many of the connectors provided in the kit also looked a bit simplified for my taste and so I ordered a pack of Top Studio resin connectors in assorted sizes so I could do some testing.
While thinking about braided hose I also looked into where else on the model I may need to ultimately swap out the vinyl kit hose parts. As you would imagine the engine and transmission is a maze of hoses. As yet I've not tackled this but in anticipation have ordered a few packs of theTamiya 2.0mm and 2.6mm braided hose
Another simple tweak was to add some cables to the battery (which sits in the passenger side footwell). I scratch-built the terminals and used electrical heatshrink in red and black for the cabling (which just run down the side of the passenger seat).
Like most racing cars, the brakes and the challenge of cooling them involves some considerable amount of design effort. As seen here, Ford's solution involved the use of flexible ducting hose to direct air directly onto the brake discs.
Meng thoughtfully provides flexible ducting hose to allow the modeller to reproduce the look of the real car. Unfortunately, unlike the real car, the hose provided by Meng has no rigidity to stop it from kinking, which is exactly what it does when fitted to the model parts. I scratched my head about how to fix this for some time, trying a number of solutions. In the end I put the kit part aside and made my own from some old TV coaxial cable wrapped in copper wire to simulate the ribbing.
The major downside of my solution is that the wheels can no longer turn (as the new ducting is fixed and won't flex). The upside is that for a static model like this I don't feel that it really matters.
After trying and failing to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its GT40 race cars in 1964 and 1965, Ford decided it needed a more powerful weapon for the 1966 event: enter the famous 427-cubic-inch big-block race engine, which replaced the highly stressed 289. This engine made as much as 485 horsepower, depending on how it was tuned. Comparing the Meng engine and transmission to photos I found that not much of any significance needs to be corrected.
Small details such as replacing some of the molded-on transmission bolt heads with larger punched hex ones and adding some plastic card to cover up visible gaps etc are easily done and help to spruce things up.
Next stop on my tour of the GT40 was the rear suspension. With the body of the car removed the engine and suspension are front and center and any thing that is not quite right in this spot will be immediately noticeable.
Meng have done a respectable job of reproducing all the major suspension components. The one thing however that screamed at me when I finished assembly was the 1:1 scale Phillips head screws holding it all together. These really detracted from the overall effect and a solution to deal with them had to be found.
My first approach was to convert the Phillips screw heads into hex bolt heads. For this I cut out some hexagons from 0.1mm plastic card and these were super glued to the top of each screw head. Using this hexagon shape as a template I then secured the screw shaft in a vice and filed down the shape of the round screw till it matched the six sides of the hexagon. This actually worked out pretty well, yes it was time consuming and labour intensive but these are the things we sometimes do for our hobby. I was fairly satisfied that this would be how I dealt with the screw heads, even if it was not perfect, it was better than doing nothing (Yes, I did look into sourcing actual scale hex bolts as well).
As it turned out, a few days later I was speaking to some actual car modellers about my challenge and they had some other suggestions on how I might deal with the Phillips head problem. One idea, which I found to be very suitable for most of the suspension screws, was to simply recess them into the plastic parts where possible. This solution was both easier than my hex head conversion and resulted in the part looking much closer to how Ford handled this on the real car. A true win - win.
In addition to the main suspension parts (with their screw heads) many of the ancillary parts, such as the anti-sway bars, have some form of fastener to hold them together whilst still allowing movement. These are not candidates for the head recess method, nor are they held together by metal screws in the kit.
For these smaller rods, which are not load bearing, Meng has settled for a super simple press fit solution (as shown in the right side photo). I purchased some generic plastic Nuts and Bolts from Meng (which was a coincidence) and mounted these on some thin brass wire. I cut away the kit nipple and drilled a hole in the end of the shaft into which the new nut head slides. This allows me to insert them (and secure with glue) once I am ready for final assembly.
On many of the larger (thicker) plastic parts Meng has taken the option to mold them with cutouts, presumably to avoid sinkholes and problems with the injection molding process. In the case of the rear suspension mounting bracket the top of this will be visible on the finished model and so I used some epoxy putty (Apoxie Sculpt) to fill this rather deep cavity. Using sculpting putty is a good option for jobs like this as it can be smoothed before it dries with wet fingers and when dry sanded off and even drilled.
At this point I was running out of things I wanted to fix or enhance on the main chassis so I loaded up the airbrush with some grey primer. Stay tuned for my next installment where I get into the painting stage.