When the First World Champion Becomes Possibly the First Resin Model Car
By Patrick Italiano
All text and photographs copyright of the Author.
When you collect model cars in the XXIst Century, you become accustomed to having a huge, almost infinite choice of models (and collection themes), with an endless list of new offers coming every month. Cheap models come from China with a quality of finish, details and in most cases an accuracy of the shape that was hardly to be expected from high end models 25 or 30 years ago. If you are old (experienced?) enough, you can remember two choices, back in the 80’s of either die-cast models, something like refined toy cars, or model kits needing your skills, and some money for the current standard then. Those kits were typically made either of white metal or resin.
Now try to imagine yourself quite long before that, say 50 years ago. What could you expect to collect as model cars? Dinky Toys or similar toy cars, and that’s about it. In addition to the toy manufacturers of the time who added a couple new models every year, there was nothing else in sight. [Click on any photo to enlarge.]
Yet of course, some pioneers were starting to create models dedicated to collectors, and that is what we are dealing with here. The “good news” for an Alfa Romeo collector is that one iconic Alfa, namely the P2 racer which won the first ever world championship back in 1925, is among the very first 1/43 resin models (possibly even the second ever after a Ferrari GTO made by Brian Jewell).
The surprise with that peculiar model in question is that, opposed to common resin cast which have quite thick bodies, this one is actually hollow, and its sides are very thin indeed. This is because, for the first experiments with resin, a glass fibre ribbon was used for some stiffness, and the cars were produced by hand, using a very labour-intensive process. So that’s what you have when you are lucky enough to have brought home one of those very rare early models.
But more astonishing even is that the man behind this 1/43 model premiere was an Army chaplain, and that he did his experiments when posted at remote sites, namely in Cyprus for this Alfa P2. The “standard” scale 1/43 was chosen in order to fit the existing Dinkies. The P2’s choice derived from the appeal of the large prewar tin toy by CIJ featuring the Alfa, and the availability of scale drawings back then.
This former Army chaplain is called Paddy Stanley, and you can enjoy his memories of those pioneering times on this page. While those recollections date the creation of this P2 from 1965-66, in the years immediately after that, further names of model makers pop up in the same hobby: Barry Lester, another resin pioneer, and John Day, who was the first to use white metal and became famous over the next several decades.
Those two names are relevant to this article because both of them also produced very early Alfa Romeo P2s, so we can compare the interpretations of the same car by three different, let’s say it, ‘artists’. Each of them has its specific charm, so far from the coldness of computer designed, machine produced, industrial models of today, no matter how accurate they may be.
Each of them tried his best to carve an exact reproduction of the 1924 racer, using quite good (but not perfect) drawings as reference, but in the end issued their interpretation of the P2, and that’s just what makes them so special.
Lester and Day came with their P2 later onto the market around 1971, as it was not among their very first models (1971 is written under my example of the Lester, other sources have it as early as 1967). Despite them representing very early experimental techniques of construction, they all have stood the test of time, even after 50 years.
Possibly, the only one showing a slight weakness is the most conventional, white metal, John Day: it’s the only one with some weight, and so the tiny axles bend under load over the years – this can be cured, but it’s always tricky, so the John Day showed here displays some unneeded negative camber at all four wheels.
The John Day is also interpreted with a more curvy front end shape, and has its underside fairing represented. All the features of the bodies show a certain level of interpretation from the modeler: none seem wrong at first sight, but look at them next to each other, and no shape is treated in the same way – without seeing the actual P2, you can’t say for sure which one is closer to the real thing. But does it matter, after all, when all three are pleasant representations of the P2?
If you think about all the technical challenges in those times, you ponder all the mechanical parts: suspension (actually axles and leaf springs), steering, starting handle, … The fact that the P2 had a rear suspension “concealed” in the tail helped it to be chosen as the first model by Paddy Stanley, he says. That saved him from building a stiff enough rear frame and suspension. Now only the John Day got “proper” front shock absorbers. But the other challenge, unsurprisingly, was the wheels. Even today, with photoetched wire wheels available everywhere, the cost and ease of assembly makes the wheels the weakest part of the model’s accuracy, either because of the standard size not fitting the needs of the modeler or the rims being too thick when clamped to the ends of the spokes.
It was pretty much worse back then: hardly anything could be thin enough, and the modeler needed “ways around” the problem. John Day used for years some well known white metal cast rims: thick spokes, small diameter, but what else could you do?
In the ’70s, Carlo Brianza introduced “real” spoke wheels. He managed to do so with existing techniques at the cost of using about one third of the number of spokes it should have needed. Surprisingly, Paddy Stanley in his pioneering work cast plastic (?) spoked wheels of a more suitable size than the later John Day. It’s Barry Lester here who took the “shortcut” and used what larger scale models did back then: he could afford thinner spokes by engraving them on a clear disk!
So here are the pictures of those three early model cars for you to enjoy (I hope!) and compare to much newer attempts at the same subject: Minichamps, some years ago issued a very well made P2, a
press series (partworks) also came out with the Alfa Romeo collection in Italy years ago (good body, cheap cast wheels), and several small runs are also available (second hand), for instance from FB Models. They are better detailed, no doubt. But guess what: if I had to save a few from, say, a fire, I would certainly take the Stanley and the Lester.
If you enjoy being brought back to the pioneering times of modelling, stay tuned! There’s more to come with even older models, but still about my favorite marque, Alfa Romeo. In the meantime, please check out my Italian blog where not only stone-age models are presented on a regular basis but many rare and special Alfa models.
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