Assembly Required

Some Cool P.I. Model Car Kits

   

At the tender young age of nine or so, my favourite TV show was Mannix. It was on Saturday nights, and I was allowed to stay up because it wasn’t a school night.

My mom enjoyed crime and detective shows, and as the oldest child, I felt quite grown up, being allowed to sit with her on the couch and watch them with her, after my kid sisters and brother had been sent off to bed. Meanwhile, my grandmother and my Uncle Burt had already introduced me to crime fiction via Christmas and birthday presents of the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys, while the school library and friends had opened my eyes to the Three Investigators.

But something about Mannix really got me. Maybe it was Mike O’Connor’s manly charisma, or the fast-paced action you could always count on Joe to be slugged — or to slug someone — in each show. Plus there were chases and shootouts. Or maybe it was just the car…

I was also already something of a car nut — my window sill was a parking lot, already filled with Corgis, Matchboxes, and Hot Wheels. And then a wrong turn down an aisle in the toy section of Miracle Mart in Greenfield Park brought me face to face with destiny.

It was an MPC model car kit of Joe Mannix’s Oldsmobile convertible. I didn’t care if it was the car from an earlier season and that Joe no longer drove such an upscale set of wheels, now that he’d left Intertect and was running his own one-man agency.

No! What sold me was the description on side, the list of the accessories: a car phone! A gun (with REAL chrome plating!) hidden in the upholstery! And I could build it myself! I just had to have it!

I purchased it with my own carefully hoarded birthday money — my very first model car. I bought the paint the glue, and some brushes. And I snuck toothpicks and my mom’s paring knife out of the kitchen.

I didn’t do a very good job — I didn’t know anything about spray paint or masking, or even trimming the tiny parts off the plastic trees. There was an embarrassing glue smear on the windshield, and the instructions were ambivalent enough that my scant knowledge of automobiles led to more than a few assembly errors — but I was so proud when I completed it. It occupied a place of honour on my bookshelves for years and years, and it marked the start of — or confirmation of — two important obsessions in my young life. My love of cars, and my love of private eyes. Over the next few years, I must have built forty or so car model kits, and I’d probably still be building them if I hadn’t discovered girls.

The P.I. jones? That seems to be taking a little longer to get over…

  • Kookie’s Kookiemobile
    From 77 Sunset Strip
    (Revell?)
    Kookie, the out-of-left-field teen idol went from bit-part car hop to teenage sensation, and took his customized Model A/Model T hot rod hybrid wirth him in the early sixties. There was allegedly a model kit of it, although confirmation of its actual existence is a little hard to find. The empty box pictured above was almost certainly faked.
    According to the dealer selling it several years ago, “The box is 9″x 4.5″x 3″ and has printing on all sides except the bottom. It is shrink wrapped and MINT.. It says ‘Made by Revell’… but I am pretty sure they did not make it, al]though THEY SHOULD HAVE!!!” (A shrink-wrapped empty box? There’s a clue right there!) But even if the box was bogus, there must have been about a zillion scratch-built versions of what some have called “the most famous hot rod of all time.”
  • T.H.E. Cat’s Corvette Stingray
    (1967, AMT)
    According to John Boyle, Thomus used to tool around San Frasncisco in a customized mid-60s Corvette Stingray, and AMT made a model kit of it. The car itself was modified for the show by Gene Winfield from AMT’s “Speed & Custom Division” shop in Phoenix, Arizona. Winfield created custom vehicles for several other shows (Star Trek, Bewitched, Batman) and film (Sleeper, The Last Starfighter, Blade Runner).” The extremely rare kit was in 1:24scale, molded in white and came with a decal sheet.
  • Joe Mannix’s Convertible
    (1968, MPC)
    “In the first year of the show, when he worked for Intertech, Mannix, Joe drove a very cool, George Barris-customized silver-and-dark-gray 1967 Oldsmobile Toranado convertible. MPC made a model of it, in fact (this is true! I had one- ed. ) When he quit Intertech, he went downhill and drove various (dark green) Dodge Challengers and Darts and Barracudas for the rest of the series,” says noted car nut John Boyle. Maybe so, but they were still pretty cool cars, and they each had something really special for back then: car phones.”
  • Hank Brackett and Johnny Reach’s Stutz Bearcat
    (1971, MPC)
    From the short-lived CBC series, Bearcats! Came with optional, fender-mounted Gatling guns. No radio, though. Like Lou Reed says, “Man, those were different times.”
  • The Charlie’s Anglels Mobile Unit Van
    (1978, Revell)
    Okay, this van never appeared on the nudge nudge wink wink TV show, although it did regularly tour car shows.  Revell (the car model guys) commissioned Rod Powell of Salinas, California, to retool a 1977 Chevy van to their specifications, which included hidden compartments for guns and handcuffs (kinky), a mini-wine cellar and lots and lots of plush pink upholstery. Once completed, the van toured car shows across the U.S. and Canada, for years, and Revell sold a ton of kits.
  • Dan Tanna’s 1957 T-Bird
    (1979, AMT)
    Not only was this annoyingly-smug Vegas P.I. surrounded by beautiful women, but he got to tool around in this cherry classic automobile. Pretty soon, half the TV eyes were tailing suspects in mint condition collector’s cars..
    “Hey, isn’t that the same spiffy, immaculate candy apple red 1957 T-Bird’s been on our tail for eight blocks, already?”
    “Relax, it’s probably another one.”
    The kit was “faithfully reproduced in the 1/25 scale model which includes opening hood, V-8 engine, soft-vinyl tires, chrome plated parts, removable hardtop and distinctive ‘Continental’ spare tire,” and the box boasted that it was “Molded in Color.”
  • Thomas Magnum’s Ferrari 308 GTS
    (1982, Revell)
    Well, actually, it’s Robin Masters’ Ferrari. And it’s bright red. Just the thing for tooling around Hawaii, incognito. The kit promised an “opening rear hatch with a highly detailed engine,” pop up headlights,” “steerable front wheels” and “Michelin rubber tires,” and came “molded in red and black plastic.”
  • A.J. Simon’s Chevrolet Camaro Z/28
    American eyes, particularly on television, often seemed to be defined by their cars, and Simon & Simon was no exception. A whole slew of fine-looking automobiles passed through the show, most notably Rick’s big-ass 1979 Dodge W-150 Macho Power Wagon, with its over-sized front bumper. But it was one of A.J. classic muscle cars, a mid-eighties Camaro Z/28, that got the model kit, a 1/24 scale SnapTite from Monogram. A Die-cast version of the truck, however, was released.
  • Hardcastle and McCormick’s Coyote
    (1983, AMT)
    Built from Manta Montage, on a base chassis is from a VW and the engine from a VW-Porsche 914, made this light-weight car very, very fast indeed. There was a second version of the Coyote, used in the secondd anfd third seasons, which was based on a DeLorean.
  • Ray’s 1965 Stingray
    From “Stingray”
    (1987, Revell)
    1:25 scale model of the jet-black 1965 Stingray Coupe driven by Ray in NBC’s short-lived series.. Arguably the coolest car of all 80’s television (sorry “KITT”) The box featured series star Nick Mancuso on the cover, and came molded in black. Of course. Another hard to find treasure, because shortly after the kit’s release the show was canceled, and it was re-packaged and re-released as simply “’65 Corvette Street Machine.” You can still build a replica of Ray’s car from this kit, though.
  • Jack Reacher’s 1970 Chevy Chevelle SS | Buy this kit
    From “Jack Reacher”
    (2014, AMT)
    Just when I thought they just didn’t make ’em anymore, up pops this 1/25 scale model from AMT of the souped-up 1970 Chevy that Tom Cruise “borrows” and wheels about the streets of Pittsburgh in a good old-fashioned (very era-appropriate, in fact) car chase in the first film based on Lee Child’s series character. Okay, we all know Jack’s not really a P.I., but this may be as close as we come to a P.I.-based kit for years to come.

CARS THAT SHOULD HAVE HAD KITS

Of course, if the kit of the Kookie Mobile listed (and pictured) above did actually exist, it automatically becomes the Great White Whale of collectible P.I. TV/model car tie-ins, because nobody’s been able to find a copy for sixty years or so. But there are several other really cool cars featured in private eye TV shows, books and films that really should have kits. Hell, I’d be willing to settle for photos of some really good scratch-built versions. Anyone?

  • Travis McGee’s Miss Agnes
    The most preposterous of P.I. vehicles is this bastardized 1936 Rolls Royce, converted into a pickup truck, of all things, painted an ungodly blue, and named after McGee’s fourth grade teacher who apparently had hair the same colour.
  • Kinsey Millhone’s VW
    A battered Volkswagen Bug that’s been around the block a few times, but somehow the spunky little thing just keeps on chuggin’. Sorta like Kinsey.
  • Harry O’s Austin-Healey Sprite
    Seldom seen (because it was rarely running) beat-up old Austin-Healey Sprite was as much a part of this most contrary of P.I. shows as the girls he didn’t get, the cases he didn’t solve, and the answers he never found. The car frequently wouldn’t even start, and when it did it had a nasty habit of breaking down at inopportune times. In keeping with the theme of the show, perhaps this one should be bought and purchased but never finished.
  • Jim Rockford’s Pontiac Firebird
    Perhaps the most famous P.I. car of them all. Originally a gold-coloured 1974 (although it was frequently updated) Pontiac Firebird, license number 853OKG. Jimbo’s chief investigative tool, it seemed, regularly crashed, trashed and involved in high speed chases. Some shows, it probably deserved bigger billing than some of the “guest stars.”
  • Shell Scott’s 1941 Caddy Convertible
    Just in case people didn’t notice him already, it’s painted a painfully bright canary yellow.
  • Rick Simon’s 1979 Dodge W-150 Macho Power Wagon
    Sure, preppy A.J’s a mid-eighties Camaro Z/28, got a 1/24 scale SnapTite kit from Monogram, but what about big brother Rick’s big-ass 1979 Dodge W-150 Macho Power Wagon, with its battering ram front bumper?  That’s the vehicle people remember from Simon & Simon.
  • “Big Blue”: Stephanie Plum’s 1953 Buick Roadmaster
    Well, actually Uncle Sandor’s 1953 Buick, but Stephanie’s mother insists on her using this obnoxious, bloated, conspicuous behemoth. Suffice it to say it’s never Stephanie’s first choice.
  • J.J. Starbuck’s Limo
    JJ’s flashy limo comes equipped with steer horns on the hood and a horn that plays “The Eyes of Texas.” The perfect vehicle for melting into the crowd.

RELATED LINKS

Preliminary list respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith, with a really, really big and heartfelt shout-out to John Boyle. Anyone who has info, photos or illustrations of any of these cars (or of the possible models or toys they inspired) are urged to contact Kevin.

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