How to Build a Car

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Jennie Mowbray

Ferrari drop

“Nobody is bored when he is trying to make something that is beautiful or to discover something that is true.”

~William Ralph Inge~

During the interminable and mundane weeks of the Formula One winter break, when all the manufacturers are paying their engineers and designers overtime in the hope of obtaining another tenth of a second advantage over their competitors, the diehard fans anxiously await any snippet of news pertaining to how their favourite teams might perform in the upcoming season. The intrigue and rumours abounding about the possible signing of Sirotken, Kubica or even Kvyat as the second Williams driver are read as if they were a long-awaited sequel to a favourite novel.

Over the past few years, I have had several hobbies to fill in the gaps between seasons. When I first became enthralled by Formula One, I read every book I could source on the subject, anxious to fill in my considerable holes in historical lore. I then enthusiastically mastered the track layouts by playing F1 2012 with my teenage son. This resulted in an improved, though still limited, understanding of the thrill of attempting to fly through Eau Rouge without lifting off the throttle, and the amount of steering lock required to manoeuvre the car around the hairpin at Monaco.

It was while exploring the toy shops searching for Christmas presents for my children, trying to find something creative that might drag them off their respective computers for an hour or two, that I saw a Ferrari F1-89 model kit. I had attempted over the years to interest my teenage son in model making, with little success. Suddenly I then had an idea – maybe I could construct it myself.


It was the only Formula One car available, so I was fortunate that it was so stunning. It was a John Barnard design with a sleek, ebony front wing, a faint forerunner of the elaborate wings seen today. The scarlet chassis had exquisite bulging side pods to house the radiators with maximum aerodynamic efficiency. Nigel Mansell drove it to victory in its first race at the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix. Unfortunately, although the car was extraordinarily fast, it was also afflicted with profound unreliability – it either finished on the podium or didn’t finish at all. Mansell came 4th in the championship despite the car only making it to the chequered flag for six races!

Since I started following Formula One, I have been more captivated by the vehicles themselves, and their respective designers, than the drivers. Maybe subconsciously I am echoing Enzo Ferrari’s mantra that the cars win races, but the drivers lose them. I love reading about the designers, especially of the days of yore when aerodynamics was in its infancy, and just having the idea of putting a wing on a car in the first place was a monumental, though precarious, leap forward.


I have been moderately crafty in the past – able to knit cardigans and booties for my babies, though living in the subtropics they got little wear, smock dresses for my daughters until they grew too old to appreciate my efforts and fashion costumes as required for gymnastics performances.  I had no doubt I was capable of constructing an F1 car model.

I brought home the box and opened it with eager anticipation. A myriad of diminutive pieces of plastic, attached to plastic scaffolding, met my eyes. The first challenge was how to get the individual components off the frame. I began by twisting them until they came off. However, I was then left with unsightly stubs of plastic attached to my piece of bodywork – how was I to get rid of them? I first tried a kitchen knife, but with little success. I then sharpened the said knife, but it still wasn’t as effective as my perfectionist side desired.

After perusing the instructions, I also decided that I would need some paint…but perhaps not as many colours as were suggested. It was after all my first model, and I didn’t really want to spend $60 on paint that might never be used again. Perfectionism can be taken too far, and at the moment I was doing this for fun rather than expecting shop-bought model quality. I purchased four of the most used colours along with a razor-sharp craft knife, so I could at least trim my bits of plastic to the level of precision I desired, even if they were not all going to be painted the correct colour. I handled the instrument warily as I have seen too many people end up in my emergency department through not having enough respect for its ability to cut through skin more readily than plastic.

What astonished me first was the level of engineering I found in the model. I suppose I expected it to be more like a toy, a faint replica of the actual vehicle. The suspension was sophisticated, but I was amazed at how perfectly it all fitted together. Each part of the engine was recognisable. As I was putting it together the whole design of the car amazed me. I felt like an engineer…transferring drawings on a design board into the first three-dimensional representation of what had until then only been in my head.

Ferrari 189 1And then I hit a snag…the rear suspension was attached to the brake disk and try as I might they wouldn’t fit on. I did what all truly creative people do…leave it until the next day. Usually whatever is baffling one day is as clear as glass the next, and occasionally the problem is even solved in your dreams. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Eventually, I enlisted my husband’s help. He had built models previously and was more versed in the different techniques used to encourage errant pieces of plastic to behave. He gradually trimmed the end of the suspension and so managed to ease it into the place required.

The next challenge was painting the driver. Up until now, I had only done minimal painting of the model, and that was more for fun. I had splashed a bit of silver tint onto the engine to make it look more realistic, along with a few other bolts and attachments. I was more concerned that the driver did not look like a five-year-old had been allowed to paint it, but I was holding out little hope that this would be the case. I was also handicapped by my ageing eyes, not yet at the point of requiring spectacles for reading, but still not able to focus as clearly as they could a quarter of a century ago. The only solution was to take off my usual coke bottle glasses and hold the figurine a couple of centimetres from my eyes, so I could see and focus on the minute area of seat-belt requiring black paint. I think that I will probably improve with practice…and at this point, I definitely need more practice!

Ferrari 189 2

After the challenge of painting, it was more enjoyable to return to the construction of the various elements of the car’s chassis. It was then I encountered a more considerable exasperation – decals! There were these numerous minute pieces of decoration to be soaked in water and then applied to the driver’s helmet. For some reason, they preferred to stick to my fingers rather than the plastic, and it took a lot of encouragement for them to stay on the helmet. I then found out that I would need to wait for each one to dry before affixing the next. Otherwise, I would move them all out of position. I do tend to have a reasonable amount of patience, but having to apply eight different decals, while waiting for each one to dry before placing the next, definitely tried it.

ferrari 189 3After the final construction, involving the front and rear wings, was complete I was down to the last step in the process…more decals! This time, however, the process was more enjoyable. These decals were more substantial and were being applied to the large, flat surface of the chassis. As they went on, one by one, the car started to become alive in front of my eyes. The number 27,  prancing horses, sponsor’s names – each added to the feeling of realism until suddenly what was once a hundred tiny pieces of plastic now looked like it was the real deal, preparing to drive off my table…the engine rumbling and reverberating…as spectacular as in the clip below 🙂


5 responses to “How to Build a Car

  1. Fun story. Can be a lot of fun and or very frustrating. I haven’t an F1 made a model for a while, but the worst model was trying to put together a visible V8. Just about every piece needed to have a nail file used on it to smooth out the pieces because if you didn’t when you put it together nothing would move……….

    • I didn’t have very high expectations to start with so it was a lot of fun but I’ve made another half a dozen models since then and have certainly had my times of frustration! It took me a couple of models to perfect my spray painting technique…a lot of patience required to do multiple, very thin layers. My current project is a 1:12 Lotus 49 which is much more challenging than the 1:20 models because it’s much more complex. The rear suspension and torsion bars just don’t want to stay put…and being metal parts rather than plastic they are much harder to glue…

      Actually, my very first model was a Haynes engine. It was nice and big with no fiddly parts! Was your visible V8 a Revell model? I made one Revell model car but the parts didn’t fit properly like the Tamiya models and I had to do a lot of fiddling to get it to go together so I’ve stuck with Tamiya since then. My husband has a 3-d printer and there are a whole lot of patterns for engines available that look like a lot of fun…

      • It was a Revell model. Got it all together, turned the crank to see it work and nothing moved. Had to take it all apart and file down all the moving parts to get it working. Not fun………..

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