For this installment I was planning on a comparative review of Dodge performance vehicles from the early days and their current R/T and SRT counterparts. But as I look outside and see snow falling – and the faint glow of a certain red nosed reindeer high in the clouds – I’m reminded it’s holiday time. So we’ll get to that muscle car comparison next month. Until then, let’s go back in time and revisit some classic Mopar and Dodge oriented toys – all of which helped make holiday gift giving more exciting for kids of all ages.
¼ Scale Slant Six Model
Let’s imagine its Christmas morning, 1961 and you’re a 12-year old kid opening gifts. Dad’s brand new Chrysler 300G is safely tucked in the garage while a light dusting of fresh fallen snow highlights the crisp lines of Mom’s Lancer station wagon out in the driveway. It’s at the ready, just in case a quick dash to the store is needed for more gravy or apple sauce. The family is gathered around the tree, lights twinkling. Your eyes are drawn to a huge gift wrapped box. What could it be? The thing is almost two-feet long and 14-inches wide. Could it be a new board game? Santa already brought some last year, but this box is even bigger than that. Sis opens a gift, then Mom. Now it’s your turn. You run for the big box and tear it open. “Hold on there, slow it down a bit son” says dad. As the paper falls away your eyes take in the coolest model kit you’ve ever seen.
Since you’re almost a teen, the Santa game is nearly over. The illustrated Slant Six engine on the box is a little too familiar. That’s because you’ve watched and listened as dad showed curious neighbors the exotic tilted engine in mom’s Lancer all summer long. Putting clues together, you’re aware dad brought this gift into the house through the front door instead of Saint Nick wrangling it down the chimney. But there’s no need to say anything. You’re just thankful and thrilled to have this cool model kit. You’ve built plenty of 1/25 scale model cars so you’re ready to try this big one. And if you get stuck, dad’ll be there to help out. At first the kits hundreds of parts – molded in clear, red, black, gray and silver plastic – look daunting. But within a week you’ve built it and have learned all about how an internal combustion engine works. Now when curious neighbors come up to check out mom’s Lancer mill, dad turns to you for the presentation saying proudly; “Son, you want to take this one?”
The idea for the ¼ scale Slant Six model grew out of a chance meeting between a Chrysler advertising executive and a public relations executive of a toy model company in the opening months of 1960. By April, Chrysler assigned Willem Weertman (the Managing Engineer of the Engine Design Department and a principal in the design of the Slant Six and later 426 Hemi engine programs) to the project. Weertman sent blueprints of the Slant Six to the toy model company and by February, 1961 a prototype kit was on display at the Chicago Hobby Show. Retail sales commenced on September 29, 1961 – just in time for Christmas. The 1/25 scale car model shown is a JoHan Chrysler Turbine car, included to give an idea of how big the ¼ scale Slant Six is.
One of the most impressive model kits I’ve ever seen, the $12.95 retail price was equal to the cost of ten regular car models. But the value is astonishing. Unlike the previous Visible V8 engine kit (based loosely on a Packard 352), the Slant Six featured far more surface detail including casting numbers and correct textures. When built carefully, an electric motor positioned within the case of the crisply rendered A903 3-speed manual transmission turns the crankshaft, camshaft, rocker arms and valves. The distributor cap has metallic leads that illuminate tiny red grain-of-wheat light bulbs to simulate the firing order of the spark plugs. In 1963 an updated version was released with a PCV system, revised air cleaner housing and clear engine block and head for better viewing of the reciprocating assembly. Both kits are exceedingly scarce today. This full page magazine ad appeared in the December, 1961 issue of Motor Trend and was sponsored by Chrysler Corporation. In recent years, Testors tooled a ¼ scale 426 Hemi that’s just as fascinating. We’ll take a look at it here at Redline Dodge.com in a few months.
Hot Wheels Mongoose and Snake Funny Car
“Wow, Hot Wheels cars!” were you one of the millions of kids to shout those words by the glow of a Christmas tree? I was! Of the many different gravity and electrically powered race sets for Hot Wheels cars over the years, the most memorable was the Mongoose and Snake drag race set of 1970. Emulating the real life exploits of Tom “Mongoose” McEwen and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, the assembled set delivered a two-lane 16-foot long drag strip – complete with an even-start push button release gate, loop-de-loops, parachute boxes, a finish line to flag the winner and deliciously colored Mongoose and Snake funny car replicas (which were also sold individually). While Tom and Don “tipped the can” and forced additional nitromethane through their 426 Hemi® engines for greater speed, kids simply raised the starting line higher – using the handy self-clamping feature – and gravity took it from there.
The story of how the Mongoose and Snake funny cars came into existence is a good one. Drag racing’s first major-league non-automotive sponsorship deal, the concept was hatched by McEwen. He saw the overnight multi-million dollar success of the Hot Wheels toy car phenomenon and rightfully concluded they’d be a great sponsor for a real life drag racing team. Operating under the Wildlife Racing banner, McEwen partnered with Prudhomme. From there, McEwen’s existing ties to Plymouth were activated (in 1965-’66 he piloted the rear-engined Hemi ‘Cuda exhibition match racer). Plymouth had just introduced the new E-body Barracuda and fastback A-body Duster in 1970, would they be interested in co-sponsoring the ‘Cuda and Duster race team? You bet!
And so it was that McEwen prepared the bright red Mongoose flip-top Duster funny car while Prudhomme’s vivid yellow ‘Cuda was built along similar lines. Truckloads of 426 Hemi parts, Torqueflite transmissions and Dana 60 rear axle parts came from Detroit. Aside from professional preparation and presentation, the use of color was a key detail in the appeal of the team cars to eyes of all ages – but particularly kids. Large white panels were applied to the flanks of the fiberglass bodies so the sponsor logos stood out and star-studded stripes ran over the hoods, roofs and trunks. The tube frame chassis was not overlooked and both assemblies were painted a matching shade of light blue that complimented the brightly painted body shell perfectly. The Mongoose and Snake became a popular match race attraction for several years and helped introduce millions of kids to professional drag racing. The saga is not over. Watch for the full length feature film Snake and Mongoose coming some time in 2013.
Sold individually as item number 6409 (Snake ‘Cuda) and 6410 (Mongoose Duster), the cars were reissued in 1993 as part of Hot Wheels’ 25th Anniversary celebration. The tampo-printed body graphics quickly identify these re-releases. The original 1970 issues employed adhesive-backed paper graphics that quickly peeled off the body. Mint examples are very hard to find today. Seen here, Hot Rod magazine put McEwen’s Mongoose Duster on the cover of its August, 1970 issue. The sanitary Dodge transport truck (Prudhomme’s Snake funny car got one too) has been restored and is often displayed at nostalgia drag race events across the country today.
Dodge L-700 Cab Over Truck Model Kit
Christmas of 1976 was significant to me for many reasons. It was our great nation’s Bicentennial year and there was a prevailing sense of nostalgia for colonial times. Old style Christmas celebrations were in vogue with actual lit candles substituting for electric bulbs and lots of folks tuning into the old ways of the first settlers. The mood even rubbed off onto our pocket change, the federal mint releasing special bicentennial quarter and half dollar coins as well as $2 bills. My mother was a passionate antique collector who really enjoyed the look-back. We even got a real pine tree that year – the folding plastic replica remained in the attic. But to me, the biggest memory was getting my first Dodge L-700 model kit as a Christmas gift from my brother.
Released in March of 1969, the Dodge L-700 kit was the first cab-over truck model kit ever released in 1/25 scale. By 1976, coin operated video games and massive video arcades had captivated America’s youth and very few kids had time for model building. Not me. While I certainly honed my gaming skills at every opportunity, model kits were still a big part of my life. Model kits were typically sold at blow out prices by wholesale retailers. I remember seeing as many as a dozen L-700 kits at the local discount warehouse store priced at a mere two bucks in the mid and late Seventies.
But I had a math teacher in high school who told our class how everything happens in cycles. Sure enough, today those same Dodge L-700 cab over truck model kits sell for as much as a hundred dollars in mint, un-built condition. Best of all, the tooling used to make the kits was never scrapped. That’s great news since it is possible to buy the L-700 as a brand new item through online and retail outlets at very reasonable prices. In the years since I got that first L-700 kit, I’ve owned about ten others. But it’s the original issue box art (see below) that still takes me back to that sunlit Christmas morning of 1976. At age 12, life was all new – even if our country seemed ancient at 200 years old.
The mouth- watering box art utilizes wonderfully rendered professional illustrations. In the later Seventies, the Carter administration enacted brutal “truth in advertising” laws that would have taken issue with the wheels depicted on the cover. Those pressed steel rims are not in the kit. Rather heavier-duty 5-spoke cast steel wheels are rendered. It’s a minor infraction. The rest of the art is highly accurate. The instruction sheet was drawn like a blueprint and fired my imagination like nothing I’d seen in my school text books.
It took a steady hand and some trimming, but the L-700 cab’s doors can be made to function smoothly. The secret is the use of instant-setting cyanoacrylate glue (aka super glue). Traditional plastic cement takes too long to dry, giving critical fit items like hinges time to settle out-of-adjustment. Note that the box’s side panel art depicts the 5-spoke Kelsey Hayes wheels provided in the kit. Unlike the also-new-for’1969 AMT Peterbilt diesel tractor, the Dodge was powered by a gasoline fueled 361 cubic inch Chrysler V8. Amazingly, the Dodge truck division offered the L-series truck with 225 Slant Six power for trucking outfits concerned with ultimate fuel economy. I’ve seen a few in person though most are V8 equipped.