1976 Ford Mustang II Cobra II – MPC

1976CobraII (21)In the article for the ’77 Mustang II by AMT I pretty much lamented the whole time that I wish I could compare it to a MPC kit and see how it holds up, cause I stumbled upon the realization that the AMT kits of yore were kinda slightly not entirely great, especially when held up to another similar product. And whaddya know, I got a hold of a similar product to compare it to! From the get-go I really, really just wanted to make a Cobra II model and just couldn’t ever get a hold of the appropriate Cobra II kit so I improvised by buying a Missing Link resin set for the MPC Mustang that mimic the parts from said kit so I wasn’t utterly screwed from the start on my little plan.

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Then around the same time I was designing the series of Mustang II decals among which the Cobra II so I had one printed in nice metallic gold as in my personal belief there’s only two downright beautiful Mustang II’s: one is the simple two-tone Mustang II Ghia and the other is the ’76 Cobra II in either all white with blue stripes or all black with gold. Cause, with all due respect, the Mustang II isn’t ugly. Not ugly per se, it’s a situation of ugly birth riddled with abusive parents, family and it wasn’t until it grew into its proverbial pants that it could shine once more as a fox body after being kneecapped in 1974. Judging it purely by looks, despite it being a Pokemon evolution like ordeal from the Pinto, it’s not half bad. Yes compared to the ones it once rivaled, the Javelin, the Camaro, the Firebird, the Challenger, so forth… Yeah, it looks like a jellybean that was left on a dashboard on a hot summers’ day, but again – it’s not necessarily ugly.

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Ford HQ, 1973.

As I said, in this rigorous defense of the indefensible, man what a hill to fuckin’ die on huh – the Mustang II originated from inside bickering, indecisiveness and of course good old fashioned panic cause of changing times. In the previous Mustang II article I described a scene in James May’s Cars of the People where he takes a few old employees of Ford, GM and Chrysler to drive in basically primo-Malaise era Mustang goodness and get their take on why it all just fell the fuck apart back then and the simple conclusion was lack of change – innovation came about slowly and no-one really cared for the sheer, utter greed these cars symbolized. They drank copious amounts of fuel, had more lengths of sheet metal than most boats and lets not overlook the grandiose idea of putting friggin’ lead into everything. Lee Iacocca, the grandfather of the Mustang way back in 1964 was also poetically the saving grace of the Mustang in general, he greenlit the downsized Mustang project for 1974. They literally were gonna bin the Mustang as it was to turn it into sedan very much how the Mercury Cougar started out and turned into a land yacht of luxury in 1975. So the project had one of two choices; turn it into a smaller, more Maverick-ey powerhouse of joy, or just… kill it. So this is where apparently we should stop drawing parallels between the Mustang and Camaros, Firebirds and whatnot and begin comparing the Mustang’s overall “decent-ness” to and get this; Chevy Monzas, Toyota Celicas, Mazda RX-3s, Ford of Europe’s Capri II and so forth.

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And that’s exactly where it went wrong and right at the same time, it once was the definition of a pony car, the quintessential muscle car and much like a one hit wonder rock star, it got yanked off stage and given a serious talking-to in order to get the thing to have its shit together. It began playing on a smaller level again, half the weight and size of what it was the year before, all the while its former competitors literally died off or carried on stronger than before, and that’s where the “wrong” comes in from before. The “right” was doing a drastic measure to save the Mustang from becoming a vapid shadow of itself, the “wrong” was not sticking with its guns. You see, the Camaro and Firebird had some changes but largely they stayed heavy-weight big-block powerhouses, all the way through and the Firebird especially. They kept high performance versions all the way through the seventies, largely no different from their pre-1973 offerings, just bottlenecked as all hell horsepower wise, but even from that they recovered by 1978.

1976CobraII (11)By 1975 the Mustang II was slowly growing back into its old self(despite its most successful sales coming from the bare bones Mustangs), getting the 302 V8 back, albeit at an absolutely anemic horsepower output. And in 1976, the first of the so called “Decal GT” cars began appearing. Being largely unchanged from the normal Mustang bar for some appearance stuff, the Cobra II was literally the least sporty “sports” car out there. It was basically the car equivalent of a overweight fellow in a velour jumpsuit. Don’t get me wrong though, I’d argue its the prettiest of that generation Mustangs, cause holy shit they went all in with the 1978 Mustang II King Cobra and it became a hideous amalgamation of body kit, stripes and stencils, shopping cart wheels and the amount of cobra bite equal of what you’d find in a plush toy. That being said though, I find it amazing nonetheless and am doing a decal sheet for it as we speak, but I digress!

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The wrong that the Mustang II committed was simply that they were not changing enough in either direction, they just weren’t accepting that the Mustang had died and needed a rebirth, either as the now ultimately hyper successful basic Mustang II or the power-wagon V8 from days of yore. Cause in the end, the AMC Gremlin was a better compact alternative(even Ford’s very own Maverick was too) and for old fashioned muscle you could just glean over to Chevrolet or Pontiac. They stalled for time for four years and didn’t gain any serious ground whatsoever on reclaiming the old Mustang name and spirit until 1979 when shoving a turbo onto everything and anything had Ford experimenting with smaller engines and maximizing their output via turbos. To be fair, it had some severe teething issues but it did pave the way for the stupidly successful and loved Fox body Mustang.

1976CobraII (10)But enough lamenting on the Mustang II’s existence. Back to the comparison, the AMT and MPC bodies are different. Very different. First of all, the AMT one is definitely the one pulling the short stick, it has deep sinks on several parts of the body, the assembly is nowhere near MPC’s and in the end, the whole interior was a silly afterthought to them, being flat and un-detailed to say the least. The shape is also… worse? I dunno, it’s in the eye of the beholder but I’d argue at least on the tail end and the grille especially the AMT one is far less accurate than MPC’s offering. The biggest sinner remains to be the wheel size on the AMT kit, which is hilarious to say the least. Engine-wise again it goes to AMT for having the worse of the two, though but no means a lot – the V6 engines offered in either kit are actually really neat, and it’s the V6 offerings that usually go completely unloved so its nice to see two nicer castings out there.

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Though yeah at the end of the day, the AMT kit loses out on just about every point – the MPC Mustang II kit is just miles ahead of the other, with just basic things being better like the tail lights being translucent and the quality being finer on the grille, steering wheel, so forth. But also in terms of the engine bay and interior, the MPC still lies far, far ahead. The quality is sharper, more accurately shaped scale wise and it just looks… right. It’s got hardly any flat detailing due to “who’s gonna see it anyway”, they put in a good effort. Today though, this is a unfortunate thing as the only thing that was re-released at all in the last decade or two was, you guessed it, AMT’s Mustang II kit. The MPC one, like so many, probably got changed to fit some horrible funny car design or pro-stock AWB tool and was irreversibly changed to accommodate those changes. Could also be that like the ’75 Dodge Dart it just lies in hibernation somewhere until someone’s like “Yeah, give that sucker a whirl, whatever right”.

1976CobraII (5)So, the biggest issue I had with this kit was the tires. They, much like everything back then, were just tossed in the box. Even though they were sort of rubberized and really, really nice for the time, they also had a horrible habit of melting into the plastic over the many years they’d lie untouched. Mine decided to mate with the windshield, rear glass and part of one of the seats and took some digging to get loose from those parts, so unfortunately I had no tires for this model. I did however have access to a nice little Ford Pinto kit with the mag wheels that were actually on a proper ’76 Cobra II! So I stole those tires and wheels and slapped ’em on there no problemo and of course, they were one-size-fits-all so they went on with hardly a bit of hassle. Put on the set of Firestone Firehawk SS decals I had prepared for ’em and done!

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Like, this is one of those builds I am actually really proud of. One of those cases where everything kind of just came together really, really well. The decals sit beautifully, the body kit from Missing Link I couldn’t have done without, the perfectly fitting Pinto wheels, so forth.

 

’76 Ford Mustang II Cobra II specifications:
Kit: I-7513
Skill Level: N/A
Parts: 94
Molded in: White
Scale: 1/25

1976 Dodge Dart Lite Spirit of ’76 – MPC

76dartboxIn 2013 MPC re-released the 1975 Dodge Dart Sport kit from, well you guessed it, 1975 and it was welcomed with great, great… nothing. Okay, to be fair to the guys at Round 2, there’s always demand so to speak and for one I am grateful that they dragged the tool from the dusty depths and gave her another whirl. And with respect to ’em, they had released another few of ’em disguised as an AMT kit in 2003 as a police car, which was a 1976 release called “Smokey, the Convoy Chaser”(if only they knew in ’76 what popularity that phrase was gonna get just a year later thanks to Jerry Reed, Burt Reynolds and Jackie Gleason).

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And it’s this weird picking and choosing from Round 2 that gets me, I’m really interested in the era that effectively killed the muscle car as a whole but at the same time, who’s in the offices going “Hey look, we got the tooling still, wanna give it a go again?” and then points at a ’75 Dodge Dart Sport, or a ’80 Volaré? The 1973 on wards Dodge Darts had the look of a teacher desperate to look hip. So in ’75 they wanted to cool the car up some with a special editon: the “Hang 10” Dart. Hang ten’s a surfer’s term for standing on the nose of the board with all ten of your toes over the edge, in the middle of a wave. It had enough space for a board and some ultra hip multi colored line interior with orange shag and of course the Hang 10 stripes.

1976spiritof76_dodgedart (8)I mean, I appreciate the effort but boy did that fall flat. The edition sold but it didn’t even come near being a surfer icon, let alone a icon itself. Hell, the “Swinger” edition which I hope with my dumb, half innocent European mind, was of no relation to the giant ‘swinging'(wife-swapping woop woop) wave that dragged through the USA in the seventies, but boy did this sex mobile have absolutely no features to go wild about. The only mid seventies Dart I personally dig is, is also the one that the Dart kind of farted into the annals of history with: the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial edition, the Spirit of ’76.

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It had the prominence of being a Dart Lite and a special edition, two good things. One, it was a hell of a lot lighter to conserve fuel. Two, it only came with the Slant-6 engine. It was actually a pretty decent car for a Malaise era vehicle. It of course still had trouble surviving for years on end due to a lot of shoddy parts, rusting parts and electrical gremlins but at least the engine was a super reliable one. And amazingly enough(especially for the time), the car did 36mpg streches(15km per litre) on average. Plus less than thousand of those little guys were built and obviously a lot less exist today(with many in a state of disrepair), so it’s a double rarity!

76dartdecalsSo when I found out that Keith Marks has a set of both the Hang 10 and Spirit of ’76 decals, I bought the kit and began sifting through the thing. Firstly, it has the same pad printed Goodyear Polyglas GT tires that many if not all AMT/MPC kits now have. And again, just like usual, the fucking rim doesn’t match the tire. I love the enthusiasm for pad printed tires, especially from AMT who is the only one who has them printed on the rubber and not just included on a decal sheet but they are not a one-size fits all kind of tire. I’ve been going over this complaint on every single kit AMT has re-released since 2011 – the ’70 Chevelle, the ’80 Volaré, the ’68 El Camino and both ’69 Oldsmobiles I’ve built. They just don’t fit on legacy kits. So what did I do to mend this? Well the only rim I can fit to these new tires are the old version of the American Racing Torq Thrust wheels from MPC kits, especially the ones from the seventies. So I grabbed a set from a 46 year old Mercury Cyclone kit and substituted the Polyglas side with some Grand Am tire decals.

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However, on the other hand, something new that is nice is the decal sheet. While I didn’t need it, it does have all the necessary decals to make it similar to the box and a Demon inspired Dart 340, something that I ain’t used to with MPC kits.

1976spiritof76_dodgedart (12)Now obviously there’s some differences between this kit, the year and the Spirit of ’76 that I wanted to create. For instance, the engine is definitely not a Slant-6 but a 318 or a 340 V8 that was turned into a V6 by simply reducing the engine length and giving it V6 exhaust manifolds, hell none of the Darts during this period had a damn V6 besides the inline six Slant-6 engine… well, MPC wasn’t known for accuracy at the time under the hood. But other than the different engine, the 1975 Dart had a chrome center panel on the rear end, but ’76 Darts just have it being part of the sheet metal. But I made due with it, I actually prefer the look of the chrome on the tail, it’s kind of a shame they ditched it!

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But it does come with a whole separate engine, if you want to have one. A entire 426 HEMI engine’s included with sidepipes, though the mold quality on it is… well, it’s awful. The ignition wire points are smeared on, the chrome is kind of dingy though the transmission case is molded decently. Speaking of mold quality, the entire kit is a straight up re-cast of the 1975 kit – it has flash up the wazoo, it’s of the crappy “molten” quality on most of the sprues and the only piece in the entire kit that has seen a upgrade, which is oddly crisp compared to the rest, is the body itself. And thank God for that, cause it if it were on par with the rest, I’d wager it would’ve been as awful as the 1979 Pontiac Firebird casting from MPC, where you’d be working on the body and trimming extra plastic off for days.

1976spiritof76_dodgedart (18)Hell, I won’t deny that with the sheer dinginess of the engine that I wanted to just epoxy the hood shut and hide the half-V8/V6 hybrid from hell but I figured, it would ruin the whole look and I did try to make the engine somewhat nice. The Volaré’s engine, while 100% the same, was cast a ton better with better plastic quality that actually had it fit somewhat okay. This? This is a frickin’ mess with parts cast too large due to old, old tooling. But I’m rambling on now, screw it. Either way, the not-Slant 6 is still there to behold no matter how badly I still wanna hide it all together.

Some of the other things that I wish were actually done somewhat better are just… well, regular MPC kit woes. Again, it’s not that difficult to cast clear headlights. The bumpers are horribly made on their backsides and they have no place to be attached, hell no matter the positioning.1976spiritof76_dodgedart (10)

It’s either look right from the front and awful from the sides, or awful from the front and right from the sides, there’s no winning with ’em. Other than that, the chassis doesn’t meet the body at any given place and has no single way other than epoxying gaps shut to actually stay connected to the rest of the car! There’s give or take a quarter inch of space on either side of the chassis and the body, and it apparently is just meant to connect to the interior bucket but, genius move here, it’s only connected to the tub at give or take a fifth of it.

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So whats the bottom line? Well, I would say Round 2 needs to get their crap together cause part of me feels gypped at the idea of a simple second spin of the Dodge Dart Sport molds that had gone unchanged since 1975, with not a single bit of improvement being made other than the by now utterly expected new tires. But, they did improve on the casting quality when they put out the ’80 Volaré kit, with unique Radial G/T tires, much better quality plastic and a lot less, if any flash on the sprues.

Thank God for Keith Marks’ decal sheets and Torq Thrust wheels to make this thing look much better, especially on the interior front. And all in all, from the outside, it ain’t looking too bad! Well, if you discount señor butterfingers, the royal me, ruining the decals while wrestling the body onto the chassis…

’76 Dodge Dart Lite Spirit of ’76 specifications:
Kit: MPC798/12
Skill Level: N/A
Parts: 71
Molded in: White
Scale: 1/25

1976 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 – AMT

76camaroboxAlright, I can hear ya’ thinking right away; “There was no Z/28 in 1975 and 1976, you dolt“, and you’d be perfectly on the mark for this kit is based on the 1976 RS model! But my good grief, the struggle a man has to go through and the sheer wallet emptying a man has to do to merely find a ’74-’77 Camaro to begin with is nothing short of soul destroying.

So I took the best chance I had, and made myself a ’74 Z/28 inspired ’76 RS. Why? Cause the Z/28 editions fit the scheme of my Camaro line up more, to start with. Another good reason is cause the ’75 and ’76 Type LT had no stripes to speak of and the RS had this odd yet interesting black/stripe/body color get up that really wouldn’t fit whatsoever.

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So, here we are! An impostor Z/28 from the era where Chevrolet nearly killed off the Z/28 package all together, with the wrong trim levels for its year and coming off the kit that has nothing to do with RS nor Z/28 at all. Allow me to elaborate, short history lesson time!

In 1976 the Pontiac Firebird was kicking serious ass in sales, especially the Trans-Am(half of the sales in ’76 were T/A’s) which was beating the Camaro a fair bit, even with the V8 slaughter cause of the 1973 oil crisis. Even though both Pontiac and Chevrolet are under the same corporation name, the rivalry wasn’t any less fiery cause of it, both were competing to be the winner in the sales figures. And even though the ’77 Camaro brought back the Z/28 to give the customer some power to play with, the ’76 and ’77 models had at best a 350 cubic inch V8 while the Firebird T/A had a 400 cubic inch V8 or the 455 cubic inch V8 which easily outdid the Camaro. Difference for most folks? Price. Getting a Camaro with the 350 ci was a good thousand bucks(1976 money; the RS sat at 3927$ and the T/A 455 was 4985$) cheaper than the 455 package from Pontiac. So getting it taped up over at AHC was still cheaper than a Firebird, hell still a few hundred off from the 400ci T/A even.

So cue the American Hatch Company’s effort at finding middle ground, I suppose. AHC made high quality T-top windows, frames, so on. But they also dabbled with vinyl
76camaronew-3kits which were really a hot item in the 1970s, and they figured that the concept of “what if we dress up a Camaro like a Firebird” was worth the effort. It was literally just a package of Firebird ‘inspired’ decals for any Camaro from 1973 through 1977 and all you had to do was ask your local Chevy dealer for more info. I’d say it didn’t pan out for them given no-one can really say they’ve seen this “AHC-100” Camaro drive around, even finding pictures of the real deal is nigh impossible. The most common evidence of it having been legit is that AMT issued this kit, the one I built, in 1977 to join the party and that’s really about it, some Motor Trend ads, the AMT kit and a few posters here and there in Chevy dealers across the USA.

I bought two sets of decals from Keith Marks, one for the ’76 RS, one for the ’74 Z/28 before I was sure on which way to go with the kit; I have some ’69 stripes left that I was going to use but thought, y’know what, screw it, it may be a 1976 Camaro, it may not have an official Z/28 version, but dammit I am building one! So time to talk about the kit, finally eh?

So it’s a 1977 release, based on the mold that AMT’s used since 1974 with their annual releases of Camaro “customizing” kits, and all the seventies goodness that comes with it. No clear headlights, no clear tail lights, ill-fitting parts, hardly a engine bay to speak of, but in a tradition they’ve held since the late sixties: great engine(its got the 350ci V8), great interior and to be fair, the mold quality of whats there is fantastic. Hell, even the decal sheet survived decently and the kit I bought was not new. It was opened in 1981 according to the seller and promptly abandoned for other fun stuff and left on their storage shelf since then and he claims he’s tried to sell it since 2014.

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This did do some damage to the kit, the rear window caught some scratches and smudges some time, the plastic turned a rotten yellow and for the most part the tires were unusable, however it didn’t warp and it still was pretty damn good stuff to work with all things considered. The issues I can mention, despite being spoiled by modern tooling and well thought out kit designs by AMT Ertl, Revell, Tamiya and so on of these days, the bodywork is a ill-fitting nightmare. The bumpers, the chassis and the grille all had to be cut, bend and warped to fit, shortened the chassis by half an inch so the rear bumper could get on, it’s pretty much an AMT kit through and through. Hell both the front bumper and rear bumper stick out a few millimeters on the sides cause they’re just too wide, so that’s also something. And another thing to note of the bumpers is that they got a severe case of being droopy, which is especially noticeable on the front.

On top of that, it uses two metal rods to attach the wheels to, which would’ve worked if the rod wasn’t twice the size of the wheels, so I manhandled some toothpicks and it’s now got good ol’ fashioned wooden axles. Though now the wheels sit a tad too far to the inside, but with some work that is… fixable. I haven’t bothered cause every slight touch to the76camaro-5 toothpicks will make the wheels fall off unless they sit exactly as they do in the pictures, so… Yup. At least it looks sort of decent in the Polyglas GT tires I took from another AMT kit to replace the thoroughly rotten ones.

Also, like many of that era kits: no rear-view mirror and no door mirrors, sadly. Still looking to find the ones I didn’t put on the ’69 Olds Cutlass, that might make it look a bit more complete.

Though, I should say, those are just the downsides of the kit. It has a fair amount of pluses to balance it all out! It’s still considered a “customizing kit” on all fronts, with ’71/’72 Camaro split bumpers for both the front and rear, front airdam, sportier rally wheels, RS rear wing, the olden-goldie CB radio set, so on. They’re all nice extras to have!

But despite it looking a bit haggard, it’s a T-top Camaro from the mid-seventies. That in itself is rare, it’s even rarer given it’s also a fake on my part by pasting Z/28 decals on a RS model, but there have been one or two moments where I felt like I should’ve just built it as the AHC-100 Camaro cause honestly… It’s just that rare. A slower and thinner wolf in… well, wolves clothing. Maybe one day I’ll shell out another 70 to 100 dollar just to make the Firemaro/Camobird/Trans-28/etc AHC-100 properly.

’76 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28(AHC-100 RS Camaro) specifications:
Kit: #2213
Skill Level: N/A
Parts: 80
Molded in: White
Scale: 1/25