1990 Chevrolet Beretta GTZ – AMT Ertl

1990chevyberettaGTZ (1)Remember GM’s Chevrolet Citation from the early eighties? Luckily a model kit of it exists and I built it this year and uh, boy does that car have some royal history to it. Firstly, it originated as replacement for the rear wheel drive barrel of joy Chevrolet Nova in 1979, changing platforms to deal with the ever growing need for an affordable car that didn’t require fuel stops every 20 miles, but also one that had some European smarts about it while remaining American to the bone. This… kind of proved to be true, turning it into a small engine front wheel drive two or four door that had excellent mileage, though the American heritage reared its head just as badly by also inheriting some ridiculous rust issues, parts snapping clear off left, right and center and of course a maintenance bill the length of the Pan-American Highway. And the rear brakes locking up and sending you into a death swerve obviously didn’t help anything either.

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So GM let the Citation die, gently, in 1985. Over the last two years of its bleeding to death, GM revitalized it once last time and it went over about as well as a fart in a crowded elevator. The jipped consumer wanted nothing to do anymore with the Citation and sales, which were legendary at first, barely broke hundred thousand in 1985 and was replaced, albeit non-officially by the Beretta in 1987. Hell, before I go into that, wanna know a fun little tid-bit? In 1988, Beretta Firearms(Fabbrica d’Armi Pietro Beretta) in Italy filed a lawsuit over the name – which got settled in ’89 out of court and they exchanged Berettas symbolically afterwards. Literally. No shit, really, read the LA Times story! The then chairman of Beretta handed GM chairman Roger Smith a Beretta shotgun and rifle, and Smith handed Guiseppe Beretta a 1989 Beretta GTU!

1990chevyberettaGTZ (19)Anyway, to move on from that interesting piece o’ history. It was a nice, popular little car that wasn’t all bad. In fact, from the heydays of yore, it was arguably one of the better ones around. It quickly got a reputation as a “high-schooler’s car”, which was… fair, I suppose. Designed by the same folks responsible for the 1983 Camaro and Corvette updates, it looked sporty and it was a comfortable little 2 door with a simple, front wheel drive and nice quaint little inline four engine that got enough power to do the littlest burnouts with but it also came with comfort and safety for the most part. I mean, it was definitely, one hundred percent, GM’s first true success with a front wheel drive car. Well, since the X-platform program at least. And no counting the ’66 Oldsmobile Toronado, that thing may have been FWD, but frickin’ look at it. But the success carried on and soon GM introduced the Corsica half a year after the two-door Beretta, effectively covering the whole market’s worth of appeal. It was a pretty unique look all around, small yet dominating space, blacked out tail end with obscured tail and reverse lights, door handles in the B-pillars, body colored everything, so on.

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Though yet, it missed something, something sporty. And GM jumped on top of it in 1988 with a GTU edition, which was a normal Beretta GT but with a sporty suspension package and special wheels, it just didn’t stand out enough yet apparently. So in 1990, the edition of which this kit I’m discussing here in a moment came to be – the Beretta GTZ. Special for three reasons; one, it was fast as hell for a little cutesy 2 door. It had a Oldsmobile 2.3L I4 engine, known as the “Quad 4” that produced more horsepower than a 305ci(5.0L) V8 Camaro of the era, which was… very impressive. Plus it got a nice little body kit and a theme of dark colors(or white, if you desired) with similarly colored wheels.

1990chevyberettaGTZ (3)It’s a shame that the Beretta/Corsica line died off after just little under a decade(replaced by the small-bodied continuation of the Chevrolet Malibu in 1996), given its pedigree in speed as well as its pedigree in being an all around decent generic little car. Replaced largely cause it began to be too good at its job, it got GM worried the Beretta Z/26 started to encroach upon the Camaro and Cavalier Z/24 too much and leech away sales from the “flagship models”, which in my opinion is utter bullshit – if a car is as good as it can be that fat and out of shape muscle cars lose sales cause of it, fix the fat and out of shape muscle car. But y’know, sales define a car’s lifespan and by proxy, others too.

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So, thankfully, as the car now grows ever more rare and enthusiasts finally now begin seeing the little champion for what it is and was, at least AMT Ertl made it a mission in the late eighties and nineties to tool up and kit the Beretta for a few years. Starting with a ’88 GT, then a ’89 GTU, followed by this one, the ’90 GTZ and finally the updated ’91 GTZ that coincided with Chevrolet’s decision to overhaul the interior and AMT Ertl diligently followed the changes. And boy, it is a nice, nice kit. I don’t know quite who was responsible, or whom were, for the tooling in the late eighties, but holy Christ it is a nicely crafted and complicated kit.

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It rounds out to about 100 pieces, but every detail is there. The engine bay is crowded as sin, the front and tail end piece together perfectly into the smooth shape of the car itself but most importantly – the pieces work together. A lot of it is forcing plastic lips into strong structural supports like slotting the interior bucket into a slot above the engine bay and one above the tail lights – which works. It works fantastically. It keeps stuff in place, and unlike the floaty crap we’ve come to expect from MPC and in some cases AMT itself, it works magnificently.

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The cast quality is excellent too, detail on the body and interior is super crisp, and the engine block which is a simple inline four, the Oldsmobile 2.3L I4 called the “Quad 4” which usually deems it to be a crappy cast due to no buyer interest(or so they allege) is cast like something you’d see on a modern day Revell kit. It is of such good quality that I’m staggered, not to mention it literally only exists in a handful of kits so someone went out of their way to get it to the quality level we got here. Not to mention, the engine bay itself is pretty nifty too. It’s just missing a bit of structural support for the Quad 4 so the engine is leaning forward too far(the cast wasn’t updated for the Quad 4, it still has the GT/GTU mounts which had a 2.8L Multi Port V6 engine) so it’s a bit empty on the back side of the engine bay but that’s fine.

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I spend a lifetime on the tail end, trying to replicate the real blackened out lights and such to the best of my ability and I didn’t quite get it right, given that the piece is one big transparent red one, so getting the reverse lights in was a no-go. But at least I managed to get the Beretta lettering and the semi-transparent tail lights in there so I’m happy with that at the very least. On top of that, I spotted the red Beretta on Google whilst researching this kit a bit deeper and fell in love with it right away, though it forced me to break away from the color-matched wheels and body cause I so, so much prefer the black wheels.

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Speaking of which, one of the very few downsides to this kit are the wheels I’d say. The simple BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires it comes with are the uniform 15 inch or so wheels of the era, found on any kit that AMT Ertl produced at the time and kits would have their wheels tooled in accordance to these specs. Which is fine, I suppose, at least unlike modern AMT Ertl or rather Round 2 kits, the wheels at least fuckin’ fit in there and don’t awkwardly float outside the tire. But the wheels themselves are separated into two parts, the colored five spoke and the chrome rim backing – you’re meant to force the spokes into the chrome, insert it so-to-speak and come out with a set of really good looking wheels.

1990chevyberettaGTZ (16)In theory, that is. You see, they don’t fit. And trimming them wasn’t an option cause, were I to screw it up, that meant the end for a set of GTZ wheels right there. So I just ran with it, and it’s not that much of an eye sore by the end of it, right? I mean, given how good the kit is overall, who gives a damn that the spokes don’t quite fit the rims, it’s fine! To close this whole rambling-session off, the red paint’s the same one I used on the ’12 Chevrolet Cruze kit and I love it, it’s quite close to the real somewhat wine red the ’90 Beretta could be gotten in plus it’s a nice metallic shade all in all. Went with a somewhat generic gray/dark-gray/black interior color choice, it matches the dreariness of the 1990s quite okay, plus it’s actually what it could’ve come in to start with. Ahh the olden days of friggin’ carpeted dashboards…

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Closing summary? I wish AMT Ertl made more of these kits… They were so damn good, holy hell.

’90 Chevrolet Beretta GTZ specifications:
Kit: #6068
Skill Level: N/A
Parts: 96
Molded in: Off-White
Scale: 1/25

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1987 Chevrolet El Camino SS – MPC

1987ElCaminoSS (1)Last year I built the ’86 El Camino SS by AMT Ertl, the Choo Choo Customs version of the El Camino with the Monte Carlo SS nose instead of the flat one. And uh, well, it was a good kit! AMT’s re-released that kit give or take six separate times and they even did two more re-releases under MPC’s brand. Totally the same kit, just… different brand. But who cares! The MPC re-release is the most recent one of them, fresh from 2011 and the when you pop the box and compare it to the 1991 release of the kit, you’ll soon stumble upon the realization that its the same kit, but with different tires!

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Though that makes the kit infinitely better, as the ’91 release has the generic Polyglas GT tires from AMT Ertl that were massively popular with them throughout the eighties but were just stupidly chunky, over sized and were actually just kind of ugly. They hardly ever suited the size of the car, they were ridiculously over-done and the only kit where they even looked remotely right was on the giant GMC Vandura/Chevy Van kits. But I digress, this kit has the nicer newer tires that are of the one-size-fits-all type that is now current Round 2 modus operandi to shove into every kit for the sake of ease.

1987ElCaminoSS (7)Anyway, since I built that kit last year I’ve been pining to give it another whirl. Try get it done right this time though skip on most of the bits that made it a Choo Choo Customs, like passing on the sidepipes and the raised hood. I saw some ’87 El Camino SS’s that have the normal flat front(a front that does exist in kit form, though only on a single-release MPC kit from 1983…) that came in a two tone color set up and had a very similar graphics package as the 1987 Monte Carlo SS, with stripes, SS logos and such in a color that catches the eye.

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All of the bigger companies have made iterations of the El Camino, so it’s not exactly a rare subject matter. Nearly every year since 1959 through 1969 has been covered by MPC, AMT Ertl and Revell and sadly it kind of ends there, my personal favorites will forever be the 1970, 1972 and 1977-1981 ones but hardly any kits of those exist. You got the few rarities like the Revell-Monogram ’78 El Camino and the handful of MPC kits of the era, but of the ’70 through ’77? Well, at best a resin kit. That’s what makes having the ultra unusual 1986 El Camino in kit form so genuinely nice, especially with the fact in mind that it’s a very well executed kit too! It’s a superb mash-up of MPC tooling with AMT Ertl’s finest era improvements, something I wish they would apply to most of MPC’s kits nowadays before just showing the same old crap out the door and asking premium prices for it.

1987ElCaminoSS (8)Underneath, it’s a ’79 El Camino from MPC, simple chassis, very basic suspension, ultra simplistic interior and far too many floating parts like the awkward manner of how the radiator slides into the body and how the firewall is attached to the interior tub. However, AMT Ertl improved on this by cutting off the front end and tooling up a totally new Monte Carlo nosecone, with clear headlights and crisp-as-sin grille(the Chevrolet lettering may as well have been photo etched, that’s how fine it is) and gave it a new set of high quality wheels that were exclusive to the El Camino through the eighties. All in all, they took what they had and they improved it significantly. This is how it should be done, you don’t have to fix everything, just make it somewhat better.

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Hell, just like the model kits, the interest for the El Camino just kind of stopped existing near the coming of the nineties. Whether this was GM’s fault or the consumer’s fault, it’s not exactly clear given both were somewhat at fault. But in my opinion, it was the finest evolution of a pick up truck. I mean, it may be my European brain wanting the best of both worlds; half American muscle, half Australian utility. While Australia’s been carrying the torch on wards with the gorgeous Holden Commodore Ute, the US has been fixated on widening the gap between straight pick up truck and ordinary sedan. The last one of these things from the States to exist was this particular car, the ’80-’87 El Camino and like I am apparently been writing so often these days with MPC and AMT Ertl kits in mind; they did a nice send-off to go with the simple… disappearance of the car itself.

1987ElCaminoSS (11)The last few El Caminos that were special were crafted up by Choo-Choo Customs up in a factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. These were little El Camino and Monte Carlo hybrids and the package was meant to be the same as the Monte Carlo upgrade; get a nice appearance package and some extra power for a bit more money, so you’d certainly stand out in the crowd. Though while the El Camino SS got the aerodynamic front and the stripes and even some brutal looking sidepipes, it didn’t get the L69(305ci/5.0L V8) engine upgrade like the Monte Carlo SS did, though the 350ci V8(which is the engine in this kit) was a option for both gas and diesels. Though, looking back at the last era of the car, you could tell GM was slowly shuttering the whole thing step-by-step, from bad feedback from customers to simply having better cars on the road from their own division. I mean, if you had a diesel El Camino, you’d be betting your income on maintenance. It also doesn’t help that while the car wanted to be a muscle car with a bed, that you only got a miserable 115 horsepower from a giant V8 was a obvious death sentence no matter how sporty you make it look.

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Like so many eighties misery pots from GM, the El Camino slowly faded into darkness throughout 1988. The only four survivors of the power era would be shot down to just two by that year, the Monte Carlo as it was known seized to be in ’88 too(before being resurrected as a sad shadow of itself) and by this point the Camaro Z/28 was beginning to have a bleaker future too now that customers were waking up to the thought that the Camaro essentially just was a more expensive and more annoying to maintain Beretta and perhaps equally as slow.

1987ElCaminoSS (17)But y’know, it’s 2017 and it’s always easier to look back and criticize than to actually do something about it, but that era is something worth remembering. And I suppose one of the biggest benefits of model car building is, no matter how shitty the car was or how bad the engine or how short the lifespan, if it was pretty – in plastic it lasts. And the ’86 El Camino is no different. Like I said, I wanted to turn it into even more of a Monte Carlo hybrid than it already was.

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So I started off with the idea of black and silver with a red line divide, like the Monte Carlo kits I’ve done before. Unfortunately, since the decal sheet was such a miserable bitch to work with, I only had the Aeroback kit’s decals left and had already used up the red lines. “However!“, I suddenly thought, I got two sheets with the golden stripes. I thought, “I can make this work“. Mind you, the decals still are true trash cause of the bad finish they were given back in the late nineties but with like nine layers of decal bonder I finally made ’em work. I embraced the metallic black-gold-metallic silver theme all the way from there on out.

1987ElCaminoSS (15)It all came down to the decals to make it work and I’m quite happy with how it panned out. The rest is all AMT Ertl, the kit just… works. It goes together decently enough with some extra improved reinforcements that keep the floaty bits actually in place some unlike the prior MPC El Camino kits. The only two issues I came across were typical MPC problems, like the chassis needing the strength of ten men to force and hold into place while overly strong glue attempts to connect the two and the fact that the front wheels are attached by a tiny bit of plastic and nothing more but pure good will keeping them aligned to the body.

’87 Chevrolet El Camino SS specifications:
Kit: MPC-712
Skill Level: N/A
Parts: 87
Molded in: White
Scale: 1/25