Monday, October 12, 2015

Paris Accordeon, a street scene

I've been spending so much time building everything I need for my dioramas, from the ground and landscape itself through to the water and the trees and the rocks ... I had forgotten how simple some dioramas can be.

All you need to do is buy a ready-made diorama background (I found this one on eBay just by typing in "Paris Accordeon", and it was so cheap) then put your car in front, take a photo and ... well, there's hardly any satisfaction at all from doing this.

So I decided the least I could do was make up some decals for my car and personalise the whole thing so it's mine, and only mine.

There really is a shop called Paris Accordeon, and it really is
at 36 Rue de la Lune (Google it) and so I decided to make up
some decals with the name and address on it. I have a supply
of decal paper, a colour laserjet printer, Photoshop, and from
that point onwards it's very simple to make your own decals.
Then I saw the little clown with his accordion on the shop
door, so I scanned the clown, deep-etched him in Photoshop
and turned him into a decal as well.
As for the car choice, economy was mostly my reason. I did not have the obvious choice, a 2CV Citroen van, just lying around without livery on it, waiting for Mr Decal to come along and turn it into diorama art. But I did have two Citroen Amis, both plain as can be, so I took my lighter coloured one and added decals to it.

Besides, I've always loved the shape of the Citroen Ami. It's like the French had seen the fad for reverse-angled rear windows so popular in cars such as the Ford Anglia, and they decided to add extra quirky, curvy Frenchness to the idea.

They turned those straight lines into superb curves, making the whole car itself look like it was withstanding a 1000km/h headwind and not giving in to the force of the breeze. 

I love the Citroen Ami, and I am very happy the Accordeon Shop owner decided it was going to be his official shop car.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Midday at the Oasis, a diorama

My latest diorama is a scene from a little-known part of the Second World War. The Chevrolet 30cwt truck carrying four members of the Long Range Desert Group, a reconaissance unit staffed initially by New Zealanders then later on by Rhodesians and UK soldiers. The chaps are stopped at an oasis for a mix of activities: sending radio signals, running repairs to the truck, rest and lunch. 

The basis for the diorama is the little model truck, which is based on a 1/72 scale plastic kit by Dragon kits. Later on in this posting I have a few more photos of the truck on its own.

The whole diorama is a 19cm square, so it's quite small.
The cost of realistic palm model trees is very high, so I bought
some extremely cheap plastic palm trees from China, and
modified and weathered them to look the part. The cost of
all of these palms is less than one Woodland Scenics palm!

I couldn't find model characters for the Long Range Desert
Group in 1/72 scale (they are available in 1/35), so I
adapted some Airfix action figures from the WWII Desert units
of the British army. I cut off their rifles, helmets and anything
else I didn't need, then created Arab-style headgear from
modeller's clay, and painted them up.

Realistic water is something of a motif for my dioramas now,
so when I read about the Long Range Desert Group's expert
knowledge of every oasis in the Egyptian and Libyan deserts,
I had the idea for this diorama in my head.

Both "mechanics" were originally mortar team members.

The "bulrushes" by the water's edge come from tufts of long
summer grass used by railway modellers. I just shaved it off
with a scalpel. And I noticed that most oases are quite messy
with fallen palm leaves, so I cut some leaves off a few spare
palms and coloured them to look a bit on the dead side,
then scattered them here and there.

Now, as for the little model truck, it was quite a nice 1/72 kit to build. I've weathered it with lots of dust and grime, and I've also scratch-built some extra swags and bags of gear using modeller's clay.

To give you an idea of how small it is, this is a 10ml pot of paint.

I'm really enjoying this very new hobby of 3D diorama making. I always thought it would be far too difficult for me to do, but I am surprising myself at times. I'm not very naturally talented with my hands, I'm a bit clumsy and sloppy at times, but all mistakes can be fixed, if you think about it!

All I can say is that if I can do it, so can you. If you build models and have never tried putting one into a diorama, have a go at something simple for starters, and you might, like me, surprise yourself as to how good it looks and how much fun it is to do.

Finally ... if the title of the diorama is bothering you, making you think "wasn't there a song about Midday at the Oasis?" yes there was. Except that it was called "Midnight at the Oasis" and it was a hit song for Maria Muldaur back in the 1970s. If you just have to hear it now, here it is, from YouTube

Friday, July 3, 2015

1953 Redex Rally Diorama - finally finished

Well, it has taken a while, but it's finally complete. My first "3D" old-style diorama. The subject is the 1953 Redex Reliability Trail, and the imagined scenario is that the Trial's eventual winner, Ken Tubman in his Peugeot 203, is crossing a creek, while the Cinesound film news crew (also driving a Peugeot 203, a wagon) captures the action. Behind Tubman on the road is AL 'Possum' Kipling, in a Holden 48/215.

As for how I did the diorama, there are six postings prior to this one outlining the modification of the cars, and the other work undertaken.

It's been a lot of fun doing every last little detail, and as it's my first diorama I am happy to think that there's a lot of room for improvement, but it also hasn't worked out too bad, either.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

1953 Redex Trial diorama, pt 6 - update

Bit of a milestone for the diorama build this week. The cars are basically finished. All they need now is several fine coats of mud and dirt and dust, plus road grime and maybe a bit of light bush-bashing damage here and there. Seems a shame to do it to three nice model cars, so I thought I'd stop now and photograph them as they might have been at the start of the rally: clean and ready to roll.

Lots of extra spotlights for all cars (the Cinesound car has
five extra spots, the Holden three and the 203 sedan has two).
The Cinesound car also has a fairly suspect looking, scratch-
built winch mounted on the front bumper).

The Cinesound's roof rack is from a Peugeot 203 'Postes'
Fourgonnette model. I made up some luggage for the roof
racks to match the photos, and I swapped the original
Solido model's rear vision mirror from the left side to the
right front fender. I also swapped over the steering wheel
to right-hand drive, and re-did the dashboard just for fun,
but nobody will ever see that detail!
One good thing about making this modded model was that
the Cinesound film crew made their own home movies of the
Redex Trial, so their own car features in their film several
times, and I was able to get the decals just right.
Possum Kipling's Holden needed a new sun visor and quite a
few decals, including several on white backgrounds.
The 1/43 scale Heller plastic kit isn't that nice. The front
windscreen is too small, and the castings for the body,
especially around the bonnet area, are rough. I added the
radio aerial and the bonnet-mounted wind deflector, plus
a bare minimum of decals, and two spotlights.
I've toyed with a couple of different layouts for the diorama, and this afternoon I mocked up the one which I think I will use. To represent slightly higher ground, I used some ceramic dishes on the right and packing foam on the left. The real high ground won't be so high and the slopes will be much gentler. 

However, the basic idea is that the Tubman 203 crossing
the creek will be in the foreground, and it will place the viewer
right at the centre of the action.
I've already made the trees, shrubs and low scrub for the
diorama. The cameraman is from a Fiat model, and while he
is a bit modern for the era (he looks 60s to me), I am happy
to use him as he looks the part. He isn't painted yet, and his
plastic base will either be removed or hidden (haven't  decided on
that detail yet). I want about half a dozen spectators, and there will
be an old Aboriginal couple among them. The Cinesound film
crew's home movies feature quite a few Aborigines watching the
the action and waving, so they're welcome in my diorama too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

1953 Redex Trial diorama, pt 5 - update

Progress report. Progress has been made!

I'm working on all three cars simultaneously, so while paint dries or glue sets on one, I then work on another. So far, all three cars are partly done, but none is complete.

From the left: the plastic model of the winning 203A sedan has been assembled, but I still need to finish off the decals, fill one or two minor gaps and touch up with paint, and also create the wind-deflector on the bonnet.

The 203 Commerciale wagon has a long way to go yet. I need to scratch-build the winch mounted on the front bumper, add the extra spotlights, more decals, correct number plates and make various bags and other gear for the roof rack.

The Holden FX also needs more decals and its extra headlights. I've finished the sun visor over the front windshield, which looks the part here, but if you examine it close up it's not perfect. However, it will be in the background in the diorama, so my sun visor (made from an aluminium can) does the job well enough.

Once I finish each car I'll do a separate blog posting about the build and the mods.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

1953 Redex Trial diorama, pt 4 – the Holden FX

The third car in the diorama might only be playing second fiddle to the Peugeots, but it has been a real pleasure to learn the story of its driver, Mr A.L. 'Possum' Kipling. More on him later in this posting, but first let's look at the car.

Click on this photo and it will come up bigger, and mods to be done are all explained there in the image. The original 1/43 diecast model I am modding is by Trax, of the car with two model names. Formally known as the "48/215" it's the famous first Holden that established that brand's excellent reputation as a tough, simple and reliable car beautifully suited to Australian conditions. The Holdens following this all had model designations such as FJ, FE, FC, FB etc, and so retrospectively the 48/215 became known as the "FX" just to give it a more familiar name.

The reason for choosing this car was a simple one, at first. Number 5 was the first car to officially cross the line at the finish. It was always one of the leading cars, but when all the hubbub at the finish died down it turned out that Number 5 came 10th overall, a very creditable result. And so I thought if was to include an Aussie car in this Aussie diorama, the first one home was as good a choice as any.

Here's Possum Kipling easing the 48/215 through a creek
crossing, watched on by curious locals.
And here he is in much more relaxed mode, first across the
finish line of the Redex Trial, back in Sydney. Of all the mods
I am planning for all the cars, the sun visor on the Holden
will probably be the most difficult thing to make...
There's precious little colour film of the Redex, and its quality
is variable, so trying to find out the real colour of the cars for
my diorama has proven difficult. However, this calm scene of
the cars parked at one of the rest stops shows that's it's blue.
As Possum Kipling was the first to finish, he was also the first
to be interviewed, and thanks to this he achieved a small
measure of local fame, especially with the folks back home
in South Australia.

Here's my favourite shot of Possum Kipling at the finish, happy but tired, and hopefully very pleased. Possum's navigator was John Hughes, from Quorn in South Australia. Possum himself was from a bit further north and inland, Leigh Creek, where a local history I found online mentions that he was "the fastest ambulance driver in the north". (I immediately thought of one of my greatest motor-racing heroes, the Italian great of the 20s and 30s, Tazio Nuvolari, who was also an ambulance driver. This was during in the First World War, and legend has it that he was relieved of that duty for driving his ambulance too fast!)

Possum married and sort of settled down to run the roadhouse (petrol/service station) at Port Wakefield, South Australia, for many years. I say "sort of" settled down because the 53 Redex must have given Possum the long-distance endurance rally bug.

In following years, he entered the 1954 Redex Around Australia Trail, and the 1955 Redex Trial, finishing both events in the top 25 each time. Then he did the double in 1956, competing in the 1956 Mobilgas Rally and the 1956 Ampol Trial. After that I couldn't find his name in the entries or results for the later rallies of the 50s, but perhaps by then the married man had to settle down. 

Whatever the story, Possum Kipling lived the life of a local hero with real achievements no one doubted. There's still a plaque in his honour in the town where he lived, and I hope by including him in my diorama I have helped his name live on just a little bit longer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

1953 Redex Trial Diorama, pt 3 – The Cinesound Peugeot 203 'Van'

The Cinesound Peugeot 203 "Van" has been my real discovery of researching the Redex. I didn't know about its existence until recently, but to me it's as much a wonderful story as the winning 203 sedan driven by Ken Tubman. Imagine the winning car of a 6500 mile rally being basically the same vehicle which the news crew drove through all the same 6500 miles while covering the event? Probably has never happened before or since!

I know from watching the small number of videos available on You Tube that this photo, above, was taken somewhere near Alice Springs, in Central Australia. The crowd on the hill are local Aborigines, who obligingly waved for the cameras in some cheesy shots used during the newsreels. 

The 203 'van' itself is a bit of a one-off, as far as I can tell. Yes, it has windows down the side like the Peugeot 203 breaks (station wagons) of the time, but that last side window is smaller than on the breaks (see the model below). The various "Commerciale" and "Fourgonnette" Peugeot 203s came either with no windows down the side, or just the first one, after the driver/passenger windows of the main cab. My guess (and it's only a guess) is that the extra windows down the back were added locally. I might be wrong, but Googling Peugeot 203 vans doesn't show many other vehicles with windows quite the same as this one.

So, for my diorama, I was faced with the task of coming up with a "perfect" replica of the 203 Van with the homemade extra windows, or just using the more familiar "break", pictured below. Mostly for reasons of cost, I have decided to go with my Altaya model of the break, as it's already painted in the right mid-grey colour as the Cinesound car – and besides, it's going to need a lot of modifications to look the part.

As I did with the Tubman 203 sedan, I have mocked up in Photoshop what the diecast 1/43 model of the Peugeot 203 break needs, in order to be turned into a reasonably good replica of the Cinesound car. 

If you click on the photo it will come up a bit bigger. I am
planning to build my own roof rack from soldered-together
brass tubing. The decals are easy to do in Photoshop.

As well as bulding the roof racks, I'll have to devise some
canvas-covered "stuff" to fill the racks. The front of the van
needs quite a bit of work. Lots of extra headlights for starters
plus also a replica of the hand-cranked winch at the front.

Here's a still from the Redex movies, of the winch being cranked
by hand by one of the Cinesound team.

For my own amusement, I've also made up a small file on
what I need to think about when making the winch.
I'd hate you to think I'm some kind of model-building or model-modding expert. Far from it, I am somewhat of a newbie with less than two years' experience in model-building, and almost zero, zilch, nil experience at modding. But I'm not going to let that stop me!

For the roof racks for this 203, I'm buying a soldering set and some brass and hope to make my own racks. I have another 1/43 Peugeot 203 Fourgonnette here with roof racks to give me a pattern to follow. And once I have mastered soldering up the roof racks, I am hoping that making the winches from some brass pieces will seem just that little bit easier.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

1953 Redex Trial diorama, pt 2 – the Tubman Peugeot 203

Non-Australian car fans can be easily forgiven for not knowing anything about Ken Tubman, but to older Aussies (like me), and French car fans (like me) this man is a bit of a legend. In his home town of Maitland in the Hunter Valley, the bypass is called "Ken Tubman Drive", and to people in the long-distance car rallying world, Ken Tubman wasn't just a guy who got lucky and won once. He competed for many years and took out several more prizes (including the London-Sahara-Munich World Cup rally in a Citroen in 1970), but all that aside, Ken Tubman will forever be the guy who won the initial Redex Reliability Trial of 1953, and it's the story of the win in the unassuming little Peugeot which is the one that has inspired this diorama.
In my previous posting to launch this diorama build blog, I
featured a photo of Ken and his co-pilot, John Marshall. Now
John was the one who owned the car, but Ken was the guy
who already had established a reputation locally as a driver.
The car itself is a Peugeot 203A, the first in the 203 series.

There are many minor differences between a 203A and its
successor, the 203C, the most obvious of which is the smaller
rear window on the 203A. Up until recently I hadn't seen any
diecast models of 203As at all. Everything I had seen was the
later 203C. An online friend (thanks RT!) showed me a photo
of a diecast 203A, so they do exist as diecast cars, but for
my diorama I wanted to build, then modify a plastic model
of a 203, just for fun, and also because modding plastic is easier.

So it was with real pleasure when I opened the Heller kit box
to spot that small 203A rear window. I've got the correct model!

Hopefully if you click on this image it'll come up a bit bigger.
This is just a diecast 203 with arrows showing the proposed mods
needed to get the Tubman car looking like the original.
Fortunately, it's not much work.

I've already made the very small number of decals needed, the main one being the stencil on the door (in red, the colours of the race's sponsor company, Redex). At the rear passenger window is an ad for Edgell canned goods and on the rear bodywork is a Kellogg's ad. That's it! Minimalist decals. 

Easy changes include switching over the steering wheel so it's right-side driver, and adding a radio aerial. Either side of the radiator, against the front grille, will sit two extra headlamps.

The final mystery object to add is a "thing" on the bonnet (or hood) of the car. See the photos below, and if anyone knows what this is for, I'd love to know. Most cars in the rally seemed to have them. 

You can just see it side-on here as Tubman passes through
the cheering crowds in Kipling, South Australia. It's in the
centre of the bonnet, both lengthways and crossways, and is
only a few inches high.

And here is the "thing" viewed from the front passenger seat.
Its shape and purpose is a mystery to me, but I am going to add
one to the Tubman car simply because it's there!

For my next two blog postings, I'll try to do a similar thing for the Holden FX, and also for the Peugeot 203 van used by the Cinesound film crew. Of the three cars the Tubman car needs the least modification to be brought up to a "replica" standard. The Holden isn't such a tough job, but the real challenge will be to get the Cinesound van looking the part.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

1953 Redex Trial diorama, pt 1 – introduction to the build log

While I've long been a maker of dioramas, I've mostly used Photoshop for my work, but for this project the only role my computer is going to play is to create the decals I need for the cars I am modifying, and to provide regular updates here on "The Die is Cast" blog.

And so, for however long it takes, I plan to provide regular updates on how the 1953 Redex Trial diorama build is progressing. 

The topic itself is one that has always interested me for many reasons, first of which is that a car I owned – a Peugeot 203 – won it! The 1953 Redex Reliability Trial was the first of its type in Australia, and spawned a succession of long distance endurance car events throughout the 1950s. Conducted over 6500 miles, it pitted ordinary road cars against the worst road and off-road conditions Australia could inflict on motorists at the time. It was sponsored by Redex, a fuel additive maker keen to promote its product.

The Trial itself was a huge success, the biggest media event in Australian motoring at that time, and indeed a huge media event locally as well. As the trial passed through countless quiet country towns, all the excited townspeople gathered to see the show pass by, to wave and cheer the drivers on, and to lend a hand if needed. In its own way it was a more innocent time, in the early post-war days when a sense of adventure was still in the air and people were hoping for better times and a brighter future, and also wanted to blow off some post-war steam.

The route


Here's the best I can manage for a map of the route, just follow the bright red line. It started and finished in Sydney. Heading north, the roads were fairly easy all the way up to Townsville in north Queensland, where the route did a right-angle turn for the inland, heading for the mining town of Mount Isa. It was along this route that the roads turned to dirt, sometimes sand, and stayed that way for the next few thousand miles. Hundreds of creek crossings, thousands of adventures and, yes, lots of mishaps and broken cars.

In the centre of the Northern Territory they turned right, heading up to Darwin and the coast. After a brief rest they turned round and came back down south, all the way through the Northern Territory, via Alice Springs, down to Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. Then it was down to Melbourne and back up to Sydney, for the finish.

But as the leading quartet of the rally were all still on 0 points lost by Melbourne, the organisers devised the so-called "horror stretch" of rough bush tracks near Goulburn. This truly did separate the leaders, and by the time everyone got back to Sydney, the protests were heard, the vehicles inspected ... the winner was a Peugeot 203 driven by a pharmacist from Maitland, NSW, Ken Tubman, with his co-pilot John Marshall.

The cars

My diorama is going to consist of three cars from the Redex trial.

Peugeot 203A
These two photos are of Ken Tubman and John Marshall's rally winning car. Unlike modern rally cars, this one was almost completely standard, and as you can see from the livery stencilled onto the doors, even that was ultra basic.

For the diorama, the Peugeot 203 will be crossing a creek somewhere in our outback.

Holden FX
The first of a long series of Holdens, this model was formally called the 48/215, but later became just as well known as the FX. Several competed in the 53 Redex Trial and proved their toughness and reliability, which translated into further good sales. I am going to create car number 5, driven by Arthur Kipling for the diorama, in which he will be on the road, waiting his turn to cross the creek.

Peugeot 203 Commerciale

Filming the whole trial as news footage, and driving the entire route, was this Peugeot 203 Commerciale which belonged to the Cinesound Film Unit. For the subsequent Redex Rallies in 1954 and 1955, the Cinesound team was back again in a Peugeot 203, but in those later years they drove a Peugeot 203 Fourgonnette, which is mechanically almost the same as the 53 car, but it was a new car with a slightly different body.

For the diorama, the Cinesound team is there at the creek crossing, filming the action.

And so that's the idea. This is my first car diorama build. I have been developing some model-building skills with planes and ships in the last two years, and that includes dioramas ranging from Ford Trimotor planes in Antarctica to fishing trawlers on the North Sea.

Now it's my turn to get into Australia's outback, creating creeks, bushland and, most important of all, replica cars from the 1953 Redex Rally. It will take quite some time to complete, so check in when you can and there probably will be an update on how things are progressing.