Building my own private model


It was a noble goal: assemble a model while writing this story, a vehicle that would evoke happy memories of my adolescence. My choice was obvious: the Batmobile.

Revell does not offer the Batmobile. So I went to my local hobby shop and found a model manufactured by Polar Lights. It was an exquisite replica of the gorgeous two-seater of lore, created for the 1966 television series by George Barris. Barris modeled his iconic vehicle on the 1955 Lincoln Futura, designed by William M. Schmidt in 1954. Schmidt, in turn (who’d been head of Lincoln’s Styling Department) claimed he’d been inspired by the sleek curves of manta rays and mako sharks.

Model-building doesn’t come back naturally. First of all there’s the matter of dexterity, not to mention steadiness of hand. Trying to maneuver the model’s tiny parts, and then fit them together precisely, was like trying to recreate the Mona Lisa with grains of couscous, using chopsticks the size of cucumbers.

Nor is my vision what it was at thirteen. Every part measuring less than 1/100th of a square inch looked the same to me. These pieces, and there were dozens, joined together with pegs the size of ant legs. The only solution was to dip each piece in glue and hold them against each other until, like pandas in captivity, they mated.

The first step was assembling the Batmobile’s engine. This alone consisted of 25 parts. Twenty-seven, if you count the two that sank to the bottom of the Testor’s glue bottle. (The glue now comes in easy-to-sniff jars.) My fourth and final hour of Step One was spent tearing the engine apart and putting it together again, as I had confused the “starter” with the “coil”—each no larger than a caraway seed.

After a lot of cursing, the engine was finished. On to Step Two, “Suspension and Exhaust.” Really? The instruction diagram looked like a blueprint for a linguine dish. Instead of “coils” I now confronted “springs,” and a nearly invisible part named “pin.”

It took me a week to gain the upper hand on the project, but there’s no denying: It was fun—and informative. Who knew that the Batmobile has an emergency handbrake? Or a fire extinguisher? Or license plates? (In whose name, I wondered, is it registered?) Did you know that the Batmobile has a corded telephone, shaped like a bat? (The “cord” itself is a separate part that, at 1:25 scale, is the size of a pinworm and, like a pinworm, ended up in my pants.)

But there were many maddening moments, none more than Step Nine: “Decals.” The Batmobile includes a sheet of colorful stick-ons featuring—electron microscope, please—a label for the fire extinguisher, and the miniscule “R” for Robin’s tunic. Worse, I had overlooked a small note found directly under Step Nine: Decals should be applied before assembly!

Long story short: The Batmobile is not my best modeling work. It’s hard to ignore the gluey fingerprints, and the crinkled decals. The delight it provides is limited. But the experience did reawaken long-dormant building skills, and was no more frustrating to assemble than my Swedish furniture. Though I doubt I’ll get quite as much use out of it.

© 2020 Jeff Greenwald, all rights reserved. Under exclusive license to Craftsmanship, LLC. Unauthorized copying or republication of this article is prohibited by law.

Published: December 1, 2016