Collecting Mopar models with Pete Hagenbuch: Chrysler Town & Country
Although it seems I’ve always had model cars around me, I didn’t become a serious collector until 1999. Prior to that, there were some plastic kit models, a few 1/43 diecast cars, a few “Mints”, and a bunch of leftovers from another lifetime; slot racing. I also built a few 1/16 scale fiberglass scratchbuilts. Somewhere in the 1980s I acquired a bunch of Burago 1/18 scale (their scale was pretty flexible) models of Alfa Romeos, Ferraris, Jaguars, Mercedes and Bugattis. My whole “collection” filled only two sections of a 36” wide legal bookcase.
My first Mopar model was a white 1957 Chrysler 300C convertible from the Danbury Mint in 1/24 scale. After the Buragos came my first quality 1/18 scale model. It was a Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe from Exoto, the standard of quality (and cost) of 1/18 scale model manufacturers. My first 1/18 scale Mopar was purchased in 1999, a 1948 Town & Country convertible. It was manufactured in China by (or should it be for?) Motor City Classics, a shiny new firm dedicated to mostly woodies. They also offer a very nice 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk and a pretty Ford Model A roadster. The other woodies consist of a 1949 Ford station wagon, a 1939 Chevrolet station wagon and a series of Model A pickups. Memories of “The Waltons” spring to mind. All of these sell at around $35.
The Town & Country’s overall first impression is much better than the model deserves when you count the deficiencies. First off, their use of “real wood” is okay but it should be as glossy as the remainder of the body. I suspect that the only real wood is in the darker shade, which is far too pale for realism. I can’t prove it without damaging the model, but I’d bet a bundle that the lighter wood is really plastic with a fake woodgrain simulated on the surface. I’m not saying this is bad, it just ain’t wood. And it has no gloss. The real shame is that at least one other manufacturer has copied the MCC woodgrain approach.
As for the rest of the car, it doesn’t really deliver the things you’d expect from its price. Paint finish is no better than a 3 on a scale of 0 to 5. And the door, hood and decklid fits are pretty bad, as can be seen in the photos. The bright trim is a bit heavy-handed but not awful. There is a large, chromium plated casting on the decklid just above where the rear license plate should have been. The center-mounted brake light is shaped correctly but lists about 10 degrees to port and is too large for scale.* The front license plate is also missing, along with the radio antenna. Most of the plated hardware is well done; bumpers, mirrors, wipers etc. The grill is made correctly but in blacking out the open areas, all the many, many vertical grill bars disappeared from view. They are there, you can feel them. Hmmm…..
Like the rest of the car, the interior looks better at a glance than it deserves to. If the exterior door gaps bother you, the interior gaps will blow you away! The two-tone seats are without detail and the floor is painted without texture to simulate carpeting. Door panels are equipped with the requisite handles, cranks, and armrests. The instrument panel is well done. The tonneau cover looks like a stamping (not a fold or wrinkle to suggest cloth) but it does have a neat row of raised silver painted snaps. And the windshield header has a couple of raised areas which look as if they might grow into sun visors if properly nourished. The trunk contains little of interest save a very minimal representation of a spare tire.
Under the hood is another place you won’t go very often. The engine appears to be a six cylinder flat head. It should be the eight cylinder (Standard Catalog of Chrysler 1914 to 2000 shows all Town & Country convertibles to be on the New Yorker chassis, which had a 323.5 cid straight eight). The dash panel (firewall) is devoid of detail. The battery is a work of art with Mopar graphics on the side and painted caps and cell connectors on top. Its voltage is correctly done as 6. And it doesn’t connect to anything. The most noticeable thing under the hood is the extension of the steering column painted in the exact same beige as the seat colors.
My Town and Country has been in a wall display cabinet for a number of years. I’ve never considered it as a potential throwaway. So why does a model I’ve been satisfied with for years turn out to be a piece of junk? I really don’t know for sure. Part of it is that there are very few models from the late forties so it is valued by scarcity. The dark metallic color hides some of the gaps. I hadn’t realized how bad they were until I saw the photos. I know one thing; if they’d clean up the hood and door fits, unbury the vertical grill bars and make the woodgrain glossy, I’d happily pay $50 or $60 for one. If they’d add two cylinders to the engine and clean up the underhood mess, I’d pay even a little more.
I spent my working life at Chrysler, from graduation to retirement. Being third (and sometimes a distant third) wasn’t fun but it can lead to some funny quotes. A favorite of mine was “General Motors is so diversified they make cars and money.” But the one that applies here, perhaps, is this one, used often to explain the difference in success between GM and Chrysler. “General Motors always puts the money where the customer can see it.” Perhaps Motor City Classics has the clue to this one.
* Grant Geyer added: "Chryslers, DeSotos, Dodges and Plymouths certainly did feature a single, center mounted brake light on the deck lid from about 1940 to 1949, 1950 or maybe 1951? Your model’s is in the correct 1948 Chrysler rectangular shape, but of course it is crooked and too high and large for scale. On the 47-8 Plymouths the lens is a rounded triangle, and Dodge’s were often circular-lensed. And unlike the model’s design, the brake light housing was generally integrated with the license plate mounting and license-light.
Model Reviews by Pete Hagenbuch:
Pete Hagenbuch, not content with designing the engines and fuel systems used in the actual cars, or in being a well-known slot car performance pioneer, has written reviews of numerous models: