This article was taken, with permission, from the September/October 1997 issue of The Blueprinter, a magazine published by The Ertl Company, Dyersville, IA
HOBBY HISTORY: Fumes & Flames - '60s AMT Kits Run Wild
AMT closed out the '50s with a burst of innovation that would set the tone for the decade to come. After more than 10 years of supplying auto enthusiasts with promo models of their favorite late model cars, the company was ready to give hobbyists greater opportunity to flex their creative muscles. What followed was a dynamic decade of varied, and frequently wild, kit-building options.
The late '50s were an exciting time in the world of the full-scale automobile. Blowtorches and hammers became tools of the trade for a new artist, the car customizer. Chopped, dropped or blown, a customized car was one of a kind, the artist's personal expression. There were no stock standards binding creativity, no rules holding it back. With a "sky's the limit" mindset, stylists like George Barris, working from his North Hollywood Barris Custom Shop, defined this growing aftermarket phenomenon. For AMT, harnessing these talents in the model kit world was a natural progression. Modelers were interested in building more than simple stock versions of their favorite cars. The same creative drive that inspired the full-scale customizer was expressed by hobbyists as well. Enlisting the help of the nation's stylists would allow the company to tap into the nation's current auto styling directions, expand its insight into the latest racing trends and lend even further authenticity to the models. What youngsters wouldnt want to build a kit designed by George Barris, "King of the Kustomizers?"
In 1960, Barris signed on as a Custom Styling Consultant. Over the next four years, a number of other notable stylists would lend their expertise to AMT kits: Californians Gene Winfield, Bill Cushenberry and Dean Jeffries, as well as the Alexander Brothers, Larry and Mike, of Detroit. The AMT Customizing Team was formed and would meet with designers at the company's Troy, Michigan headquarters twice a year. In 1965, Winfield actually accepted employment with AMT, temporarily closing his own shop in Modesto, California. He moved to Phoenix to run the shop at the kit company's Speed and Custom Division, a department focused on producing full-scale custom vehicles, including several famed cars for television shows and commercials. Some prominent creations included the Get Smart Sunbeam Tiger, a Ford truck for the Ironside series and a special kit car for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The full force of the team's creative input, however, was felt in the company's major model kit lines, the Trophy Series, the 3-in-1 Customizing kits and the Styline Series.
3-in-1 Customizing Kits:
The first kits produced by AMT, the 3-in-1 models were two years into production by the time Barris' signing. The series primarily featured late model cars with stock, custom and competition options. An AMT flyer announcing "10 hardtops for '59" included the Corvette, Imperial, Edsel and Continental among the year's releases, and listed some of the outstanding components for each option. The Custom included louvers, spotlights, Moon discs, bubble skirts, axle lowering blocks, lake pipes and continental wheels. Flame, scallop and pin stripe decals were also offered. Competition parts offered were a tachometer, floor shift, dual tail pipes, number decals and "official decal insignia", including race flags. Each model was also offered as a convertible kit.
The Trophy kits featured older car models with multiple building options. Early AMT promotional literature stated the advantages of "authentic detail, along with a big selection of customizing parts and genuine scale model speed equipment." The first trophies arrived in 1959 with the renowned '32 Ford Roadster kit and 3-in-1 Customizing Boat. By 1964, an amazing 5 million '32 Ford kits had been manufactured and the line as a whole had expanded to approximately 40 different kits. Among the '63 Trophies were the Silhouette (with trailer), the '57 T-Bird (with customizing extras) and a Drag Boat (modeled after a Rudy Ramos Rayson-Craft design and featured in a '63 AMT Hot News newsletter.
Custom shop craftsmanship in a box! George Barris had a direct hand in the creation of this series. Introduced in 1961, Styline kits took the 3-in-1 Customizing kit concept a step further. In addition to standard 3-in-1 tidbits like special hubcaps, exhaust extensions and skirts, the builder was now supplied with larger components. The '61 Ford Galaxie Club Victoria kit (re-released in 1997 as part of the Buyer's Choice Program Series 5) was one of the three initial releases in this series, and featured several major body components that allowed the hobbyist to drastically modify the car's form. Choices included several bumper/grille combinations, headlight nacelle and deck extensions and a number of headlight/taillight options. A tape recorder and spotlight were even thrown in for good measure. To assist in assembly, these kits also included a tube of body filler putty and several pieces of sandpaper. An enclosed, 12-page booklet instructed the modeler on preparing a "plan view," a hand-drawn blueprint for styling the car. Detailed instructions provided tips for general, moderate and major restyling, as well as parts swapping suggestions. A display shelf assembly was even provided for exhibiting the finished model. Other initial releases were the '61 Thunderbird and the '61 Falcon Ranchero.
With the foundation of these three established kit lines, the company was prepared for a '60s decade that would see a unique variety of product and business ventures. From slot racing to Star Trek, AMT creativity could be found in a number of unexpected places.
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