1:24 Bentley 4½ Litre "Blower" (Heller kit) with display box/base
The Bentley 4½ Litre was a British car based on a rolling chassis built by Bentley Motors. Walter Owen Bentley replaced the Bentley 3 Litre with a more powerful car by increasing its engine displacement to 4.4 L (270 cu in).
Bentley buyers used their cars for personal transport and arranged for their new chassis to be fitted with various body styles, mostly saloons or tourers. However, the publicity brought by their competition programme was invaluable for marketing Bentley's cars.
At the time, noted car manufacturers such as Bugatti and Lorraine-Dietrich focused on designing cars to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a popular automotive endurance course established only a few years earlier. A victory in this competition quickly elevated any car maker's reputation.
A total of 720 4½ Litre cars were produced between 1927 and 1931, including 55 cars with a supercharged engine popularly known as the Blower Bentley. A 4½ Litre Bentley won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1928. Though the supercharged 4½ Litre Bentley's competitive performance was not outstanding, it set several speed records, most famously the Bentley Blower No.1 Monoposto in 1932 at Brooklands with a recorded speed of 222.03 km/h (138 mph).
Although the Bentley 4½ Litre was heavy, weighing 1,625 kg (3,583 lb), and spacious, with a length of 4,380 mm (172 in) and a wheelbase of 3,302 mm (130.0 in), it remained well-balanced and steered nimbly. The manual transmission, however, required skill, as its four gears were unsynchronised.
The robustness of the 4½ Litre's lattice chassis, made of steel and reinforced with ties, was needed to support the heavy cast iron inline-four engine. The engine was "resolutely modern" for the time. The displacement was 4,398 cc (268.4 cu in): 100 mm (3.9 in) bore and 140 mm (5.5 in) stroke. Two SU carburetters and dual ignition with Bosch magnetos were fitted. The engine produced 110 hp (82 kW) for the touring model and 130 hp (97 kW) for the racing model. The engine speed was limited to 4,000 rpm.
A single overhead camshaft actuated four valves per cylinder, inclined at 30 degrees. This was a technically advanced design at a time where most cars used only two valves per cylinder. The camshaft was driven by bevel gears on a vertical shaft at the front of the engine, as on the 3 Litre engine.
The Bentley's tanks - radiator, oil and petrol - had quick release filler caps that opened with one stroke of a lever. This saved time during pit stops. The 4½ was equipped with a canvas top stretched over a lightweight Weymann body. The hood structure was very light but with high wind resistance (24 Hours Le Mans rules between 1924 and 1928 dictated a certain number of laps for which the hood had to be closed). The steering wheel measured about 45 cm (18 in) in diameter and was wrapped with solid braided rope for improved grip. Brakes were conventional, consisting of 17-inch (430 mm) drum brakes finned for improved cooling and operated by rod. Semi-elliptic leaf springs were used at front and rear.
Building the kit and its display box:
I normally do not build large scale kits, except for some anime character figures, and I especially stay away from car models because I find it very hard to come close to the impression of the real thing. But this one was a personal thing, and I got motivated enough to tackle this challenge that caused some sweat and shivers. Another reason for the tension was the fact that it was intended as a present - and I normally do not build models for others, be it as a gift or on a contract work basis.
The background is that a colleage of mine will retire soon, an illustrator and a big oldtimer enthusiast at the same time. I was not able to hunt down a model of the vintage car he actually owns, but I remembered that he frequently takes part with his club at a local car exhibition, called the "Classic Days" at a location called Schloss Dyck. There he had had the opportunity some time ago to take a ride in a Bentley 4.5 litre "Blower", and I saw the fascinationn in his eyes when he recounted the events. We also talked about car models, and I mentioned the 1:24 Heller kit of the car. So, as a "farewell" gift, I decided to tackle this souvenir project, since the Bentley drive obviously meant a lot to him, and it's a quite personal gift, for a highly respected, artistic person.
Since this was to be a gift for a non-modeler, I also had to make sure that the car model could later be safely stored, transported and displayed, so some kind of base or display bon on top was a must - and I think I found a nice solution, even with integrated lighting!
As already mentioned, the model is the 1:24 Heller kit from 1978, in this case the more recent Revell re-boxing. While the kit remained unchanged (even the Heller brand is still part of the molds!), the benefit of this version is a very nice and thin decal sheet which covers some of the more delicate detail areas like gauges on the dashboard or the protective wire mesh for the headlights.
I had huge respect for the kit - I have actually built less than 10 car models in my 40+ years of kit building. So the work started with detail picture research, esp. of the engine and from the cockpit, and I organized appropriate paints (see below).
Work started slowly with the wheels, then the engine followed, the steerable front suspension, the chassis, the cabin section and finally the engine cowling and the mudguards with the finished wheels. Since I lack experience with cars I stuck close to the instructions and really took my time, because the whole thing went together only step by step, with painting and esp. drying intermissions. Much less quickly than my normal tempo with more familiar topics.
The kit remained basically OOB, and I must say that I am impressed how well it went together. The car kits I remember were less cooperative - but the Heller Bentley was actually a pleasant, yet challenging, build. Some issues I had were the chrome parts, which had to be attached with superglue, and their attachment points to the sprues (the same green plastic is used for the chrome parts, too - a different materiallike silver or light grey would have made life easier!) could only hardly be hidden with paint.
The plastic itself turned out to be relatively soft, too - while it made cleaning easy, this caused in the end some directional issues which had to be "professionally hidden": Once the cabin had been mounted to the frame and work on the cowling started, I recognized that the frame in front of the cabin was not straight anymore - I guess due to the engine block which sits deep between the front beams. While this was not really recognizable, the engine covers would not fit anymore, leaving small but unpleasant gaps.
The engine is OOB not über-detailed, and I actually only wanted to open the left half of the cocling for the diorama. However, with this flaw I eventually decided to open both sides, what resulted in having the cowling covers sawn into two parts each and arranging them in open positions. Quite fiddly, and I also replaced the OOB leather straps that normally hold the cowling covers closed with textured adhesive tape, for a more voluminous look. The engine also received some additional cables and hoses - nothing fancy, though, but better than the quite bleak OOB offering.
Some minor details were added in the cabin: a floor mat (made from paper, it looks like being made from cocos fibre) covers the area in front of the seats and the steering wheel was wrapped with cord - a detail that many Bentleys with race history shared, for a better grip for the driver.
Overall, the car model was painted with pure Humbrol 239 (British Racing Green) enamel paint, except for the passenger section. Here I found Revell's instructions to be a bit contradictive, because I do not believe in a fully painted car, esp. on this specific Le Mans race car. I even found a picture of the real car as an exhibition piece, and it rather shows a faux leather or vinyl cladding of the passenger compartment - in a similar dark green tone, but rather matt, with only a little shine, and with a lighter color due to the rougher surface. So I rather tried to emulate this look, which would also make the model IMHO look more interesting.
As a fopundation I used a mix of Humbrol 239 and 75 (Bronze Green), on top of which I later dry-brushed Revell 363 (Dark Green). The effect and the gloss level looked better than expected - I feared a rather worn/used look - and I eventually did not apply and clear varnish to this area. In fact, no varnish was applied to the whole model because the finish looked quite convincing!
The frame and the engine were slightly weathered with a black ink wash, and once the model was assembled I added some oil stains to the engine and the lower hull, and applied dust and dirt through mineral artist pigments to the wheels with their soft vinyl tires and the whole lower car body. I wanted the car to look basically clean and in good shape, just like a museum piece, but having been driven enthusiastically along some dusty country roads (see below). And this worked out quite well!
Since I wanted a safe store for the model I tried to find a suitable display box and found an almost perfect solution in SYNAS from Ikea. The sturdy SYNAS box (it's actually sold as a toy/Children's lamp!?) had very good dimensions for what I had in mind. Unfortunately it is only available in white, but for its price I would not argue. As a bonus it even comes with integrated LED lighting in the floor, as a rim of lights along the side walls. I tried to exploit this through a display base that would leave a 1cm gap all around, so that light could be reflected upwards and from the clear side walls and the lid onto the model.
The base was created with old school methods: a piece of MDF wood, on top of which I added a piece of cobblestone street and grass embankment, trying to capture the rural atmosphere around Schloss Dyck. Due to the large scale of the model I sculpted a light side slope under the pavement (a Tamiya print with a light 3D effect), created with plaster and fine carpenter putty. The embankment was sculpted with plaster, too.
The cobblestone cardboard was simply glued to the surface, trimmed down, and then a fairing of the base's sides was added, thin balsa wood.
Next came the grass - again classic methods. First, the surface was soaked with a mix of water, white glue and brown dispersion paint, and fine sand rinsed over the surfaces. Once dry, another mix of water, white glue and more paint was applied, into which foamed plastic turf of different colors and sizes was dusted. After anothetr drying period this area was sprayed with contact glue and grass fibres were applied - unfortunately a little more than expected. However, the result still looks good.
At the border to the street, the area was covered with mineral pigments, simulating mud and dust, and on the right side I tried to add a puddle, made from Humbrol Clearfix and glue. For some more ambiance I scratched a typical German "local sight" roadsign from cardboard and wood, and I also added a pair of "Classic Days" posters to the mast. Once in place I finally added some higher grass bushels (brush fibres) and sticks (dried moss), sealing everything in place with acralic varnish from the rattle can.
In order to motivate the Bentley's open cowling, I tried to set an engine failure into scene: with the car abandoned during the Classic Days' demo races along the local country roads, parked at the side of the street, and with a puddle of engine below and a small trail of oil behind the car (created with Tamiya "Smoke", perfect stuff for this task!). A hay bale, actually accessory stuff for toy tractors and in fact a square piece of wood, covered with straw chips, subtly hint at this occasion.
Finally, for safe transport, the model was attached to the base with thin wire, the base glued to the light box' floor with double-sided adhesive tape and finally enclosed.
Quite a lot of work, the car model alone took four patient weeks to fully materialize, and the base in the SYNAS box took another two weeks, even though work proceeded partly in parallel. However, I am positively surprised how well this build turned out - the Heller kit was better/easier to assemble than expected, and many problems along the way could be solved with patience and creative solutions.