The history of handbuilt 1/43 Indycars

Heavy metal

by Steve Erlichman

In last week’s installment of the history of handbuilt 1/43 models, we mentioned that Gene Parrill founded Precision Miniatures to offer fine white metal kits and handbuilt models. He started with a line of Porsche models which found a great following. However, Gene wanted to take 1/43 kits up a notch. Even with the successful Precision Miniatures (PM) line, he still had a vision for an ultimate 1/43 kit even before Bosica or Bouissou. This is where the history of handbuilt 1/43 Indycars begins. 

Enter the IMRA Indycars 

Prior to PM there had been a brand that didn’t last long called IMRA. I don’t know what the letters stand for but they produced 300 pre-painted kits of the 1975 Indy winning AAR Olsonite Eagle Offy (driven by Bobby Unser) before going under. This all-metal kit was a revelation. It so impressed Gene that he bought out the assets of the company. The assets included 6 bodies for the planned second kit, the 1974 Indy winning Gulf McLaren of Johnny Rutherford. He had the rest of the parts produced and had Mike Arensdorf complete the McLaren builds. In 1978, they sold for $270!

The history of handbuilt 1/43 Indycars

There had also been a rumor of another IMRA Eagle version which I later confirmed with the luckiest eBay find in my experience. I acquired a box of 1/43rd parts from someone selling the remnants of a collection. The box included a Fadini Bluebird, 5 AMRs and numerous other goodies. Also in the box was a white IMRA Travel Lodge Eagle-Ford with number 44 that was driven by Dick Simon in the 1973 Indy 500. The model was in dirty but otherwise in very good condition. It was missing the rear wing but I was able to fashion one out of sheet aluminum. So the second IMRA Eagle really did exist!

I know of only one other person who has one.

The first Precision Miniatures Indycar models

Gene Parrill built on the IMRA experience by issuing the first Precision Miniatures Indycar model. Announced in July 1979, the 1977 Coyote Ford that was driven by AJ Foyt to his 4th and final Indy 500 win. Next came Johnny Rutherford’s 1974 Indy Gatorade McLaren M24 that finished second. These kits contained over 70 pieces to build models with full suspensions, engines, brakes and interiors. All in white metal save for the rubber tires. Gene charged $27.50 for the kits and $50 to have Arensdorf build them. Toward the end of 1979 came the 1948 Novi Grooved Piston Special, driven by Duke Nalon. Nalon took pole at Indy and drove to 3rd place in the 500. The wire wheels on the car are works of art to this day.

The following May PM announced the 1977 STP Wildcat as driven to 2nd place at Indy by Gordon Johncock. Unfortunately due to decal issues it took over a year to get this kit into production and finally released. Its fully exposed turbo Offy engine is still a joy to behold. By this time Precision Miniatures had expanded to a full line of street and race cars. It was taking up much of Gene Parrill’s time, so he sold Marque Products to Bob Hines. Now Hines could concentrate on PM, which was located right next to the store.

The history of handbuilt 1/43 IndycarsThe history of handbuilt 1/43 Indycars continues on

The final Indycar appeared in February 1982 as the 1973 Indy-winning STP Eagle driven by Johncock. This was to be the last PM Indycar because they just weren’t selling. Gene’s investment was no longer making a profit. The other PM kits were much cheaper to produce, easier to build and were selling well. This situation also speaks to the insecure status of Indy Car models in 1/43 scale at the time, which continues even now.

The CART/USAC split had just started but that eventually led to the golden era of U.S. open-wheel racing with the CART PPG Indy Car World Series. It took Ampersand, SMTS and then Tameo to open the eyes of 1/43 model collectors to Indy Cars in the mid 80s.

Indycars are still woefully under represented in the 1/43 collector hobby compared to sports car/endurance racing and F1. In the past there have been some nice releases from Minichamps/UT in the diecast sector and also Formula Models in the handbuilt arena. Spark averages about one new Indycar release a year these days. Replicarz has come out with some very fine 1/43 releases recently, but that seems to have slowed down a bit. 

Some helpful tips

I am fortunate to have in my collection all of the PM Indycars and most of the other PM models as well as the two IMRA Eagles. I’m also fortunate to have had the PM Indycars built for me by John Simons of Marsh Models. These models are among the most treasured pieces in my collection but they can’t sit on their own wheels because of the all-metal bulk and resulting weight of these models. The suspension bends over time, so my remedy is to place old film can lids (remember them?) under each model to keep the wheels off the ground!

Have some of these models in your collection? Enjoy them! If you want to find a kit and build it, always remember that old decals can blow apart when you put them in water. Before using the decals, coat them with Micro-Scale Decal Film or spray a couple of coats of Krylon Crystal Clear onto the sheet.

ALSO A WARNING because early white metal castings are very high in lead content. Lead can be a hazard if you breathe in the dust from filings or get some into a cut or open wound. BE CAREFUL! Wear a mask and gloves to protect yourself. 

The lists

Below is a list of IMRA and Precision Miniatures issues although this is not THE comprehensive list. The kits pop up on ebay from time to time; the PM sportscar kits can be found for around $10-$50. IMRA AAR Eagle kits are usually in the $200-$700 range and the PM Indy Car kits can cost from $50-$300. As an example, I just acquired an STP Eagle kit for $80.

IMRA

1975 AAR Olsonite Eagle Turbo Offy 1st Indy 500 pre-painted kit 300 pieces
1973 Dick Simon Racing Travelodge Eagle Ford no. 44 kit-number produced unknown
1974 Gulf McLaren M24 1st Indy 500, 6 pieces only started by IMRA completed by Gene Parrill

Marque Products

001- 1948 Porsche 356/1 Roadster- 1st owner modified
002- 1951 Porsche 356/2 Gmund Coupe LeMans ‘52
003- 1937 Tatra 77A

Precision Miniatures

1-1957 Porsche RSK Center Seat F2
2-1952 Porsche 356 America Roadster 1500S street or race
3- 1955 Porsche 550A 1500 RS Spyder Ken Miles Precision Motors
4- 1958 Porsche RSK LeMans ‘58
5- 1977 Foyt Coyote 1st Indy 500 ’77 issued 7/79
6- 1974 Gatorade McLaren M24 2nd Indy500 ’75 issued 8/79
7- 1977 STP Patrick Racing Wildcat Offy 2nd place Indy 500 issued 5/80
8-1962 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso
9- 1948 Novi Grooved Piston Special Pole Indy ’48 issued 10/79
10-1953 Corvette street or Carrera Panamericana Van Esser’s Speed Shop
11- 1952 Cunningham C4RK LeMans ‘52
12-1975 Porsche 911 Targa SCCA B-Production- Meister
13- 1973 STP Eagle Offy 1st Indy 500- last PM Indy Car issued 2/82
14- 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport- 4 race versions
history of handbuilt 1/43 racecars15- 1952 Hudson Hornet 2 Door Club Coupe- street or 2 NASCAR race versions
15a 1952 Hudson Hornet Convertible
16- 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rosa Pontoon Fender- 8 race versions
17- 1933 Duesenberg SJ Murphy Speedster
20- 1965 Shelby Mustang GT350
22- 1965 Ford Mustang Hardtop
23- 1958 Ferrari 250 Tesa Rosa 1st LeMans 24 Hours
25-1959 Porsche 356A Coupe
26- 1959 Porsche 356A Speedster
27-1956 Chrysler 300B Coupe
?-1953 Lincoln Capri 2-door hardtop street or 3 versions from Carrera Panamericana

Sold separately- early Porsche Spyder racing wheels. Fine spoke wire wheels for Ferraris. Novi fine spoke wire wheels.

You can find Replicarz 1/43 Indycar models here.

More incredible model car stuff here.

Can’t decide where to look next? Click here.