Painting and Weathering Model Vehicles

By: Tom Yoke

Even though my main hobby is model railroading, I suppose it could be said that a second hobby is collecting scale die cast vehicles. My collection started about 1974! Most of it is in 1/43 scale for my O scale railroading, but a few pieces are in 1/48 with still a few others in 1/24. 

There are many 1/43, 1/64 and 1/87 scale vehicles out there today from which to choose. Painting and weathering these models is a blast! Sometimes I don’t only use paint: I apply “damage” to the bodies for even deeper weathering. The first part of this article is about body damage. The second will be about paint, but first let me cover a most important point: that of reference photos. The Internet is full of information on old cars. Reference photos abound on just about every vehicle out there. One of the most important points about detailing vehicles is knowing how they are built. Parts cannot be removed from a model without knowledge of how the real thing was assembled. What comes apart, where and how. Many times I have seen model photos featuring an old Model T Ford sitting in a field, body, hood and radiator all connected. Without a frame, this cannot happen. Those three body parts are not connected to one another except by the frame. That is what I mean when I say one must know how vehicles are assembled. Research is the key.

Body Damage. Larger scales are easier to accomplish than the smaller ones. For my O scale model railroad, a simple switching one, I will include a small junkyard full of old car bodies and parts. The attached photo shows how a Ford Model A can be parted out into separate units. Most vintage model die cast vehicles utilize a metal body with plastic fenders. The reason I prefer this particular car is because the frame is separate from the fenders, thus making a parted-out car possible. The plastic parts are far easier to cut apart than the metal. In order to cut apart these parts properly, again, one must know where to cut. The pictured Ford is a Russian model in 1/43 scale and sells for about $10. That is cheep enough to cut apart and use bit by bit. The manufacturer is Nash Avtoprom. A Razor Saw must be used to cut the hood from the body but for all the rest of the plastic parts a razor blade or small saw works well. Finish edges with sandpaper. The reason I like these car bodies so much is the amount of detail included and that it is all separate. In HO, I would think this to be quite a challenge, the parts being so small! 

There are at least two ways in which I make body damage parts: one by using A/C aluminum tape and the other with heavy aluminum foil. Simple dented damage is easy to do using the tape. Cut a piece of tape oversize and wrinkle it up a bit before applying to a flat part of the model such as a door. Trim excess with a razor blade. Press edges down but leave the middle, wrinkled section, a little loose. Don’t mash that part down. A little practice will yield great results. The second body damage material is aluminum foil. This is a little more difficult to make look correct. Apply a piece over a specific part of the model and work down with the finger gently. Wrinkles will be present, but don’t worry about them. Remove the “new” part and carefully trim. Apply some AC to the underside and crinkle up gently like a fender bender. The CA supplies enough stiffening for the aluminum. Keep in mind these parts are still very fragile. When dry, cut the original part from the model and apply the new one in its place. Instant fender bender! Old vehicles had canvas roofs over wooden forms with chicken wire reinforcement. This is another area of great detail to be added in preparation for final painting. Cutting out the metal roof panel is a job though, but well worth it on a special vehicle or two. If a body is removed from the frame and fender unit, there is a void at the rear wheel well. This must be filled. A thin piece of styrene works well for this. Again, knowledge of real car parts is essential for this work. If a hood is removed, then installing a firewall is necessary. I have made a cast resin example that I use for most antique car bodies. A piece of thin styrene will suffice though. I have also made a cast resin wheel hub and brake detail that comes in real handy. As one can see, I am really serious about these models. Realistic detail is important even in scenery. It all adds up. 

Damage can be simply missing parts also. Bumpers, wheels, lights and other attached parts are easy to remove. Don’t forget broken glass. Scratch with a model knife, but please copy the real thing. One last point: save all parts you cut off or otherwise remove. These will come in handy later on. 

One other point for larger scale models is Spackling Paste. This can be used at the bottom of doors and other low body parts to indicate rusted out areas. Apply sparingly in little lumps and let set. When wet it can be worked very carefully. This will be a fragile application and should be treated as such. When dry a thin coat of CA will help seal it.

Paint. Now we get to the actual finish of these models. I use acrylic hobby paints mostly for my models. I also make us of spray cans. Sometimes what is required is a wash of very thin color and a little white to fade a vehicles color. Use a light spray coat of dulling spray before applying the lighter tint. This will help the later color stick better. 

The first thing to do is to spray the body and parts with a thin coat of flat dark brown if the car is to be basic rust. A light gray can be used for other color finishes. 

A Rusted Car. 

Mix up a batch of thin dark brown stain. First apply a thin coat of dulling spray to your model to help the stain stick. Use a large flat brush to apply the stain all over or just on the parts to be rusted. Let this stain dry completely, puddles and all. More stain may need to be applied to darken the base. Let dry between each successive coat. Darker areas add more detail and vary the surface. Do not try for an even coating. When all of the brown has been applied to your liking, apply a coat overall of thin black stain. This will darken the surface a little and fill the body panel lines. 

The next step is to apply some not so thin stain using Teddy Bear Brown acrylic. This will add a lighter, reddish rust pattern to the vehicle. Do this in an uneven manner and let dry. Using dry pigment, add some lighter rust color to some surfaces here and there. Use your reference photos! Some dust and a little white dry pigment can be used to highlight some areas. Spray with dulling spray.

A little color can be added to some body panels if desired before the finish rust is applied. The order of application is not cast in stone. Experiment to find the order in which is most suitable to you. Mixing up the order is perfectly legitimate and repetition of “layers” of paint and stain is also perfectly fine. I go back and forth many times before a vehicle is finished.

A Painted and Slightly Rusted Car.

The color the vehicle comes in can be used or it can be changed. However, first the car must be disassembled to change the color. Spray paint the new color and let dry completely. Lightly spray with dulling spray. Now a thin stain can be applied; either a lightened with white color to match the color on the car or rust. Follow the instructions for rust written above but of course leave some areas in the cars color, either here or there or on various panels such as a door or fender.

Other Details. 

Vehicles can also be bashed into other designs such as shown in the final photos. Disassembly is usually necessary. Derelict vehicles can have a fender or wheel removed, flat tires, hoods removed or other body parts changed such as a flat body on a truck. Search the Internet for ideas. There is no shortage of them! Above all, have fun.