1960s Pits and Press Box
By David Lawson
I had planned to buy a lens for my camera so that I could take some clearer pictures of models and decided to cycle up to a second hand camera shop I know. On the way I passed a bookshop, and, on the spur of the moment, I stopped to have a look. I was pleased to find a couple of second hand books on model making.
Later while looking through them I noticed a photo of the 1960s ‘Corgi’ kit of the pits and press box. This was a model I had built years ago but have long since discarded, the picture got me thinking and before long I was sketching out the plans to build myself a model of a typical pits complex from the 60s to form a display for classic slot racers.
I roughly followed the shape of the Corgi design and estimated the dimensions from the photo and by measuring a couple of 1960s slot cars. Once I was happy with the shape and proportion of the drawings I drew out the sections on some stiff card, cut them out and roughly stuck them together with masking tape. I placed the pit building by a piece of track with a Fly Lola T70 and a couple of Scalextric mechanic and spectator figures and looked at the size and proportions of the scene. With a couple of minor alterations carried out I was happy with the effect it gave and was off to John Dutfield at Chelmsford to stock up on some Plasticard.
bought some brick and wood plank pattern as well as a few sheets of
varying thickness of standard white Plasticard. I simply drew out the
walls, pit counter, roof and advertising hoardings straight onto the
card. Using a ruler and model knife it was cut to shape. I glued pieces
of square section Plastruct along the edges of the sections and glued
the walls together ensuring that the corners were at right angles.
Once the pits and press box were formed I considered the details such as advertising hoardings, doors, railings and light switches. I wanted the display to be fairly accurate and detailed, but not too much. This was always meant to be just a background to the slot racers and with a project like this you have to draw a line somewhere or you could be detailing for the rest of your life!
Once again cutting out hoardings and doors was fairly simple, but the railings around the viewing area on the pit roof and down the staircase was a little fiddly. It was made out of round section to represent scaffold poles and all the joints had to be chamfered and filed to fit around it’s adjoining pieces.
After a few weeks of scratch-building
I had myself a row of three pits and a separate press box all for
the cost of about £10 of Plasticard and it will make an ideal
diorama for photographing my growing collection of classic cars.
I spent an enjoyable afternoon looking through my collection of motor racing books and magazines to help me decide what type of trackside advertising hoardings were the most common and which would therefore be representative of a typical British racing circuit. I chose a late 60s, as, by then, the advertising slogans had become bold simple graphics rather than the more artistic scripts used through the fifties.
It was easy to check through the fonts on the computer and match as closely as possible to the originals. Having chosen the most evocative of the period, I created a couple of pages of artwork, printed and cut out the various adverts, and stuck them to the hoardings. I lifted the film poster for the film ‘Grand Prix’, a Targa Florio race poster, and a BRSCC club emblem from the internet, and reduced them to the appropriate scale size. These were added to the interior walls of the pit garages and in the case of the BRSCC emblem, framed, glazed, and attached to the front of the press box.
The part of this project that caused me to question my sanity was the figures. It was simple to buy half a dozen boxes of MRRC figures from John Dutfield and Pendle. These sets are reissues of the Monogram figures from 1966 and although a little "American" in their style of dress, they are still very suitable and provide a range of mechanics, drivers, race officials, media and spectators.
Painting about fifty figures is quite a daunting task, yet I started this job in good spirits. I set up a mini production line and decided what type of clothing each figure was going to wear. I grouped the figures into batches of colours to minimise the number of times I needed to change paint and clean the brushes. Initially this was interesting as I paint very few figures, but as the painting sessions over the next ten days went by, I realised how seriously I had under estimated the amount of detail that needs picking out.
Many times I wanted to give
up and work on another part of the project, but I knew that if I did
that, I would probably never finish the figures; fortunately I had enough
self-discipline to see it through. As the figures came together, they
came to life, I felt the hours of toil
had become worthwhile. I decided not to cut the bases off as the figures need to be moveable for various photographic displays. I now had sufficient figures for the diorama but only just, I intend to add others gradually when I will be able to paint just a few at a time.
The MRRC figure sets include a lovely old and bulky TV camera with an operator, so it was logical to build a tower for the ‘filming’ to be done from. I used Plastruct boarding effect sheet for the planked floor and tubing for the scaffold pole gantry. This was just made up of long uprights and horizontal bracing poles, I had looked at a building site in Southend and sketched how scaffold was constructed, so hopefully it looks reasonably authentic.
Originally I intended to site the press box on the roof of the pits, but instead, I decided to add a race control office, to serve as a base for the press box. The office didn’t need to be very large as motor racing was so much simpler in those days.
I drew out the plans which, like the other buildings were basically various rectangular shapes and transferred these to Plastruct sheeting before cutting them out with a model knife. The roof includes a platform and balcony leading to the external staircase, which again I cut out from plastic sheet.
The overall appearance of the race control and press box resembles the old building at Woodcote corner at Silverstone.
I was unsure about the pit road itself. I like the days when circuits had no pit wall. But this would lock me in time to an earlier period than I wanted, so I opted for a separate pit road, this will also provide the opportunity for more model making and give the diorama added depth and perspective. I can always make a separate piece with diagonal grid lines for a Le Mans type start if I want to. I will make the pit road in the near future.
At last after countless hours, everything was finished and I had the fun of putting everything in place, it was a bit like playing with toy soldiers and a fort! By grouping figures in various activities they come alive and almost appear to be interacting with each other. It is important to ensure that each figure is doing something and has a sense of purpose. Every time you walk past the diorama, you can see something that you hadn’t noticed before and almost feel the atmosphere, sounds, and smells of a busy race meeting.
Sorry I’ll stop there it sounds like I am losing my sanity, it must be the fumes from painting all those figures.