Walt Arfons' 1964 "The Wingfoot Express"

by Claude Reiser © 2006 Modeler Site

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Land Speed Record Holder at 413.20 mph (664.98 km/h) October 2nd, 1964

The kit

John Shinton Models have 2 versions of "The Wingfoot Express" in their current listings : The presentation version, without fin, with side-mounted parachute bags, and all-over good-year blue paint scheme, and the " record version ", with tail fin, and two-tone silver/dark blue paint scheme.

I chose the record version, and, perhaps, will add the presentation version to my collection at a later stage.
Upon unpacking the rather small (for an LSR kit) box, what struck me most was the size, or lack of such, of the individual parts. Even the rear body is no more than 5 inches long, but the finished model measures up to about exact 43rd scale. Well the model looks right, so I'm not going to nit-pick about hundredths of an inch !

The body comes in two sections, cast quite cleanly in resin ; the nose/cockpit and the rear " fuselage ". The tail-fin is cast integrally with the rear body, which makes for a slightly fragile piece to handle. Most of the smaller pieces, including axle, rear wheels (with cast on tyres !), front wheel sections, steering wheel, exhaust nozzle, support rod, canard fin and pitot tube are cast metal. The absolute highlight of the kit is the crystal clear, vac-formed canopy, with laser sharp engraved lines along which to cut out this delicate piece. The decals however are printed quite poorly, especially the smaller sponsors logos lack detail and precision. Not at all up to today's standards. I replaced most of these smaller logos with better ones from a set of Can-Am decals, plus other sources. There are also some decals missing, especially the cartoon like character which should go on the canard fin, and the Good-Year-like logo (albeit in yellow) that can, in some pictures, be seen on the rear body, above the axle. As I could not figure out what these really look like, I preferred not to add them ; maybe, some day, I'll find out, and add them finally.


Upon comparison with photos of the actual car (see references at the end of this article), it became soon clear, that this was not an absolutely accurate replica of the real thing.

A bit of ...

The history of the Land Speed Record is a tale of bravery and determination. The people involved in such endeavours have always been of a special breed of men, marked also by eccentricity, popularity and imagination. The Wingfoot Express, named after Good-Year's logo, is the product of a gathering of such forces. What, to the newcomer, might look like a junk-yard trolley, a jet engine put onto wheels, is in fact the fruit of many years of thorough development and research, usually by a small team of enthusiasts who most of the time spend all of their money, time and energy on such a project. The all too prominent sponsors often only appear once the car is finished, and their financial support is usually a fragile source that merely covers the running costs of the car. No LSR-team has ever made any money ; the best ones managed to come out at break-even.

From the moment I had a first glance at the history of the LSR, I was hooked. The cars, the stories, the people, the venues. It's a whole world in itself, and a fascinating one too. There is triumph and tragedy.
Some manufacturers have specialised in LSR models, enabling us to model most of the significant LSR holders and contenders that have struggled over the last 100 years to raise the record towards and above the speed of sound.
History 1964 saw some action on the salt flats ! After Briton Donald Campbell, son of the King of Speed himself, Sir Malcolm Campbell, had set a new outright LSR of 403.10 mph (648.78 km/h) on (dry-) Lake Eyre in Australia on July 17, a real battle between LSR enthusiasts took place on the Salt Flats near Bonneville. Walt Arfons' "The Wingfoot Express", Art (Walt´s brother!) Arfons' "Green Monster" and Craig Breedlove's "Spirit of America" took turns in raising the 3 months old record. The least lucky was perhaps Walt Arfons. Although his Wingfoot Express, driven by Tom Green (who had actually built the car) snatched the record from Campbell at 413.20 mph (664.98 km/h) on the 2nd of October 1964, he lost it only 3 days later to his brother's car, which passed the 1-mile-distanced timing traps at an average of 434.02 mph (698.49 km/h) for the mandatory two runs (one in each direction, performed within one hour). The record changed hands 3 more times between Art Arfons and Craig Breedlove, until on October 27 the Green Monster concluded the 1964 records with a staggering 536.71 mph (863.76 km/h). The Wingfoot Express had held the record for a mere 3 days, but Walt Arfons was determined to come back with a new car, with a new concept.

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The shape of the nose is not correct (it should be somehow thicker), and the cross section of the rear body is not altogether correct as well. I still decided not to change everything, but to add some details here and there, and to replace some of the kit contents by finer, self-made parts.
Areas to be further detailed are the rear wheels, the parachute tubes (completely missing from my kit, as were the instructions ; so I can't tell whether they should have been there), the pitot tube, the towing hook (absent), and the rivet detail alongside the rear body and around the front wheel fairings.

Preparing the body

In preparation for priming the main body parts, I filled and sanded the existing " rivets ", which took me some time, until I realized that ordinary filler would not do (the filler tended to " pop " out of the tiny rivet holes once I started to sand), and swapped to gap filling super glue. I also re-scribed the panel lines, and took measurements on pictures to drill new holes for my sensational new ultra fine turned brass, nickel coated rivets. I did fuss about a lot with a jig and very thin aluminum foil, trying to make new air vents for the rear section of the body, but my output lacked the required evenness in design. In the end, I just let them be.

I glued the axle to the rear body, and used gap filling super glue to fill the seams (which, if any, must be in different places).
The nose section of the body had some nasty pinholes which I usually widen with the tip of a #11 blade, and fill with superglue. On this particularly nasty example, some of the pinholes only showed after the second coat of blue paint ! I finally gave up on those ones!

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All parts having been prepared properly, I applied a coat of primer, sanded, checked for blemishes, and re-primered where necessary. During sanding I broke off the rear fin, glued it back on again using superglue, sanded, primered, …


The decal sheet offers two options as to how to reproduce the two-tone paint on the rear body. You can either paint the entire piece silver, then apply the dark blue decals with the " Wingfoot Express " lettering, or you can paint silver, mask the blue areas off, paint blue, and apply the separate " Wingfoot Express " lettering. I decided to use a hybrid option : Painting the blue, and replicating the natural metal finish using bare metal. After all, the real thing was polished aluminum panels, and not silver colour ! This meant I had to paint blue first, apply bare metal, then cut out the areas where the blue colour should show.
A first coat of dark blue was applied to the body parts, then sanded (I chose "BMW Lapisblue 173", as it looked a good match against the decals). A second coat followed, on which, after having thoroughly dried, the decals were placed. Using a good amount of Solvaset, I made sure that the clear coat I was going to apply now would not affect the decals. Three coats of clear varnish were applied. One week near a heater dried the colour completely, I was able to sanded the clear coat with increasingly fine polishing cloths, and finished with car polish and wax.

Applying the bare metal

It was rather tricky, much more than I had hoped it would be. I intended to use " matte aluminum " foil, but that is much stiffer than the usual " chrome ", tends to distort and crack while removing it from the carrier ; in fact, I ended up with a very big mess. So I removed the foil from the model, and was left with the adhesive still on it! Careful rubbing with diluted alcohol, and subsequent buffing with polish and wax restored the original glossy finish more or less. So I swapped to " chrome " foil, which, albeit easier to use (at least you can remove that one from the carrier without wrinkling and distorting) was not altogether easy-going. On a piece of aircraft fuselage I tried different techniques, like first covering the parts in foil, then trying to smooth out the foil (à complete disaster !), working in small areas at a time (the model looked like patchwork afterwards, which would be nice on an aircraft, but the Wingfoot Express was essentially a one-piece smooth panel!). In the end, I decided to combine these techniques.

The rear " fuselage " of Wingfoot would be treated in four steps : The front half in one piece, the rear half in two pieces (one each side of the fin), then the belly. These areas would each be covered by one large piece of foil, which I removed completely from the carrier, aligned to the lower edge of the body, and then I started to work my way around the body by carefully smoothing out the foil, inch by inch. All this of course wearing rubber gloves, as your fingers will leave oxidation prints on the foil (well, mine do). I still ended up with too much wrinkles in the foil! Should have re-read the articles from our friends of the aircraft modeling section, who excel in the art of producing " natural metal warbirds " by applying bare metal foil.


Once the foiling done, the blue areas to the front of the body had to be uncovered from the foil. Using photocopies of the decals as I guide, I had previously cut a template from thick soft plastic stock (wrapping material, I think), which I now positioned carefully over the area where I thought the " Wingfoot Express " lettering would be lurching under the foil. (Of course, I used the rivets as a fool-proof orientation mark !).
As there is a very fine blue line running on the foil, all along the blue areas, I recovered this line from the decal sheet, and applied it using a lot of Solvaset, and some words which you will not find in any dictionary. The foil plus decal was then given a good treatment with Tamiya liquid model wax, which is ideal for these purposes, as it does not leave a milky film when it dries.


All I had to do now was to add the rivets ; I had looked forward to this part of the job, and although it was tedious, I managed to glue all 50 rivets in place with just one of them disappearing into Nirvana (" pling " off the tweezers !). And they look fabulous, and they are " to scale " !
Meanwhile I had also prepared the wheels, which received additional detailing with Grant Line bolts. I painted the wheels olive drab, because that's the colour I made out on different pictures.

I made new canopy frames by scanning them from the decal sheet, and printing them on self adhesive foil. This gave me more than one sample to work with, and the result would be a more realistic opaque and " 3-D " effect. Unfortunately, the nicest feature of the kit, namely the windscreen (or rather canopy) gave me a nice little shock. Indeed, I was so absorbed with that nicely engraved line, that I simply took to my scissors, and cut the canopy along that line.

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Using 3M surgical film

Big Mistake ! The canopy was some 3 millimetres too short ! Luckily I was going to use my self-adhesive canopy-frames, because with the decals this error would have shown even more dramatically on the finished model. In order to paint the interior of the cockpit light grey, I masked the nose using Parafilm-M, a flexible surgical film made by 3M which is ABSOLUTELY perfect for quick, non-bleed effective masking, with Bare Metal Foil used for the razor sharp edge, leaving the inside of the cockpit free to be painted light grey.
I can't overstress the advantages of combined Parafilm-M / Bare Metal Foil as masking medium.


Since I was introduced to this technique, I haven't been afraid of multi-colour paint schemes any more. It's really so easy : You cut a piece of Parafilm-M, stretch it to about 4 times its length, and let it relax for 30 seconds. Stretching it, activates a sort of wax/glue on the surface of the film and makes the film become soft and rubbery like the skin of a bubble-gum-bubble.

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You can now wrap your model in Parafilm-M, and have two options as for the creation of the separation line between colours. For really sharp lines, you just need to burnish the Parafilm on to the model by using your fingertips, then cut along your line with a fresh blade. Unless you use tornado boost on your airbrush or spraycan, Parafilm-M will not lift, not even over tight curves and bends. 

If you want really razor-sharp edges, or if you have to mask over complex angular shapes or very tight bends and curves, you may want to leave a small gap between the edge of the Parafilm-M mask, and the actual separation line ; this gap will then be filled with Bare Metal Foil. Apply a strip of Bare Metal foil larger than this gap, overlapping the Parafilm-M, then use a fresh blade to draw the separation line into the foil, and remove the excessive foil. Don't forget to burnish the edge of the foil with a q-tip. After spraying, quickly (while the paint is still soft) remove the mask ; you'll be amazed !

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This time I did not want to put too much effort into the cockpit. It could sure do with some detailing, like replacing the cast in seat belts with real ones, detailing the steering wheel, adding real instrument gauges, etc. I just painted the seat and the dashboard black, and added some photo-etched fittings to the seat belts. I glued the canopy using Provence Moulage's " Rhodoid glue " which is very good for gluing small details as well ; in fact I use this stuff far more than any other type of glue, including CA.
The canopy frames were added next, carefully positioning the sections on the vacform. Again, Provence Moulage glue was used to fix the ends of the frames which tended to pop up in the air. Finally I added tiny canopy locks to the top.


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I had to give the tyres a crust of salt on their tread-area...

Before final assembly, and as I had decided to show the car in its natural environment, I had to give the tyres a crust of salt on their tread-area. This can often be seen on the cars at Bonneville Slat Flats, and I wanted to know whether it would look good on a model. Instead of using baking soda (used by some modelers to replicate snow), I had a small bag of " artificial snow, for dioramas ", which I thought might look even nicer ; I had also read that baking soda tends to go liquid with time. I guess that it sucks up moisture from the air, and starts to liquefy or even rot. Something inorganic seemed safer, so I rolled the wheels/tyres through a puddle of matte varnish, and then through a patch of poured "snow", which I think is actually made of ultra fine glass balls.

Final assembly...

It was quite straightforward. First I glued the cockpit section to the " fuselage ", then I added the rear wheels (all glued using two-part epoxy resin). The rear axle was painted steel, and buffed to a realistic sheen. As there was a problem with alignment and camber on the front wheels, I pressed them into very tiny beads of epoxy putty I had put into the wheel wells. By using epoxy putty, rather than glue, you can adjust ride-height, alignment and camber of the wheels just by pulling and pushing them until they look right. The wheel will not tend to slip or spring back into an awkward position, and the putty is usually stiff enough to support the weight of the model while it dries without any sagging or tilting. This is an easy way to assure that the car is level and that all four wheels touch the ground, and can be particularly practical on road/race/rally cars as well, because it allows you to set the ride-height of the model whilst fixing the wheels : Drill the axle holes or slots larger than required, apply the putty, then just press the model further and further down on its wheels until it looks right, then let go and let dry !

I also added the towing hook (made by soldering a wire ring to a piece of wire) and the pitot tube, which I had made new by flattening a length of injection needle, to which I added a little fin cut from aluminum foil (disposable oven pan).

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I allowed the glues and putty to harden for a day, then set the model on a piece of sanding paper, glued to a large piece of glass ; with circular movements I sanded all four wheels slightly flat, so that the car has a nice, hefty " sit " on the ground. I do this to most models that come with resin or metal " tyres ", because these tend to stand on their wheels in a rather spidery way, whereas the real thing always has a contact point the size of a postcard between tyres and ground. Into the flat spots on the tyres I drilled holes for the fixing screws. Whenever possible, in a diorama, I try not to fix the model with the usual " straight-through-the-floorpan " screw.


All there was left to do, was to take a nice display case (AMT-Ertl in this case), and paint the base " salt flats white ", and add the mile long black line showing the direction to take. As it would have been difficult to add the shallow depressions left by the tyres of the car in the salt surface, I just masked these tracks off, and dry-brushed very subtly with flat black.
Ah, yes… of course : Those very ( !) small deflectors on the front body, both sides of the cockpit: They were made of 1.5mm aluminium strips, folded lengthways in half, painted black with the use of a permanent marker, and glued to the body with Provence Moulage glue.


As a conclusion I can say, that although I goofed on some points, and that I should have opened up, and detailed both the jet exhaust itself, and the jet interior, the model looks quite impressive and is a very welcome addition to my ever growing collection of LSR models. It's not an easy model to build, especially if you choose not to go with the decal option for the two-colour paint scheme, but it is definitely worthwhile to take your time and build this kit. The Wingfoot Express 2 "rocket car" will be the next to join my collection; to be continued…


"Bonneville Salt Flats", Louise Ann Noeth
"The Land Speed Record" Shire Album N° 263, David Tremayne
"Land Speed Record", Cyril Posthumus & David Tremayne
"Fast Facts", The Speed Record ClubQuarterly Newsletter, N° 20
"Vitesse Illimitée; L'histoie du record absolu de vitesse de 1898 à nos jours", William Huon
"100 years of the World's Land Speed Record 1898-1998; Part 2 The second half century", Ferdinand C.W. Käsmann

Special tools/materials used

0.5mm rivets by Präzisions-Modellbau Dipl. Ing. Hans-Joachim Nolte
Bare Metal Foil (Chrome & Matte Aluminum)


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