Enter the Sandman… and his Roadster

I love Golden Age super-heroes.  I love cars.
Welcome to the story of the Golden Age Sandman Roadster.

Golden Age comix are a lot like jazz: raw, unfinished, and laced with moments of brilliance.  By 1940, masked avengers were just starting to take interest.  Clearly, the influence of Walter Gibson could be felt in comix like Green Hornet, Crimson Avenger, and The Sandman.  Of these, the Sandman was the most visually satisfying, as the art of Bert Christman and Creig Flessel threw the masked man across the page, from shadow to light, into villains such as The Phantom of the Fair, The Tarantula, The Face, and a host of mobsters.  Unlike most of his club, The Sandman had a girl — one who could crack safes and drive like a pro.

Going through the DC Archive, the roadster is drawn fairly consistently, which is pretty impressive.  It is painted a different color in just about every issue.  Looking through the book, I get a good idea of the shape of the car and go looking for a kit of something pre-1941 that would be an appropriate start.  After looking around, the roadster looks like a 36 Ford Cabriolet Convertible I found at a swap meet.


The kit is a souped-up version of the car, with updated wheels and a modernized engine.  All of that has to go in favor of authentic 1940, so I buy a 1940 Ford Standard Coupe kit.  The engine, wheels, and tires will come from this model.  If the parts don’t fit, we’ll make ’em!  I also order a set of Fujimi drivers to serve as Sandman and his squeeze.

Step One is to go over the model and make it as close a representation of the art.  The first thing that grabs me is that the artist did away with the fenders and spare tire.  He was ahead of his time, as this is the most popular customization for this hot rod!  The artist also didn’t have details like the rumble seat or the engine cover valences.  I also note that the windshield is more delicate in the artwork.  I cut off the windshield from the body, fill in the rear bumper holes, and grind out the rumble seat so that I can fill in the seam with Tamiya putty.

Assembling the under carriage for this kit is by the numbers.  I throw the engine block together, drill out the distributor cap, and wire the headers.

The chassis is done in various gloss levels of black, with the silver studs detailed in.  The only annoyance is that the kit didn’t have any part to connect the exhaust to the engine!

I drill out the exhaust and bend a little solder into place.

The new engine doesn’t quite match up with the convertible’s radiator.

I take some black insulated wire and bend pieces into the correct shape.

Details can exist in places where the comix artists never looked, like the car interior.  I airbrush tan for the leather interior.  I then flocked the floor panels to simulate the carpeting.  Flocking is incredibly small carpet fuzz.  Basically, I brush on a thin layer of invisible glue wherever the flocking is supposed to stick.  A shot glass full of this stuff goes into a small strainer.  Stir the strainer with a knife handle and very fine fuzz coats the glue.  It dries, brush off the excess, et viola: interior carpeting!

While that’s all drying, I airbrush the wheels and car cover a cream color.  I then strip the chrome off the hubcaps, sand off the V8 symbols, and spray them silver.  For some reason, the model looks more like the source materials without the chrome.  Maybe it’s too distracting.

So, that finishes the basic assembly.  The easy stuff is all done…

…now we start making parts that the model company didn’t provide!

For the fenders, I started with glueing styrene guides of the shape that I wanted to sculpt in.

I then used Tamiya two-part sculpting clay to fill around the styrene.

The surface of the clay still needs to be levelled with the surface of the plastic to create a balanced 3-D object.

For the figures, I grabbed two drivers from a Japanese boxed set (the middle two figures):

For Dian Belmont, I sanded down the clothing on her arms and her neck.  I used the same clay to shape her mink and dress.  I used a grinding tool to remove her hair.  Next week I’ll sculpt in the correct hair and order some drk brown flocking for the mink.

It took a bit to get the figures to fit correctly.  Dian’s dress barely cleared the dashboard (you really won’t see anything below the thigh) and the steering wheel took a bit of wrangling.  Wes simply wouldn’t sit- his legs were too outstretched.  I had to slice off his feet, cut a few mm off of his pantlegs, and re-attach the feet.  His arms were cut from the standard driving position to something more appropriate for a passenger holding a gas gun.  Lots more sculpting on him next week.

I was able to work on Dian Belmont.

The flocking I found was from Germany and this is the first time I’ve used the brand.  It looks glossy, hopefully from the glue.

I’m not 100% convinced about it.  The face is almost done.  Wes’ basic suit has been blocked in.

The car has had tiny detail work, filling in small imperfections.  It’s been sprayed with automotive primer and will be sealed before shoting the color.

The model comes with 1:1 accurate valenced engine panels (to help with engine heat).  The comic had no such detail and new ones will be made from sheet styrene.

Now, a 1936 Cabriolet cools it’s engine by a huge front grille and louvered side panels.  Trouble is, those louvers weren’t drawn in the Sandman roadster.  Probably, those little lines wouldn’t have reproduced well regardless.  I grabbed a scrap sheet of styrene and cut two replacement panels.

That was harder than it sounded.  The fit of the original pieces were tenuous at best, so it took a couple of tries.  In the process, the new pieces had to be test-fitted into the car.  That meant gluing the final piece- the grille holder (that’s the two columns aside of the radiator in the front, holding up the hood).

The kit that I have has a big, solid, chrome chunk of plastic as the grille.  That just didn’t sound good to me, so I purchased a wafer-thin metal etched grille from a store called MODEL CAR GARAGE.  Yup, custom pieces for car kits.

The problem is that the kit has horizontal plastic beams connecting the front fenders.  Those aren’t in the real car and, with a real grille, will stick out against the black radiator that you should be seeing.  It was time to cut those baby’s out…

…with a caution about structural integrity.  Those two beams were what held the front end of the car together.  Without them, the fenders now sag outwards and no longer are tightly fixed to the body.  This means that the hood will no longer fit on top of the “new” engine side panels and radiator.

The other pain in the ass is that this car can’t be painted assembled, due to my modified Sandman-specific front fenders.  So, I gotta paint the thing, then glue it together and pray that there aren’t any major structural modifications that could fuck up the paint job.

As you can see, I already went a little too fast and the glue raised the primer there on the driver’s side.  That’s gonna have to be carefully sanded and maybe re-primed before shotting the color.

Crazy, huh?

The paint has cured enough for wet-sanding with 2000 grade automotive sanding.  This starts removing very fine imperfections in the primer and color coats.  It looks scruffed up a bit.  We will spray the next color coat tomorrow.

The fender body part has had the last of the “plastic parts” seams filled in and sanded.  It’s not 100% perfect, but I’ve noticed that the plastic is torqueing too much due to severing those front cross beams two weeks ago.  If I sand any more, I think I’ll crack off those new front fenders.  I stopped and shot the front end with another coat of primer.  Tomorrow we will spray a coat of sealer, then a quick wet sand and it’s off to the color paint later this week.

With some gentle shoving, the fenders and car body fit together pretty well.  I then attached the flat black running boards.  The whole thing is now resting on the chasis.

I will glue it on when I make sure the custom front grille is alligned.  The most important detail about customizing and fabricating pieces is to test fit EVERYTHING.  You can see how the radiator just about fits with the front of the fenders.

I really like how the sand and silver colors in the wheels contrast against the dark maroon.

I still have figure out the best way to install the custom engine panels and hood.

I’m pretty sure the engine panels have to be cemented in place.  I’m really hoping to keep the hood loose.

A little reverse engineering- attached the grille first, then the grille side pieces, then the engine side panels.

The whole thing will need a new coat of maroon, but it was worth it.

All the bells and whistles attached.  The engine panels are being re-fitted.  Just the windscreen left to make.

So far, the car looks really damn close to the comix.  The next issue is the windscreen.  The model had a flat-faced piece of glass that was completely framed in.

Now, I went up to the local museum and took this picture of the real deal:

It is the flat-faced glass, but there are a few more details: it’s not framed in- the windscreen is fastened to two metal posts.  Plus, there are side glass pieces that are also fastened to the metal posts.

See, the comix has a different, two-piece windscreen.  I could make one of those, but it won’t look quite right where the glass and the hood of the car meet.  I dunno, I’ve made the car look like the comix so much til now- why stick to the real thing now?  I want to advertise the thing as a replica based on the Sandman comix.

There are definately parts to the real thing that I totally tossed out to make it look like the more crudely drawn comix.  I think it adds to the cool factor.

I glued the windscreen frame onto the body.  I cut the glass out of a strip of clear plastic, dipped into FUTURE floor polish and let it dry over night.  The polish fills in imperfections and thickens the plastic for a slightly more realistic look.  White glue set it in place.

Ms. Belmont got a darker fur and was reflocked.  Now it looks decent.

I used aftermarket guages for the dash.  I probably should take some pix of those.

The engine panels don’t fit perfectly, but it’s good enough.  Neither they nor the hood are glued in, to show off the engine.

Wes was painted in the conventional 4-colour scheme.  I wanted to look “just like the comix”.  The only change was the white turtleneck, which looked like crap, so I went with the more popular black look.  His gun was made piecemeal out of bits of clay painted silver.

All in all, it looks pretty good.  The fenders worked out great, the front grille didn’t.  The figures make the car and they turned out not to be so bad after all.

5 Comments

Filed under Deane Aikins

5 responses to “Enter the Sandman… and his Roadster

  1. Fantastic. Kids who read this when it came out could’ve never guessed that one day someone would make a model.

  2. Xander Martin

    That’s pretty cool! The end result looks like a factory piece. Die-Cast even. And the little figures definitely bring it home! GA Sandman is definitely one of my favorite pulp designs.

    • Deane Aikins

      Thank you! As a kid, I remember getting this huge comic at SEA WORLD that had the Sandman in it. He looked different from all the other super heroes, less costume/ more menace.

      Also, only guy who had a date and a car. I figured that was important, too.

  3. And here I was thinking about showing some of the things I’ve done. That’s amazing, Deane. Do you do anything similar on real, full-size cars?

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