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Halloween: LeMans 1921

Having visited two really fine auto museums in the course of travels this year, we picked up the urge to do something car related for the Halloween display. We don’t do scary. We do more like historical or Hollywood movie related displays, featuring skeletons busy at work. The wife and I both like old classic autos, and this being the 100 year anniversary of the 1921 upset victory by the Americans at LeMans, we had our theme. This would give me a chance to build two cars and pose our spectator skeletons in some cool old costumes too, since it was the roaring 20’s, and France. Our favorite materials for these builds is ½” or 2” pink foam construction insulation sheets, and scrap wood.


These couple photos established the mood. And the two cars would be a (French) Ballot 3/8 LC and a Duesenberg Straight-Eight factory racer. The head on shot of the Duce also gave important information about width and shape of the car missing from just about all other pictures of it on the web, which are usually from the side or three quarter views.


This year instead of using SketchUp and computer modelling, I went old-school and just used toys and foam-coreto figure out the eventual placement.


Scale was confined to being able to accommodate only 12 feet of prop car in the den, which meant about 75% scale and it still looked okay with the 82% scale skeletons.


Blueprints and measurements were hard to locate for these cars so the mechanics and parts needed were drawn up full (prop) size in a month or three of reverse engineering from period photographs. Full sized plans were made of everything. Some valuable research was done at the beautiful ACD Museum in Indiana.


The chassis was made mostly from recycled wood of last year’s display. The two chassis differed enough to warrant separate geometry of frames and springs, but the dampeners (shock absorbers) and wheels were kept the same between the cars.



The wire wheels were by far the most tedious, both in figuring out the mathematics and then weaving many dozens of yards of deep sea fishing leader line to create wire wheels. The tires are pink foam. It result was surprisingly strong in the end and the cars would actually roll on their own wheels quite well. Nylon bearings in the hubs helped. The leftmost hub is sitting on a jig that was invaluable in keeping the rim and hub positioned properly to accept the threading.


It would have been smarter to dye the line black colored beforehand. Lesson learned.


The body was then built to the frame.



It was then finished much like building a boat hull. This was the most organically curved thing I’ve ever tackled with flat foam sheet. Heavy Duty Liquid Nails was the adhesive.


The Ballot had prominent air vents along the cowl on both sides and this required a jig be made to cut them the same repeatedly. Sliding the drill at the angle the jig fixed did the trick.



A band saw and some router work took care of the steering wheels, and old automotive gauges were found in antique stores during summer vacation.



A tub of DAP brand DryDex Spackling was the skim coat. The product says don’t use it as a skim coat. It makes a great skim coat! Both bodies were them liberally coated with marine varnish to help keep the spackle and Liquid Nails from releasing during a month out in October rains.


Visible suspension parts were modelled with PVC pipe, electrical conduit, and leftover bits. Manually twisting the steering gear could actually turn the front wheels a little until I screwed them down in a fixed right turn.


The Ballot sported a handbrake and wire brake cabling so that was added along representation of the visible tandem carburetors. The Duese’s hydraulic brakes got plastic tubing and bigger drums. The leather hood restraints are … leather, and on the Ballot there is the few inches of steel behind the ‘hot’ exhaust pipe. More of the fishing line stood in on the exhaust pipe for asbestos so the mechanic wouldn’t burn his arm. The radiator level/hood ornaments and emblems had photo reduced images of the real thing glued to wooden parts. The stone guard grills are garden pest fencing. That was also used for the stone guard ‘windshields’ added at the end to each car for the driver. The color of the Ballot proved difficult to duplicate and cost a few incorrect tubes of artist’s acrylics before the blend even came close to acceptable. The engine started cranks were made to rotate because we figured little kids would crank the handles. They did. Fitting the skeletons into the cockpit and even in the spectator poses proved more labor intensive than usual but it worked out in the end.


The drivers and mechanics wore kids costume WWI pilots headgear from a party store, suitably altered. And the jumpsuits were small and inexpensive painter’s overalls, which, in the case of the Americans, were spray painted gray and lettered.


The signs were a combination of hand painting and Cricut vinyl lettering. I had to change the country of origin of the word at the top of the Pirelli sign since the prototype is rather rude sounding and grade school schoolteachers would not have been happy with us.
You’ll notice Jean Claude is none too happy about the Americans crossing the finish line first. Some costume pieces were scratch built or found at Goodwill stores but the bulk was from Antique stores, especially the ladies French style shoes and a few hats. The finish line sign is not authentic to the race, but we needed somewhere to give a hint of the date and location of the race, so a finish line sign seen in the movie The Great Race in Paris with Tony Curtis was borrowed. The banner itself was a shower curtain sliced down and sewn end to end, something that should never be done again, since paint and vinyl does not stick to it for more than two or three days. Another lesson learned. A 30mph wind overnight in fact blew all the large red FINIS paint off.


Our photographer operates a period Kodak No. 3A made from left over pink foam and bits. I have one of those in my camera collection.


For Covid distancing restrictions a candy shooter was painted up from a piece of new gutter drainpipe. These proved very entertaining to kids these last two years. For my costume Halloween night I dressed as a Duesenberg mechanic in my WWII coveralls and pilots goggles.


Note the hand position of the mechanic. The driver and the mechanic sat shoulder –to-back in these cars and the seats were offset to help that. There is even a handhold in the body for the mechanic to grab, and a dip in the upper fuselage for this arm to pass in front of the gas filler.


The view from the grandstands where Daisy the flapper cheers on her countrymen, you get a glimpse of the generous exhaust fumes created by a smoke machine under the hood.




In the real race the American’s won over the second place French car, which happened to have an American driver and mechanic piloting it. The French response to all this is a matter of record.


The triple flags on both porch pillars mimic the décor of the LeMans grandstands, as does the bunting. To save money I sewed the bigger flags up from clearance fabric.


Despite the beautiful lines of the Duesenberg, I must admit it was the Ballot that made me smile the most. Maybe it's the troublesome color. or those vents.


Then the day after Halloween, the guys went out for Starbucks.



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This was a great build!

From the text I realize I'll have to look for your previous builds. Thanks for sharing this.

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