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Internal Compulsion: Model Car Maker Andy Mathews

Building Miniature Cars From More Than 3,000 Handmade Pieces, Model Maker Andy Mathews Is Obsessed with Detail
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Claudia Schiffer, Jul/Aug 97

(continued from page 1)

But why would anyone put himself through the agony that Mathews does? Building these cars that can't drive would drive anyone else nuts. What impels a man to put his central nervous system on the line?

To answer that adequately, you must begin at the beginning.

Born in 1959 and raised in Philadelphia, Mathews has built things since childhood. "I've always been good with my hands, or so my parents and grandparents and everybody has told me. I was always fixing things around the house," he says. "If I had a bicycle it would always be taken apart and put back together and made better. As a kid I built models but gave it up when I was 10 years old. I think every kid probably built models." Who can't recall that messy pastime of trying to get the windshields, wheels or wings of a plastic model on right without leaving cobwebs of glue behind?

As an adult, Mathews took a marketing job in the clothing business that would ultimately lead him back to modeling. Seven years ago, a business trip brought him to Los Angeles. "While I was in L.A., my sister's company was doing a sponsorship of the Long Beach Grand Prix. I had never been to an auto race, never been involved in cars, never been interested in cars. I went to this race, and it was something new to me. And I fell in love with it.

"After that trip, I came back home and went into a hobby store and bought a model kit, a tube of glue, a knife, some paint, and I just slapped it together and I had a great time doing it! So I wound up buying another one, and it was sort of like going back to my childhood. It was good therapy for me because I traveled about 150,000 miles a year for my job, and so when I came home from a trip I would stay home and build. When I did these cars, I saw there were things I could do to make them better."

The first thing he realized he could make better was the body. "I actually took the plastic body of a Ferrari to a body shop," he recalls, "and said, 'Can you paint this with the genuine paint?' The guy painted it for me and that was the first thing." Soon Mathews was doing his own painting, using automotive lacquer and cyanide-based paint and special kinds of attachments on his paint gun to get different thicknesses. "There's a primer coat, a color coat and a hand-rubbed clear coat," he says. "The rub-out process requires seven steps, five separate grades of sandpapers, two separate compounds and a final compound and waxing." Mathews spends hundreds of hours on the bodywork alone for each car.

After perfecting the body, Mathews sets his sights on the inside of the car. "The engines are scratch-built, all handmade," he says. Some of the pieces are too tiny to handle, so he frequently uses tweezers. "You don't want to touch the metals after they're polished, because if the metals get oils on them they can oxidize. I'll take some parts that are readily available, from a toy or a kit. That part will give me the scale and then I might reproduce it in metal."

These are just the building stages. Before the body hits the workbench, there is voluminous research. "I do tons and tons and tons and tons of research. For instance, I'm now working on the 1992 Williams, which is a world championship Formula One car." This is the car he took 1,504 pictures of in England. "I brought my tripod and my special lighting adapter for my camera. I got in close and was crawling all over. The people were very helpful. You have no idea how shocked I was when a Grand Prix manufacturer came in and said, 'Yes, you can photograph not only our facilities but you can photograph our cars, and we'll give you a mechanic for the day to take these cars apart so that you can photograph all the details that you want to.' That's a coup. That's a coup! That's like calling the White House and saying, 'Can I speak to Bill?' and they say, 'Hold on, Andy.' It's just not done. It's incredible. I was in Jackie Stewart's factory. I was at the Williams factory. I was in the Donington Museum."

Mathews routinely heads overseas because England is the mecca of Formula One and Grand Prix racing. Photographing the cars he wants to make, he has built a huge reference library that has helped him in his effort to achieve authenticity.

Mathews loves to talk about the complexity of his cars. "The body is resin. A polyurethane. It's not plastic. It's completely different. It's impervious to lacquer thinners or anything of that nature. The chrome bar is rodium-plated brass and rodium-plated nickel silver. The primary pipes are made of German nickel silver and they are hand-brazed and then filed, polished and then soldered to the muffler part, which is turned out of brass on the lathe. I have a lathe and a mill. I do a lot of the work myself though I still farm some work out."


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