PT Bruiser

Chrysler’s PT Cruiser was designed to reflect 1930s-era automobile styling. I can’t speak on the vehicle’s performance or reliability; but I do like its retro look. And of course, my easily-excited imagination had me wondering if I could make it even more retro by further hot-rodding it out.

PT Bruiser: A chopped and hot-rodded PT Cruiser.

PT Bruiser: A chopped and hot-rodded PT Cruiser.

Larger image: 1000w x 384h

After drafting the base model over a high-resolution photo, the first step was to angle the body to give the Bruiser a more aggressive stance. It would have been easy — far too easy — to rotate the entire body. Instead, I left the engine compartment alone, and used the top end of the front door line as a pivot point about which to rotate the rest of the car. I initially tried a 5° rotation, but that was stunningly excessive. I then tried a more subtle 2° rotation; this gave me the “hot rod” rake I was looking for, without it appearing too cartoonish.

Comparison: Original (red) and raked (black) body stances.

Comparison: Original (red) and raked (black) body stances.

Larger image: 1000w x 408h

As I said, I chopped the roof; however in this comparison image the rotated body retains the original roof geometry because it more clearly shows the effect of the rotation. (I had considered drawing the Bruiser’s running boards (yes, real running boards) horizontally, but that would “hide” the rake, so those too are rotated.)

I easily dismissed the notion of an exposed engine because I wanted to retain the distinctive look of the PT’s engine compartment. A more traditional closer-fitting fender, a bumper to replace the molded skirt, classic side vents and a few other details gave me the look I wanted.

Comparison: Original and modified front ends.

Comparison: Original and modified front ends.

Since I kept the closed engine compartment, I decided a scoop would give me additional “hot rod flair”. But I also wanted to avoid the typical squarish design; rather, I wanted something that would seem more “organic” to the Bruiser’s retro look. So I copied the Bruiser’s hoodline, scaled it down and built the rest of the scoop around it.

Custom scoop using hoodline geometry.

Custom scoop using hoodline geometry.

Larger image: 1000w x 320h

Not being an automotive engineer, I have no idea whether a scoop designed this way would actually work (or if the front support/mounting flange is necessary, for that matter). But that’s one of the fun things about having a wild imagination: I only have to make something that looks good; it’s up to the Howard Wolowitzeses of the world to actually make the thing function.

(Full disclosure: As I was putting this post together, I realised that the opening in the hood is far too small to be able to raise the hood with the scoop attached. Oops.)

Modification to the rear of the vehicle was simple, with replacement of the bumper and redrawing of the fender being fairly straightforward. However, while the simple round headlight was sufficient for the front fender, I wanted something more stylish for the taillight array. After doing an online image search for 1950s-style taillights for inspiration, I came up with a design which gives the nostalgic feel I was looking for.

Comparison: Original and modified rear ends.

Comparison: Original and modified rear ends.

Note that the minor body rotation also gave me more than enough room to add a larger, more “hot rod appropriate” rear tire.

I used the top end of the middle line of the B-pillar as a basepoint (or perhaps “target” is more accurate) to place a copy of the combined roof and windows, to determine if this gave a satisfactory look. It did, giving me about 3.6″ of chop to the roofline.

However, as the profile of the roof structure is roughly trapezoidal, the dropped copy was several inches too short front-to-back. I was initially going to stretch it along the horizontal axis, but I was hesitant. If you use CAD software, you too have probably had the experience of trying to stretch a group of selected objects which includes one or more curved objects, and getting quite useless results.

To stretch, or not to stretch, that is the question.

To stretch, or not to stretch, that is the question.

The Holy Spirit advised me to cut the drop into three sections, and then slide the front and rear sections separately along a line paralleling the new, rotated window baseline. This worked remarkably well, and allowed the rebuilding of the roof and window geometries to be relatively simple.

DbG_PTB_10_Win_cut_02

Why stretch, when you can simply move stuff?

To the modified roof I added a fixed softtop, a design element often seen on 1930s vehicles which I find very attractive. It’s also reminiscent of childhood favorites such as Hot Wheels’32 Ford Vicky.

Comparison: Original and modified roof geometries.

Comparison: Original and modified roof geometries.

Larger image: 1000w x 585h

Finally, I added a visor to further draw out the new roofline, and to add that one more extra touch of “classic hot rod” vibe.

I look forward to your comments and questions about the PT Bruiser.

(Teaser: My next customization project will have you seeing stars. Or at least, it will have your head in the clouds.)


I am interested in full- or part-time employment, or additional freelance projects, so please contact me. You’re also welcome to follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Christmas Dioramas

In 2008 while Christmas shopping at Dollar Tree, I spotted a gift bag featuring an image of Santa painting a toy car in his workshop. The entire image was car- and toy car-themed, with toy cars and trucks on the shelves and workbench, and radiator grills decorating the wall behind Santa. As webmaster for Suncoast Diecasters, I knew this would make a great splash screen for our club’s December 2008 update. Since then, I’ve done a Christmas-themed introductory image every December.

(For this portfolio entry, I’m focusing on the assembled arrangements of Christmas elements which can be reasonably called dioramas. If you’d like to see the entire collection of the club’s “Christmas Panels”, as I’ve dubbed them, you can visit the page directly. The collection also includes non-diorama images, and the text is oriented to the club’s audience.)

The image for 2010 is my first attempt at an organized (if simple) scene, rather than a mere gathering of related items. The “starry night” is a cardboard filler from a decoration. It makes a nice background, but I thought the image would seem “off” if it was well-lit. So, I tried various combinations of camera settings and room lighting to achieve an evening look; however, none were satisfactory, even with software editing. So, I simply put a blue tint over the whole image. A cheat, perhaps, but it gives the image a nighttime feel.

2010

2010

Components:

  • Scorchin’ Scooter (with Santa figure): Hot Wheels
  • Ford Mustang: Matchbox
  • Ice ‘T’: Tom Daniel (Toy Zone)
  • Pines, snow shred: Dollar Tree
  • Illustrated cardboard backdrop

In 2011 I attempted a more complex scene, with the “brilliant” innovation of in-scene lighting. Other than some light reflecting back onto the backdrop, this scene turned out very nicely. The Christmas tree atop the Nomad is not an add-on; the toy is one of many holiday-themed models Mattel has produced. The gas station is actually a Hallmark ornament. I doubt that it’s built to a certain scale, but it pairs well with the Nomad.

2011

2011

Components:

  • Chevy Nomad: Hot Wheels
  • Gas Station: Hallmark
  • Manger: rummage sale
  • Pines, snow blanket, battery LEDs: Dollar Tree
  • Illustrated cardboard backdrop

I created the Suncoast Diecasters website in 2007, first using HotDog, then CoffeeCup. But by 2013 the site had grown too large to manage at code level by myself, so after some research I chose WordPress as our new home, and began migrating the site.

While I can set a specific image as a splash screen in WordPress, I chose to put Christmas images at the top of December updates. Thus, visitors could simply scroll on down to the other photos, rather than having to click through into the site.

Since December 2013 would be our club’s first Christmas update on the new site, I wanted a rich, impactful image. I took my inspiration from a favorite childhood decoration: Santa and Mrs. Claus resting on a park bench. The idea was that all the Christmas presents had been delivered, and the Clauses were spending some quiet “us-time” together. I intended for the lamppost to provide the scene’s primary lighting, but I didn’t want the background to be too dark, so I placed some blue LEDs inside the church. I particularly like their reflection onto the frozen pond.

2013

2013

Components:

  • Clauses on park bench, traditional church: childhood decorations
  • Pines, “pond” mirror, snow blanket, battery LEDs: Dollar Tree
  • Lamppost: Mall gift shop(?)
  • Truck: Thrift store
  • Illustrated cardboard backdrop

In 2014, Hot Wheels introduced the “Snoopy” hot rod. I already owned the Red Baron by Tom Daniel, and the idea for the diorama — based on the novelty song Snoopy’s Christmas (a/k/a Christmas Bells) by the Royal Guardsmen — pretty much wrote itself. Having used the illustrated cardboard backdrop several Christmases in a row, I decided a bright, daytime scene would be more appropriate.

This raised the question of the backdrop. I did an online image search for a snowy mountain scene, and discovered Good Stock Photos, which offers beautiful high-resolution photographs completely royalty-free. I of course considered printing the image, then quickly dismissed the idea as a gross expenditure of ink for a one-time use. I then realized this was a good opportunity for practice with the “Magic Wand” tool of my graphics software. I built the scene on a tray table which I put right up next to a cabinet, upon which I lightly taped a sheet of dark-colored construction paper. (This was done to prevent bending and shadows which may have come from simply “leaning” the sheet against the cabinet.) Once I got a satisfactory photo of the unedited scene, I scaled the mountain photo and the image to match, selected the construction sheet backdrop, and slid the mountain backdrop into place.

Ironically, I realized much later that I had the selection tool’s tolerance set just a little too high. If you look closely, you’ll see that the upper portion of the small tree behind the letters err is essentially transparent; also, the large tree behind mas, has a hole in its top. These are of course minor issues. Overall I was completely satisfied with the result.

Using the Red Baron’s “dialogue” from the song as a caption was obvious. An equally obvious choice for me was using the Heavy Heap font, which is based on the lettering style of the original 1960s Hot Wheels logo. The text is trimmed with red and green drop shadows.

Below this photo on our December 2014 update I embedded a YouTube video of Snoopy’s Christmas for our older visitors who remember the song, and for our younger visitors who might need some context.

2014

2014

Components:

  • “Snoopy” hot rod, Scorchin’ Scooter, Chevy Nomad: Hot Wheels
  • Red Baron: Tom Daniel (Toy Zone)
  • Pines, snow blanket: Dollar Tree
  • Traditional church: childhood decoration
  • Manger: Rummage sale
  • Background photo: Good Stock Photos
  • Font: Heavy Heap

In May of 2014, my mother had a stroke. She received treatment and was recovering nicely. But she of course had numerous follow-up appointments, and I needed to find a better job. Further, our nearest relatives were about three hours away in southwest Florida. So we had a family discussion, and decided that she and I should move down there to be closer to family for her sake, while I could hopefully find a job as a draftsman, as a lot of new construction was happening there at the time.

However, over 2014 and 2015 her symptoms recurred, and during the course of an examination it was determined she was also developing dementia. Eventually she had to move into an ALF, as I could no longer take care of her by myself. Thank God, I found a local retail job. Of course, our planned moved was cancelled.

…So, as it got closer to December of 2015, I was having difficulty coming up with a new idea for the Christmas image, since we had already packed up much of our belongings.

I happened to notice the Scorchin’ Scooter was still in my display cabinet, and recalling that I had several other motorcycle miniatures, the idea for “Santa’s Cycle Shop” was born. I went through our storage bins and found the ‘cycles and some “micro” toy cars, and borrowed a family of figures from a musical “Christmas village” decoration. With these, I was almost set. What I needed next was the shop itself.

This would be my first “build”. I used a foam posterboard from Dollar Tree, as it would support itself, and I could press the figures’ pegs into the material. I will admit, I am a little disappointed with the “blandness” of the shop structure. I had considered printing a few simple patterns to imply a tiled floor and block walls; but I was concerned with edge seams or tape spoiling the effect. My mother’s illness, my job and various other things of higher priority eventually left me pressed for time to complete the build, so the unadorned structure would have to do.

Yet the scene is not without its satisfying elements. The fireplace (yes, in a cycle shop) is made from a leftover section of the foam board. I found a brick pattern in Microsoft Word’s clipart, and printed a tiled sheet of it to cover the fireplace. The hearth and mantel were simply colored with a Sharpie.

And of course, such a shop needs a large window. The “outside” scene is another image from Good Stock Photos. The font is Slapstick Comic, the same I use for Suncoast Diecasters‘ logo. The “window” has a simple black outline, but also features outlined whitespace along the bottom and left, to suggest the depth of a sill and wall edge. And no, the text is not backwards; it’s meant to be read outside.

So, I am pleased with the diorama overall. Along with this being my first “indoor” scene, it’s dramatically different from my previous scenes.

I included the micro cars to raise the question: Is the lad simply accompanying his parents while they shop for a motorcycle, or is one of the toy cars going to be his Christmas present?

2015

2015

Components:

  • Scorchin’ Scooter, Boss Hoss: Hot Wheels
  • Chop Suey, Stingeroo, Jumbo Jet: Matchbox
  • Funny Car: Hot Wheels / Planet Micro series
  • All other micro cars: Micro Machines
  • Pine, foamboard: Dollar Tree
  • Manger, snowman: Rummage sales
  • Outside photo: Good Stock Photos
  • Font: Slapstick Comic
  • Brick pattern clipart: Microsoft Word

I described the shop structure as unadorned. That’s not completely true. Like many people, I prefer large photographic or illustrated calendars. So, I made one for the cycle shop. It’s a “real” calendar, in that the layout of the days is in fact that of December of 2015. I created it in MS Works Spreadsheet, pasted it as a screen capture into my graphics software, and scaled it down appropriately. The photograph should be very familiar to you; after all, you just saw it the year before.

Adornment.

Adornment.

I own quite a variety of holiday-themed toy cars. But after five dioramas (and nine years total of Christmas panels), I was really struggling with what to do for our club’s December 2017 update. As I pondered the different holiday cars in my collection, I realized something that had not occurred to me before: several of these toys aren’t merely holiday-themed; they specifically are Santa-themed. That is, these toys each feature Santa Claus in one form or another. With this realization, I was again — as I was for the Christmas 2014 image — inspired by music; specifically, the Beach Boys’ novelty Christmas tune. Thus, the idea for The Li’l Saint Nicks was born.

All told, I have eight Santa-themed miniatures (well, seven Santas and one certain reindeer). My original idea was to present this as a video. I had even considered contacting the label to see if I could license the Beach Boys song to use as the video’s soundtrack. Using towels and a snow blanket, I built a multi-level scene which would allow me to stage the toys for a variety of pans and zooms.

I needed a good “wintry forest” background, but again I could not justify the ink needed to print a single-use image. Nor could I use a digital image such as from Good Stock Photos, as my video software does not have the ability to track a moving plane onto which I could drop an image. Thank the Lord, I found a photo calendar at Dollar Tree which had a couple of appropriate images. I cut the best-looking one from the calendar, and taped it to a box which I then set at the back of the scene.

However, through November and December of 2017, the store where I work was receiving two trucks a week for the “holiday rush”, and I had disappointingly little free time during that period. I realized I would not be able to make the video, and had to resort to photographing the vignettes individually. Ironically, as I was editing the photos, I discovered that I might have done better to stage the vignettes individually as well, because in several shots I lost control of the background, inadvertently including parlor furniture or windows.

These setbacks aside, I am thoroughly pleased with the results. I could somewhat emulate the “look and feel” of a video using WordPress’ slideshow function. With title and end panels (plus a blank spacer panel so the end of the show wouldn’t just smack right back into the beginning), the presentation has a very “complete” feeling I find quite satisfying. With the other vehicles and accessories at the sides and in the background of each photo, there’s a real sense of depth (I could almost say volume) to the scenes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

2017

Components:

  • “Nitro Santa” and “Roarin’ Rudolph” funny cars: Johnny Lightning (Playing Mantis)
  • “Santa and Funny Car” ornaments: Hot Wheels / Planet Micro series
  • All other vehicles: Hot Wheels
  • Snow blanket, calendar scene, trees (4″): Dollar Tree
  • Trees (2″): K-mart
  • Manger, snowman: Rummage sales
  • Fonts: Slapstick Comic, Monotype Corsiva, Times New Roman

The slideshow is quite enjoyable on its own. However, I have here, as I did for the December 2017 update, embedded a YouTube video of The Little Saint Nick. I invite you to play the video, then scroll back up to watch the slideshow as the song plays. I think you’ll agree that this really enhances the “holiday feel” of the show.

Now, what to do for the 2018 update….