Earlier today, in the holographic video-conference dome where we conduct all daily Jalopnik business, someone threw up a holo-JPG of a model kit. It was a Magnum PI-themed kit, but instead of the expected Ferrari, it was the striped Vanagon that had some role on the show. This kit got me thinking about car model kits — specifically, terrible ones.
I’m talking about model kits that nobody wanted, no matter what. Ones that make you wonder just why the hell anyone thought they would be a good idea in the first place. I wanted to know more.
So I did some digging. I was able to get access to MODLbase, a subset of the Lexis-Nexis law database system that’s dedicated to tracking model car kit sales. It’s hard to get access, but I found someone at a local modeler’s bar, Gluesniffer’s in Durham. Eleven drinks and one awkward kiss later and I had a password!
I was amazed at what I found. There were links to actual pictures of the model kits, so it was even better than I thought. I’m delighted to now share with you the five worst-selling car model kits of all time. You should note that they’re all tie-ins to something — TV shows, public figures, whatever — so that should be a hint to the model companies about what doesn’t work.
Here we go:
5. The ALF Ferrari 328 GTS
This one was based on some ALF episode where the alien puppet gets (and seemingly trashes) a Ferrari. I guess ALF just didn’t have the sort of draw you’d expect in the Italian sportscar-enthusiast community.
4. Bob Newhart’s Olds Delta 88
I feel a bit bad about this one because I actually like Bob Newhart — but I’m not really surprised. The 1976 Olds Delta 88 model isn’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world, and I don’t think there was a lot of overlap between Newhart fans and people willing to tediously assemble a model of an Oldsmobile.
3. Morley Safer’s Monster Dragster
I actually remember reading about this one years ago. For a while in the 1980s, CBS really wanted to push 60 Minutes’ audience younger, since I think they were skewing towards the died-three-years-ago crowd. In a woefully misguided attempt to do this, they tried making the reporters on the show appealing to kids, like suggesting that Morely Safer had a dragster he’d drive around. Unsurprisingly, no one bought into this, though Andy Rooney’s Rocket Sled did sell respectably in the Northeast.
2. L. Ron Hubbard’s Talking Impala SS
The Church of Scientology tried a lot of novel outreach programs in the early ‘90s, including this L. Ron Hubbard-themed model kit that included a small voice chip that played 32 Hubbard quotes when you pushed down on the car’s hood. It’s not known if there was any ties between Hubbard and the Impala SS, but over 70,000 of these were made. Most are still in a Van Nuys warehouse to this day.
1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Chevy SSR
In 2005, there was a program where lesser-known government agencies attempted to gain a higher public profile, and this model kit, commissioned by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is from this program. It was an abject failure. None were sold, and 10,000 given away across the country at county fairs and post offices were almost exclusively left behind or otherwise discarded. Interestingly, the Bureau of Weights and Measures model kit of a Ford Aspire GT sold quite well, and can still command good prices on eBay today.
UPDATE: I may have made all this up. We’re still looking into it.
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