Shown in the accompanying picture is The Lead Balloon, the small block Chevy powered ’41 Plymouth known in the late 60s and early 70s as the terror of West Texas. The actual, real car has vanished. It is quite probable that it does not exist anymore. If it is gone it is irreplaceable. If it still exists somewhere in the dusty plains of West Texas, may it rust in peace. The car has been so dearly missed and is so impossible to recreate as a real car that the Mickey Bitzko Historical Society decided to try to recreate, as best as possible, a 1/18th scale model of the car. Please be aware that the MBHS operates on a very, very tight budget ever since the lost member of the Atascadero Speed Emporium, Mickey Munoz, absconded with the society’s limited funds. Thus, the board of the MBHS resolutely passed and unanimously approved a directive authorizing the construction of a die cast model of this beloved and dearly missed icon. The only constraint was that no society funds were to be expended on this effort.
The Lead Balloon in its glory days with owner/driver Ace Munoz.
The model car project was assigned to freelance modeler Mungooz Munoz because he was the only person the society could find who could be duped into undertaking the task on such a limited budget, namely for free. The astute Mungooz soon found available for sale a model of the ’41 Plymouth coupe sourced from Yat Ming Industrial Factory Ltd, a Chinese enterprise. As a double-whammy bonus, the Mungooz learned that the coupe was available not only as a hot rod, with requisite V-8 engine, tubular headers, dual exhausts and racing tires but also as a stock coupe, with a straight six flathead engine (more on this later) and pre-war tires. Each model was beautiful in its own way, but each was not The Lead Balloon reincarnated because the hot rod version was, unlike the original, plastered with graphics and the beautiful, solid colored stock version was not a hot rod! Each model is shown below, first as the blue hot rod and then as the tan stocker. The Mungooz was able to get his hands on a specimen of each version of the limited edition, hard to find models.
The hot rodded ’41 Plymouth model with mag wheels and blue paint with too many graphics is in the foreground.
The stock ’41 Plymouth with tan paint and wide white sidewall tires and a ‘flathead 6 cylinder engine’ under the hood is shown above.
The Mungooz hatched a diabolical plan to partially disassemble each model and then reassemble the pieces to create one model that more closely approximated The Lead Balloon. It should be noted that Mungooz early on discarded the idea of simply repainting the hot rod version model with a solid maroon or burgundy coat of paint because that would have been just too much darned work and such an undertaking would have required both talent and ability, commodities that were not readily available.
The commercially available models with chassis separated from bodies.
Disassembly required removing six small screws that secured the frame to the body on each model. An additional complication was disconnecting the steering column from the tie bar, since the steering column would stay with the body from which the frame was being detached. Please note in the image above that the blue car’s engine has a large chromed air cleaner and chromed valve covers along with exhaust headers and lakes pipes (sort of.) The tan car’s engine has a much smaller air cleaner and a red valve-in-block head. But it also has the chromed valve covers from the V-8 engine! Very clever, these Chinese guys. Please note also the different tires on each frame.
The racer on the left; the stocker on the right.
The photo above shows more clearly the differences in the front and rear tires on the frames. Also clearly visible is the low restriction exhaust system on the racer version versus the single exhaust (but with two header pipes?) on the stocker.
Why does a flathead straight six engine have valve covers on either side of the block? Oriental engineering!
It is not clear why an in-line six cylinder engine would have exhaust pipes coming from both sides of the engine.
Shown below is the result of putting the racer body with all its graphics on the stock frame with the stock tires. It makes an interesting combination, no? Sort of like an oval track “jalopy” racer mated to a trailer queen show car.
The Pretty 39 body on the stock ’41 Plymouth chassis.
Below is the version of the car we were after, a stock ’41 Plymouth body on a race ready frame. Please note that the interiors were left on the original bodies so the race car now sports a very pretty, stock white steering wheel. Also, the tires and wheels and custom exhaust seem to show better with the tan body than they did on the highly decorated blue body. Reattaching the frames to the contrasting body was a relatively straightforward process but for some unknown reason, matching the stock frame to the blue body was a lot more challenging process than putting the racing chassis on the tan body, which slipped together quite slickly. The six screws were inserted and tightened and the steering column was reconnected to the tie bar on each reassembled model. It was only after reassembly was completed that The Mungooz noted that both versions of the Plymouth had not only a column mounted gear shift but also a floor shifter (with a Hurst handle on the hot rod.) This incongruity was written off as an attempt at humor by the Chinese manufacturers of the models.
Finally, The Lead Balloon model comes together. Compare this completed model to the actual car, below.
While no attempt was made to duplicate exactly the technical components of the real Lead Balloon on the model, the major pieces do match, namely the make, year and body styles of the two and the engine and transmission and exhaust systems. One example of differences is the fact that The Lead Balloon had a solid front axle which had replaced the stock independent front suspension while the model car has the stock suspension components. Another difference is the color of the paint, tan on the model, maroon (burgundy?) on the original. A third deviation is that The Lead Balloon had a flip front end where the model has a regular pop-up hood. But let’s not be such a stickler for authenticity, shall we?
I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide whether this exercise, undertaken with a very limited (no) budget and with no desire to spend hour upon endless hour recreating minute components to attempt authenticity, succeeded or failed. You are the final judge. You decide whether this model captures the spirit and/or soul of The Lead Balloon or whether this was just another exercise in futility.
A very special thanks to Lucas Pavnoz whose support during this undertaking was inspiring and to the vendor at the San Diego Auto Swap Meet who had such special, give-away prices on his car models. A special thanks too to the directors of the Mickey Bitzko Historical Society for their expression of faith in assigning me this challenging task. I can only hope I lived up to their very low expectations.