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Scale Auto Classic Kits: Heller Formula One race car

Rediscover the 1/24 scale Lotus 49 Grand Prix racing vehicle 
RELATED TOPICS: CLASSIC KITS | AUTO | HELLER | LOTUS | FORMULA ONE | RACE CAR
FSDCK0221_01
Heller 1/24 scale Lotus 49
Kit No. L.756   
Introduced: 1969, reissued in 1974  
Present Value: $50



Over the years, you may have noticed the general lack of detailed 1/24 and 1/25 scale Formula One (F1) Grand Prix plastic model kits. That’s primarily because starting in the late 1960s, kitmaker Tamiya established 1/12 scale 1/20 scale, as the norm for contemporary F1 race car kits. Unless you want to build the highly simplified Merit kits dating from the 1950s that leaves us F1 fans who prefer 1/24 and 1/25 scales out in the cold. 

Well, not exactly.   

It turns out Heller, the French scale-model company, introduced several 1/24 scale F1 kits in the late 1960s. These little-known, but highly detailed products set a standard for the Grand Prix models in this most popular scale — one that still stands even now, some 50 years later. 

This kit replicates the Lotus 49B powered by the legendary Ford-Cosworth V8 — a race-car design that Graham Hill drove to the 1968 F1 championship. Additional 49B Grand Prix victories during 1968 were notched by Jim Clark and Joseph Siffert; the 49B also recorded single wins in both the 1969 and 1970 seasons.  

The design of Heller’s kit was credited to a young Frenchman named Philippe de Lespinay, who emigrated to the U.S. and briefly became a contributor to Model Car Science magazine in the early 1970s. Later, he launched his own slot car company and, today, is also associated with the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum.  

Inside the kit modelers would find two large sheets of Instructions in French with English and German translations on the back of the second sheet. A list named each kit part and its function on the real car.   

Molded in red, black, and clear styrene, but omitting any plated parts, the 160-part kit also included four tires, wire to form individual coil-over shocks, a small tube of glue, and a small two-color Heller collar pin. A small sheet of slightly off-register decals included God Leaf Team Lotus, Ford, and STP markings. 

Unlike the unrealistic, partial engines often seen in today’s competition-themed race kits, Heller’s Ford-Cosworth V8 was rendered in highly detailed completeness. The engine alone built up from 51 different parts, with the distributor, fuel injection pump, and Lucas injection pipes all including small nubs for routing scale wiring should the builder desire to do so. A sister kit from Heller, the Brabham BT33, used the same two engine parts trees, and most likely, so did Heller’s concurrent McLaren M7A kit.      

Another kit highlight was Heller’s F1 tires. Molded in realistic black vinyl with full-tread detail, these small (front) and large (rear) two-piece tires possessed a width and aspect ratio that was simply unavailable in similar scale kits from U.S. kit makers; they would have been a boon for modelers competing in the MPC Customizing Championships that ran from 1969-1979 had more builders been aware of them.

Heller’s 1974 reissue of the original kit (shown above) featured a gorgeous rendering of the real car at speed on a rain-soaked race track, but still did little to convey to potential purchasers the superb level of detail inside the box. The kit has seen several other reissues, including versions under the Heller-Humbrol and Union brands. These showed box-art images of assembled and painted models and did a much better job of selling the true quality of the kit.          

If you revere the F1 cars of the 1960s and early 1970s, and prefer to build in 1/24 or 1/25 scale, I highly recommend searching out the Heller Lotus 49B and its sister kits.  

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