Small Cars, Big Impact

A Guest Blog Post from Raffi Minasian, automotive / model car designer and Model Car Hall of Fame Selection Committee member

 

 

One of the first memories I have as a kid interacting with a car was seeing a big black Chrysler pulling up and parking in front of our house. It must have been a new car because the chrome was gleaming. As I approached it, I could see myself in the reflections of the fender and chrome plating. I marveled at the way the car changed my shape, as I moved up and down watching my reflection change like a fun-house mirror. I ran inside the house, grabbed a pencil and paper and feverishly attempted to draw it. I was captivated with the idea of reflections. To me cars reflected infinite possibility.

 

A sketch by Raffi
A sketch in Raffi’s personal portfolio, 1989

 

Design would ultimately become my profession but along the way, I would nurture that passion through my childhood and teens building scale model cars. I loved making model cars, assembling the shapes, using ideas for custom changes, being the master over the final design. As I got better at detail, the fascinating world of miniaturization, scaling reality, creating dioramic vignettes, all fueled my growing imagination. By the time I earned my industrial design degree from UCLA and later my transportation design degree from Art Center, I found myself working both industries, but always returning to cars.

 

A sketch by Raffi
Raffi’s concept sketch from 1986 showing ideas for underbody aerodynamics and heat management

 

To me, the key to effective miniaturization is to have empathy with the observer – the one who recalls with nostalgic joy, the “feeling” of his 67 Mustang, the power, the youth, the freedom, and the way that feeling reunites them with that past, through a 10” model on the bookshelf. Yes you can measure the wheelbase and get it perfectly right, but numbers and calculations are only one part of capturing the essence of a genuinely scaled model. It must be scaled to the heart of the observer, measured with their passion, and detailed with their expectations. No one gets nostalgic with a ruler or paint charts – if you’re model is being scrutinized at that level, you haven’t told an emotionally engaging story.

 

A sketch by Raffi
Raffi’s sketches from a series of investigations with Steve Moal of Moal Coach-builders for a one-off car based on a client’s request.

 

Though it might sound odd, I often speak about miniaturization as a form of expansion; a way for collectors to return to broad emotional moments of expectation, desire, and dreams about their future. Cars can do that for many of us who grew up with them as vehicles for our emancipation, our mechanical fascination, but also as a way to validate our misunderstood way of thinking. I was very much a 3-dimensional, visual learner. But I struggled in school with subject matter that was not visual or sculptural. Cars reassured me. In their forms I saw the potential for mastery, for a life-long partner in challenge, mechanical complexity, and relational certainty. If I took care of my car, it would always take care of me. When I first started working professionally as a pattern maker, I learned from some of the best. Many of them hardly used drawings once they had cut their side view and began chiseling the details. The car is always there, waiting for you in the block of wood. Just remove the distractions around it that have nothing to do with the story.

 

An unassembled model
pattern master for the 1:43 scale Automodello Cunningham Vignale

 

In the end, car modeling, scaled story telling, expert detailing are all linked to the same emotional string – the feeling of comfort tied up in the past. A beautifully scaled model car will not only capture an accurate representation of the times and places from a collector’s past, it will joyfully reconnect them to that moment every time they see it on their shelf.

 

Model Car
Prototype for the Franklin Mint 1:24 Lambandi, which Raffi designed and made by hand.

 

I’m honored to be a part of the Model Car Hall of Fame, furthering the traditions and innovations in model making mastery, celebrating the skills of individuals and companies who capture the greatest mechanical masterpieces of modern industry through the magic of scale modeling.

Show us why you’re passionate! Head to modelcarhall.com/nominate/ – John O’Neil, MCHOF Community Director