The Predicta Project
by Mark S. Gustavson
Telling the Tale
As recognized by Street Rodder and Car Culture Deluxe in 2009, Darryl Starbird's Predicta is not just an icon of the custom car hobby, but its developing design evolution since 1960 has produced a graceful, "space-age" car that knows no era.
The Predicta Project will celebrate the history of this great car through several elements:
This book will present the construction and history of the Predicta in an historic and cultural context. The car can't be understood and appreciated without examining the background from which it emerged, and the historical and economic influences that led it to be modified from 1961 through 2007.
This integrated approach will help the reader to understand and appreciate the full history of the car, the role it played in American automotive cultural history, and to appreciate the car in a larger context. The book will also present a design and historic analysis of each version of the car. Well also wonder together why this remarkable car received almost no media coverage after it was restyled in 1963, even though the model kit was one of the best selling ever for Monogram: The car virtually disappeared in the media from 1964 through 1979, and only modestly appeared again, sporadically, in the media after its first post-acquisition renovation in 2007. The book will examine in detail the five major versions of the car including the 1960 AHRA drag race iteration, the modest 1961 restyle, the 1963 so-called "Monogram Restyle," the silver metalflake version of the American Chopper era,
the Carl Green restoration in 1996,
the only renovation of the car ever done by anyone but Starbird), and the incredible 2007 Starbird tear-down and reconstruction.
Hundreds of never-before-seen photos, gathered over 25 years from many sources including the little known Monogram kit-engineering images taken during the company's 1963 kit research at the plant will be presented;
many of these historic photos will be digitally restored for clarity. Also, Carl Green has contributed his surprising and revealing restoration photos (and stories of how badly the car was apparently treated in the post-Darrell Zipp era), and Darryl Starbird has shared his many candid renovation and reconstruction photos.
Another major focus of the book will be the Monogram hobby kits, without which history the car cannot be fully appreciated and understood. Rather than sequestering the model kits to an Appendix, the various iterations of the Monogram kit will be presented as integral to the larger story and in a separate chapter. Unique among all custom cars, the hobby kit company contracted with the builder to rebuild and freshen the car after the decision had been made by Monogram Models that the kit would present a modified version of the car (restyled body and candy red paint) were necessary to have sufficient market appeal for a successful kit: In an important sense, the kit drove the decision to restyle, revise and rebuild the car. The chapter on the models will also include the factory-built models for hobby stores, the little- known Hong Kong-sourced friction and battery-powered replica toys, rare manufacturer test shots, the only recently-discovered Kelly Tire promotional campaign from 1965, and other fascinating details. The book will also sample the dozens of magazine and catalog advertisements, the 1964 World's Fair catalog, and the interesting kit-restyling articles and commentary from both Darryl Starbird and kit designer Tom Daniel.
The Monogram Faux Kits: What If . . .
A key element of the larger project will be the presentation of a number of plausible, if speculative, projects based upon the established history of the car and the Monogram kit.
The Predicta Project will also include the conception and presentation of a series of "what-if" kits that are based in part on:
A). A kit of an earlier 1962 version of the car.
Monogram approached Starbird in 1963 about issuing a kit of the Predicta. Already the company's designated custom car consultant, Darryl had already designed custom elements for Monogram's model car kits in the early Sixties. It occurred Monogram President Bob Reder that the Predicta would make a great kit and could become a notable part of the company's planned Custom Car Lot promotional program. What if Monogram had:
We'll create a full-on "what if" kit from 1962 (it would have taken months to issue the kit) complete with all body parts (painted a suitable high-gloss blue to simulate Monogram plastic of the era), a full range of mechanical and interior parts, a full instruction sheet based on the 1962 -era PC-prefix Monogram kit style, all kit parts, new decals, fresh box art and so forth. The kit will feature no opening doors, or other "enhanced detail" features not found in the 1964 kit.
This faux kit will be unique in the history of Monogram Predicta kits: It will offer "customizing" options: wheels/tires, interior and grille work, as well as a front and rear grille options. The engine will be presented in its second (4-carb) version. These customizing parts will be presented as suggested by Starbird, and will include some of the changes that he made when he restyled the car in 1963 restyling! All changes will be noted on the instruction sheet.
The box art lid will depict the car show the car against a background faithfully replicating photos from the 1961 Midwest shows in which the Predicta was campaigned, with the box-sides showing individual elements of the car. The box will be the long, rectangular box in the style of the Monogram 1936 ("PC"-prefix) Ford kit with a layout modeled after the 1962-contemporary 1955 Chevy motifs.
This element of the Project will require a built-up of the kit to display on a revised display base;, the parts for the kit.
To supplement this historical speculation, we'll also do these things:
JJ Gladstone (computer work), Mark Jones (decals), Bob Wick (illustrator, art conceptualization, kit instruction illustrations), JJ Gladstone (text layout for kit instructions), Mark D. Jones (decals); Mark S. Gustavson (models), Ron Phantz (kit box art printing and production).
B). A faux 1/24 slot racing kit.
Roger Harney once told me that Monogram briefly considered doing a 1/24 slot racing kit of the Predicta in late 1964 to join other slot cars the company offered that had once been static kits (e.g., the '58 Thunderbird, '34 and '36 Ford coupes, and a Duesenberg): We're going to take the step that Monogram never did. This "what-if"' Predicta slot car will be featured on the kit box lid in a road course setting with a similar layout idioms of other 1/24 scale Monogram slot cars of the era.
The Predicta body would be based upon the original (1964) issues of the Predicta kit. An unbuilt Monogram 1/24 '58 T-Bird slot kit will be used as a template to produce this "what-if" kit. We'll cue off the 'Bird kit (box art, motifs, fonts) for period-correct graphics, language, instruction sheet, presentation idioms. That kit will provide actual chassis, engine, etc., parts to create a functional Predicta slot car model.
Some special parts will need to be made: shallow interior insert, a half-figure (bust) of Starbird, and so forth. There are two parts to this project element:
We'll use a 1964 Monogram-era regular static kit illustration of the Predicta as the basis for the box art illustration adapted to slot car kit motifs from the 1958 T-Bird kit.
Mark Jones (decals), Bob Wick (illustrator, art conceptualization, kit instruction illustrations), JJ Gladstone (computer text/image layout), Mark S. Gustavson (models), Ron Phantz (kit box art printing and production).
C). An enhanced version of the 1964 kit.
Roger Harney has also advised me that Monogram originally intended to offer the kit with opening doors. With that in mind, what if budgetary considerations hadn't been a concern in 1964 – What if Monogram had a better budget and the time to set a new standard for extensive mechanical and other detailing? What if Monogram had wanted to do a "one-up" on Johan to exceed their famed Turbine Car kit? What if the original kit's rudimentary engine and chassis detailing had been greatly enhanced?
This kit will include the following enhanced features and parts::
The box art will depict:
This model will also be accompanied by a revised version of the 1964-era store display base that will be amended to show some of the added detail for this speculative kit (and correct spelling errors on original display base). Modify the factory display base to include a mirror to display the underbody details.
Jeremiah Gladstone (computer work); Mark Jones (decals); Bob Wick (illustrator, art conceptualization, kit instruction illustrations), JJ Gladstone (computer text/image layout); Gustavson (model), Ron Phantz (kit box art printing and production).
D). Restyled "what if" version: Ford Motor Company
In late 1962, the Ford Division's Custom Car Caravan had just started, and the Division was looking for additional cars to populate its promotional cadre of customized cars. Most of the vehicles presented in the Caravan were modified production cars that featured some restyling, enhanced powerplants, and eye-candy paint jobs. Other campaigned vehicles were barely disguised "concept cars" that the audience was lead to believe presaged future corporate vehicles – or so the factory wanted the public to believe (Ford X-Cars). Still other campaigned vehicles were out-and-out wild customs that were largely fabricated from scratch by their designers. But all shared one essential requirement – they had to motivated by a Ford powerplant.
By late Summer 1962, after more than two years of public accolade and magazine awards, the Predicta had largely retired from shows and was being street driven – and Darryl drove the car a lot: Almost 30,000 miles (and a very public drag racing foray) proved the viability of the unique steering system, the practicality of which was punctuated in 1960 when he drove it down a dragstrip at a good clip at the behest of its mighty Chrysler Hemi V8. In the fickle environment of highly-competitive show cars in the early Sixties, old customs quickly lost their appeal if they weren't freshened (and often restyled) for each show season: the voracious hot rod and custom car crowds wanted to see wild and fresh cars, each outdoing the others with more and more outlandish features. The car was tired and long in the tooth – it didn't sparkle anymore.
Ford was interested in the Predicta even though it was two years old by the time that Custom Car Caravan was first underway. Starbird's wild, bubble-topped car had been widely campaigned after its debut at the Monterey show in late 1960. Despite its eclectic array of parts, (including a Hemi V8) it was unmistakably a Ford. The door and hood shapes were factory T-Bird, and every magazine and show coverage described as a futuristic T-Bird.
At the January '63 Oakland show, where Starbird presented his just-completed bubble topped '58 Thunderbird Electra, Jacques Passino approached the famed bubbletop king and asked if he'd like to restyle the Predicta and place it with the Ford Caravan. Previously, Ford had become aware of the huge role this car had played in the custom car hobby, and Darryl was the only major customizer that hadn't been invited to participate in the by then-famed Ford Custom Car Caravan. It was an audacious (and surprising) proposal because Ford had remembered the car, and was interested in campaigning what would be the third of three wild bubble-topped cars in the Ford Caravan. In one way, the stage had already been set for Starbird; Competitor and good-friend Bill Cushenbery's Silhouette had been already adopted by the Ford Caravan once Bill substituted a Ford 427 for the original Buick nailhead engine, and the over-the-top Di Dia 150 ran another 427 Ford engine. Of course, the company insisted in this situation what it had done previously: a Ford engine had to be used (in this case, a 406-6V setup), and Ford would pay for all agreed-upon aesthetic and mechanical changes, provide all of the Ford mechanical components, and pay a healthy rental fee for the use of the car. Not only would the car be restyled, but it would be finished to a very high standard that the hurried initial construction schedule – not to mention the dearth of funds – did not permit.
Darryl was stunned by the offer, and the revival of his favorite car in one of the most high -profile and prestigious venues available in the early Sixties – and at the expense of Ford – was certainly very interesting. Monogram became aware of the Ford offer, and told Starbird of its proposal to issue a hobby kit based upon the car (that it also wanted to be restyled and updated). Bob Reder quickly called Starbird, and proposed that Monogram offer a kit of the so -called Ford Custom Car Caravan version of the Predicta. Starbird eagerly signed the papers with Ford, and worked with Jack Besser to work out the details with Monogram.
Restyling work started in April of 1963. Long hours designing the car, and determining how all of the Ford parts could be fit, commanded Darryl's full attention; the budget was substantial and Ford parts (including the high-end 406 tri-power engine) started to arrive from the corporation. Work progressed through Summer of 1963, and included the complete disassembly of the car – down to the last nut and bolt – to permit re-engineering and presenting added features. Monogram photographers visited often taking photos and measurements for the pending kit; additionally, Ford check's arrived regularly for the five-month rebuilding time period.
The Ford representative didn't object to a joint arrangement with the kit manufacturer; certainly , other customizers (whose cars were featured on the Caravan had previously struck consulting deals with other hobby kit manufacturers, principally AMT) had concurrently become "customizing consultants" with those other kit manufacturers. Ford's only objective for Darryl was for the Predicta to prominently display Ford mechanical features and be as mechanically "serious" as Starbird could make it for the purpose of convincing the public that conventional, market-ready Ford mechanical equipment and components could be successfully used on a wild , futuristic custom car (and, by extension, on hot rods and competition cars).
By late October 1963, the car was ready for the Ford Caravan.
Model/Diorama: The model will faithfully built to match this description, and will be photographed (as if "real') for the box-lid illustration. The model will be presented in a vignette of the Ford Caravan. A phantom Monogram box will be created that will depict the restyled Predicta in a Ford Caravan display setting.
Mark S. Gustavson (design and construction of scale miniature). Bob Wick (kit box art interpretation of the car in the Ford Caravan), Don Strong: (construction of vignette of Custom Car Caravan – based upon vintage photos from late 1963), Ron Phantz (kit box art printing and production)