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Hudson’s Lil’ Old Timers – Small-scale plastic kits that helped spawn a collectible industry

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1914 Regal Lil’ Old Timers model; image by author.

Scale models have been a big part of the collector-car hobby for nearly as long as the hobby has been around. Over the decades, many a life-size car has been replicated in a number of scales, often in metal or plastic, and in preassembled or kit form. With regard to plastic kits—which was a booming industry in the Sixties and Seventies—perhaps one of the more memorable early examples is the Highway Pioneers. What many may not realize is that Hudson Miniatures may have paved the initial path for the plastic craze.

Founded by A.J. Koveleski and based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Hudson Miniatures began to release the “Old Timers” models of vintage cars in 1947. The assemble-at-home kits were finely crafted 3/4-inch scale replicas, the parts of which were primarily wood; smaller items, such as lamps, as well as the wheels, were die-cast metal. A total of 20 kits were released to a thirsty public, reportedly beginning with a 1911 Maxwell and ending with a Ford Model T fire engine. Wooden kit production ceased in 1953, but enthusiasts who bought later releases would have noted the switch from die-cast metal to acetate plastic, which was a natural stepping-stone for their next effort.

From 1951-’52, the company issued a companion series in 3/8-inch scale called “Lil’ Old Timers.” Issued entirely in plastic, they were essentially smaller copies of their larger Old Timers brethren. Initially, only four such kits made it into production: 1904 Oldsmobile, 1911 Maxwell, 1913 Mercer Raceabout and the 1914 Regal pictured here, which we happened to find complete and unassembled for just $15. A fifth kit was later released, a 1912 Packard, that was to be part of a second four-vehicle series—issued in 1953—that never truly materialized. These kits were renowned for their attention to detail and scale, and are still a favorite among collectors today.

In 1958, a fire at the Hudson Miniature’s warehouse, which had stockpiled and continued to release the initial run of wooden Old Timers, destroyed the stock, subsequently driving up the value of remaining kits. The plastic Lil’ Old Timers fared much better: Hudson had earlier sold the molds and rights to Revell, which promptly moved production to England. Revell was also successful in acquiring the original Highway Pioneer series. Each of the five original Hudson kits was later re-released under Revell’s company banner, along with the original series of Highway Pioneers.

This article originally appeared in the July, 2012 issue of Hemmings Motor News.