MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images courtesy of Robert Tate's collection
Posted: 07.11.2016

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If you were a youngster like me during the 1960s and building model car kits and collecting promotional model cars, chances are you would probably remember one of the largest plastic model car companies in the world – the Model Products Corporation, or MPC.

MPC was located in Mount Clemens, Mich. The company started its journey back in the early 1960s with the introduction of its 1964 Corvette model assembly kit. The company was started by the late George Toteff along with Dick Branstner, who was the original owner of the “Color Me Gone” series of drag racing cars.

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MPC would later manufacture an estimated 8 million models per year; it would become a very productive company for Mr. Toteff and a great company for the American and European hobbyists which many collectors had really enjoyed. Back then, the model car business was a growing industry that generated great sales and revenue.

The first promotional model car was manufactured in 1965. And although MPC made others toy model kits, Sam Bushala, MPC's advertising manager at the time, once said, “We’re pretty much like a miniature car company.”

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For example in 1969, thousands of miniature Dodge Coronet models were shipped to dealers for promotional purposes after final assembly at the Mount Clemens factory plant. The year 1969 was also a particularly robust time for specialty model kits from popular TV shows such as “Mission Impossible,” or the popular Monkeemobile from “The Monkees.” The kit “Hemi Under Glass” was also a very popular model manufactured by MPC.

MPC at the time employed 250 employees who worked around the clock within three different shifts. Many employees were assembly line workers stationed along the conveyor belts building and assembling models and putting parts into place. MPC also manufactured race cars, vintage cars and airplanes for the hobby enthusiast as well.

The Model Products Corporation employed some of the best skilled wood craftsmen and engineers in the industry. The workers, along with MPC engineers, could design and carve an identical 1/10th scale version from a scale drawing that was usually given to them by the engineering department. The company used a pantograph technique to further the direction of the process which would reduce the 1/10th scale version down to 1/25th scale which was the scale used on most of their production model kits.

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During the 1960s, most of the toy car manufactures would use plastic injection methods for production. Plastic pellets were blown into a heated tube where they were melted down then injected onto the face of the large metal molding part. One mold would usually contain an impression which was a cluster for as many as 120 parts for a single model car kit, to be prepared for the manufacturing process. At that time, a model kit for a youngster would cost between $2.25 to $2.50. Today, an unassembled model kit would cost the consumer $20.

As MPC's journey would continue the General Mills Company, located in Minneapolis, Minn., would become the biggest investor in the company’s future which now were starting to sell the very popular Lionel train sets.

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During the early days of manufacturing plastic models American cars were much more in demand compared to other foreign makes and models. Believe it or not back then, the scale model consumer public was just as selective and if certain model kits did not contain the right parts and options, the hobbyist would not support the manufacturer. The Model Products Corporation, however, was one of largest automotive miniature companies in the world.

During a time when computers were not available, if a mistake in design or engineering occurred, this could easily cost millions for the company which is very different from today where companies rely on the latest and greatest technology. It’s much easier to manufacture model kits for today's generation.

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One of the most impressive and popular licensed items that MPC manufactured was the Star Wars model kits which had a huge impact on the buying public and today they have become a true collector’s item. In 1985, MPC was purchased by the ERTL Corporation which already had acquired the AMT Corporation.

In conclusion, the ownership of the MPC Corporation was sold many years ago however the late George Toteff, who started this great company have left many collectors including myself, many great and fond memories that will last a lifetime.

 

A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for contributing this story to the MotorCities Story of the Week Program.

For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. (Bibliography: Anderson, Budd. “It’s A Hundred Million Car Year!” Wards Quarterly Spring 1965; Toteff Jr., Anthony George. 2011: Obituary, The Toledo Blade, February 4.)