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In 1998, 1:24 scale model collectors who were big fans of Franklin Mint got a surprise.  A model was coming out that had an amazing story associated with it.  Given the erudition of  these collectors, surprising that none had heard of the subject car.

The provenance of the car was enthralling, and so was the car’s design…

I’m Raffi Minasian.  I know the incredible story behind the making of the model of the Coupe Simone.  Because working with a close collaborator, I made up the story, made up the subject car, and produced a mint caliber replica.

… a replica of a car that never actually existed.  And yet sold better than replicas of real classics of the era.

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In late 1995, Roger Hardnock and I had just met at The Franklin Mint.  Fellow design directors, we would occasionally grab lunch together and share ideas for models.  We dreamed about what it must have been like building cars in the coachbuilt era.

Imagine the kind of people who could afford cars being built for them.  Imagine selecting and directing top coachbuilders the way millionaires choose architects for their estates.

Over a period of  weeks, our daydreams coalesced around two fictional car body designers working in the thirties.   Emmett and Armand became our alter egos.  And Emmett and Armand would design a car.  For once, we could work outside the limits of actual history.  More demanding, as it turned out, was working within the realm of plausible history.  We had to deduce and justify everything in the design and story of the car, instead of working off historical sketches, diagrams and recorded history.

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We began by studying the art, architecture, and artifacts of the 1930’s. What were creative people like at this time? What were their motivations? We needed to get into the minds, live a bit of their lives, and understand the time frame that surrounded their creative process.  Once we had exposed ourselves to the tools, materials, and ways of thinking we began designing our past. The more we related to the past, the more the car emerged.

The car was to be called the Coupe Simone.

The biggest challenge was to design both an innovative but historically credible shape. Simone had to be both familiar yet mysterious in her “look”.  She had to have enough believable components, infused with the right touch of the future.  And we wanted an emotional story behind this unique car’s creation.

Our intent was to create a museum quality presentation of the car design in fifth scale and how it came to be made.  When we discovered a vintage chest it became clear that we would treat this invented past history as a recent discovery and reveal the artifacts of this discovery as part of the concept.

Building The Dream

We spent hours drawing sketches before we started shaping the clay.  As we worked on the car, we developed the coachwork logo, the commission documents, the photos of the designers, and the story line for the characters.  After a few months, the characters became very real to us. When events happened in our daily lives, we extended those events to the diaries and studio notes of our characters. These events overlapped so closely that Simone became more of a design by Emmett-Armand than Roger-Raffi.

Click on “The Strange Case of the Midnight Ghost” to read the story that was invented about the Coupe Simone.

Despite our car design experience, getting to the fifth scale model took forever.  All the surfacing features had to blend together but not in a modern way. The drawings and documents had to all be aged, all be worded in language of the times, and all our tools had to be limited by what was available at that time. We did our best to “live” our parts.

As we built and shaped the clay, we secretly designed all the details and dimensions to fit over an existing Duesenberg chassis. Working late nights after work, cutting and shaping the clay, we developed two distinct and different sides.  Side A had a more pronounced and upright grille that blended back into a sharper front fender blade.  Side B had a more pointed front end and carried dramatic fender peaks swelling over the front wheels.  The front wheels were always treated as a covered design element, as was the razor back.  Eventually, the two sides became a union of the best features and the car was unified as a single design.

With the support of The Franklin Mint, we would debut the exhibit at the Franklin Mint Museum Gallery in 1996.  It was a hit!

Within a few weeks, we were showing the exhibit to Franklin Mint owner Lynda Resnick.  She was so excited by our work she requested we bring the fifth scale model up to her husband  Stewart and the rest of the business team.  With Lynda’s emphatic support, the Coupe Simone was voted into the development cycle as part of the line up of die cast cars.

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The day we got the word to build the Coupe Simone we began immediately.  We pushed the schedule as hard as we could partly because we wanted the tooling dollars to get allocated and production committed before anyone changed their minds.  We developed the body shape in our local shop as we felt that was the most critical part to interpret correctly. Once completed, we began discussions with our engineering group in Hong Kong.

We had a great working relationship with the crafting staff, so we knew we could rely on them to follow through with the same level of perfection as they did with all the other models.  Amazingly, they not only understood what we were trying to do, they embraced it and added their own sense of artistry and flair to it.  The team leaders had so much respect for our vision, added a significant portion of valuable engineering to the entire build and finish of the car.  It was fun watching them speak Chinese over the details at our review table and laughing at our reasons for certain additions.

All the interior parts, chassis details, fit and finish issues, and specialty trim parts for the engine area had to be made in a cost effective manner.  They not only had to look good, they had to have an aura of realism.  Nothing could look modern or cobbled, yet the entire car had to be designed and assembled in a year.  We spent many hours creating drawings for the interior to achieve the correct Art Deco era look and feel.  When the model was completed and ready for production, we were amazed at how real it was.  So real, that it became evident to us that with a real Duesenberg chassis and a ton of money, we could build this car full size.  Soon we would be approached for this very challenge and we would begin the process of trying to find a “suitable patron” and donor chassis.  Much like our fictional characters, we began to live a bit of the fantasy world.  This aspect of our project is still underway. One day, perhaps.

Epilogue

It’s been twenty years since the concept of Simone emerged out of a partnership between two enthusiastic partners and their desire to build a beautiful car. In the ensuing years Franklin Mint has ceased to do business, though the models continue to change hands. Much has been written in various blogs and social media posts about Simone and her history. Though many eventually “get to the bottom of it”, eventually these two stories will come together and only be the artifacts will remain, merged together – revealing a story of passion, creative expression and two car designers building a dream.

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