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The incredible saga of the IMRA Eagle


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#1 T54

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Posted 12 August 2011 - 19:29

When Bobby Unser won the Indy 500 in 1975 in the Jorgensen-Eagle-Offy, a Scotsman by the name of Reeves Whitson negotiated an agreement with the IMS to market a series of white-metal kits in the 1/43 scale, the first being the 1975 Eagle.
In 1975, there were few really good white-metal or resin kits as the Japanese had not begun yet, the John Day or other British kits were rather crude, and the only good ones came from France, mostly from Andre-Marie Ruf (AMR).

Several top-notch model makers were hired to produce the new kits, that were to be manufactured in Costa Mesa, California under the name IMRA, or "International Model Racing Association". Famed pattern maker Lloyd Asbury, who had produced most of the Lancer slot car body molds in the mid-1960's and more recently the maker of most of the Action Performance patterns, was in charge of making the intricate parts that would make up these kits, that would establish new standards in the business. Other craftsmen were also hired, including Yours Truly who devised the packaging and drew the assembly instructions as well as painted the cover picture of the press kit. The introduction press kit was also spectacular, with extensive pictures and a description of the extensive manufacturing program of all the Indy-winning cars since 1911...

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Reeves Whitson was not an unknown figure in the business: in 1967, he had attempted to organize the manufacturers of racing cars based in the UK (Lotus, Brabham, McLaren etc.) into an organization he would run in the attempt of licensing model car companies and paying royalties to the manufacturers. Indeed few were, and I personally recall how none of the kits I designed for the Heller company were licensed, but it was never in question at the time as both MATRA and Alpine were in fact very happy about having models made of their cars and provided all the needed information I wanted.

In 1970, Whitson moved to the USA and began organizing a similar setup for American vehicles, but that faltered. However, he had serious connections, and was able to help Maurice Philippe, and Yours Truly to obtain US permanent-resident status, and leased us from his company, Maurice to Vel's Parnelli Jones and me to my employer at the time, the Cox Hobbies company.

When IMRA was founded, Whitson's connections got him a favorable introduction to Tony Hulman, and the kit was introduced at the IMS shortly after Bobby's win. The meeting was reported by several local newspapers:

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And indeed, the finished product was truly beautiful and established a new threshold for any and all kit manufacturers:

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Detailing in the kit was unheard of in that scale:

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The cast body and wing, the etched-metal steel pan and wing fences and small detailed parts were factory painted in the correct Jorgensen blue color. Extremely fine and very accurate decals (I saw to that, since i was in charge of the decor of the full-size car), as well as vacuum former seat and clear windshield were included.
Extensive and well illustrated instructions were enclosed. Parts rested on a vacuum formed tray.

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This adventure began rather well, but did not end that way. Shortly after the production of the kits began and as the prepaid orders flowed in, disagreements between the partners took place and in a very short order, the venture was simply abandoned. It is estimated that no more than 200 kits were actually delivered before the entire venture collapsed.

The subsequent kits were never produced by IMRA but by a friend of Lloyd Asbury, who had a small model company called Marque Miniatures. There, the Coyote-Foyt, McLaren M16 and a few others were produced, and while their packaging never reached the level of the original, they sold to discriminating collectors. They are still to this day, the most detailed kits in that scale I have seen, as the current Japanese kits casting quality is still not to that level, their greater detail coming from the use of added metal-etched parts or wiring.

I never had an IMRA Eagle kit until... this week, when I was able to purchase one at a reasonable price. In the day, I did not care, so never got one. So the pictures posted here tell a bit of what it looked like, 36 years ago...
Is it not a beauty? :)

Edited by T54, 16 August 2011 - 20:05.


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#2 JacnGille

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Posted 13 August 2011 - 00:51

:clap:

#3 biercemountain

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Posted 16 August 2011 - 18:03

Looks like a very nice model. The parts breakdown rivals some 1/24 scale kits.

#4 jj2728

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Posted 17 August 2011 - 00:20

:up:

#5 Obster

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Posted 18 August 2011 - 22:20

I saw several completed variations of this model during a visit to Marque Products in 1989.

#6 T54

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 02:08

After the collapse of IMRA, Gene Parrill, who then owned Marque Miniatures, made a deal with Lloyd Asbury to continue the series. So they made variations of the 1974-75 Eagle, the Coyote-Foyt, the McLaren M16 and others I cannot remember, all of them were splendid kits, even by today's standards. In fact, I cannot think of ONE Japanese of other companies producing 1/43 scale kits that has done a better job of casting miniature parts in resin or metal.

#7 SWB

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Posted 05 October 2011 - 16:41

In fact, I cannot think of ONE Japanese of other companies producing 1/43 scale kits that has done a better job of casting miniature parts in resin or metal.


Hmmm, well Superior Models, Tameo, Bosica, initially come to mind.

But wasn't this kit marketed by Precision Miniatures (Lloyd Asbury) as well? I remember building one in the late eighties or early nineties and it was a rare thing then.

Steve


#8 JacnGille

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 00:26

Hmmm, well Superior Models, Tameo, Bosica, initially come to mind.

Marsh Models made some very good McLaren M16s.

#9 T54

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Posted 06 October 2011 - 22:51

The Precision Miniatures kits marketed by Gene Parrill and produced by Lloyd Asbury used the same basic patterns, but were never supplied with painted parts or the extensive instructions or the nice packaging. The 1975 Jorgensen car however was not re-issued as far as I know because it would have possibly caused some legal issues.

I have seen many kits since, but have never seen anything as precise and accurate as the work of Lloyd Asbury. Of course it is all in the pattern work, and frankly, in my opinion, that of the smaller parts, gearbox or engine parts by even Marsh or Tameo casting quality does not compare. A magnifying glass quickly shows the difference.
However, once assembled, those more recent 1/43 scale models look great, mostly due to the extensive use of etched and plated parts.

#10 T54

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 01:15

Now I have found from an investigator who is writing a book about it that Reeve Whitson was involved as an informant for the FBI and possibly was the person who solved one of the most publicized crimes in the early 1970's!!!
Whooo! :(
From model making to spook!