Hubley 1:18 Duesenberg Town Car: Zinc or Swim

Hubley 1:18 Duesenberg Town Car: Zinc or Swim

Popping the box on a vintage Hubley metal model is a lot like entering a scale auto Oz. But to the less experienced modeler, the happy feeling can wear off quickly. Truth is, like that Merry Old Land, casual wandering amid the (parts) trees often resulted in panic attacks delivered not by flying monkey, but from the dirty, potentially injurious work required to file, smooth, prep, paint and fit the diecast pieces together.

If the tedium of those early steps didn’t do a guy in, the final assembly certainly could: Builders who made it to the home stretch without too many band-aids on their fingertips still had to forge through a particularly onerous process involving awful stick-on interior panels and ill-fitting paper whitewalls for the tires. Sounds like fun, huh?

Actually, it is – and the results can be spectacular, if you’ve got the patience and some time to burn. Witness this 1:18 1930 Duesenberg SSJ Town car, an original early ’60’s “Pennsylvania” Hubley kit built up in the late 1990s. A couple of detours were taken; the long withered paper stickers and primitive inner door decorations were tossed in favor of painted on sidewalls and styrene panels, and epoxy filled body seams lie beneath six coats of hand rubbed automotive lacquer. Shake-on flocking for the seats and a vanity license plate (supplied by Ned Anello) spruce up the otherwise box-stock build, which used the balance of the antique kit’s pieces, right down to the die-stamped sheet plastic lensing and windshields.

Finding an original Hubley kit has become tough (and expensive), and quality built-ups can fetch several hundred dollars. Feel like trying your hand? No problem. The Hubley name followed the lineup of 1:18 Duesenbergs and 1:22/1:24 Packards, Chevrolets, and Fords when the molds went to Gabriel Industries in 1965, and then on to Joe Ertl (of the Dyersville, Iowa Ertls), who marketed the cars under the “Hubley by Scale Models” moniker until the early ’90s. These later kits (like the pristine one behind our model) and semi-built, but complete “quitter” kits are still obtainable for a reasonable sum. Band-aids not included.

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  1. I just cleaaned out my garage and found a Hubley model SJ Dusenberg 1/18th scale in the original box that I never opened the packets and never tried to put together!
    Your article convinced me that I need to find an enthusiast like you who would really do it justice. Thanks . Now to find a buyer>

    1. Hello, Link –

      That’s outstanding! What a find. I don’t know if you do online auctions, but an original kit with all the packets intact – wow. You could be sitting on some extra summertime cash! Of course, you could try to build it – it really is a lot of fun.

      Thanks for sharing the news – and for reading Die Cast X!

      Best Regards,


    2. I built one of those Dusenbergs back in 1969-1970—cherry red over silver. Lots of work filing the excess metal off. I had more patience in my teens. The final product was a beauty. The I went away to a Connecticut boarding school (with the Dusenberg) and some jealous bully kids stole it—probably threw it into the woods where is rusted away. I went looking but could never find it. Now, all these years later I seek another even if partially assembled or unassembled. I would truly appreciate if someone contacted me— Brian Reilly at 209-772-8854. Thank you.

  2. I have a Duesenberg Model SJ Town car that dad assembled in the original box.. Is it worth anything since it is assembled? Thanks for a response. Paula

    1. Hi, Paula –

      Are you referring to a plastic kit – like the Monogram model from the ‘seventies – or a built-up metal model? The plastic kits probably won’t fetch much in built-up state (unless the build is very good), but the metal kits can still get decent money if the finished model is in good shape and has all of its parts.

  3. Sir,

    I am in the process of building the Hubley metal Model SJ Duesenberg and I am “stumped” on the assembly of the worm gear shaft and sector gear assembly. From the illustrations I do not see how the sector gear and worm gear can mesh. Can you help me out. Thanks.


    1. Hello, Gary –

      First – bravo! It’s a challenge, but the finished model can be VERY cool.

      That assembly is one of the weak links in the model’s design. If you can muster up the small files and finishing tools needed to clean all the flash from the componentry (and that’s a big “if”), you still have to get the gears to mesh cleanly and work together, whilst trapping them inside the case halves. Then you’ll have to get the steering wheel, steering shaft, linkages, etc. to align and work together. If you manage to accomplish all of this, be prepared for parts failure; as is the case on many of the working assemblies on the famed Pocher 1:8 kits, the materials used to make these pieces (in this case, relatively soft zinc alloy) isn’t hard enough to bear the stress of their intended use. I’ll admit it: I’ve built three of these kits over the years – and seen many more as built pieces – and I can’t recall ever seeing one that had working steering as designed.

      My suggestion? Give it a shot, do your best, and if it starts to become a major heartburn, do without it. Though I’d imagine you might find a source for better gears, unless you’re willing to really burn the midnight oil on the car’s steering, just use the gearbox as a terminus for the steering shaft and external linkages, and leave the worm gear out of the equation. Instead of trying to make the steering work, spend the time topside on paint and decorating. Remember – as long as you build the hubs and front axle correctly, you can still turn the front wheels and pose them in any position.

      Good luck! Contact me directly at if you have any more questions – and don’t forget to post pics of your car on our Facebook page!

  4. Joe,

    Thanks for the info. From the diagram it looked like the sector gear was to fit inside the steering box and the only way it could work, but how in the world would the steering box close? I have put the model aside and come back to it with a fresh approach and it has worked but this one has me flustered. I will surely put yjr model on your Facebook if I am satisified with the results. Everything is going pretty well except the steering.


  5. There are several hundred experienced Hubley craftsmen who would be happy to walk you through all of the time-tested and proven techniques at the revitalized HUBLEY SCALE MODEL CLUB.

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