The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Will Neely

Added to museum: 12/7/07

Automotive Models with a Past

Will Neely is seen with several of the models he has built over the years. The #10 car was his second model and the #4 his third. They were built from plans in a magazine on how to build a real midget racer from old Ford parts. Several of Mr. Neely's models are currently available for sale. See note at bottom of page for details. (Click on photo for larger image.)

Successful Model Builder Builds Scaled Down Rods and Racers from His Youth

Will Neely’s love for hot cars and boats plus his skill in working with his hands can be traced back to his childhood watching his father. He remembers working on a lathe for his dad at age 9 helping him rebuild truck engines as he made his living as a mechanic. He always had access to a shop filled with welding torches and machine tools, so building things soon became second nature to him. His dad was also into hot boats, and a Neely-designed hull called “Cumon Baby” powered by a flathead Ford engine took home many honors. A later version called “Cumon Baby II” set several speed records, and Will has honored this boat with a beautiful model that shows its unusual hull design.

At age 12, Will’s dad came home one time to find he had removed the engine from the family lawn mower and was nailing it to a plywood board to make a go-kart. Before he could legally drive, he already knew how to weld and machine parts. When a little older he transformed an old Volkswagen into a dune buggy. When he graduated from high school in 1962 it was before the era of factory built muscle cars, so if you wanted to go fast you built your own hotrod. Before leaving for college, he hopped up his own 1954 Studebaker and built a stripped down “T-Bucket” roadster from an old 1931 Ford. His building skills also were put to use building Rose Parade floats from the chassis up, although the final decoration was done by others. His interest was more in the mechanical parts.

Will's mom and dad stand in front of the original "Cumon Baby" in 1952. Will's restored model of the boat his dad originally built as a study of hull shape when designing the boat honors his dad's work on the later version, "Cumon Baby II." (Click on either photo to view larger image.)

This 1/4 scale model of a Ford 60 Flathead engine converted for marine use was made by Will Neely and represents the engine that was in his father's boat "Cumon Baby II." The engine, along with the model of the boat itself now reside in the collection of Randy Wold, who owns the original vintage hydroplane itself. To see more about the boat visit his page at (Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Gerald Wingrove’s book on car modeling rekindles an interest in making small racers

In college Will studied engineering and then served a tour in the Army. He then worked a few odd jobs, including some time with IBM before finding a productive 14-year career in design with furniture manufacturer Knoll. He loved the beautiful design of their products. His passion for the design process led to a high level position as a product manager at Knoll. Among his projects were award-winning designs for student desk modules at Texas A&M University. He calls himself "more of a modeler than a designer." He worked with many talented designers but considers himself more of a hot-rodder or master craftsman—the kind of person who can translate ideas into reality. While working at Knoll, he happened on a book by 2005 Craftsman of the Year Gerald Wingrove called The Complete Car Modeler and his interest in cars and models was rekindled. The need for patience, an ability to solve problems and a knowledge of tools made the hobby a perfect fit for Will.

Will is seen "a few years ago" and more recently when he first started as a modeler at work in his current shop. (Click on either photo to view a larger image.)

He eventually left Knoll to pursue his interests in architectural design which led to a period of buying and renovating homes. He also overlapped into such industries as cosmetics, building models of distinctive containers and products for companies like Clairol, Elizabeth Arden, Steuben Glass, Steelcase, RubberMade, IBM and BMW.

Throughout all these varied career twists and turns, his love for cars and models stayed with him. He notes that he likes the older cars “before wings and cages” where the driver and mechanical components of the car were more predominant.  “The early sprints and midgets are like one of my old cars—take this Model A frame, chop it down, narrow it, put a body on it—that’s the way I made my hot rod at 17, so that design made sense.”

Will and his work were featured on the cover of the Micro-Mark tool catalog. (Click on photo for larger image.)

Among other places, Will's work has been featured on the cover of the Early Fall, 2007 Micro-Mark tool catalog. The prestigious Automobile Quarterly also published an article on Will and his work in Volume 42, #4 (4th quarter, 2002). (CLICK HERE to view PDF version of article.)

Will still takes on model work, but only for a few select customers—mainly industrial designers. He continues to build his model cars with an interest that keeps the passion of his youth alive.

Here are several examples of Will Neely's work:

(Click photos for larger images.)

Plans for cars like this Bantam Midget tether car inspired much of Will Neely's work. He loves the look, proportions and styling incorporated in the early short-track racers that was carried over into the tether cars of the 30's and 40's.
Will modeled this flathead Ford engine in 1/4 scale from his father's racing boat. (It is a visual representation, not a running engine.) The real boat still runs 60 years after it set several speed records and won seven national championships. It is now owned by Randy Wold and can be seen HERE.

The #5 car is the first model racer Will completed. It is a Bantam Midget in 1/8 scale. The plans came from the Tether Car Association (see first photo) and were scaled down to fit some tires he already had on hand. The engine was built from plans in Mark Dee's book on Harry Miller.

Based on another Miller design, the #4 is a front drive car that Will found in a book called The Miller Dynasty. It was made for his friend the late Jake LaMotta (not to be confused with the famous boxer of the same name) who had made some of the original mite size tether cars. Jake had wanted a long, narrow, sleek design, which this car certainly captures.
    The big #3 car is built in 1/4 scale. The plans were from Ray Kuhn's reprints and are of a full size dirt car that would today be called a Sprint Car. It uses Model "T" and Model "A" parts with the front and real axel and frame coming from a Model "T" and then modified.
This dirt car sports classic flames.

The #11 car is based on plans for a 1950's Kurtis Midget. This is about 1/6 scale with a 13" wheelbase as would be used for a tether car. He has also made a larger 1/4 scale version that had a Ford 60 engine.

This is a model that is similar to a full-size hotrod Will built at age 19. He was making a T-bucket roadster on a Model "A" frame with an old 1950 Olds 305 cubic inch engine. He had purchased the whole car for $50. The back half of this model body is a "T-bucket" and the front half is fabricated to smooth out the "T" into a '32 Ford style grill. The model was a prototype for a hotrod he wanted to build full size.
A"T" roadster with oversize rear tires that feature a hand cut "dirt track" tread pattern.
The handsome "Barile Special, #10.
This more streamlined looking racer is a cross between a Kurtis nose and grill and an old Auto Union where the frame is covered with the bodywork. I has wire wheels is still a 13 Bantam with smoother lines.
This 1/8 scale Bonneville "Lakester" type land speed record car incorporates an outrageously large 1/6 scale commercial model drag engine for a fun combination.
Another Bonneville type speed car with very smooth lines and thin wheels and tires.
This Miller front drive car is similar to the purple #2 car made from plans in the book The Miller Dynasty.
This model was inspired by seeing his dad's friend's old boat on the Internet. His name was Joe Guess and his hydroplanes were always beautiful. One was called "Zzzip" and the other was named "Guess Who." Joe's engine was built by Clay Smith, so both get credits on the model car.
  Repair and cleaning

Detail: Gas tank and back of instrument panel (before cleaning)

Detail: Rear suspension before and after cleaning


#3 vintage midget race car

This is one of the larger cars Will built and features an exposed Offenhauser 4-cylinder engine, working steering and a hand brake lever on the driver's left side that actually actuates the rear brakes. The wire wheels are all hand laced. The car features detail that cannot even be seen once the body panels are on, such as the complete wiring to the back of the instrument panel (3rd photo). This car was featured on the cover of a 2007 Micro-Mark tool catalog along with a photo of Will.

The car was shipped to the Craftsmanship Museum for display, but damage in shipping caused the cast front axel to be broken in a couple of places. the car is seen disassembled as Tom Boyer repaired the front axel and also cleaned up the wheels and all the parts. Years of uncovered display had left it pretty dirty, but the chrome and paint cleaned up beautifully.

After repair and cleaning an oak and melamine display base was made for the car and Paul Healy built a custom acrylic cover to keep dust and fingerprints off the car. It is now on display.

#32 Miller type vintage sprint car

This car is quite large--about 37" long--and features working steering. It has solid wheels, leather seat, engine turned aluminum dashboard and leather hood straps on the side of the hood. The hood does not actually open, so the engine is not fully detailed like the car above. A tiny "moto-meter" temperature guage is fitted in place of the radiator cap that features Will's "WN" initials in the sight glass.

This car is on loan to the foundation's Miniature Engineering Craftsmanship Museum in Carlsbad, CA and can be seen in person M-Sat, 9-5.

A couple of details from the big 1/4 scale cars. The first is from the #3 car above and the second from the #32 car shown in the first photo at the beginning of this page
This front-engine altered dragster incorporates a model airplane engine for power.
Another dream hotrod Will prototyped in a model, this one is a cross between a track T racer and a dragster. Like the Lakester above it pays homage to Ed "Big Daddy" Roth who was known for cartoonishly large engines stuffed into stylish hotrods. This roadster includes a huge 1/6 scale supercharged Ford 427 V8 with "zoomie" headers. (The engine is a stock item incorporated into Will's hand-made car.)
One of the most dramatic speed record cars ever built, Will's version of the Stutz Blackhawk is modeled here. It can also be seen in the first photo of Will and the group of models at the beginning of this page.
Will poses with his latest project, completed in early 2008. It is a car like they built in the early days of hot rodding, when machines were simply stripped down to make them as light as possible and fitted with hopped up engines. Then they took them to the nearest dry lake to see how fast they could go.
The wooden frame is from an old tether car book, stretched to accommodate this engine and components. The powerplant is modeled after an old Offenhauser Midget engine.
Details show the wood steering wheel and small glass windshield--from back when they really did look like just a "shield." The plans from Mark Dee's book on Miller provided the details for the engine.
Some of Will's professional work should also be included here. In addition to the cars he makes for fun, he has had a long and distinguished career as a professional model maker for industry. This particular model was an interesting one done for Steuben Glass from a Paul Haigh design. This mold made by Will was based on the shape of the inside of the Pantheon dome and was to be used to form the inside of an glass art sculpture.

The second image is a model of a clock also designed by Paul Haigh.

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