The Internet Craftsmanship Museum Presents:

Roger Zimmermann

Added to museum: 5/19/2010

A lifelong love of the Studebaker Avanti leads to a spectacular model—eventually

Retired General Motors engineer Roger Zimmermann is seen with the 1/12 scale models of the Toronado and Avanti he built starting in 1963 while always improving his techniques and standards. In the summer he works on full-size auto restorations, and in the winter he works indoors on the smaller versions. (Click on photo to view a larger image.)


By Craig Libuse

Having grown up with a Studebaker Avanti that my father purchased new in 1963 and I still own, I have been a member of the Avanti Owners Association International (AOAI) for many years. Membership includes a subscription to Avanti magazine. (See also for more.) For the past several years I have read with interest each time the magazine included articles documenting the progress of a very detailed 1/12 scale model of the car being built from the frame up by a craftsman in Switzerland. The Winter/Spring 2010 issue finally showed the nearly finished model complete with turquoise exterior and interior (my favourite combination too), chrome bumpers and full engine detail. The following article details the model making progress of automotive engineer Roger Zimmermann. Starting with crude cardboard and tin models as a child, he improved his techniques over the years to come up with this museum-quality model. His obsession for a very unusual piece of American automotive history has resulted in a real masterpiece.

Here is the finished 1/12 scale 1963 Studebaker Avanti model that occupied many years of Roger's spare time from 1963 to 2010. (Click on photo to view larger image.)

About Roger Zimmermann

Roger lives in Switzerland and turned 65 in 2010. He is an automotive engineer with General Motors (retired since 2002) and has been interested in cars since childhood. He was especially interested in the 1950’s Studebakers as well as other US cars. During his youth, his parents lived in a rural part of the French portion of Switzerland where cars were rare and American cars even rarer. Most of the farmers owned Volkswagens. Roger says he still cannot understand why so many were sold, noting, “Such an ugly, noisy and impractical vehicle is beyond my understanding, then and now.” Actually, his parents did not have a car at all, which was not unusual in the fifties in Europe.

Early attempts at model building

At an early age he began building car models, probably in answer to his perpetual frustration of not having a real one around. On his first models the body was cardboard and the frame was made with a construction kit from Meccano. Several types of bodies were made. He remembers a 1959 Studebaker Lark and a sport car of his own design. A truck was also created using the same system.

In 1963 he was very impressed by the new Chrysler New Yorker, and, based on the manufacturer’s color catalog, he built a model of that car. This time the frame was of his own design. It was, in fact, just a piece of sheet metal bent to support the floor and to which a crude suspension was attached. Since cardboard can only be bent in one direction, body shapes were limited. In order to improve the general appearance he tried to see what would happen with wet cardboard. It was indeed much better but still far from a perfect replica. He says he couldn’t resist including a few pictures from this model, although the model itself has since been lost to time.

A first try at a model of the Studebaker Avanti using new techniques

When the New Yorker was completed, he began in late 1963 with the construction of a model of the Studebaker Avanti. Why an Avanti? For him Studebaker was the first choice (he still rode bicycle then), and when he saw that sleek Avanti in pictures he fell in love! In 1963, he visited the Geneva Auto Show and the only things he still remembers are the Avanti in metallic red and a white Studebaker Hawk. He figures the staff at that Studebaker display stand was probably very glad when he finally went away!

The first bent metal frame and the front suspension with crude Meccano wheels and tires. (Click photos to enlarge.)

Again, he used the same technique: a crude frame bent on his father’s vise, a rear suspension similar to the one of the real car and, for the first time, an independent front suspension that looked like…well, not much. At that time, he was an apprentice in a school, and one of his colleagues told him that he should make the body from polyester instead of cardboard. This new material implied the creation of a mold, and this time he chose plaster. As he had only few documents to work from, the general shape was only approximate.

The master body for the first plaster mold. (Click photo to enlarge.)

A next problem to solve was how to replicate the chrome parts. As a naive idea, he asked for tinplate in a store. Of course, the person behind the desk wanted to know what kind of application that tinplate was for. He was told that brass would be more suitable for what he had in mind. He was further told that he could braze pieces of brass together and then chrome plate them. In addition to learning about polyester, he now had to develop a new technique—brazing.

A simple floor pan takes shape. The first body just didn't look right on the skinny Meccano wheels and tires. (Click any photo to view a larger image.)

As he had no access to a real car, he took many liberties with the construction. In the beginning, it still had Meccano wheels and tires. It was about 1965 that he heard that General Motors was hosting a contest for model cars. After he sent in his application, he received four nice rubber wheels in the mail. He then realized that the Meccano wheels just didn’t look right on the model that was slowly taking shape. He decided to create a new front suspension and to adapt the rear one to the new wheels. This necessitated yet another investment—an EMCO-Unimat SL lathe with some accessories.

Roger's first "real" machine tool—a Unimat SL1000. (Click photo to enlarge.)

As the body was integrated onto the frame, Roger found he had to attempt the rather difficult task of modifying the frame to fit the body. He eventually succeeded without damaging the body which was still unpainted. The old frame was cut aft of the front cross-member and the new assembly with a different steering box was soft welded to the existing frame.

A young Roger Zimmermann works on the first Avanti body.

After 2 or 3 years, the model was completed. He painted it with a spray can for model kits. He wanted to paint it the proper Avanti turquoise color, but unfortunately the choice of colors then was rather limited, and the car ended up sort of a baby blue. The Studebaker color catalog had a fantastic picture of a turquoise car with red and fawn interior. (Although not a very good choice in real life, it sure looked great in the picture!) He found some red leather suitable for his needs, but unfortunately, the leather he bought to duplicate the fawn tone was closer to a light brown.

From scale models to restoring full-size cars

After completion of that model, Roger began the construction of a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado. He felt it was the right time to increase his standards of quality in model making. This model took an incredible amount of time to complete, and he adds that in 1982 he had had enough of it and began the restoration of a full size 1956 Cadillac (scale 1:1). As it was too cold during the winter to work on the Cadillac (and the other cars thereafter) he continued working on the model during the cold season. The last details were installed 10 years ago. However, during the construction of the Toronado, he bought another tool: an EMCO Unimat 3 universal machine with a lot of accessories.

Here is one of Roger's main tools, an EMCO Unimat 3 lathe with a mill/drill column attachment. Though an improvement over the original Unimat SL1000 and DB200 models, this tool is no longer in production. However, other small precision lathes are now available from other companies to help model makers do this kind of precision work. The larger photo shows Roger at work with the drilling column in place. (Click on any photo to view a larger image.)

Regarding the Tornonado model, Roger had the following to say:

“The model has four electric windows and an electric motor cast into the V8 that turns the front wheels via a centrifugal clutch. It also has a 2-speed mechanical gearbox and differential. This was done more as a demonstration of model making skills rather than to make it a motorized model. Some of the electrical contacts and mechanical devices are not reliable or practical enough to operate on a regular basis. During the construction of the Toronado, I had the idea to do a model that was as close to the original as possible, without concern for the time spent. For example, the original door latch has 2 stages, and the model does too. The light switch on the dash of the original both operates the headlights and opens the headlamp doors. It works the same way on the model as long as the doors do not stick because the paint is too thick!


Started in 1966, this 1/12 scale 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado took many years to build but shows a major increase in detail and finish over the first cardboard models. The techniques learned here were applied to the re-make of the original Avanti model to bring it up to Roger's now more exacting standards. (Click on any photo to view a larger image.) Better quality photos of the Tornonado are shown in the photo section near the bottom of the page.

Retirement provides the time to go back to model making

In 2002, GM offered him early retirement at 57, which is unusually young for Switzerland. His three Cadillacs were restored and suddenly he had plenty of time on his hands. One day, he took a critical look at that Avanti model, especially at the wheel covers which were painted polyester. At first, he simply toyed with the idea of making new wheel covers. Then he noticed that the exterior paint was slowly showing its age and the inside trim had stains from the contact cement he used almost 40 years before. OK, new wheel covers, new paint and some refreshing of the interior. He delicately removed the dashboard, and to his dismay he noted that the stained leather could not be cleaned.

A lesson on compromising your standards

After looking further at the model, he decided that the frame was really awful. Studebaker frames are so simple, why not do one in brass? Unfortunately, his documentation was not very thorough, but in his opinion there was enough for a quick job. He next realized that the rear of the model was too wide. He began to draw a frame based on the picture in the 1963 sales catalog. As he still had in mind to do as little as possible, he compromised and widened that frame to suit the existing body. In retrospect, it was the worst possible decision. Even with the new dimensions, he still had to make a new trunk lid, heavily reshape the rear of the car, and all of that for a stupid compromise. Fortunately, the overall look of the car was not impaired.

A new frame for the Avanti leads to many other new parts

Roger had many questions about the real shape, dimensions and details of the car's actual frame. By looking up "Avanti" on Internet, he came across the Avanti forum. He asked forum members for some dimensions and pictures to help with his project and received an answer from David Crone. David sent Roger a CD with many photographs of his own frame, as he was doing a frame-off restoration. Those pictures were very helpful, although today, Roger says he would search first for an owner, measure the car himself and take his own pictures before starting work on a single part. To obtain even more details, he bought several back issues of Avanti Magazine. Even though only a few were really helpful, he did have a lot to read!

The construction of the frame took more time than anticipated, which was not surprising. When he began to plan the construction of the rear axle, it was obvious he had to make a drive shaft as well. And how to support the drive shaft at the front? You bet, with a gear box. A gear box alone? It doesn’t make sense. Now it needs an engine too. And so it went as the project continued to grow in scope.

Finally, a real Avanti to measure and photograph

About one year after the beginning of the "refreshment", he saw a real Avanti in the little town where he was living. At the same time, he had a discussion about the Avanti with a dealership manager who said, "My step-father has one!" Roger arranged with the owner for a visit, and it turned out to be the same car he had seen some weeks prior. He took many measurements of the body and as many pictures as I could. Unfortunately, he could not measure or photograph the underbody, as there was no provision to put the car on a lift. Even so, this was a great help, and he now had good references for the bumpers and engine accessories as well.

Constructing a brass frame

At this time, precision was not his main concern, as he was still thinking in terms of a quick freshening up of the original model. The frame itself was done with flat brass, mainly 0.4 to 0.5 mm thick, that was cut, bent and brazed together. Roger attached to it a suspension, again based on the various pictures he had. He recalls that he spent more time coming up with the proper dimensions than it took to build the parts.

To actually make the parts, he would do a quick sketch using the main dimensions. These sketches are on a piece of paper, labelled and dated, as he finds it interesting to have a look at when this or that part was done. All sheets are kept in a binder.

The frame, rear suspension, rear axle and front suspension with steering took about one year to complete. For the steering, he used a technique he first used on the Toronado for the ball studs. First, a small ball is brazed onto a shaft. Then, the ball portion of the assembly is put into a brass socket that is a little bit deeper than the radius of the ball. Finally, the socket is squeezed on the ball, creating a perfect ball joint. All that’s missing is the fitting for the grease's gun!

Finding tiny fasteners

All the elements that are screwed onto the frame are also held by screws on the model, with a few exceptions. The screw diameters he used for the model go from 0.6 mm (mainly for lenses and small parts) to 1.4 mm for the larges ones. Screws up to 0.8 mm are from the watch industry. During the construction of the model, Roger found a supplier in Germany that sells 0.6 mm to 1.2 mm screws and nuts with a hex head. Fortunately, many screws with a round head could be replaced with the hex screws for a more authentic look.

Engine and transmission

The engine and transmission were constructed also mainly from flat brass that was cut, formed (a hammer is a very useful tool), milled and brazed. He did have the chance to measure an older Studebaker engine from the mid-fifties. With the exception of a few details, the Avanti engine is based on the same block.

The body needs modification

During this period, the body was mainly untouched with the exception of the floor pan. Once the frame was ready, Roger made a mold using some thin cardboard and molded the part in polyester.

Once the frame was fitted with the drivetrain, he could not resist putting the body on it. When that was done it immediately became obvious that he had more work ahead. For example, the original hood was too thick and too flat—he could no longer close it! (Remember, the original model had no engine.) After modifying the rear of the body, he had to do the front too with a new hood and new front panel.

Roger noticed also that the windshield was too "fast" (angled back), so new A and B pillars were necessary. They were done in brass, as polyester is too brittle for such elements. He saw also that the doors weren’t the same length—about 3 mm difference! He notes, “What was I thinking when I made the model in 1963-64?”

Once people learned about his model, the pressure was on to improve it

In mid-2006, he began to show photos of what he was doing in a French automotive forum on US cars. Suddenly, he had onlookers and comments! This development had a positive affect on the quality of his work, as he could hardly cut the corners now. He had to surpass himself with fine details.

Once the "A" and "B" pillars were done, it was time to go further to the front of the body. The front panel was cut away; a new polyester part was made. Next was the hood with his hinges and lock. The hood release works from inside the car just like on the original.

When the body shell was ready, it was time to think about the seats. The ones from the original model were far from perfect, and they were also too flat. Roger decided he could rescue the basic forms by peeling off the old leather and modifying them with Bondo.

Finding the right materials for the interior

The quest for leather was not an easy one. He knew up front that it would be impossible to find the right color of turquoise. He still had white leather from the Toronado project and had purchased some blue leather in a store. The blue leather was much too thick. However, almost by accident he noticed that he could peel the back off the leather and keep only the smooth outer surface, leaving a thickness of about 0.2 mm. This would work perfectly.

Now he had baby blue and white leather, but neither were the right tones for an Avanti. He saw in the various Avanti Magazine issues that Studebaker International was selling spray cans of the correct tone, so he ordered a can each—fawn and turquoise. (Fortunately, USPS still offered surface shipping at that time. It would be more expensive now to get paint shipped from the USA by air.)

After the seats were done, he turned his attention to the side windows, door trim and mechanism to roll the side windows up and down. (Yes, the window cranks actually work!) With the exception of the inside and outside door's handles, all the interior parts had to be done again.

He began to assemble the parts to be chromed on a tree, as it is impractical to chrome each part individually. About half would never have come back from the chromer! In the end, he had three trees with gloss chrome and one with mat chrome for the exhaust tubes and other parts that he did not want to paint silver.

Final painting and assembly

Near the end of 2008, Roger began to paint all the elements that were ready. This included the frame, suspension, engine, and so on. Then came the final assembly with all those shiny painted parts and some of the chrome parts.

May 2009 was the great moment—he could finally paint the body! Years ago, he had found a Volvo paint color that was very true to the original Avanti turquoise. After spraying, he let the paint dry for some time and then sanded it lightly and polished it. Of course, the result is never 100% satisfying, especially when using the kitchen as a spray booth. Nevertheless, he found the result acceptable, and he says the small imperfections are only visible with your nose right next to the body.

The final assembly went without too much trouble. Contrary to his original plan, he could not at first install the clear covers over the headlights. The 0.6 mm screws were a tad too short. Without the paint he could barely insert the covers, and the additional thickness of the paint prevented it entirely.

New wheels and wheel covers

Once the car was ready, he found he was now totally displeased with the tires and wheels. “Let's do new ones!” The wheels are not so complicated to do; it just took a lot of time because his lathe is small for that kind of work. When the five wheels were ready, he could begin making the unique Avanti 5-spoke wheel covers. For a long time, he had no idea how he would do them. The greatest difficulty was the five recessed surfaces. Finally, he pressed a brass sheet between two forms that he had turned on the lathe, filed out the areas of the five recessed surfaces and then soft soldered a second cover from behind, the outside diameter of which was used to clamp the wheel covers onto the rim.

Whitewall tires—the final step

Then it was time to make the tires. As on the Toronado, he followed the method described (with some changes) in the book The Complete Car Modeller by Gerald A. Wingrove. (He had purchased that book in 1978 at the Harrah's museum shop in Reno!). The products he had when he built the Toronado were no longer available, so he had to search new ones. After much trial and error, he managed to make 5 nice tires with a white wall, which is a separate piece inserted into a groove in the black tire.

The assembled wheels, tires and wheel covers are a great improvement to the look of the model compared with the old tires. He says that he doesn't regret the time spent to do them, and this completed the model.

What’s next?

Building this model was a great adventure, and usually when the travel is at the end, the most often asked question is usually, “What’s next?” The response is clear, “ANOTHER ONE!” This time, it will be another unusual car: a '56/57 Lincoln Continental Mark II. In about ten more years it should be ready.

Articles on the Avanti model

To read an article on the model published in Avanti Magazine, Issue 149, Winter/Spring 2010, CLICK HERE

To read the concluding article in the series in Avanti Magazine, issue 150, Spring/Summer 2010, CLICK HERE (11 MB)

(To open a smaller, lower quality version of the above PDF file, CLICK HERE—387 KB)

Here are some of photos of Roger Zimmermann's projects:

(Click photo for larger image.)

First attempts

One of Roger's first attempts was to model a 1963 Chrysler made from cardboard. The flat pieces didn't lend themselves to curved shapes, and the Meccano wheels were not very good looking. Even so, it's a pretty good start for a kid.


The revised Avanti

Here was the starting point of the original Avanti model that had now aged to the point where it needed "just a little freshening up." Little did Roger know where that project would lead.

First, a new brass frame with a proper suspension and all the right details like exhaust system, leaf springs and drive train was made. Because the body of the existing model was a little too wide in the back Roger compromised and made the frame to fit the model rather than correcting the body, a decision he was to regret later.


The engine and transmission are modeled in high detail all from brass.


The gears inside the steering box are functional.

Several views of the first iteration of the body show the not quite correct shade of blue paint and the too dark brown interior color of the leather. This would eventually be corrected in the final version. (The small badge on the fender behind the front wheel indicates this model was of the supercharged version that was available as a factory option.)

The body during the upgrade process prior to repainting. So much for a simple "freshening up." This is now a major makeover.

 The brass frame is test-fit under the body and modified to fit the somewhat overly wide rear end. The motor is also in place, which now required a new hood be made to clear the engine.

The old red interior is modified to accept the new turquoise leather interior. Now dyed the proper color of turquoise using actual Studebaker vinyl spray colors, the leather is shaved thin and applied to the carved seat forms with glue. The front seats are also ready for covering.

Brass bumpers and interior pieces can be seen here in detail. The center console features the Avanti logo as well as the four temperature and ventilation control levers. The second photo shows the "shift boot" for the 4-speed shifter and the opening center console lid.

The windshield frame, window vent wing and track mechanism are made from brass and installed. In the interest of cost savings and aerodynamic efficiency, modern cars no longer offer this feature. The curved side glass of the Avanti, a new innovation in automotive design that would soon become common in most cars probably added to the difficulty of making this window and getting it to seal.

The rear windows did not roll down, but they could be popped out from the rear to help draw air through the cockpit. This was another innovation soon to be adopted by many manufacturers. The brass frame is seen here test fit to the body prior to chroming.
The interior of the door is seen first with the interior panel removed so you can see the window lift mechanism. Turning the window crank actually raises and lowers the glass. The interior panel is then installed to cover the mechanism and the beige and turquoise leather portions are added with strips of padding underneath to give the "tuck and roll" pattern to the surface.
Bumpers, windows and doors are test fitted to the unpainted but primed body. A detail shows the unique Studebaker conical pin door locking mechanism that was designed to provide extra security and probably also to guide the extremely long and heavy doors into position when closing them.
Brass parts are ready for chroming. The third photo shows parts that were satin chromed to represent a galvanized finish or non-shiny steel finish, such as the exhaust system and the disc brake rotors.
The painted frame is shown in various states of assembly. The second photo shows the front disc brake—a first on any American car. In the final photo the engine and its accessories are installed. As on the original, the distributor and spark plug leads are shielded by stainless steel panels to keep from making static on the AM radio. This was necessary because the fiberglass body did not shield the radio from these unwanted electrical emissions like a steel body would; however, it pre-dated the modern trend to cover engine components by about 40 years.
The body is shown after repainting with the proper color metallic turquoise. Though not actually a Studebaker color, the Volvo paint Mr. Zimmerman was able to locate duplicated it very closely. Finally, the frame and body are assembled.

Making the tires:

1. To turn the master for the tire mold, a bar of brass stock is held between a 3-jaw chuck and a live center on a small lathe.

This method of producing tires was described by Gerald Wingrove in his book on making car models.

2 2. The basic shape of  the master for the tire is then driven by a faceplate and drive dog, the shape of the tire is turned and then the curved sides are carefully hand shaped using a graver on a rest as a watchmaker would do.
3 3. The tire tread is cut into a strip of flat brass that is then "soft welded" to the outside of the tire shape.
4 4. The finished master shape has the Goodyear logo applied.

5. Two halves of a mold are made from the master tire.

6 6. Temporary paper dams will contain the liquid molding material.

7. A tire is removed from the polyester mold.

8 8. The finished tire has a groove for the "whitewall" to be added later.
Making the wheel covers. Like the original stainless steel Avanti wheel covers, they consist of a polished 5-spoke pattern and a matt area to represent the "holes" between the spokes. Roger made them with an inner and outer piece to get the impression of the raised spokes.
        The finished model...

Enjoy the fine lines of the original Ramond Loewy design in the final version of Roger Zimmermann's miniature. Keep in mind this car was introduced in 1963, and think of how it looks now next to a 1963 Chevrolet or 1963 Ford. It is a shame only several thousand were produced in 1963 and 1964 before Studebaker went out of business. This daring and innovative car came too late to save the company from its financial woes.

The photo showing the instrument panel shows the compliment of black Stewart-Warner gauges that were lit in red at night. Included in addition to the speedometer, tachmeter, oil pressure, water temperature, voltage, amperage, clock and oil pressure gauge was a vacuum pressure gauge, or "boost" gauge if you had the optional supercharger. A customer could choose supercharging or air conditioning but not both, which is why the supercharged cars are less often seen but now more desirable.

Inside, above the rear seats is the padded foam cover over the built-in steel roll bar...the final touch to a car that was way ahead of its time.

1/12 scale 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado

Roger's 1966 Olds Toronado is even more detailed than the Avanti in many respects. It even includes working electric window lifts and a powered front wheel drive, mostly just to see if he could do it.
From under the hood to under the car, no detail escaped Roger's attention. Though Roger only has a couple of models to show for many years work, the end result demonstrates that settling for nothing less than perfection pays off in the end.

1/12 scale Continental Mk II

Roger's latest project is being documented step by step on a model making forum at The following photos are extracted from that site so you can get the highlights here too.
Roger is starting the project by building some of the smaller parts first. The windshield wiper motor mechanism takes shape in brass (left) and the power steering booster is partially complete (right)..
Making the valve covers. Layers of brass stock are aligned on a central core and milled to the shape of the cover. Thinner but larger plates are then inserted on the same rod between each thicker piece and machined to the contour of the outside of the fins. A Continental logo is cut from thin stock and soldered to the assembly. The real valve cover is shown in the last photo.

In the mid-1950's the Continental was a division of its own. That is why you won't see the Lincoln brand applied to this car.

Making the hubcaps. Continental hubcaps have a pattern of fins or vanes that is very complicated. To duplicate it Roger first turned the basic hubcap shape in brass. A mill with a slitting saw was used to cut 40 slits on the cap surface. Individual vanes were then cut and soldered to the hubcap. Each vane takes about one hour to make and solder in place, so you can figure how long it takes to complete each hubcap. Wow!

The finished hubcap is to be nickel or chrome plated. Roger constructed six of them even though only four will be needed for the finished car. He says it is "nice to have extras" to choose from, picking the best for use on the car. The others will make interesting conversation pieces.


Notes on the fate of the real Avanti design

When Studebaker finally closed its doors in 1964, the tooling and rights to the Avanti were purchased by one of the country's largest Studebaker dealers in South Bend, Indiana where the cars were made. This new company, under several different owners over the following years continued to produce a model called the Avanti II. They were able to use original body molds and skilled personnel hired from the old Studebaker plant. The driveline was switched over to General Motors (Chevrolet) components to provide ease of maintenance and a warranty. While retaining the original recognizable body shape with only a few modifications over the years as required by changing bumper regulations, the car remained in limited production until only recently. Produced essentially as a custom built car with production of only a few hundred units a year, the basic body shape penned by Raymond Lowey survived over four decades looking very much the same—a testament to its advanced design. Of the Studebaker models built in 1963 and 1964, only the 1963 models had the round headlights seen on Roger Zimmermann's model. From that time on rectangular headlights were used. Also, the somewhat taller GM engines required that the front end of the car be raised a little, taking away much of the original "rake" designed in by Raymond Loewy. This meant the car sat more level, but it lost some of the original "hotrod attitude" the lowered front end provided.

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