Unique Automotive Models With a Past

Will Neely is pictured with several of his scale model race cars.

Will Neely is pictured with several of his scale model race cars. The #10 car was his second model, and the #4 was his third. They were constructed from magazine plans for building a real midget racer from old Ford parts.

Scale Model Rods and Racers From Another Era

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

At age 12, Will’s dad came home to find him removing the engine from the family lawn mower, and nailing it to a plywood board to make a go-kart. Before he could legally drive, Will already knew how to weld and machine parts. A little while later, he transformed an old Volkswagen into a dune buggy.

Will's 1/8 scale Bantam Midget racer.

This #5 car was the first model racer that Will completed. It’s a Bantam Midget in 1/8 scale.

The #5 Midget car with bodywork removed.

The engine for the #5 Midget tether car was built from plans in Mark Dee’s book on Harry Miller.

When Will 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 hot rod. Before leaving for college, Will hopped up his own 1954 Studebaker, and built a stripped down “T-Bucket” roadster from an old 1931 Ford.

Will’s building skills were also put to use making 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 parents stand in front of the original “Cumon Baby” speed boat.

Will’s parents stand in front of the original “Cumon Baby” speed boat in 1952. Will’s dad designed this unique hull.

Will’s scale model of the “Cumon Baby II” boat.

Will’s scale model of the “Cumon Baby II” boat that his father had also designed. The model honors his dad’s work on the record setting speed boat.

Gerald Wingrove’s Modeling Book Rekindles Interest in 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 the furniture manufacturer, Knoll. He loved the beautiful design of their products.

Will’s 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. Will thought of himself as, “more of a modeler than a designer.”

Over the course of his career, Will worked with many talented designers. However, he 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’s scale model #32 Miller Sprint car.

Will’s #32 Miller Sprint car is quite large—about 37″ long—and features working steering. It has solid wheels, a leather seat, engine turned aluminum dashboard, and leather hood straps on the side of the hood.

Will’s 1/8 scale Bonneville “lakester” type land speed record car.

Will’s 1/8 scale Bonneville “lakester” type land speed record car. This version incorporates an outrageously large 1/6 scale commercial model drag engine.

Eventually, Will left Knoll to pursue his interests in architectural design, which led to a period of buying and renovating homes. He also overlapped into industries like cosmetics, and built models of distinctive products and containers for companies like Clairol, Elizabeth Arden, Steuben Glass, Steelcase, RubberMade, IBM, and BMW. Throughout these twists and turns in his career, Will’s love for cars and models stayed with him.

Will noted that he likes the older cars, “before wings and cages,” where the driver and mechanical components of the car were more predominant.  Will remarked, “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 built this 1/4 scale model of a Ford flathead engine.

Will built this 1/4 scale model of a Ford flathead engine converted for marine use. It represents the engine that was in his father’s boat, Cumon Baby II. Read more about the original “Cumon Baby” speed boat.

Will's hybrid scale model roadster.

This car is a dream hot rod that Will prototyped as a scale model. It’s a cross between a track T racer and a dragster. The racer includes a huge 1/6 scale supercharged Ford 427 V-8, with “zoomie” headers. (The engine was a stock item incorporated into Will’s handmade car.)

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).

At the time of this writing, Mr. Neely was still taking on model work, but only for a few select customers—mainly industrial designers. 

Will Neely and his work on the cover of the Micro-Mark tool catalog.

Will Neely and his work were featured on the cover of the Micro-Mark tool catalog.

Will Neely working on a model in his home shop.

Will Neely working on a model in his home shop.

View more photos of Will Neely’s impressive scale model cars.

Artisan added: December 7, 2007 - Last modified: May 9, 2022

Presented by The Joe Martin Foundation for Exceptional Craftsmanship