Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Making a MinionMobile

For some time, I've been considering making a custom vehicle for my "Minions" photo cartoons. I thought about a Barbie camper conversion or a Jeep or something in that size range, but it occurred to me that I had a possibly more useful candidate on hand. After all, any super-secret complex back in the 60s and 70s (good or evil) used industrial golf-carts to shuttle through its cavernous depths.

A while back, KB Toys had a nice looking toy golf cart for sale. Unfortunately, they were maybe 1/10th scale, just too small for 1/6th figures, so I passed on it. Then, some months back, I spotted one for cheap in a thrift store and couldn't pass on it. The body and roof are plastic, and the roof supports are heavy metal rod, and I thought perhaps I might be able to modify it for use with GI Joes.

I completely disassembled the toy for inspection, cleaning, and painting. I decided the original green body panels weren't industrial enough, so I went for a sterile, Krylon Fusion "satin white." The roof was already white, but I painted it as well, to make it more opaque and hide the plastic sheen.

My initial thought was that the cart could be stretched between the front and rear body sections to provide more leg room, and then the roof raised slightly. But as I looked at it, I realized that would be very complicated, and weaken the structure of what was actually a pretty rugged little toy. There was also the matter of the roof, which would either have to be stretched, removed, or have heavily modified supports.

It was my wife, Chris, who came up with a better solution. She suggested that if the seat were simply raised so that the figure's knees weren't up in his chest, it would look much more in scale. It seemed possible that I could put some washers on the screws holding in the seat to raise it a bit, or perhaps even build a riser of some sort for it to sit on. The job was made somewhat more critical by the fact that the screws that hold on the seat and seat back assembly also hold on the rear body and contribute to the strength of the entire structure.

I decided that some kind of riser was going to be necessary, and before I started fabricating something new, I started digging through my parts boxes for something sturdy and ready made. Just for sizing purposes, I dug out some Lego blocks to see how high the seat should go. But after looking at the blocks for a while, I realized that they'd be ideal as the risers themselves.

I have to admit, adding Legos to a permanent construction project seemed somehow "wrong," especially since I had to drill a hole through the centers of the blocks for the screw, and modify the "buttons" on top of the rear risers so the seat-back/cargo holder assembly would sit flat. But Legos are cheap, and I have a ton of them (I can't resist buying them when I see them cheap in thrift stores, so I've got quite a collection). Not only were they sturdy and perfectly sized, but I was even able to get black ones so no painting was necessary!

The seat sits on a pair 2x4 block risers, two-blocks tall. Same for the seat-back assembly. I replaced the original screws with longer #6 sheet-metal screws selected from the hardware store.

That done, it was time to raise the roof. This was complicated in that not only did it now need a "scale" adjustment to allow for the taller figure, but now the seat itself was higher. I used threaded rod from the hardware store to make pins that fit in the original roof mounting holes, then cut sections of brass tubing (hobby shop metal stock) to slide over the pins and the bottoms of the original supports, connecting them together. These are just friction fitted at the moment. Some epoxy may eventually come into play, and I'll paint the tubing black to match the existing support posts.

The very tall appearance has a bit of "clown car" aspect to it, but it isn't bad, and the Minions ARE supposed to be funny, after all. I looked around for some accessories to fit in the club rack in back, and found first a scuba-tank from one of those cheap 14" Action Man knock-off figures that Wal-Mart used to sell. Poison gas, maybe? Something radioactive? Then I noticed a Hasbro javelin anti-tank missile, and sure enough, it was a perfect fit in the other side of the rack! The Minions are loaded for bear! I thought the idea of this silly little cart with a missile on it was just funny in itself.

I'm still not finished. The steering column needs to be longer and more vertical, and I may add a larger steering wheel while I'm at it. Not sure. I'll probably add a few markings as well, but I'm still thinking about that. "Official Lair Business Only," maybe?

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