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Scaling the Pinnacle

Richard Durbin explores the world of Model Assemblies and discovers group of crafstmen witha passion for Bentley and a gift for hand-making some of the world's most beautiful scale models. Scaling the Pinnacle

It's a rare thing to meet a team which can rightfully claim to match the dedication and expertise of Bentley's craftsmen. But in a tranquil corner of southern England a group of model car makers live and breathe the Bentley ethos in their own remarkable way.


Welcome to the extraordinary world of Model Assemblies, a unique collective of highly skilled individuals captained by Pat Land, who have recently been approved by Bentley Motors to hand-make 1/43 scale models of some of the company's classic cars.

And just like a Crewe master craftsman, Model Assemblies also believes that absolute precision and the painstaking attention to the smallest details the best way to create something bespoke and truly memorable.

Pat recalls his Bentley 'audition' with some affection, not least because his Bentley test involved convincing a true connoisseur.

“We received a rigorous examination of our credentials because our first customer happened to be Dr. Paefgen, someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the company's heritage and an engineer's eye for detail. So even as a professional model maker, with 25 years of experience under my belt, I found myself tested to the limit.

”The Model Assemblies team approached its first Bentley commission with an understandable desire to impress. A very special 1956 S1 Drop Head Coupé, with coachwork by Graber, was measured, filmed and then photographed from every conceivable angle by Patrick's team.

Having captured every inch and exquisite curve of the Graber the Pattern Maker got down to work and only once all the main parts had been created was the team invited back to Crewe so the model could be scrutinised.

No stone was left unturned in the search for absolute accuracy. Each Bentley badge was closely examined for absolute authenticity, and to achieve a perfect colour match, the Bentley team even provided a swatch.

Only after eight months of hard graft in the Model Assemblies workshop was the 'mini' Graber Bentley ready to be presented to Dr Paefgen, Bentley's Chairman and Chief Executive. Darren Day, the senior Bentley designer who oversaw the project was hugely impressed by the finished article.


“Pat's team created an almost perfect representation of the Bentley Graber and what makes this type of model-making so special and rewarding is the sheer amount of detail that can be achieved.

If you are fortunate enough to own a model Patrick's team has created you will notice that each tyre is made from rubber and they're able to create the perfect base for the model as well

It requires a real degree of artistry to make a cobblestone road or add a beautiful finishing touch like placing a tiny pair of leather driving gloves on the passenger seat.”


Creating a cobblestone road might sound like a mere background detail, something quickly produced and of minor significance. But for Pat's team it presents the ideal opportunity to demonstrate their art and uncompromising dedication to detail.

“If you take a closer look at a cobblestone street there are a whole range of hues caused by weathering, the passage of time and years of traffic. It will never be one colour or a perfect, uniform surface,”comments Pat.


We apply an initial grey paint to the cobblestones and then dip a tiny sponge pad with some paint and a little water to produce a wide range of slightly different shades to the cobblestones. With the right experience and a delicate touch it is possible to create a weathered surface and create a real road for our model.”

Perfectionism is a taxing business and over the years Pat and his colleagues have borrowed from other professions, or unearthed some remarkable 'homemade' solutions, to ensure they are able to delight customers with an exact replica of their much loved cars.

One of Pat's best additions to his tool kit is a pair of eye surgeon's tweezers which enable him to pick-up the tiny transfers Model Assemblies create without damaging the lettering.

However, even a surgeon's precision instruments are sometimes not up to the task and the team find themselves experimenting with different techniques or scouring their workshop for ideas.

“We've used everything from fuse wire to make our radio aerials right through to realising that tiny strands of cotton make for the best seat piping,” Pat explains.

Many of our most successful finds are surprisingly low-tech. Kitchen cling film is a very good way of applying the finishing touches to a leather seat. If you crinkle the cling film and dab it with some paint it creates the sort of interesting patina visible on an old leather seat.”

Visiting the Model Assemblies workshop to record Patrick's team at work is something of a treat and it left one of Bentley's chief press photographers, Nick Dimbleby, temporarily lost for words .This is no mean feat when you consider that he's spent many years photographing cars like the Azure, Brooklands or Continental Supersports for most of the
world's leading newspapers and magazines.

To capture the intricate and precise work of the Model Assemblies team, Nick found himself digging out his rarely-used pair of specialist macro lenses from his 'kitbag' and operating in a world where he moved at the same methodical, patient pace as the professional model-maker who creates a car by hand.


“The best way to illustrate some of the tiny details Pat's team apply to their models was to use a small coin as a reference marker. We used a twenty pence piece during the assignment to demonstrate the actual size of the tiny details they were adding.”

So just how much detail will you see in a Bentley produced by Model Assemblies?

Two examples stand out from a cornucopia of fascinating details. Each glovebox is equipped with its own tiny, delicate handle and every dial on the dashboard is painstakingly designed so that individual numbers are visible.

It should go without saying that a steady hand is an absolute must for the professional model maker. However, exceptional patience and, a little unusually, a good sense of balance are the other key attributes. Pat explains:

“It's hugely important to place your body in exactly the right position because you may need to be there for a couple of hours or more. If you're applying a very fine detail then both hands, not just the one doing the work, should be set in a way that allows you to be balanced and remain perfectly still. As you become more experienced, even a finger can help your balance.”

The hand-made industry is not exactly on its knees in 2009 but Pat is the first to admit that the number of craftsmen has dramatically declined and many good businesses have closed their doors for the final time.

“Some of the best model makers are now retired and you need to think very carefully about the work you undertake because a company like this can never compete with the big manufacturers who diecast their models. We definitely respect the work of the bigger companies because they're achieving more and more detail each year, but thankfully there are still people who admire the quality and sheer effort that is involved in creating a hand-made model.” Patrick and his team are now very much part of the Bentley family and a range of classic models including the S2 Continental and S1 Continental Park Ward will be made shortly under the Bentley Classic Models banner.

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