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The Journey of 1:400 Custom-Model Making

Updated: Aug 14, 2022

The original version of this post can be found here. This version has been edited for errors and includes extra pictures of the customization process.

While my custom-making abilities are still in their infancy (and might never mature), looking at my collection today I can see a number of cherished custom-made models that I have accumulated over time and seem to indicate that customization has, unintentionally, become an important part of 1:400 collecting for me. Many of these custom models have not been shared before, so I would like to take this opportunity to do so.

My collection is heavily oriented towards the Venezuelan aviation of the 1990s, and for the longest time the only Venezuelan airlines represented in 1:400 scale were Viasa and, to a lesser extent, Aeropostal. But two of the airlines that I miss the most, Avensa and Servivensa, did not appear in the die-cast world for a long time. The desire to include more Venezuelan models in my collection is what drove me to look for alternatives, and eventually led me to customization.

My first Avensa model was a custom 737-200 that I found on eBay in 2008. As I recall, there was a small number of these customized by a collector in Miami. They used to pop up on eBay from time to time, but it seems like they all have found happy owners by now, I hope. But it was their workhorse of the 80s and 90s, the 727, the model that I wanted.

That first custom 737-200 (YV-79C. The overwing reg. is placed on the wrong wing) that came from eBay, and a 737-300 (YV-99C) that I made using a GeminiJets donor and a decal set from V1 Decals. These 737-300s are becoming fairly common with the recent JC Wings 737-300 blank release.

At the time I did not have any idea of how to remove the livery of a 1:400 model, or where to find 1:400 decals. So, I went with what was available, 1:144 decals and a plastic kit.

I had glued kits together as a kid, but never moved past that part. With this 1:144 kit I learned fairly well how to sand excess glue and fill imperfections with putty. The real fun began when I tried to paint it. I remember the first time I held the can too long in one spot trying to fill out a particular area only to ruin the entire model. Then, when I finally had the model decently painted, I tried to apply the decals as if they were stickers. Of course, after a few unsuccessful minutes I decided to read the instructions and very quickly learned the concept of water-slide decals.

This was in 2011 and the model turned out okay, to this day it sits in one of my cabinets still with no clear coat, as I didn’t know what clear coat was at the time and the model looked fine to me as it was.

The 1:144 Avensa 727 in 2021. Check out the newly released 1:200 Servivensa 737-200 by El Aviador, it is Serivensa’s first die-cast model. Hopefully we can see a 1:400 version soon.

Meanwhile, I had a defective Avianca 727-100 that I had gotten in Christmas 2009 with the engines glued upside down. I got a replacement and was told to keep the defective model. So, after finishing my 1:144 kit I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to do the same in 1:400 scale. I knew there had to be a way to get 1:400 decals. Sure enough, I found Ben from V1 Decals (before he had his website) and ordered decals for Avensa’s YV-89C.

The first 1:400 custom that I made in 2014. Note the poorly applied paint. This model has been further modified with homemade decals as YV-87C.

After finishing my Avensa 727-100 in 1:400 scale I thought I had all the holy grails in my collection and that I was done with this expensive hobby. So I stopped collecting all together for a while, only getting the Venezuelan releases that I became aware of during that time.

Moving forward to 2020, I was talking with a good friend that collects 1:500 and he was expressing his frustration with the lack of new releases in that scale, and the limited number of Venezuelan releases in any scale. So, I mentioned to him how I had made my 1:400 Avensa 727-100 years ago, and that he could look into customizing some 1:500 models also. As you can imagine, as soon as the conversation was over, I was dusting off some donor models and an airbrush that I had purchased years ago but never used. I also taught myself how to do vector design since another issue had risen: the lack of Venezuelan liveries available in 1:400 decals.

Picture of my laptop screen as I design some logos and liveries.

When looking at the models below keep in mind I use my house’s old inkjet printer for the decals. By the way, the decal printing process has been the most challenging and frustrating part of all this.

Also, I am aware that these models are not nearly as neat as they could be, but I realized that I needed to lower my standards in order to “finish” some projects and be able to move on and continue learning.

Finally, the macro shots do magnify the model imperfections, but most of them look quite nice just sitting on the shelves among the rest of the collection. There are a few customs that I intentionally decided to leave out of this post though (they ended up being too ugly).

So without further a due, some of my recent customs:

Avensa 727-100s YV-89C, YV-79C, and YV-87C with Aeroclassics 727-200 YV-97C. Donors are: GeminiJets, Aviation400 and Aeroclassics.

The main artwork on all of them is from V1 Decals, but you can see some of my first homemade decals in the wing regs. and the YV-87C regs.

ezToys seems to have an endless supply of Crossair MD-80s on sale and I have grabbed a few, but for some reason these Phoenix MD-80s, or the decals I want to apply, always give me a hard time. Below is the only MD-80 that I have managed to complete so far, Aeropostal’s YV-01C, alongside a beautiful 727 that was released also by Phoenix over a decade ago. The MD-80 decal artwork is homemade.

Aeropostal MD-83 YV-01C. The most complex paint job that I have done so far.

And below you can see where the engines of one of those failed MD-80 projects ended up: Servivensa’s YV-823C, a well-known Super 27 in Venezuela. The decals come from Classic Airliners through JoyDecals, but I designed the Super 27 logo and the other modifications required to match YV-823C (tail logo, reg, etc.) I also had a very hard time matching the cheatline with the cockpit windows of these Servivensa models, so you can see on the other 727-200 (not the super 27) that one of my ideas to solve that issue was to print my own oversized cockpit windows, I know it looks odd, but then again...

Servivensa 727-200 YV-844C and 727-200 Super 27 YV-823C. Super 27 donor mould is GeminiJets and the number 1 and 3 engines are from a Phoenix MD-80. The other donor is a Dragon Wings.

Masking the fuselage to paint the grey belly curvature of the nose section. Classic Airliner's signature tittle over the i in Servivensa's title had to be removed also.

Next is my first non-Venezuelan custom, SAETA’s HC-BRG, I can’t believe there isn’t a single SAETA die-cast model in any scale, besides a handful of customs (El Aviador, hint hint!). The decals are homemade. The tail logo is a bit too small and ended up being miss-aligned on the port side, but at the time I had no more patience, or time, for a re-print.

The donor (Aviation400) had white wings, you can see some of the original paint in the edges between the emergency exit arrows and leading edges.

Using white decal paper to print white elements. The edges of the decal had to be painted with the surrounding dark blue. Above you can see the results.

And finally, a good example of why I have decided to embrace custom model making. I came to realize that while some more Viasa, Aeropostal, Avensa, and maybe Servivensa, releases may show up in 1:400 scale, there are a lot of obscure Venezuelan airlines that simply won’t, like Zuliana de Aviación as shown below.

Zuliana de Aviación 727-200 YV-462C (YV462-C), and DC-8-54F YV-499C. Both donors are GeminiJets.

At the pace I work, and whit so many Venezuelan models that I want in my collection that are probably not going to be released by any manufacturer, I think I have enough projects in mind to keep me busy for a lifetime. I hope to share them all with you.

Thank you for reading!

Jorge A. Zajia


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