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Gee Bee Model Z Racer
by Victor Annas
Images by Tim Fulton

Gee Bee Model Z Racer
Lowell Bayles, Thmpson Trophy Race, 1931


Vic builds the Williams Brothers Gee Bee Model Z straight from the box. He applies scallops and pin-striping by hand to produce the Model Z as flown by pilot Lowell Bayles for the 1931 Thompson Trophy race.

B a c k g r o u n d


The Gee Bee racers of the early 1930’s have often been recognized for the failures, but rarely for the successes that they brought to the air races. No Gee Bee design could better epitomize this reality than the Gee Bee model Z. Designed by Robert Hall and constructed by the Granville brothers, the Gee Bee Z took first place in every race of the 1931 Cleveland National Air Races. The following table summarizes the Gee Bees performance:

Pilot Event Place Speed
Lowell Bayles Shell Speed Dash 1st 267.3 mph
Lowell Bayles Good Year 50 Mile Trophy 1st 206.0 mph
Bob Hall Mixed Free For All 1st 222.6 mph
Bob Hall General Tire and Rubber Trophy 1st 189.5 mph
Lowell Bayles Thompson Trophy 1st 236.2 mph

After the Cleveland National Air Races, the model Z was re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Wasp Sr. for an assault on the world land plane speed record. Several attempts were made and one run resulted in a speed of 314 mph. On December 5, 1931 Lowell Bayles again took to the air to break the record.

During a high-speed pass, tragedy struck. The tiny Gee Bee Z spiraled into the ground killing Bayles. The exact cause of the accident has been shrouded in mystery. One theory states that the gasoline filler cap came loose and penetrated the canopy striking Bayles causing him to over control. Yet another theory states that aileron flutter induced a catastrophic wing failure. Other theories suggest that the airframe had been over stressed prior to the flight. No one knows for certain.

T h e   M o d e l


The kit used in this article is the Williams Brothers 1/32nd scale Gee Bee model Z. In the instructions, Williams states clearly that the kit is for the experienced model builder. This led me to believe that the kit would be difficult at best. I found that the parts were a bit flashy, but not bad to assemble. Painting this thing is another story.


C o n s t r u c t i o n


I chose to build the model straight from the box with no additions. The one comment I can make about the kit is that the parts were somewhat flashy. The parts fit was OK and required some final sanding to adjust the fit properly.

The instructions recommend the builder to build the plane in subassemblies and pre-paint them. I opted not to approach the construction in this fashion because of the minor fit problems. I built the fuselage wings and empennage, then assembled them together for the basic airframe. The engine, cowling, and landing gear were the only sub-assemblies completed. At this point, I primed the entire model with Floquil refer white to identify seems that may not have been filled properly. This also provides a good surface to apply the additional coats of paint.


P a i n t i n g


To paint Gee Bee is to questions ones own sanity! I’ve built a few models, but the model Z was a task to paint. I first painted the model overall yellow. The instructions from Williams give several options for the builder to choose. I selected to mask the entire model, then once completed, I pencil traced the scallop pattern onto the mask. I then carefully cut away the unwanted mask with an Exacto knife. At this stage, I airbrushed a thin coat of clear flat onto the edges of the mask to prevent any paint from bleeding through the edges of the mask. This is very important to successful completion. Once dried, I airbrushed the black coat onto the model. After drying, the masking was removed with the fine scallop lines remaining.

Ah, but what to do about the fine red color separation lines? No decals exist for these lines, however the kit decals have red color separation lines outlining the calligraphy. I really wanted to see these lines on the little plane. My choice was to apply them using red India ink and a draftsman technical fountain pen. Be advised, this is not for the faint at heart. Before all the critics start hacking this apart, just remember that we’re all slightly off in one way or another, and some of us are much better at it than all the rest! I spent more time on these lines than building the model. My only complaint with this method is that the line came out slightly thick. Apart from line thickness, they turned out nice. The lines were almost as straight as a decal, and covered well.


F i n a l   A s s e m b l y


With the lion share of the painting completed, I focused on final assembly.

The large landing gear was attached, and the flying wires cut and placed. I decided to ditch the kit supplied monofilament line and use .010 in. brass wire instead. It was much easier to apply and doesn’t sag unless asked to do so. For a golden age air racer, this stuff is a must. The engine was painted and inserted into the cowling. This assembly was then attached to
the airframe.

I now faced the biggest dilemma of the project. My kit was missing the decal sheet. What to do?? I contacted Carlo Medina, assistant manager at Williams Brothers Inc. I explained the problem and he promptly sent 2 copies of the decal sheet. I’m glad he sent 2 copies. When I applied the "City of Springfield" decal to the cowl, it appeared very pale against the black background. So I cut the second set and applied them being careful to align them properly with the other decals. I then applied "Solv A Set" to the decals to get them to lie down properly. The flying wires were then painted silver. The entire plane was airbrushed with a coat of Model Master Metalizer Sealer. This gives a satin finish and helps with the "scale effect" of the plane. Gloss finishes on these planes have never looked right to my eye. In my opinion, a satin finish looks much better than a high gloss. Once the sealer had dried, the canopy and prop were attached to finish out the model.


C o n c l u s i o n


The Gee Bee Model Z is not out the reach for the average model builder provided that enough care and time is given to the project. Painting and detailing require the greatest amount of time and energy. You might also consult your physician for a prescription of Prozak before attempting this little plane. Would I build a Williams Gee Bee again? Yes, in fact I plan to build a Gee Bee R 1 and an R 2...........Someday!


R e f e r e n c e s


Gee Bee, The Real Story of the Granville Brothers and Their Marvelous Airplanes, by Henry Haffke

Gee Bee, by Delmar Benjamin and Steve Wolf, Motor Books


Model and Article Copyright 1999 by Victor Annas
Images Copyright 1999 by
Tim Fulton
Page Created 10 August 1999
Last updated 26 July 2007

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