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Nobody beats The Reaper

Final Details: An obsession led to an award-winning model
RELATED TOPICS: VEHICLE
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In the October 2017 FineScale Modeler, we featured Alexander “Wence” De Leon and his extraordinary motorcycle model, The Reaper.

As is often the case with such extreme builds — especially when they are presented in conjunction with a compelling story — there really wasn’t enough room in the magazine to do it all justice.

Well, welcome to the internet — here is the rest of the story.

———

In symbolic terms, the image of a skull is bad to the bone — whether it’s the pirate’s Jolly Roger, the logo of a heavy metal band, or a tattoo on a biker’s forearm.

Skull imagery also evokes death and mortality, and as such is wound into the lore of Hallowe’en, or All Hallows Eve, the day before All Saints Day, all celebrations of those who have gone before.

That’s more what Alex “Wence” De Leon, 62, had in mind when he began building “The Reaper V8 Trike” — it was a months-long tribute to his older brother and lifetime hero, Leonard, 13 years his senior.

“It took seven months to build it, and I was on a mission, a mission, to build this,” Alex says. And the mission was to get over the grief that my older brother, Leonard, passed away. It was an homage to him.”

Alex and five siblings were the fifth generation of his family in Victoria, Texas. The town was founded in 1824 by a great grandfather, Martín De León, a Mexican empresario who was granted a plat adjacent to land owned by Stephen F. Austin. (Yes, that Austin.) Victoria was a relatively quiet place in the 1960s, but Alex’s brother shook it up a little.

“He was an amateur stuntman,” Alex says, “light on his feet. He was one of the first guys to ride a motorcycle around town, scrambling, stunts. Of course, I wanted to get on it, too, and he looked at me and said, ‘No, not my little brother.’”

Instead, Leonard showed his little brother how to build models. Alex cut his teeth on Aurora armor, Monogram and Revell aircraft, and Renwal kits. And eventually he did ride motorcycles. He cites that experience as his main reference for The Reaper. “I’ve been riding motorcycles since 1978. There’s the practical knowledge right there.

“Also, a friend of my brother’s had a trike. I just looked at that thing, back in the 1970s, and it was imprinted on my brain. I remember how it was all decked out, with the front wheel being a Harley-Davidson dresser, and the radiator in the back and the radiator hoses, and the way the linkage was with the steering. I kind of used that as a reference to build this one. I have a couple of fuzzy pictures of that thing that I used as a general reference.

It’s hard to recognize from the finished model, but Alex’s build is loosely based on Monogram’s 1/8 scale Big T hot rod (circa 1962) which provided the engine, transmission, wheels, and seats. Everything else is scratchbuilt.

Details followed — lots of details. “I just super-loaded it with all that, “ he says. “That’s my style, to put detail on top of detail. I tried to make it look as practical as possible, as functional as possible, and at the same time to do enough to it to blow your mind.”

The Reaper has certainly accomplished that in model contests, including best-of-show honors with the George Lee Judges’ Grand Award at the 2014 IPMS/USA National Convention.

Alex’s advice to other modelers? “Be dedicated, do your research, and make it personal.”

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Chief among added detail are skulls of various sizes. Alex says, “The biggest are from Warriors, Chris Mrosko, I got three or four from him and from those I cast 200-300 of them. Of course a lot of them were rejects. The ones in the base are the good ones. The little skulls came from game figures. I just got a couple of 28mm game pieces and made castings from those.”
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To model heat distortion on manifold pipes, Alex airbrushed Alclad II chrome, blue, green, and yellow candy colors.
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“I did research on carburetor plumbing, generator plumbing, radiator, distributor, and tried to get it as close as I could to the real thing,” Alex says. “The plug wires are from my modeling stash. I have armature wire and clear mini-tubing. The plug wires are clear tubing with a wash of candy apple red.”
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“Those were the bucket seats from the Big T kit,” Alex says. “I studded them with little-bitty rivets. To pull off the leather effect, I went with Alclad II silver on some parts, then stippling, highlighting all the raised surfaces, and emphasizing all the lower surfaces with pinwashes of artist’s oils, pretty much like a figure, to show the highlights and accent the shadows. I finished with a semigloss and was pretty happy with the effect.”
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“The intake pipes are called zoomies,” Alex says. “They’re heat-formed styrene tubing. I heat up the styrene tubing and jam it onto a die punch.”
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“The gas tank is not really that big, so I put tanks under the chassis,” Alex says. “They’re there. If somebody wants to question it, I’ll say, ‘Wait a minute. If you look underneath, you will see there are tanks down there, plumbed and everything.’”
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“I counted about 900 skulls on the bike and in the base,” Alex says. “And there are 1,200 Grandt Line .035-inch rivets on the vehicle. Why do I know that? Because I ordered 600 from Grandt Line, and I had to call them up again and say, ‘I need another 600 rivets.’ Each one of those rivets is drilled and set, then cemented. There’re all over the fenders, all over the frame, around the seat, and on the radiator shroud.”
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“It doesn’t seem to make sense to have the radiator in back,” Alex says. “So you make the radiator round — not square or rectangular — where the air will flow over it and back into the radiator. From there the wheels were detailed, and then the rear fenders. That’s all plastic. I had to cut the radiuses out and come back on the corners and start grinding that down to make a compound curve on the fenders.”
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Alex cut styrene sheet for raised lettering. He says, “There are all sorts of little messages around, my brother’s birthday is on there, and ‘7/7/7’ I built the thing in 2007. There are little messages on the motor and the frame. All the silver parts, the frame itself, that’s all Alclad II metallic with a stippled texture.”
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Alex says his ultimate goal is “creating a mental imprint. You see one of my pieces, you go away from it, and when you come back you look at it some more. I always stress that I am appealing to the subconscious. If I can grab somebody’s subconscious without them even knowing, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

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