28mm on the cheap: Toy cars as wargames vehicles

Toy cars are a great source for vehicles for the 28mm gamer on a budget. For those gaming in near future, modern, 20th century, or post-apocalyptic settings, it is reltatively simple to convert and repaint them for use on the battlefield.

As part of our "28mm on a budget" series, this tutorial will offer some tips on turning toy cars into 28mm vehicles. In the article below, I will show both a simple repaint of a VW microbus as well as a more involved conversion of an SUV into a post-apocalyptic rambler.
What you will need:
  • Toy cars — Anything from 1/56, 1/48, 1/43 and 1/32 scales can work if it has the right look. The toys used in this article are 1/32, which is about the maximum size that will look good with 28mm figures. In my opinion, 1/43 vehicles are ideal.
  • Paints and brushes
  • Washes — For a fast and dirty job like this, I simply use water to thin paint as necessary to wash models. If you have actual paint washes or want to use "wet water" (water with a bit of detergent to break the surface tension), this will only improve your results.
  • Small craft hole puncher, 1/16 or smaller — We'll use this tool to emboss rivets on armor plates. I use this one.
  • Plastic from blister packaging — To be used to make armor plates.
  • Super glue
  • Snips, razor saw and knives — If you plan on modifying the cars.
Here's a closer look at the toys I'll be converting.

The SUV is a 1/32 Mahindra Scorpio (an Indian SUV) by the Centy Toy brand. This particular toy may be a bit hard to find, as it appears to be only available in India. The picture below (not mine) shows it in good condition. I found mine in poor condition (missing a couple head and tail lights and a roof rail) at a resale shop for 50 cents.

The VW was a Kinsmart 1/32-scale toy that I found at an area train store. They are widely available for between $6 and $9 in the U.S.


Both toys were taken apart. Most toys of this type are assembled with screws and usually have a pull-back-and-go friction motor, which I usually remove.

I sawed off the rear roof of the Scorpio and cut it down to be used as the rear floor, and also cut the middle seats apart to be used as wheel well covers. The rear seats were set aside to be added later.


The VW bus was taken apart and the surfboard was removed. The window section was set aside as well.

After cutting out pieces of thin plastic from a standard minis blister to use as armor plating, I gently squeezed them with the hole punch to create the rivets and bolts — not hard enough to punch through the plastic, just hard enough to emboss the round shapes you see here. I applied about 13 pieces of armor plating including a front window piece. The curved edges of blister pack material can be usefull for covering corners.


After removing the pull-back motor from the VW, I used a piece of old credit card and super glue to keep the wheels in place.

The Scorpio was primed black.
Only the lower body of the VW was primed black.

Base colors were heavily drybrushed over the black sections. Then several very heavy washes of brown were applied and allowed to pool in the recesses and grooves. The brown adds grime, but also a nice rusty look to our wastelands vehicles. Also, the interior seats were painted contrasting colors.

At this point, the Scorpio was reassembled. The base color for the Scorpio was a very light tan for the body and metalic silver for the floor. In the pic below you can see where the roof has become the floor and he middle seats have been used to make wheel well covers.

I used the same process for the VW bus except that only the lower section was base coated in yellow (which later turned green after washes). The top white section was not basecoated but got some brush-on matte varnish to make it less slippery before the brown wash.

After this, I typically apply a second (and sometimes third) wash to the model. Keep applying washes until you get the look you like. Here are pics of the Scorpio and VW bus after receiving a second wash.



A final thicker wash was applied to areas that needed extra grime or — in the case of the VW — where the original paint or chrome was showing through too much. Then I finished the painting with a light drybrushing of tan and brush on matte varnish.


The VW was reassembled after the thick wash, but before the final drybrush and varnish. Some of the window hazing is from the superglue I used to reassemble the van, and some is a very light drybrushing of tan. I did not apply matte varnish to the windows. At this point I also realized I had forgoten to deal with the holes where the surfboard had been. Two 1x2 LEGO tiles covered them nicely.


As you can see from these comparison shots, the 1/32 scale is a bit large compared to a 28mm (1/56 supposedly) figure, but it looks good on the game table and the extra space for placement of miniatures in the rear of the scorpio is a real benefit.


There you have it: quick and easy transformations from toys to gaming models. These took a few days to complete, but the actual time not spent waiting for washes to dry was probably only a couple hours.

As for uses, the Scorpio is pretty tied to the post-apocalyptic genre, but the VW could be used in a range of settings from the 60s to modern to post-apocalyptic, either as a working vehicle or as a nice worn-out bit of terrain almost anywhere in the world.
Be on the lookout for an upcoming article where I'll dispense with the step-by-step and just show before-and-after pictures for several more toy vehicles to that became wargaming models in the same way as the models shown here.

— Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member


0 responses to “28mm on the cheap: Toy cars as wargames vehicles

  1. Very nice.
    I think it would be even cooler though, if you were to put the surf board back on the bus.
    Even after the fall there will still be monster waves that need to be conquered.

  2. That's a nice tutorial. I'm making a trip to Dollar General tomorrow. Maybe I'll get lucky and find something I can try these techniques on.

  3. Fantastic article, I’m a firm believer in using cheap toys (of the right scale) for my gaming needs. Good show!


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