Die Cast Insider - July 1999
© 1999 Paul M. Provencher
|The Road less Traveled
If you're like me you probably look for die cast vehicles in many different stores. There are several national chains that stock a nice selection of brands and subjects. They even carry store exclusives that are usually made in lower quantities. But when did you last go off the beaten path and visit a local hobby shop? I have several favorites. They all share roughly the same characteristics. Found in strip malls or downtown storefronts, the layout is often cramped, cluttered and just a little dingy. A stack of handwritten notes from the proprietor to himself is the inventory management system. A series of waist-high glass cases do double duty as counter and display space for the special item of the moment. Doll House lumber and accessories are just across the aisle from the train sets and layouts, model kits and supplies, and of course, the die cast vehicles.
The beauty of these stores may not be found in the aesthetics of the floor plan or the merchandising. Instead, it is, in my opinion, precisely where it belongs - with the stock on the shelves. Oh yes, one will find a good selection of the same things that are sold in regular discount department stores and chain toy stores. But take a moment and look closer. You will find brands and versions of vehicles that are not sold in other types of stores. The manufacturers reserve some of their products to be sold only in hobby and specialty stores. This is no doubt in part due to the fact that without something to differentiate these stores from places like the retail giants, they would surely be gobbled up. I have a great deal of respect for the folks that run these little stores. They somehow manage to sell a terrific line of products at a price not far above discount stores, provide personal service and product knowledge, and still take something to the bank. It must be noted that these kinds of stores are disappearing. Less dedicated collectors and hobbyists seem to be content with the generic offerings of the big stores. Well they don't know what they're missing.
No Ejector Seat
Speaking of finds in out-of-the-way places, a case in point is this 1963 Aston Martin DB5 by Chrono. I temporarily got bored with the crop of large-scale vehicles to be found in the big chains and found myself wandering through the Willow Grove Shopping Center in Pennsylvania looking for a different store to shop. I visited the Allied Hobbies store and found the DB5 parked right next to the cash register. It is available in British Racing Green, Silver Metallic and Ice Blue. I decided that I should get something other than the "James Bond" color just to keep things interesting and took the Ice Blue. The color contrasts nicely with the green tinted windows and reminds me of the same color scheme on my real-life Volvo 1800E.
I should quickly add that this model does NOT have any "spy" equipment. It is refreshing for its lack of gadgets. I don't think it will happen on my current budget, but if I should feel the need for machine gun signal lights, bullet-proof shields, oil slick tail lights and revolving number plates I will go spend a small fortune on the Franklin Mint version - a beautiful rendition of the movie car. No, this car is brilliant in its simplicity. For one payments-worth of Franklin Mint spy mobile you get a highly detailed stock car that's just as attractive.
There is one very curious feature that I discovered almost by accident. The car seems to have a spring mechanism similar to the small "roll-back" racers - pull the car backwards and then release and it rolls forward under its own power. Well, sort of... It's a heavy model so it does not rocket across the room. Thankfully not, as mine demonstrated this capability on the way to the edge of the table. I rescued it in time to avoid a cliff fall.
As for the details, this car has plenty. The bonnet opens to reveal the twin cam covers and triple SU carbs. Other components include the brake and clutch reservoirs, window washer tank and motor, molded-in heater hoses and radiator. The engine is well detail and includes the spark plugs, if not the wires, and exhaust manifolds. The compartment is painted flat black along with the inside of the bonnet. You'll need to fashion your own prop if you wish to display the car with the engine showing as the bonnet likes to close if left unattended.
Head-on, the nose is faithful to the car that David Brown delivered to affluent customers. Notable are the excellent head and turn lamps and finely detailed grill. The chrome bumper and crisp number plate, along with the Aston Martin badge that is replicated by a crisp tampo complete a pleasing view. The bonnet has an open "scoop" that comes in handy when you want to look at the engine. The leading left and right edges of the bonnet are inscribed with the "Superleggera" script.
Moving back to the green house we find an interesting "glass" treatment. It is tinted in the green color familiar to anyone who owns a '60's Brit car with Triplex Sundym glass. The edges of the glass, where appropriate are outlined with black borders meant to simulate rubber weather-stripping. The very edges are outlined with silver painted trim. The side door windows are trimmed with chrome frames. The driver's side window is partially open. The rear quarter windows have silver tampo dots on them that mark the spot where the window hinge attaches to the glass. This all sounds like fussy detail but is so well done you don't really notice most of it at first. Like the windshield wipers. The blades are painted black and the rest is chrome.
The rear deck and fascia carry the same kind of attention to detail found on the rest of the car. Although the boot does not open, the lines are inscribed in the correct locations. The numberplate holder has another Aston badge and below that, a chrome outlined numberplate. More subtlety - the rear lamps are four separate pieces - the red, yellow and clear lenses and the chrome surround. Below the boot lid can be found a release button painted silver. To the right, the DB5 script has been clearly tampo-printed. And check the rear bumper for two little red spots that are painted on, presumably as safety reflectors.
In profile this model continues to please. The doors open and close but still fit nice and tight. The door handles are separately attached chrome parts. The vents on either side, ostensibly for cooling the engine, are trimmed with a chrome bar through the center of the opening. The rear view mirrors mounted atop the fenders are chrome. The DB5 shield is tampo printed behind the front wheel openings. At first glance I wasn't sure I liked the chrome wire wheels. They looked like they might be a one-piece, molded affair that wouldn't hold up to close inspection. But a second glance shows that they are actually quite good. Two separate sections make up each wheel and it can be clearly seen that there is a clear view through the spokes to the wheel hubs and brake parts. The tires are not incredibly detailed but they are well proportioned and do not detract from the model. The knock-off hubcaps bear watching as one of mine has gone missing. The carpet might have eaten it while I was removing the model from the box.
If you had one of Alice in Wonderland's pills you'd probably have a great time inside this model once you got small. The dash has a myriad of gauges and switch gear. The steering wheel is simulated wood with the rivets correctly showing around the wheel. All of the details are crisp and accurate. The seats are stationary and have chrome hinge parts that compliment the light gray finish. The floor is a dark gray. The door panels have nice detail and a two-tone finish. The edges are black and the center sections are light gray like the seats. The window winder and door handles are painted silver. The kick panels on the bottom edge of the door are black and outlined with silver paint. The trailing interior edge of the doors are painted silver and have a red dot that represents the safety reflector or lamp (I don't have a real DB5 handy so on this detail, I am guessing...)
The only thing about this model that was a disappointment was the chassis. It's not much more than a flat pan with some cursory details molded in. The front suspension does feature poseable wheels so the detail there is a little better than the rear axle - molded in to the floor pan. Dual exhausts trace a path from the engine to the rear of the car and peek out nicely from underneath the rear bumper. But I'll not miss the detail under the car much as I usually display my cars shiny side up! Long story short, if you like English sports cars, and especially if you own or ever dreamt of owning an Aston Martin, this is one model that is worth hunting down.
Show Season Tips
With the show season in full swing, I have gotten some questions about shopping the tables. Here are the most frequently asked and my personal attempts at wisdom.
Q. Do dealers at shows expect to bargain over the price of an item or is it like Macys, where the cost is what it says on the sticker?
A. I say haggle to the point where the seller still likes you but starts to looked concerned and then close the deal. If you know the price is right, take it without a fight, unless you make a big purchase and feel like negotiating. Most sellers will entertain reasonable offers. Know the value - and know how much you are willing to spend. And walk away if your limit is exceeded. You might consider going back later in the day to see if the seller will reconsider your offer, assuming what you want has not been sold.
Q. If they will bargain, what is the customary range?
A. That has always been the hard part for me. I think 10-20% off is a safe place to start. You won't insult most sellers, although I have heard that the best hagglers usually start right out by insulting the seller with a hopelessly low offer, I never really felt comfortable doing that.
Q. For a two-day show, are the prices better on the second day because dealers don't want to haul the inventory home, or does it matter?
A. It depends on the seller and how good the show has been. It can also depend on how long the items have been in inventory or how hot the items are. Sometimes it can be a matter of how good the cash flow of the seller is (the seller may be trying to make deals of their own and need your cash to do it...). It is best to get those highly sought after items while they are there. I once waited for the last day of a show to buy a piece. I worked on the seller each day, and commiserated with my buddy each night. On the last day, my buddy went over and bought it from the guy 15 minutes before I got there, at 6:45AM... I just had to try to get that extra $5 off. Well it did come off, and my friend thanked me for softening up the seller. This is one case where having a friend along with similar interests is a liability.
Q. Any tips, advice or stories you can give me will be welcome. I'm so green at this I'm starting to bud?
A. Go - wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a knapsack or a big canvas bag, don't forget what you went there to buy, and most of all - Enjoy!
Online Wheeling and Dealing
Over the years I have traded die cast vehicles many people on the Internet. During this time, I have acquired many that I would not have been able to get my hands on any other way.
I got to thinking that, for collectors who have not traded online, the whole "trade" process might be a little mysterious. With that in mind I have put together a little set of tips that I have developed over time that work well for me. I hope that you find them useful.
It is a good idea to be as specific as possible when you are listing items for a trade. I like to produce a trade summary that lists what each person is getting. This helps me to see the trade as it develops, and helps me when it is time to pack stuff up. It also helps me to see if the trade is "even". As the summary changes, I am careful to update it and send it off to the person I am trading with so that we both know what is going on. When the traders decide that it is time to ship, I usually "freeze" the summary and save it for my records.
While I am not a vegetarian, tree hugging, organic, herb lover, I care about the environment and recycle packaging and paper. Try to reuse the boxes and packing materials over and over as long as you can. Be sure to pack the box so that the contents cannot move around. Use newspapers, Styrofoam peanuts, bubble pack or popcorn to fill all the air spaces. This prevents the contents from rubbing on each other, and gives the box extra strength. I very rarely put things in a box that is a perfect fit because if the box is punctured, the contents may get damaged.
For those times that a loose item is shipped, be sure to wrap it in something that will pad it and protect it from being rubbed or scratched. You would be surprised how much damage a loose car can suffer rubbing on a blister pack for 3000 bumpy miles. And it is not a good idea to use soft-sided packaging unless the contents are not going to be damaged if the package is crushed.
I like to cover the shipping label with a clear piece of tape to prevent any moisture from obscuring the addresses. And it really does help to make the address as large as possible. It will get to the destination a lot faster if the shipping sorters can read it!
When sending anything that is one of a kind or valuable, I use shipping insurance so that if it is lost or damaged, I have enough money to replace it. For example, a Trea$ure Hunt may have only cost me 79 cents to buy, but I would be hard pressed to replace it for that price, and I would not want to be trying to find another for 79 cents if it got lost. The same is true for that 40-year-old rarity. Losing something like that would be a disaster in anyone's book, but at least the insurance money would take the bite off it a little.
After several trips to the Post Office, I have found that the postal rates can be very close for packages under a certain weight threshold, between sending something 1st Class and Priority Mail. I now ask for the rate for both 1st Class and Priority because I find that the difference is often only a matter of 10 or 20 cents. In these instances, I will go the extra few cents so that the other person gets the package quicker. If I have traded with the person before and expect to do so again in the near future, I consolidate packages, rather than ship several smaller ones that would cost me the same amount each time. It is seldom really worth paying for the premium delivery service if there is a significant difference in price since most of the stuff goes in the same truck anyway and will only arrive a day earlier, if that.
"Deals Gone Bad"
I have been very fortunate that people I have dealt with have been honest and did what they promised regarding our dealings. In the beginning, I was scared by all the "internet doom and gloom" stories, and did not want to get "ripped off". So I was shipping everything Certified/Registered Mail. This was expensive so I began to "live dangerously" and sent things to people I had dealt with before without it. I cannot advocate this for everyone, but with a little common sense, I think most people can spot a fraud. The old adage "if it is too good to be true, it probably is" comes to mind.
Get to know the people you deal with. Are they frequent visitors to the area you visit? Do they know other people that you know? Do they post messages that sound genuine? Do they answer your e-mail? Have they been around for a while? Is their story consistent from message to message? And so on.
Like I said - common sense. If I had any doubts about someone, I would move cautiously. For those who wish to preserve privacy, I suggest shipping to your work address or using a Post Office Box. Don't be too quick to give out personal information - exchange addresses with people only after several exchanges of messages.
If you are selling something, hold off on shipping it until you get payment. Once you establish a relationship with your trading partners you can relax the rules and go with what you are comfortable with. But beware just the same - the con artist's game is confidence. If you are set up by a con-artist, you will probably have no trouble at first, and then wham - and they are gone. So caveat emptor.
I find that people who trust are usually trustworthy. And giving of your trust is a great gift!
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