Die Cast Insider - June 1999
© 1999 Paul M. Provencher
|Cant Eat Just One
It is not unusual to see Matchbox, Hot Wheels, Majorette, Racing Champions and other manufacturers multi-pack 1/64-scale offerings. We have all become accustomed to the ubiquitous "Five-Packs". It is pretty well known that several of these sets contain cars that are not released singly. In some cases the price can be an additional attraction. But recently I have noticed a marked increase in the number of multi-pack offerings that contain larger sized die cast vehicles. This month's column takes a look at two such sets from Ertl.
Class of 1967
I cant say I have ever read anywhere that 1967 was the swan song year of freedom in American automotive design. But I think of 67 as the last year that manufacturers were not required to incorporate engineering or design elements into their products to satisfy legislation. I have driven, owned and loved several cars made in that year. I can compare each one of them to the successor models and recite changes that diminished style, performance and individuality. I do welcome many of the changes that the federal government mandated. But I can recall being offended by the losses in performance. I had the pleasure of driving a 1967 Pontiac LeMans, 1966 Pontiac Bonneville Coupe, and in stark contrast, a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. They were all great in their own way. My favorite versions of two of my favorite cars were made in 1967 The Jaguar E-Type Coupe and the Corvette Stingray.
Three cars are delivered in the Ertl set: the Pontiac Firebird 400, Chevy Camaro SS 396 and the Shelby GT 350. The epitome of muscle in 1967, these cars all have a place in history for their performance and style. No doubt there were countless showdowns between these cars on the streets of the USA. These models are 1/43 scale. I am used to this model size but I am not used to the detail that I found in these models. It was tempting to leave them in the package because they are pretty tightly wired on to the base. But I persevered and took them out one by one. My efforts were rewarded by a cut on my finger and a close up look at chassis detail that is excellent. The suspension works! The details are all there: frame rails, leaf springs, rear axle, floor pan, engine, front "A" arms and tie rod linkages, dual exhausts. Most of the 1/43-scale models that I have feature base detail that is molded into a one-piece plate that is screwed to the body of the car. I like the Ertl treatment a lot better.
The Pontiac Firebird 400 was my dream car when it was introduced. I can still remember the posters I got from my Uncle Al that showed the Pontiac lineup for 1967. This, the debut version of the long-lived Bird, is black with redlined rubber tires and factory mags. The details are great chrome outlines on the windows, finely molded windshield wipers, well painted grill details with clear headlights, silver door handles, wheel openings and rear quarter "vent" trim. The emblems and badges are all done with micro-fine tampos that cannot be read with the naked eye (not mine anyway) but under 15-power magnification reveal crisp lettering and accurate colors. The number plates are quite detailed and well applied to the front and rear bumpers.
One look at the Camaro SS 396 provides an instant reminder of why it continues to be so popular. It has a simple, clean design. The car has enough power and some to spare. The interior is easy to see in this model the convertible top is down. The front seat backs flip forward and backward. The console, window winders and dash details are painted silver. There is also a gearshift knob. The paint job is a nice turquoise metallic. The L35 SS 396 factory option includes special hood and ornaments, front header panel paint stripes, underhood insulation, special nylon red stripe tires, 14x6 wheels, suspension features, fender SS emblems and SS emblems on radiator grille and gas filler cap; with 325-hp Turbo-Jet 396-cid engine. The only thing that cannot be compared to a real car on this model is the engine and engine compartment. Its the only thing that you cant see. The rest of the details are there and some are amazingly small.
I think someone is eventually going to contact and challenge me to admit that, when it comes to Ford Mustangs, I am in denial. I have repeatedly claimed to dislike them in this column and yet I repeatedly write them up and lend a kind view to them. I guess this comes in part from my attempt at journalistic objectivity. My claim of dislike comes in part from the desire to keep harmony in my home. You see my wife is really the Mustang hater in the family. I pretty much go along. Well to some extent I dont like Mustangs there was a pretty bad stretch there in the 70s and 80s where they really did lose all that a Mustang stood for when they first appeared in 64. And after all, the Mustang did rise from the parentage of a Ford Falcon...
With my feelings still unresolved I will say that the Shelby GT 350 has to be the consummate Stang, and this model nails it. All the details are there. From the twin driving lights nestled into the grill, the side scoops, racing stripes and logos its spot on. As with the other two cars in this set the chrome trim around the windows, the detail painting everywhere and the super-crisp tampos all conspire to make a Mustang lover out of even my wife. (I stand corrected - she checked the model, likes it, but still hates Mustangs) And for those who already love Mustangs, this model is a delight. The proportions are right. The paint is thick and shiny. The only compromise between detail and sturdiness that I found bothersome was the way the side view mirror is attached to the drivers door it has a very large "foot" that is painted the car color in an effort to hide it. I am sure it was done this way to give the mirror a chance to stay attached to the car. The Firebird and Camaro have the same construction. But mirrors notwithstanding, The Class of 1967 is a great set to have if you collect Firebird, Mustang or Camaros.
Class of 1970
The theme continues with a set that contains no less than three of the late great muscle cars produced near the end of the high performance era.
The Ford Torino Cobra is a bright "Poppy Red". I wonder if that is a reference to the Wizard of Oz Probably not. The hood is flat black and has silver hold-down clips painted on. The wheel openings are outlined in silver. The windows are surrounded by chrome trim. The side marker lights are printed crisply on the front fenders. The side mirrors are painted car-color and have silver faces. The door handles are painted silver. The interior is black with chrome features on the console. The rear-view mirror is even in there! Front grill and rear panel details are complete. Headlights are clear plastic; taillights are chrome with red painted insets. The front and rear bumpers are chrome. The wheels are accurate replicas of the factory mags that came on this car. The tires have nice white lettering and reasonable tread and sidewall detail. When I look at the photos that I made of these cars, I can see that it might be easy to mistake them for a larger model.
The Olds 442 W30 comes painted with gold metallic and black panels on the hood. The top-down treatment reveals a black interior with seat backs that move forward and backward. Wood grain trim, chrome shifter and silver window winders, steering wheel, chrome windshield surround with visors and a rear view mirror complete the detail. The wheels and tires are consistent with the rest of the cars in this series with chrome and painted details and white lettering. Itsy-bitsy license plates front and rear are nicely done. The chrome front and rear bumpers have impressive detail that even shows the chrome capped carriage bolts that hold the real bumpers on the car. I have scrutinized the car several times and one thing that keeps coming through is the cleanliness of the casting. I could not find a mold parting line anywhere. I could not find wavy surfaces that shouldnt be there. The edges are not rough or clunky. The side tampo stripes are crisp and accurate. Simply put, its a really nice model that grows on you.
I have a friend that owned the Nova SS 396. This model exactly captures his car. Jerrys car was Forest Green just like this one. He sold it to get money to go to school and has mentioned several times how much he wishes he still had "that car". When you think about the combination of a small, lightweight car combined with the SS 396 option package certainly do not leave any question about the real purpose of this car. I dont think this car was built to go to the grocery store. That is, of course unless your grocery store is only a quarter of a mile away This model has some impressive details much like the others I have described. It lacks the side mirrors. The vinyl top is very well done and looks real even though it is painted on.
Doom and Gloom
I read a lot of opinions predicting the demise of our hobby. Stark claims that it will go the way of sports card collecting. Pessimistic tales of the disappearance of die cast vehicles. I am here to tell you that it is not going to happen. I should be quick to point out that there are some aspects of die cast collecting that are going to change. But disappear, no. In the future we can expect to see:
The biggest change will be for Hot Wheels collectors. I think that we might expect to feel an easing of scalping, although it will never completely go away. Other brands are not resold to the same extent and so have not been as badly affected by opportunistic dealers. Mattel has a higher priced line of collectibles for adults, but it may not necessarily get the attention needed to sustain sales. Even though they have shown that they know how to make excellent products, they do not seem to be reaching their core collector segment which has, until now been more interested in cheaper products.
I have happily noticed that companies like Maisto, Road Champs, Ertl, and Revell have done a great job of introducing new castings that appeal to adults who love cars. Once they get the first version out, they follow it with customized versions. This keeps interest up, gets kids involved, and prolongs the sales life of the casting. I have always preferred stock versions of vehicles so I am hooked. Ill probably run out of space before I run out of interest.
I'd love to be able to spend 40 thousand dollars on anything. I think if I had that much spare money lying around, there are quite a few things I could think of to buy. A nice car. An addition to my home. Some land next door But an auction caught my eye and stopped me dead in my tracks: "THE RAREST...1972 REDLINE 96 CAR CASE SEALED!" And the current bid: $39,900. I just want to say that this is one way I will not be spending my next disposable $40,000 bill. Can you imagine? It sounds like a dream come true for the seller. He claims to have found two cases at a gas station and bought them from the owner. Now they show up for sale online. Now the qualifier here is that the auction has a reserve on it so until the undisclosed minimum price has been met, none of the bidders are committed to buying. But people will see this and get all kinds of ideas about the worth of cases of old Hot Wheels. Then on the other hand I found a listing with fifty+ Hot Wheels (every car pictured and condition rated - most very good or excellent) with a starting bid of $250.00 and no takers. The cars are not particularly rare, none are in blister, but all are good collectibles for someone trying to start a collection of older cars. And the price is reasonable. Go figure.
Mattel and Ferrari have entered into a licensing agreement that gives Mattel exclusive rights to produce Ferrari toys and other Ferrari-related items. There has been a great deal of speculation about whether or not other toy manufacturers will be able to continue making Ferrari toys. I don't want to promote a huge rash of speculative buying. But if you have been admiring a particular Ferrari model from a manufacturer other than Mattel, pry that money out of your wallet and go get it now while you still can. It might cease to exist or show up with a Hot Wheels sticker on it! Either that or they may become collateral casualties of the Hot Wheels madness sweeping our nation. That is to say the Hot Wheels scalpers may discover this untapped market for obsolete toys and start selling them at inflated prices
My advice for the rest of the year and moving forward is pretty simple. Most have heard it before. And it is a simple maxim: "Buy what you like." Let's face it - long after the fun of being first on your block to have the complete set of XYZ-series vehicles has faded you might have misspent your money if they do not give you any pleasure. Some of the most impressive collections I have seen are those that reflect the owners interest and taste and not the total output of a particular manufacturer. I have concentrated a good part of my collecting energy on putting together a large assembly of Jaguars, Volvos and VW Beetles. I think that I get the most pleasure from these collections overall. The finds happen in the most unexpected places, consist of items that I might not have known even existed, and are much more varied than my single brand, series oriented collections. And there is a little more to them in the sense that I can either relate a story to the piece itself, or the particular vehicle represents a memory of times that I might have enjoyed with such a car. These are the things that are going to mean the most to me 20 years down the road, more than anything that has to do with real or perceived rarity. More than whether or not I have every single darned catalog numbered item from this manufacturer or that. And anyway, just when you think you have them all, another one is added to the list and off you go again!
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