Die Cast Insider - May 1998
© 1998 Paul M. Provencher
Anyone who shops the die cast aisles at any major chain department or toy store knows that a large proportion of die cast vehicles feature some pretty outrageous decorations, poor scaling, generic wheels, and questionable accuracy. Those items that do not exhibit these toy-like characteristics are generally pretty expensive, and harder to find in "regular" stores. There are innumerable subjects that offer realistic details, but often the price of admission can be steep. Brands such as Solido, Rio, Verem, and so on can be purchased for prices starting at about $20. But even at that price, the cost of a good size collection can range into the thousands of dollars. So when Racing Champions introduced their Mint Edition series, many of my friends could not believe that they would sell for less than $5.00. We waited with anticipation for the release of the first six cars. We were not disappointed by what we found. Many people have sworn off Hot Wheels and Matchbox for good, and now concentrate on these fine, smart priced adult collectibles. I have collected them since the beginning. Certainly there have been some cars that left something to be desired, but when one considers the sheer range of subjects, overall quality of the product, and the availability, it is no wonder that these cars do not spend much time on the pegs. This month I have chosen four vehicles that I find especially pleasing. They are devoid of glitzy graphics, foolish features, and depict some of Americas most popular and trend-setting transport.
The 49 Buick Riviera is stunning. This version comes in deep green with a canvas colored top. It features wide white walls and a red interior. It has a hood which, true to the original, opens to the side. Many people thought that there was something wrong with the model because of this but it is correct. The engine detail is quite good for this scale. From what I can gather, this has been a very popular casting. By the time you read this, it might be somewhat hard to find!
The 49 Mercury Sedan is a special car for me. My dad owned one in his younger days. I am fortunate to have several Kodachrome slides that he made of his car. Inspecting the model next to the photographs shows that the designers paid attention to detail. One variation of this casting even came in the same color as my Dads car, so of course he found it under the tree during Christmas last year. It was a big hit to say the least. Now I just have to remember to return the pictures to him! Again, the car has rubber white wall tires, baby moon wheels (not exactly correct), gray paint, and good trim detail paint.
I have always been disappointed by the lack of good 30s and 40s truck models. RC has taken steps to correct this, starting with the 35 Ford Pickup. It has a removable hood and working tailgate. The version I like the best is a metallic powder blue number with white walls and chrome "wire" wheels. Nice touches include the rear view mirrors and spare tire.
The 32 Ford Coupe is one of the most popular cars of the 30s. And while there is no shortage of models to choose from, RC versions are hard to resist. The aqua metallic version is sweet. The combination of white walls, tan interior and black fenders is attractive to say the least. The only complaint I have about this model is the way the headlights sit on the front fenders. It is very hard to find one that does not have some problem with the way the lights are attached. And it seems to me that they sit a bit high. But even with this complaint, it is still a great model!
I have taken another look at the Johnny Lightning Hot Rods. My first impression was not very good. I found that some of the models had funny looking wheels and bad colors. But subsequent releases of these models have helped me to change my opinion to a degree. I still feel that the wheels on some of these models could use some work. But the models described this month look better with new colors. Moreover, most of them are not common die cast subjects. My choice for favorite is split between the 1929 Crew Cab and Frankenstude. I really like the vintage pickup. Even though most of the colors are pretty funky, the casting itself is really interesting. It looks like a closed touring body was coupled to a stretched chassis and truck bed. The whole thing was lowered to the ground and just looks "bad". The Frankenstude is one of the models that look much better in light colors. The first one I found was a dark color and looked like a blob. But the red metallic version is much nicer looking. I have always liked the stock car that this is based upon. The level of detail painting on all of these cars is very limited, and this car is no exception. The only details added are the silver touches on the nose. It is not completely accurate, but captures the essence of the car.
Bumongous, based on the Buick Super, is another in this series that looks better in light colors. This one is light yellow with a black top. The lights and "Dagmar" bumpers are painted. Like other cars in this series, the Buick has two piece, chrome wheels and black plastic tires. This is another of those cars that my dad owned. Well not exactly, as this car is customized, but at least the grill is familiar. Using the picture on the blister for reference, it seems that perhaps the wheels on this model may have the correct offset it looks like the real car has the wheels well inside the wheel openings. I still think it looks funny.
Rumblur is one of those curious cars that I remember from my early childhood. Of course they were not chopped, channeled, tubbed, and frenched like this car is! This variation, painted turquoise with a black roof looks much nicer than previous versions one can see the shape of the car much better. I am a little surprised that the car was not done in two tone like the prototype shown on the package, but I am sure the customizers out there will correct that!
Yet another car that my dad owned, at least in stock trim, is the 1966 Pro Street (AKA Chevy Malibu SS). This model is painted in gold metallic with black and silver accents. It features a large hood scoop and extended rear spoiler. As with other JL castings that I have seen, some of the windows have not been opened up in this case the side vent windows are filled in. It is probably not fair to second-guess the designers, but I would have wrapped the front windshield around to form the vent windows, and painted the trailing edge to form the frame. The car is also missing the side mirror shown in the photo on the blister. But the interior detail is quite good, with roll bars and good seat and dash elements.
The 1969 Pro Street (Camaro) is dark metallic blue with a white interior. There is a large scoop mounted on the hood, good detail painting of the grill, head and taillights. The parachute on the back is also painted. This car looks like it had a rocky ride from the Far East as the paint is scrubbed down pretty badly on the visible side, so much so that it has left marks on the car and the blister. But once opened, a little jewelers rouge restored the appearance of the car. So much for keeping it in the package .
I still think that Playing Mantis has a way to go before they show the kind of consistency that we have come to expect from other manufacturers. I usually have to spend a fair amount of time locating a car that does not have some sort of damage. Usually the car is in pretty decent shape but the blister packs seem to get more beat up than other brands. And I still maintain that the wheels on these cars look wrong, more often than not. It is for that reason that I often pass up JLs.
During my last shopping trip, I fanned the pegs looking for new colors of the Johnny Lightning Hot Rods series. I looked through the cars several times before I had found some that I wanted. I decided to go through one more time to see if I could find one to replace the 1969 Pro Street with bad paint. For the third time I noticed the white Bad Bird and for the third time I decided to leave it there. But for some reason, it ended up in my hands. So I looked at it a little more closely. Well it turned out to be the White Lightning version with rubber "White Lightning" tires! It never ceases to amaze me how I can be looking right at something and not see it for what it is. This is the fourth White Lightning that I have found on the pegs. Two fairly jumped out at me. One was in a case that someone else had gone through. And this one had to ask three times to go home with me. When I visited with my friend who works at the store, he told me that it had been on the rack for a week! So I guess I am not the only one who missed it the first time through!
|Photos, Layout and Design © 1999 Paul M. Provencher All Rights Reserved.
Contents of this Web Site may not be used without written permission.
Visits since 2/12/99