Die Cast Insider - May 1999
© 1999 Paul M. Provencher
|I Love Fords...
In the spirit of the, ahem, acquisition of earlier this year, I am working hard at learning to love Fords. Anyone who reads this column each month knows that I rarely miss an opportunity to jab at Mustangs. It is all in good fun, really. And in truth, there are some uh... Fords that I find irresistible. Of course I could try to rationalize my liking for the '40 Ford Deluxe Coupe and Tudor sedans by saying that the '49 Volvo really was a top-top-top secret project that was undertaken in the Thirties, yeah, that's it and um, the design was stolen by er, Ford. But alas, it was not. Volvo would appear to have made liberal use of the styling cues when they designed the PV 444, and later the general shape and concept of the 1949 Ford was translated into the 1956 Volvo Amazon (my personal opinion, not supported by facts). If you refer to my Die Cast Insider column from January 1998, you can see the pictures and judge for yourself.
I seldom miss a chance to collect a new '40 Ford casting from any manufacturer. I have several plastic scale models that I have built. AMT re-released the '40 Ford Delivery, one expensive kit on the collector market before it's reappearance. Anyone who was a kid in the sixties probably built the horrid little Lindberg kit of the Deluxe convertible. Funny thing about that kit though, if you could paint, it actually came out looking pretty good. So anyway, there you have my confessions of a closet Ford lover. And this month I have not one, but two '40 Fords to tell about.
'40 Ford Deluxe Coupe & Hot Rod
I am observing some general improvements as time goes on with Ertl 1/18th scale models. One thing that must be mentioned is that they have found a way to affix headlight lenses without the molded-in pin that was used in the past. The headlights on this model are slightly opaque but very detailed and quite realistic. The marker lights that are found above the headlights on the real car are also well represented on these models. Other nose details include properly painted grill (on the stock model anyway), chrome headlight surrounds, chrome bumper, number plate and frame, chrome accent trim that divides the hood and accents the sides.
The windshield has the perquisite split in the middle. It also has a nice black outline. The wipers are a bit chunky and chrome but this could be toned down pretty easily. Side mirrors affixed to the doors are fragile and prone to breakage (I broke one of mine taking the car off of the plastic base to photograph). But they do enhance the appearance of the car and bear protecting. The driver and passenger side doors open and close to reveal good interior details. The vertical separation between the vent and the open window is not modeled. But the vent windows are clear plastic so again, this could be detailed fairly easily. The side trim on the hood continues down both sides of the car. Chrome door handles are well detailed and sturdy.
The tail treatment is just as nice as the nose. Easy-to-omit details like the trunk lid handle, badge, fender strut boots, gas cap and filler neck, exhaust "tiger paw" are all present and accounted for. The taillights are painted in red and surrounded with chrome. This is one of my favorite views of this car, with the split rear window. The trunk does not open, but it looks like it could
Inside, almost no detail was too small to include. The doors have arm rests, window winders and door handles. The pattern of fabric is molded in to panels that are attached to the inside of the doors. The dash has all the gauges in the proper places. The steering wheel is probably not the right color but it does have the proper details. Pedals, floor treatment, shifter and seats, front and rear complete a very pleasing interior - the kind I used to wish I could "shrink to fit into" when I was an imaginative kid.
The engine compartment is reasonably detailed. The Flathead V-8 is there, with the ancillary components, radiator, radiator shroud, hoses, molded-in wiring and battery. The chassis has most, if not all the details of the full sized car. All in all, it's a very pleasing model. The shiny brown paint and cream interior are quite easy on the eyes and should blend with many types of décor. The wheels are well detailed. There are at least five pieces - the rubber tire, white-wall insert, brown "steel wheel", chrome trim ring and chrome embossed and painted hub caps. And it rolls...
The Hot Rod version is based on the same casting and consequently features most of the same great details. There are differences though. The engine heads are painted bright red. The factory carbs have been replaced with two period Hot Rod type and intakes. The fan belt detours up to power an alternator and air conditioner compressor.
The front-end features what looks like a Mustang II front suspension with dropped spindles. A tilt-wheel has been added to the interior. The number plates are different. The wheels are a familiar American Racing/ET five (5) spoke mag wheel. The tires are yellow accented Firestones. Tampos create lock holes on the doors. Oh yeah - there's this thing about flames coming off the hood... Schweet,
Pick a Theme, Any Theme
Manufacturers, in their bid to find new ways to sell more die cast vehicles, continue to introduce new themes that are designed to attract new collectors. With the widespread success of most of the major companies one would not think that another angle is required. But apparently this is not true. I am a car lover so my interest in die cast vehicles is largely driven by my interest in the automobile and its history. Part of my interest lies with the quality of miniaturization too, but I diverge. I do have other interests beyond cars, and sometimes I am lucky enough to find a die cast vehicle that in some way or another taps that theme. For example, I like to take pictures. So I might be tempted to purchase anything that has the Kodak sponsorship markings or trademarks. I like computers. So I might be tempted to purchase anything that has a remotely computer theme. I like music and audio equipment. So sometimes musical themes sound good. But do I actually ever buy any of these vehicles? Well yes, I do, but not necessarily because of a thematic twist. When I bought the Mercedes 170 van with the RCA dog on it, was it because of the logo? No, it was because of the vehicle. The logo happened to be a nice period touch but it was not the main thing.
So what am I talking about when I refer to themes? Well here is a short list of themes that are fairly current with die cast vehicles:
There are lots of people that have interest in cars AND these subjects. It's a great opportunity to get a die cast vehicle with your favorite wrestling hero's picture and signature printed on it. Never mind that the character doesn't really own a car like this, does not drive a car decorated like this, and probably doesn't even care much about cars.
The hard thing for some collectors to decide is whether or not to continue trying to collect every single variation of a particular casting. It is becoming impossible to do so. There are so many different presentations of a particular car now that it could be a costly proposition. One would almost have to make a collecting career out of collecting all variations of a single casting! I am saying that with a smile in my heart because, of course, having too many choices in this case is surely not a bad thing. But if your collection lacks focus, best beware!
Ordering Die Cast Online
As the Internet continues to grow and more companies find their place there, consumers are enjoying new ways to shop. It is almost certain that this trend will continue for some time, and will be more common in the future. Thinking back just three or four years, I recall how few companies that sell die cast were online. Most of the buying and selling online was done between individuals that conducted business while observing a code of conduct reminiscent of times long gone. My experience during this period was very good. I established relationships with quite a number of people that I had not previously met.
After a period of consistent exchanges of email, we quite often would help each other get items for our collections. In the majority of cases, money did not change hands, but rather we used a barter system. Essentially, If I wanted such and such vehicles that you had and you wanted such and such vehicles that I had, we would trade them, sending the packages out in the mail at roughly the same time. In the beginning I sent everything with a Return Receipt requested and insurance. Once I became familiar with people, I usually dispensed with the signature bit and just used insurance to cover the cost of the goods.
In four years I only had two marginal experiences. Once a trader that I was dealing with "disappeared" from the online scene without sending me a package I was owed. Not wanting to think that this person was bad, I worked at tracking him down and eventually did get back in touch about three months later. Suffice to say that he did make good on the trade. The reason he disappeared was because his life kind of fell apart due to reasons beyond his control. I am glad I did not send him hate mail or besmirch his name as a "Bad Trader". He had enough problems without me making another one. And I probably would not have gotten my package from him...
The other experience was a package that got smashed courtesy of the Post Office. Interestingly enough they delivered the package to my friend with a letter taking credit for the damage. My friend was appreciative but came to me for a resolution. I had him send me back the damaged toys and the letter from the Post Office. Lesson Learned - If you do not insure the package, you do not get money for damages. I had tried to save some money by not insuring it. I took the letter to the postmaster and asked what he could do for me. Since I also had the Pitney Bowes sticker from the damaged package he was able to give me back my money for the postage. So I was out the price of the cars but not the postage to send the replacements. Still, not bad for the number of times I traded or sold things to people on the 'Net.
I would have to attribute my good fortune to several things. Mainly I always make sure the terms of the deal are clear and spelled out up front. That is usually as simple as making a list of things that I am sending and below that, a list of things that I am expecting to get in return. If there is a difference that amounts to money changing hands, that gets spelled out. Nothing is shipped until this is recorded to everyone's satisfaction.
Next, we'd usually agree about how the stuff was going to be shipped. I like the good old US Mail, believe it or not. I have found the service I get from Priority Mail to be as good as it gets. They deliver it directly to my door in a day or two. Other methods involve an extra trip and additional expense. Hardly anything I am getting is considered "life or death".
Logistics aside, there is the question of adequately describing the goods being exchanged. At first this can be pretty difficult since one person's "mint" can be another person's "junk". If I trade new stuff for new stuff I find this issue easy to deal with. There are people who care about creases on blister packs, damage to boxes and so on, so I always make sure to spell that out to everyone so that there is no doubt about what is going on with the packaging. Beyond that, I mention anything else about the vehicle itself so that I can be sure that the person knows what they are getting. Once I have traded with a person a number of times I get a feel for what their standards are and can be sure to avoid sending them anything that falls below their standards. This is especially important for used and loose items. Condition is even more a matter of opinion.
To that end, a number of rating systems have been developed to enable collectors to objectively assign a number to the condition. The only problem with this is that there are several systems in use and each is interpreted differently by different collectors. Therefore it is not enough to accept that a used item is rated as a 9.8 on the scale - some kind of description is in order. Ideally a few well done photographs will suffice to show the condition. But failing that, you should expect to allow for returns on items that do not live up to expectations. And you need to be clear about the terms of the returns. Who pays return shipping? What if the item comes back damaged? What if the item is as described but the person is just trying to make a better deal?
There are so many variables that the best thing to do is avoid any major transactions like this (dollar-wise) until you have made less expensive exchanges with the same person and get a feel for them. I guess I would be considered "small-time" by saying this but I don't think I have bought anything online that was used and cost more than $10.00. Certainly everyone has their own limit. I have, on the other hand spent several hundred dollars with companies who offer secure credit card ordering and ship the same day. It's a matter of what feels good for you and what works. I have heard countless tales of woe about online deals gone south. I don't mean to sound high and mighty (because I am not) but in most cases it was due to bad communication. Someone's needs were not met because someone failed to communicate them.
These days, it's quite different. Oh sure, people still trade and sell on the web. But big business has gotten on board with places like ebay and etoys leading the pack. Does anyone remember sitting in study hall reading a J.C. Whitney catalog? Now they're online too. And they sell die cast. The manufacturers have shown a huge presence too. Every major manufacturer has a web site. Many of them sell their goods there too. If it's three in the morning and you need a fix, you can connect to ertltoys.com and order yourself the Auburn that I wrote about in a recent column - of course it comes in a color exclusive to their internet or magazine mail-in offer. Mattel has online ordering for both Hot Wheels and Matchbox. Racing Champions offer a comprehensive listing of their products, a for sale and trading area, Johnny Lightning has a tremendous site with something for everyone.
And then there are the companies that saw the potential early and have been on the web for years. For example, Eric Waiter Associates (EWA) in New Jersey has operated a site for over four years. It contains a listing of everything they sell (a very LONG list) and a search engine to help you find it. When people ask me where to find this or that, I usually recommend that they search EWA. It is extremely satisfying to me to be able to log on to a site like that and type in Volvo and actually find something. And having done business with them in the traditional way (shopping their catalog and ordering by phone or mail) I know what to expect. I finally visited their store a couple years ago and enjoyed a pleasant visit with the folks that I had been dealing with for so long.
Going, Going, Gone
There are also some good practices for conducting business as both a seller and buyer on auction web sites. I think the sites do a pretty good job of explaining the rules and offering suggestions. Anyone who is using the auction sites should be very well informed about the rules of the site and also be careful about how they deal with the people they meet there. Above all, fairness is an important thing to dispense. Because there is a person at the other end of the deal and you know the old saying - what goes around comes around.
I'll give you an example of a big screw-up that I made on an auction site. It could have been disaster for me. Basically, I listed a real car and thought that I had put the reserve at several thousand dollars. In reality I dropped the decimal point in a little too early and set the reserve at $12.00. That's right - $12.00. Now that was problematic for two reasons. First of all, the car was supposed to be selling for 1000 times that, so just about any bid at all legally meant that the car was SOLD. And more to the terms of the auction site, if the car sells, there is the matter of the commission.
Well my story is pretty complicated. But in the end what happened is that the car made the $12 reserve and kept on going up to $9600.00. Yes, that is four hundred dollars shy of ten thousand dollars. Well that's all fine and good except for one thing - the car had to go for several hundred dollars more. So I did not want to sell it. But the rules say that the car made reserve so it sold. The buyer is obligated to pay for the car and the seller is obligated to sell it and pay the sellers commission. Anything other than that would get buyer or seller kicked out of the auction site for life. My solution was to tell everyone the truth. I had listed the car before with the correct reserve and it did not sell. I made an honest mistake when I re-listed it, and made the double mistake of not reviewing the listing confirmation when it was e-mailed to me. And I made a third mistake when I did not review the progress of the auction as it ran. If I had done so, I would have seen that something was wrong and could have terminated the auction early.
So what happened? I told the seller what I had done. And prepared myself for the worst. He could have insisted that I sell him the car for his successful bid. Instead he said "O.K., no problem, I'll send you a copy of my bid confirmation so you can clear it up with the auction web site people." And he did. Here is the punch line - He made a mistake too! When he entered his maximum bid, he entered too many zeros after it and instead of setting a maximum bid of $8600 he went for 86 thousand! Yikes. If one or two more people had bid on the car, he would have been into a dollar amount that I would have been willing to take but he was not intending to bid. So in the end, we were both happy that we did not have to make the deal. But if we had both taken the route of deception it could have been very protracted and still unresolved. The auction company waived the seller fee too (they didn't have to) so it came out OK in the end. But it was one of those lessons learned at the expense of a really close call!
Paul M. Provencher
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