Toy Trader
Die Cast Insider - September 1998
1998 Paul M. Provencher
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Collector Woes

It almost seems too soon to write about the sad state of collecting die cast vehicles. But in a recent San Francisco Chronical newspaper, a story told of how Target is going to extraordinary lengths to discourage collectors from monopolizing the stock of collectible die cast and action figures. They are intentionally damaging the packaging! It seems that the nationwide chain is testing an approach to eliminate the bad behavior exhibited by what I suspect is a minority of so-called collectors. They believe that by punching out holes in the packages they will stop scalpers and other aggressive customers from buying toys at their store, enabling more people to have a selection of the new subjects.

I have no doubt that they will succeed in foiling the people that they do not want as customers. But I think their approach is going to backfire. While it is true that there is an element intent on cornering the market on new releases, there are also dedicated collectors and "normal" people who also prefer that their purchases be in undamaged packages. For example I was shopping and watched a woman select a Hot Wheels play set from the shelf. On her way out of the aisle she inadvertently bashed the corner. She did a 180-degree turn and got another one. Moreover, I doubt she would have purchased a set if the boxes were all damaged. Now I am not a mind reader, and it is dangerous to generalize. But I am almost certain that she was not a scalper, collector, or even someone remotely interested in Hot Wheels. More likely she was making the purchase for her kids or for a gift. In any case, she wanted a perfect box. And despite that, my guess is that the box will be in and out of her home quicker than the next empty milk carton.

It would not be fair to mention this move by Target, without talking about the problem that prompts it. That is the behavior of people who have made great strides toward ruining the hobby by creating an artificial shortage of the popular toys. And that by itself really isn’t the whole story. Beyond that we have the outright violence that occurs when two people collide on the same mission ("get the new stuff"). I can see where the retailers need to do something to prevent the die cast and action figure aisles from becoming war zones, but this does not seem like a very well thought out solution. For my part, if I were to encounter a display of Hot Wheels that were all in damaged packages, I would be leaving the store empty handed – no matter what the price was. I am just a regular collector who sells very few cars. I do a lot of trading, and hunting. If I was inclined to make a purchase, the piece in question would have to be EXTREMELY rare. But given the ridiculous numbers that most die cast are made in, I don’t see the average regular-line Hot Wheel car as being that rare. (You may include Treasure Hunts in that).

I will not call for a boycott of Target. I like the store, beyond the toy aisle. I know that consumers will vote with their wallets and purses. It’s not likely that the damaged blister packs marketing style will last long. Even though a Mattel spokesperson has been quoted as saying that the stores own the product and can do as they please, Hot Wheels enjoy a very clean product image and I seriously doubt that Mattel is remaining quiet with Target behind the scenes. Shucks, it might turn out that the practice is so short-lived that the damaged packages may actually turn out to be RARE! I can see it now: "Rare punched-out Hot Wheels blister pack with original Target price sticker - $3000.00!!! Only one left!" In the mean time, "Attention KMART shoppers…."

Ertl

I have been woefully negligent in covering larger sized die cast in this column. This month I decided it was time to make amends. What better way to do it than to talk about some new releases? No I am not sending any free cars out!

1964 Mustang Convertible Indy Pace Car

First let me get a couple insults out of the way – I have not gotten very many letters lately and it seems that controversy is the best way to spark a letter writer. I do not like Mustangs. I think they are overrated, under powered, poseur cars. Calling an old Mustang a "Classic" is like calling a Big Mac a feast. O.K., so now my wife is proud of me and just about every red-blooded American Muscle car lover out there hates me. Just remember that the first Mustang was a re-bodied Falcon. Hmmmph! There, that’s done. Now I can tell you how great Ertl’s new Mustang is without anyone thinking that I like Mustangs. Well OK, so I really do like the 1966 Fastbacks…..

It was 1964. A.J. Foyt, Jr. won the Indy 500 driving a Watson/Offenhauser. His winning speed was 147 m.p.h. The purse was half a million dollars and A.J. got about $154,000 of it. Benson Ford drove the pace car, a white Mustang Convertible.

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This model is terrific. The first thing that hit me was the sheer weight. Do not put this model on a shelf that is anchored into wallboard! It is 15 inches long and six inches wide. The top of the windshield is four inches high. No detail was too small to leave out. As usual with Ertl, trunk, hood, and doors open and the steering wheel operates the front wheels. And yes Doug, it rolls. Included in the packing is an antenna that fits snugly on the front fender. I did not install it for the pictures, but trust me, it’s there.

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Inside the car, the detailing is great. The speedo, radio and ancillary gauges are sharp and clearly marked like the full-sized car. Chrome trim accents the door panels, console, glove compartment and knobs. Door handles are separate from the doors and plated as well. White seats feature the correct pattern and have side hinges in chrome. They are stationary, but still look good. The floor has a textured surface to imitate carpeting, painted blue to match the dash, folded top, and visors. The rear view mirrors are present and correct. The doorjambs are detailed with chrome steps and Ford logo. The steering wheel has chrome horn bars. Unfortunately the steering wheel is black. I do not know if the Pace Cars had wood-colored steering wheels or not, but I know they were available. The windshield is as clear as, well, a real windshield. A chrome frame with nicely detailed wipers surrounds it. A careful swipe with some black paint would make the blades look a tad more realistic.

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The trunk compartment features a detailed spare tire mounted on a black "steel" wheel, black floor and side panels, and even the trunk latch hardware is represented in static form. The underside of the trunk lid is fully detailed. The taillights are chrome housings with red plastic inserts. The gas filler is fully detailed with the Ford Mustang logo. The numberplate holder displays the Ford logo.

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The engine compartment detail is good for a model of this size. The rocker covers and air cleaner cover are gold plastic, the later with correct "289" sticker. Spark plug wires and loom harnesses are connected to the distributor and plugs. The brake reservoir and master cylinder are mounted on the firewall. The battery is painted with red caps and terminals. With very little trouble, a detailer could add realistic battery cables, not provided. The oil filter is also visible, painted silver. The plastic molded fan belt and fan are black. A rubber heater hose runs from the water pump to the heater. Shock towers and cross-braces are detailed as well, although solid black. The radiator has a silver cap with a molded in overflow tube. Again, a non-working latch mechanism with reasonable detail is present.

For the most part, the signature nose design of this model is faithful to the full sized car – The grill and components are nicely chromed. The grill inset is chrome with black paint used to simulate the openings. The headlight surrounds feature the correct body parting lines. The chrome bumper even has the chrome covered carriage bolts molded in. The "FORD" lettering on the hood is crisp and centered.

I have been a stickler for good headlight detail since my model kit building days. I always measured my friends’ model-building skills by how well they attached those clear plastic headlights to their models. Lots of glue? "Bad model builder". No clear headlights? Chicken, or aborted attempts! This model has nice headlight lenses. They have the lens pattern molded in, albeit on the outside of the lens. But the letdown is that the center of the lens is a pin that holds the lens to the model. The result is disappointing. There is no way to pass off a photograph showing the front this model as a real car because of this admittedly minor defect. If this model were not so well put together, I would probably try to get them out and make some attempt to correct the problem.

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The paint finish of the car is superb. The finish covers every visible inch with no orange peel or sagging and is shiny. The door handles are chrome. The phony intakes on the sides of the car are also separate chrome pieces. The trim logos are sharp, full color representations of those found on the full sized cars. The Pace Car markings are correct and equally clear and accurate. A blue racing stripe runs down the center of the car. It is crisp and straight. The vinyl tires have thin white walls, complete Firestone markings and the trademark tread pattern that graced bias-ply tires for so many years. The wheel covers are chrome with the fake three-eared knock-off – true to the originals.

Even though the suspension does not work, the chassis detail is very good. Both front and rear suspension are very detailed; the drive shaft and exhaust systems are correct; and the frame, floor pan and gas tank are all duly represented in black plastic.

I will have to do some serious sweet-talking to convince my wife that I should display a "Moostang" in my collection, by barring that hurdle, it is a most worthy addition to the fleet. For Mustang lovers, this car is a "must have" model. Heck, Even Mustang haters should have one, if for no other reason but to contrast it with more elite cars. Hey – I said it with a smile!

Land Rover Freelander

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British Leyland made some well-loved off-road vehicles over the last five decades. The original Land Rovers saw use in just about every corner of the world. Today those early vehicles are very popular with collectors of vintage 4x4’s and can command lofty sums. Contemporary models are held in high regard as the choice of the well heeled and well moneyed alike. In the last few years, Land Rovers have come in more affordable models targeted toward those of us who do not belong to the Jockey Club. The Freelander is such a model, but still offers the quality and reputation that the rest of the Land Rover Family is known. It was awarded "car of the Year by What Car? Online, in the UK.

This model, also from Ertl, is modeled in 1:18 scale. It is about 9 inches long, 4 inches wide and 3 inches high. The doors, tailgate and hood all open. The front wheels are can be posed using the steering wheel.

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The detail inside the vehicle is very accurate when compared to photos of the real thing. All seats can be tipped forward. The vehicle is a "right-hand drive" model for the home market, and anywhere else where people drive on the wrong side of the road. (I can hear a letter being composed in the Kings English now…) The "jungle fabric" pattern is cleverly replicated on the seats. Small seat-adjuster knobs are found on the sides of the front seats (no, they don’t really work). Door panel detail is good, showing the door latch, grab handle, speaker and side-view mirror hardware. There is even a nice little pocket for the topographical map (not included). The interior roof detail is not very good – the rivets that hold the sunroof and windshield may be seen if you care to look. The rear-view mirror is mounted to the roof but does not have a reflective surface. In contrast, the side-mounted mirrors are nicely finished in black with reflective mirror foil.

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The rear seating compartment is accessible from the side-opening rear door that holds a spare tire and detailed "cyclops" warning light. The hinge on this door deserves a second look – it’s a miniature piano hinge affair and works very well with no slop. The luggage compartment behind the back seat is fully detailed as well. Most of the interior panels are light gray with aqua-green accents. The back of the vehicle is very well done. The tail and fog lights are separate pieces of clear red plastic that have been inset in the body and rear bumper, painted to match the full-sized UK-specification model. Even the federally mandated third brake light is treated to a clear red lens. The rear wiper is also there, although there is no window to wipe. It is understandable that in this scale it was not practical to model the rear window surround into the rear door, instead it is molded into the roof. The spare tire is mounted in the back and goes wherever the rear door goes. The number plate housing is set off by a separate trim piece.

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I am impressed by the fine body detail. The Land Rover logo is faithfully reproduced and is properly placed everywhere it appears, although it is missing from the otherwise gorgeous factory alloy wheels. The black vinyl tires have a realistic tread pattern but do not bear a brand name marking. The gas cap, door handles, window surrounds, and body piping have been painted semi-gloss black. The wheel flares have been painted to match the dark gray plastic bumpers and "removable" roof panel.

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The headlights are painted on with silver lenses and orange markers. In its own way, this detail is just as disappointing as the headlights on the Mustang. The fascia below the front "windscreen", as the British prefer to call it, is painted black as well. The thing that surprises me, with all this attention to detail, is the unevenness of the main body color. I have looked at this model in all kinds of light and it seems that the doors are just a shade lighter and the hood just a shade darker than the rest of the body. There is a fair amount of orange peel and some clumping of paint around the door openings.

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The underside is well done. Suspension, drive shaft and front skid plate are molded in shiny black plastic; the floor pan in gray plastic. The exhaust system is a separate part, molded in shiny gray plastic. The wheels roll nicely. The detail is about average for a model of this size. While I have not climbed under the full-sized vehicle, I suspect that there is very little that is left exposed, given the reputation that Land Rover has for building true off-road vehicles. Anyone who has taken too aggressively to the woods with a wannabee-offroad-vehicle knows that undercarriage damage is the death of a 4x4.

Some engine detail can be seen under the hood. It is all black plastic, but there appear to be the fuse boxes, battery, engine, cam-covers, air intake, and a real rubber hose that runs from the radiator area to the firewall. Since this model is held together with small screws, I suspect that detailers will take it apart and spend some time filling in the various colors that are found on the real deal. The detail is all there.

Paul M. Provencher

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