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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Comparison Test: Mercedes 450 SEL Super Sedan, in 1/64th scale

In 1978 Mercedes Benz introduced the 450 SEL into the super-luxury sedan arena, promptly out-classing all other contenders in the space.  It was available with a monster 6.9 liter engine delivering 250 horsepower (a lot of power back then).  It was massive, stately in a manner that set it apart from lesser MB sedans, with opulent luxury and massive power. 
Being such a marquis car meant that it was guaranteed to be replicated in 1/64th scale by someone, and indeed several prominent toy makers took up the challenge and added it to their line-ups.  I recently purchased one of these, and decided it was time to run a comparison test and identify who modeled the best 450 SEL... 
After poring through my collection I ended up finding models from 4 different toy makers.  Interestingly, Yatming actually make 2 distinct and completely different castings of the 450 SEL, meaning that I had 5 castings from 4 toy companies, in 7 colors (I should have had an 8th color, but I was unable to lay my hands on my childhood Matchbox 450 SEL taxi (that's what you get when you have a 6000+ piece collection)). 

The 7 contenders (5 castings) are displayed in the above photo.  In the middle of the front row are 2 color variations from Matchbox, in blue luxury sedan guise, white and green German police livery, and not shown is the beige taxi.  On the left in white is the model from Tomica.  On the right in back in silver is an example from Majorette.  On the right in front and in the middle in back is the larger of the 2 Yatming castings, with the back left model being the smaller of the Yatming castings.

All of the castings aside from the smaller Yatming casting have opening doors (see below photo). 

I'll start off with the model I'm most familiar with - the Matchbox model.  I've been familiar with this casting since I was a child.  As mentioned earlier, I had the beige taxi version of the car (not shown), and then when my paternal grandparents returned from a vacation in Germany they gave me the actual police car shown in the photos.  While I didn't personally own the blue version, my friends JJ and Kelly had a model of it, and knowing my mad desire for Matchbox they'd tease me about how they had a car that I didn't have... 

The Matchbox model is highly regarded by collectors.  While Charlie Mack lists all models as having fairly low $2-4 values, actual sales prices on Ebay are much higher for all versions of the car, particularly the police car. 

Its a nice model, solid and heavy, with a metal base, a metal grill and bumpers, nice detailing, opening doors, a tow hook and nice rolling characteristics.  Certainly a contender for top model... 

Next up I'll consider the 2 Yatming castings.  They close-up photos below prove that they are indeed unique castings, one longer and one shorter, with distinct bases and tops.  While both have metal bases, the smaller feels distinctly lighter, flimsier and cheaper and doesn't have opening doors.  The smaller one has separate bumpers/grill, but they are made of plastic.  The larger ones bumpers and grill are part of the metal base casting.  Its easy to establish the smaller Yatming casting as a non-contender, so I quickly relegate it to last place. 

The larger casting I have in 2 colors, a bronze and a burnt umber.  The umber model's wheels are the ugly and cheap looking drug-store brand wheels of later Yatmings, but the bronze model has the earlier Tomica-esqe wheels.  The rear lights are separate plastic pieces - giving a higher quality appearance (and correct coloring) vs. other models.  As with other of the high quality early Yatming castings, it feels solid and seems like something Tomica would have made.  It'll be a worthy contender in the comparison test, albeit a surprising one. 

Given the Yatming's resemblance to early Tomicas, it's fitting to next consider the Tomica entry.  This is a mint example in an elegant eggshell white.  The model is heavy with extensive detail in the grill and headlights - cast as part of the base.  The overall detail of the model is quite high.  The interior is a rich looking red.  And in keeping with other Tomica's of the era, it rolls smoothly on a soft suspension.  It feels the most elegant and expensive of the contenders. 

Finally, the newest addition to my 450 SEL collection and the impetus for the test, the Majorette.  This one is the largest of any of the castings, although not so large as to be out of scale.  The grill is plastic but looks nice, the bumper is half made out of plastic and half made out of the base - but done so you don't notice.  It has separate plastic headlights (the only model to do so) and separate plastic rear lights similar to the Yatming.  While all models have nice hood creases, the Majorette's is arguably the most visible.  The car has a tow hook, but as with other Majorette's of that vintage it is large and ugly.  It appears that model used to have a 3 pointed star on top of the grill, but now the star is missing.  The wheels are standard issue Majorette wheels, but look somewhat similar to what Mercedes might have actually used.  The paint looks expensive and is actually metallic.  Again, a worthy contender. 

For the actual comparison, I'll rate the models on a scale of 1-10 on 11 criteria items and then add up the points to establish a winner.  I promise not to manipulate the points to make any particular car win...  Let the contest begin!

  Majorette Tomica Long Yatming Short Yatming Matchbox
Wheel design 6 8 8 4 6
Suspension rolling ability 7 9 9 6 7
Paint  9 8 8 7 8
Grill / bumpers: 9 8 6 3 7
Exterior lights 9 6 7 4 6
Weight 6 9 8 5 8
Top detailing 9 8 6 6 7
Base detailing 5 8 9 9 6
Interior 7 7 8 6 7
play-value factors (tow hooks, etc.) 7 6 6 4 9
Overall desirability 9 9 7 5 8
Total 83 86 82 59 79

Wow - it was surprising to add up the scores and find the placements...  with the classy Tomica as the winner!  The paint, detailing and particularly the soft suspension set it apart from the others enough to win. 

In second, the Majorette, whose separate lights, intricate detailing and metallic paint helped it to bump out the Yatming for 2nd place....

And in third, the dark-horse brand, somehow edging past a classy model from powerhouse Matchbox...  The long Yatming's silky suspension was its ace, though it was helped by separate rear lights, opening doors and metallic paint. 

The Matchbox was a strong contender and I expected it to do better than 4th.  I gave it extra points in the play value category due to the police car having the separate siren in addition to the tow hook and opening doors.  However, while its detailing was nice, the suspension let it down - its much firmer than the earlier superfast cars.  In all, a great model - just not strong enough to beat other strong contenders. 

Far away in last place was the short Yatming.  While only 7 points separated the top 4 models, the short casting was 20 points behind 4th place.  This was the only one of the 5 castings whose placement I knew ahead of time. 

Congratulations to Tomica and the other worthy toymakers. 

P.S.  After writing this post, I was surprised to come across another worthy 450SEL model/contender - a Zylmex!  For details see my next post!

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