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Saturday, May 23, 2015

SIKU tractors - 2616 and v270 Zettelmeyer Lader Europ L.2000

SIKU is surprising (and satisfying) manufacturer...  When it comes to larger scale (or at least larger size) die-cast, no one else has quite the same selection or quality. 

I've never gotten an adequate sense of everything SIKU has done - I've never found a collector guide or a catalog.  But as I keep on coming across more and more cool stuff, my interest in and respect for the brand has grown. 

Their toys are easy to find on Amazon or EBAY, unfortunately their price points tend to be high - its not unusual to find new larger toys priced at $30+ or $50+ even prior to high shipping costs.  And their vintage pieces on EBAY - even in the smaller scales, are typically a lot as well.  But once in a while you get lucky, as in this case...

I just bought these 2 vintage tractors off of EBAY. The smaller red and yellow item (marked on the bottom as 2616 - made in W. Germany) appears cooler at first glance, with retractable stabilizers that actually work, a lifting and movable front bucket and a lifting and flexible backhoe arm.  Interestingly the backhoe runs along a track on the back of the tractor, allowing it to move side to side.  I'm also partial to any SIKU made in W. Germany vs. Germany - just since it means its older.  That being all said, I was a little let down by the cheap, toy-like wheels, and I has disappointed that the front bucket only had 1 hinge rather than 2. 

The 2nd red and gray tractor has less movable parts, with only the front movable bucket.  However it has a 2 hinges and the hydraulics are tighter, so the bucket stays in whatever place you put it.  It feels like less of a toy and more of a collectors piece.  It is marked as V270 on the bottom, along with "Zettelmeyer" and "Lader Europ L.2000".  Zettelmeyer L.2000 is also cast into the side of the unit. 

Taken together, these tractors complement a burgeoning collection of larger SIKU pieces, particularly tractors and other industrial work equipment.  While I always have a difficult time swallowing the initial purchase prices, I find myself very rarely disappointed or regretting the purchase.  And given that I these 2 items are both vintage, and were purchased at a relatively low bid EBAY price, I'm very satisfied with this purchase!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Massive Comparison - the Car Carrier Extravaganza!!!

When I was a kid, I dreamed about how cool it would be to have a Matchbox tractor trailer that could actually fit a real Matchbox car inside of it.   I thought about this a lot, since I had a Matchbox 1-75 series 18 wheeler (one of the early ones, with the Matchbox logo on the trailer), but the box of the trailer was too narrow to fit a Matchbox car into. And, I had the awful Matchbox 2.5 inch long car carrier from the mid '70s (#11 - pictured to the right, in the foreground), with 3 tiny plastic cars permanently affixed to it, but even the 9 year old me knew that it was not what I wanted.

In the early '80s some manufacturer (Road Champs?) had a whole series of relatively cheap quality big rigs, and one of them was a car carrier (My cousins Joey and Shawn Sherburne had an example - I think it was orange).  But again it was too smaller and narrow to let any car other than perhaps a tootsie toy onto it.  My friend Andy Bradshaw had 2 kingsize car carriers from his brother's collection - that fit 4 and 5 cars onto them - but they seemed too big and out of scale - certainly bigger than my above-mentioned 18 wheeler... (Later as an adult, I realized that the King Size trucks were actually closer to true 1/64 Matchbox scale than the trucks in the 1-75 range...). 

Then Matchbox expanded their tractor trailers into the 'Convoy' series, and brought out a glorious tractor trailer that was pulled by an ordinary 1-75 truck (a red Kenworth COE - the right hand example in the below photo) but that fit 3 real Matchbox cars onto it, with even a ramp that lowered so cars could drive up onto it. I was simply bowled over, awestruck, by how perfect it was....  To this day it represents an excellent example of how a toy company could make a functioning toy while still staying within reasonable size dimensions.   

Since that time I've considered myself a connoisseur of car carriers and have eagerly collected them, with the provision that they had to be able to carry ordinary 1-75 Matchbox cars.  And it now seems like a good time to run a comparison test, to see which one is best.  Can my childhood favorite Convoy series rig win the crown for best carrier, withstanding severe competition from some of my newer additions?

I found 17 unique castings in my collection, across 5 distinctly different scales.  The smallest is undeniably the worst, and the clear loser in this competition, the earlier mentioned 2.5 inch long Bedford car carrier with the tiny affixed plastic cars.  It has nothing going for it - little detail, no interior, un-removable cars, etc. 

The next size up is where the fun begins - in roughly 1/90 scale (though these pieces were sold as part of the 1/64 scale collections).   I have 4 examples - the early blue/grey Lesney grey wheel Accessory Pack example, a yellow EFE piece with an Atkinson tractor, the earlier mentioned red Matchbox Convoy series pulled by the Kenworth COE, and a rather customized Hot Wheels Adult Collectible pulled by a classic Ford COE.  I forgot about the Hot Wheels unit until after the main photo-shoot - so I have a separate photo of it below.

The Accessory Pack and the EFE tractor trailers will fit smaller cars onto them - particularly the grey wheel or smaller regular wheels cars from the early-mid 60s.  However even with those, only the smaller examples of them will fit onto the bottom rack.  The Accessory Pack piece does not have a movable rack or any way to manually load the cars, and also doesn't have an interior on the cab.  In contrast, the EFE tractor is a beautifully detailed piece, a real show piece.  The top rack drops down and there is a ramp to allow car boarding.

I've already talked about the red convoy series.  It'll fit most matchbox cars onto the bottom or top racks, as long as they are not extra wide or too tall.  A huge plis is that tt can be pulled by any 1-75 series tractor.  The example pictured is my actual childhood example - though I also have a version in blue that I picked up as an adult.  The Hot Wheels piece is more different than the others with a very different trailer design.  The lower rack is artificially low so it'll only fit the specific cars that it came with (a Midget Sprint car and a C1 Corvette). 

Then I move into the next size of carriers - which I think are closest to 1:64 scale.  The picture to the right shows 7 of them, although the 2 in the middle are identical Corgi units but with different cabs (for the sake of the comparison test I will only include 1 of these). 

Starting from the left, I have the Lesney Major Pack #8 with the Guy Warrier tractor.  This is a nice piece with a folding top rack and a loading ramp, holding 4 total cars.  There's not much to critique on it, other than the fact the cab is permanently attached to the trailer, the loading ramp is a little steep, and there is no interior in the cab.  Next up is the Lesney Super King #11 DAF car carrier in yellow.  Again the cab (I love the DAF cabs) is permanently affixed to the trailer.  The trailer fits 5 cars with adjustable chocks.  I love the bright yellow color (its also available in a rarer blue color which I don't have). 

Next up is a Corgi Juniors Volvo unit from the '80s.  What is so unique about this carrier is that it has a trailer that can carry an additional 4 cars.  Both ramps drop and allow easy loading and unloading.  This unit also has adjustable chocks for each piece. 

The next 2 newer Corgi units (in blue) also have trailers - but these trailers run flush with the first trailer - allowing the cars to be driven from one trailer to the other.  In addition, this is the only design of them where the ramp for the front most trailer only drops half way down, requiring usage of the rear-most trailer to actually load cars (refer to the right photo).  This ramp design actually feels like the most realistic ramp design among any of them.  These are nice units - with a very modern and sophisticated feel.  One has a Renault cab, the other a Scania tractor. 

The last 2 units in this (approximately) 1:64 scale are the newest units and are widely available in the US at Walmarts and similar stores.  The first is by M2, and features a classic Dodge tractor.  Only the back half of the top rack actually drops down, but it is works fine, or would if there was a ramp that actually reached to the ground.  While I'm pleased to have this carrier, and like the old fashioned look of it, I'm a little disappointed that they didn't make it feel even higher quality.  The trailer has a plastic feel to it.  The last of these units is from the newest Matchbox tractor trailer series.  It looks nice from a distance, however the trailer is 100% plastic which really hurts the feel of it.  There are no wheel chocks at all, adjustable nor cast.  It holds 5 cars, but it really doesn't feel as nice as the '80s Convoy version. 

Now I start getting into the larger scale trucks, which still hold Matchbox size cars, but where the cabs seem a  little out of scale... 

First up is the coolest - the Corgi Tri-Deck carrier.  This version is so cool precisely because it has 3 (three!) car decks, allowing it to hold 7 or more cars.  It also has a retractable set of dolly lifts for when the trailer is separate from the cab.  This unit is a very rare unit and one of my favorite pieces - I like it so much that I have 3 examples of it! 

After the Tri-deck Corgi is another Corgi - the blue Carrimore Mark 4 with the Ford tractor.  While this one doesn't have 3 decks, it looks and feels very high quality, again has retractable dolly wheels, and the COE cab tips up to reveal the engine. 

The Lesney Super Kings K-40 Courier transporter is next.  This has a nicely molded set of ramps/racks, with molded in wheel chocks.  It feels nice until you compare it with the high quality Corgis, when it suddenly feels like a toy rather than a collectible. 

The yellow SIKU is a more modern unit (15 years old), but is nonetheless 100% metal.  It also has an attached trailer, (with a concave and convex break point - allowing it to turn corners without losing connectivity), and holds 7 cars.  Each of the 2 top decks drop down, allowing creative loading, and alone among the units it has 2 individual wheel tracks that reach the ground and retract when not in use. 

Finally, the Majorette unit.  It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of some of the competitors (and feels more like a toy than a collectible), but it is all metal and holds 5 cars.  It is a high quality and solid unit, just without some of the real exciting twists of the other carriers. 

There is only 1 example of the largest size group, this green Corgi Ford Transporter.  This one is actually too large for 1:64 Matchbox (the wheel tracks are too far apart - and my Mercury Police Cruiser falls through the middle), and is really made for Super King or full-size Corgi toys.   It has individual wheel chocks and a dropping top ramp, but doesn't feel quite as nice as some of the other larger Corgis. 

So, which one is best?  For this comparison test, I compared all 17 units across 13 categories.  Most of the categories were in a 10 point range, with 5 having only a 5 point range.  The maximum possible score was 105.  ....and the winner is ...:

The Corgi Tri-Deck, with a score of 94 points.  This wasn't at all a surprise to me - it came into the competition as one of the favorites.  Three decks is hard to argue with, especially when you add in the additional quality of the detail on the cab, the detail on the wheels, a jack to hold the trailer up when not attached to the cab, and movable wheel chocks.  What surprised me was that the Siku came in 2nd, a unit that has some very impressive qualities (particularly its loading ramp arrangement and retractable ramps to get to the ground), but whose overall appeal seemed slightly less than some of the others.  3rd (Corgi Carrimore) and 4th place (the huge Corgi Ford) were also from the larger sizes, proving that my point system did not offer enough value to the more Matchbox 1-75 sized carriers. 

It wasn't until 5th and 6th place that we moved into the more moderately sized, with 2 more Corgi's claiming those spots (heavily helped by their having the 2nd trailers, and a nod of recognition to the very unique loading ramp movement of the Renault/Scania).  This really is an amazing accomplishment for Corgi - their 5 units were all in the top 6!  In contrast, the best placement for Matchbox' 7 units was 7th place - the DAF Superfast. 

And its not until 9th place (a tie) that one of the smaller units finally place, the Hot Wheels COE.  It was held back by its plastic body. 

Somehow by childhood favorite (the red Matchbox Convoy Kenworth COE) ended up 3rd from last, in 15th place.  The fault was mostly that its 3 car simple approach was less exotic than that of its competition.

And as expected, my childhood non-favorite, the tiny Bedford, ended up dead last. 

Anyway - a fun experiment and comparison.  I hope you enjoyed reading it.  And check back again, since I feel that I may want to re-compare the trucks using different categories and different scaling, to see if the rankings get shaken up. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mountain Man... But with Ordinary Wheels

A one of a kind special that came out terrific...  ...although it took some creative adjustments to make the wheels not rub and for it all to work... 

In case you don't understand the significance of this post, the truck on the left is the original version - and only came with the oversize off-road wheels.  The truck on the right has been modified to have normal street tires/wheels put on it.

Actually I love the way it looks - better than the original version - and due to how well it came out - it looks fully original and is perfectly functional. 

Mountain Man - One of my favorite models - now in a truly unique and one-of-a-kind variation that only I have! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Holy Grail letdown... Matchbox Lesney Rover 3500 - civilian and police

Every collector has an item that they've chased for a long time but it always eludes them and they seemingly never get it... 

For me, this Rover 3500 is that thing - that Holy Grail.  I've been wanting this car for about 25 years- it may be the last unique Matchbox casting (at least in the 75 series 1:64 scale) that I didn't have, from the mid '60s through the present day (and excluding some of the really weird or uncollectible stuff). 

I first saw it in the first Matchbox collecting book by Dana Johnson and thought that I'd like to have it.  Unfortunately there are very few of them around (I'm guessing that they were sold more in the UK than in the US) and so I just didn't stumble across them the way I did other models.  The years and then decades went by, and my collection grew and grew.  It no longer became a question of what models I had, but of what models I didn't have.  And this Rover became more and more of one of the few cars I didn't have, and then finally, the only car I didn't have. 

I finally got the less desirable (my opinion) police car about 6 months ago, but only just got the civilian version recently. 

There is often a let-down feeling after getting something you've been chasing for a long time - and that was the case for this car.  I was disappointed to find that the base was plastic -  very unusual for the lesney era - it must have been one of the very first plastic baseplate castings that they did. 

The sunroof opens - but it flops around a lot and often opens crookedly.  The cars have a tow hook and the detailing is reasonable - but not exceptional.  Corgi Juniors also did a 3500 in the same era, and while I haven't done a formal comparison, I think the Corgi may be the nicer piece.

My Corgi is red with an opening hatchback, the typically stiff suspension and standard Corgi wheels.  I'm generally not a huge fan of Husky and Corgi Juniors models - the Huskys are too small in scale, and the Corgis (even marked with Whizawheels) don't generally have the supple suspension that you would expect them to have.  The detailing is low and they generally feel like the company didn't work too hard on them.  So I was surprised to find that I might like the Corgi Junior 3500 more than the Matchbox 3500....  Interestingly this typical quality differential of Matchbox over Corgi is NOT true for the larger scale  toys - full scale Corgis are often nicer than equivalent Matchbox Super Kings. 

In sum, the Holy Grail was found....!  ...and identified as having a plastic baseplate....   All in all, a bit of a letdown...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Re-Sprayed 2 Tone Matchbox Land Rover 90 (Defender 90)

Over the last 20 years I've re-painted many cars.  Some have come out terribly, many have come out OK, and a few came out very nice. 

I did this Land Rover Defender 90 about 15 years ago (pre kids) and am very pleased with how it came out - particularly since I did it 2 tone (the bronze was sprayed, the black was brushed on).  I'm not sure that the 2 tone is at all correct - that Land Rover ever did any in a 2 tone like this - or that I put the color demarcation lines in the right places.  But I liked it - and its my car - and so I'm the only judge who matters!

What I like best about it is the rich metallic color of the bronze, how nicely the bronze goes with the black, and how the black luckily didn't keep many brush marks.  I also like the model itself - I only ever re-paint models that I like - since otherwise the time commitment just isn't worth it!

Whenever I re-spray a car I always also paint the base - in this case in a charcoal.  I also did additional detail - the lights, the grill, etc.  I've gotten away from this detail in some of the more recent re-sprays that I've done.  But in this case it came out nice.  

The overall effect is very pleasing.  I hope you like my creation as much as I like it!

A favorite Matchbox: Mercedes 600SEL

I've always liked Matchbox models of the big luxury sedans - especially those of Mercedes.  Just about all of Matchbox Mercedes Benz models are in my list of favorite castings.  And this is a prime example.  I love the size, the detail, the opening doors, the 8 dot wheels, the metal base, etc. 

I only have it in 2 colors - this silver and the metallic blue one from a premium series.  Of the 2, this is easily preferred.  The blue one looks garish, and the rubber tires of the premium ones are almost always too wide for the cars.  But in silver, the car looks natural and understated, just like the real thing.  I'd like to get a black one as well. 

Matchbox followed this car up with a new version of the S class, but without opening doors.  Unusually for a Matchbox Mercedes model, this newer model (my example is black) was not as great of a success in my eyes.  But I'd still like it in more colors.

I had a boss who had one of these early '90s S-class cars about 15 years ago.  His was an ugly green, with a smaller engine.  I didn't like it much at the time...  This might be a case where I like the model car more than the real car!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Lincoln Navigator and Ford Excursion Stretch Limos

Not sure if you remember these stretch limos from about 10 years ago...  They are LOOOONG stretch limos of luxury SUVs - a really cool idea for this typically un-modeled segment of the auto world. 

Unfortunately these limos don't have any opening parts - an opening door (like the ones on the stretch Lincoln Town Car limos done by Majorette about 25 years ago) - would have been a really nice touch.  (Of course, the oversize 1/55th scale of the Majorette limos made this attempt only partially succesful - and off-set the positive aspects of the opening doors). 

But these stretched SUVs had a much bigger problem in my eyes.  The toys were made with beautiful oversize alloy wheels (a plus), but with a massively lowered suspension that would never work in an actual limo.  Certain models seemed to be more lowered than others - you can see the furthest silver limo is almost scraping the ground.  For this reason I only ever bought 3 of these really cool limos. 

When I bought them, I was able to unscrew the base plate (screws!  no rivets!)  of the white Lincoln and artificially modify the suspension to make it ride higher.  Amazingly I was successful in this - you can see in the photo that it rides at a much more normal height. 

I intended to do the same to the other limos but never got around to it.  I guess I can always do it in the future. 

The most surprising thing about these limos was who made them...  Would you believe that Maisto's name is on the bottom!?!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Off-Road Lesney Matchbox Wildlife truck (Code 3)

Anyone ever see this variation of the mid-late '70s Matchbox Rolamatic Wildlife Truck? 

Looks pretty tough, right? 

OK, so its not entirely original...  ...and not genuine Lesney at all...  but instead a genuine John Carroll Code 3 variation of a favorite Lesney casting...  But regardless of its authenticity (or lack thereof) it IS super cool! 

And FYI - it rolls great - though I did need to modify the wheel arches a bit to get everything to fit!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Amazing Malibu Land Rovers

Imagine...  a toy company making two different castings of a different - but still somewhat similar - model.   But of course its just a dream - since the cost of making a new casting isn't justified by the low incremental sales of a casting that is too similar to an existing casting. 

There ARE a very few examples...  Tomica recently created an entirely new casting for a slightly freshened Toyota Crown.  And Lesney has 2 wonderful castings of the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (I and II - both in burgundy - 2 of my favorite superfast models). 

But then Malibu came along, selling highly detailed 1:64 scale models of seldom-modeled-cars, sold at WalMart.  They produced the only Audi Q7 and VW Touerag in my collection.  And they produced these 2 very similar white Range Rovers...

Except of course, that just like the real models, on close inspection we realize that they are actually different models.  One a full-fledged Range Rover, and one the Range Rover Sport.  But when both are in white they look almost identical. 

I also found a black version of the Sport...  ...and a red LR3.  Both nicely detailed - with correct wheels, glass lights, and nice lettering.

In the same era, Matchbox also did a nice version of a Discovery and a Range Rover Sport, but both of these competing Malibu models are nicer than the Matchbox ones. 

After a 1-2 years of amazing Malibu models - they seem to have mostly disappeared - at least in 1:64 scale.  Its too bad - they really were wonderful models. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Finally, a 308 worthy of Magnum PI

When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I received my first Matchbox Ferrari 308 GTB (left row of cars).  It was red, with a black prancing horse on the hood of the car.  The lines of the car were voluptuous, with curvaceous flared fenders, and a long length that barely fit into a Matchbox case's standard slot.  It was a big beautiful car, that looked the way an exotic sports car should look.  But it had one big problem - as cool as it looked - it somehow looked entirely unlike a 308 - particularly unlike the one that Tom Selleck drove in TV's Magnum P.I.  I couldn't find my childhood car for this photoshoot - but it was very similar (but more beat-up) to the one shown in the left rear of the photo. 

Soon after, I also acquired the Hot Wheels version of the 308 (called "Racebait 308") (middle row of cars).  Mine was red and long ago was lost - the versions I have now are replacements for that original car.  Interestingly, it was the exact opposite of the Matchbox model.  Short and small vs. long and large, hard-edged with slab sides rather than the curving lines of the Matchbox.  But it did have one thing in common with the Matchbox - in that as much as it looked very different from the Matchbox, they BOTH looked nothing like Magnum's 308. 

Even as a kid I wondered about that.  How could both cars have the general shape of a Pinanfarina 308, with the appropriate styling cues, but still look both entirely un-alike and entirely different from the real thing?  It might have been the first time that I really thought about what makes a good model vs. a bad model.  And the thing that really bothered me was that I LOVED the way those early-mid '80s Ferraris looked, and so really wanted a nice model of them.  They all looked great - 512BB, 308, 328, 288GTO, even the oddly-proportioned Mondial was a looker.  But both Matchbox and Hot Wheels had failed with this car. 

Between the 2 models, I easily preferred the Matchbox version.  It at least looked exotic, and seemed higher quality than the Hot Wheels.  So I played with it a lot, but always wishing it actually looked like a 308...  In a 7th grade flea market at my school I acquired a number of additional toy cars, including another version of the red Matchbox 308 - this one with "Ferrari" written on its sides (not shown).  Later as an adult I got the red and blue Pioneer version (not shown).  In one of my earliest painting attempts I took another red one apart and painted it british racing green (not shown).  While the paint itself was OK, the dark paint with the black interior didn't work - the car was too dark - and it just seemed wrong for an Italian sports car to be painted in England's colors.  My favorite of all of the Matchbox models is the yellow version shown with the starburst wheels. 

Then around 1997, I suddenly noticed a set of new models on Hot Wheels cards.  These new models looked different from the other Hot Wheels models - as if they had been designed by a different designer.  They seemed too realistic for Hot Wheels, and the cars that they modeled were not new cars.  Hot Wheels had gotten ahold of left-over Corgi castings and were re-issuing them as Hot Wheels (I actually have both Corgi and Hot Wheels versions of the '80s Corvette and the '90s 500SL and can confirm that they are the same castings). 

One of these Corgi castings was of a 308 - and glory be - finally I found a 308 that actually looked exactly like a 308.  Magnum/Selleck would have been proud. 

Best of all, even 18 years later Hot Wheels is still occasionally using the casting - the rubber tired version was purchased in the last year or so.  If you see it on the pegs in a store - grab it up - you'll be getting the best 308 made by a main-stream toy-maker. 

(Note that Hot Wheels has also recently done a really nice model of the old 288 GTO - particularly when dressed up with rubber wheels and better paint detail in premium $4-$5 version). 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Perfect Japanese Touring Car Race cars... ...from Muscle Machines?

This is an incredible 6 car set of Japanese touring car race cars.  I was surprised to find that they were made by Muscle Machines, a brand that normally makes much more cartoonish models.  I'm guessing they were actually made by some other company, but then simply re-marketed by Muscle Machines. 

They have beautiful unique alloy wheels, amazing detailing, opening doors (that display built-in roll cages), etc.  I love them all, but the MR2 and Celica are my least favorite (they look too big relative to the other models) and are sure to be underpowered vs. the NSX, the RX7 and the Supra. 

The only downside are the very fragile antennas that are already broken off of all of the cars (the Celica also has a broken off spoiler).  After breaking off my first couple of antennas (and knowing how much I loved the set) I actually bought another set of brand new carded cars and left them unopened. 

Astute collectors (or those who know how to count) will observe that there are 7 models in the photos of a 6 car set...  Actually I included an extra car - a Tomica model of an NSX race car (the green NSX), which happens to also be an excellent model of the same car and is the exact same size as the yellow MM model (except that it doesn't have the opening doors).  So I include it as part of the set...