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).