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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Spectacular Model: Johnny Lightning 1973 Pontiac Grand Am/GTO

In real life, this car was never a great car...  Built in '73, the last gasp of the Muscle Car era, a pretty fastback design that looked quick but that was actually overweight, un-nimble, underpowered, emission-choked example of how Detroit had lost its way, and an open invitation to the foreign auto companies to bring on their efficient and trim imports.
But what I like in diecast has very little to do with what I like in 1:1 scale, and this particularly casting is a beauty...
It makes you love this over-done '70s design, looking just as sleek as the real car.  The raised creases and vents on the hood, the B-pillar louvers, the detailed grill and rear lights, even the crease on the doors.  Now imagine how cool this car would have been had it been produced with the 454 from a '69 Chevelle? 

The first thing you notice is the heft (probably like the 1:1 model!), with John Lightning's trademark metal baseplate and all metal casting.  It just feels like quality...
The cars feature opening hoods with detailed engine compartments.  All three of my examples have rubber wheels and excellent fully detailed paint jobs.  In fact, the silver and blue cars have beautiful metallic paint (the white one has a flat paint). 
I only have these 3 examples - I'd love to have others but these were all that I found before the casting was retired.  While the pale white is nice, it pales (pun intended) against the others.  The paint doesn't have the same richness to it and the wheels are boring discs. 
The silver one is a GTO, with a slightly different (more exciting) grill .  It's 5 spoke Cragar wheels are handsome, with a glossy chrome finish to them.  The metallic paint sparkles, the black roof contrasts nicely, and the red interior really pops.
The blue one is nice too.  This time the Cragar wheels are a matte silver finish, but the tires have raised "B F Goodrich" lettering on them vs. the silver car's whitewalls.  The blue paint is beautiful and rich, with the blue contrasting better than the silver against the painted side marker lights.  However the white interior looks less exciting that the red of the other 2 cars. 
While the blue car picks up points for its paint and wheels/tires, I find that the silver/black/red color combination of the silver car still is more eye-catching, and I'm more partial to its firebird style grill.  I declare the silver one my favorite of this favorite casting, with the blue a very close second. 
If you don't have one of these already and see one on EBay for a reasonable price, I'd recommend picking it up.  It's one of my favorite Johnny Lightning castings of the last 20 years...  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Battle of the Matchbox Ford Full-Size Luxury SUVs: Lincoln Navigator vs. Ford Expedition!

I love toy car SUVs.  I'm not sure why - perhaps I had so few of them as a kid.  I always wanted the Hot Wheels Ford Bronco, and the Ford Flareside Pickup (Baja Bouncer - which I know was a pick-up not an SUV....), so when in '97 Matchbox introduced the full-size SUV Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition, I had to have them. 
Within a year, Matchbox introduced a more expensive version of each of them as part of a 2 car pack, one painted and one unpainted, with rubber tires, fancy rims and a highly detailed paint job.  I bought both the Tahoe and the Expedition.  The 2 Ford's shown are from that pack, the blue as the original painted Expedition, and the white was a John Carroll special of the unpainted version.  I appreciated the casting, and just wished Matchbox would follow it up with a slightly longer model of a Ford Excursion... 
They never made the Excursion.  But a few years later, when Matchbox was going through their mid 2000s renaissance, they brought out this excellent casting of a Lincoln Navigator.  The Navigator is slightly larger than the Expedition, and squarer relative to the Ford's curves.  I loved it instantly, and bought it in several colors. 
So, time for a showdown!  Which Matchbox Ford Full-Size SUV is the better casting...? 
Well, actually, its no contest.  As much as I appreciated having the Ford model, I never thought the real life truck was very handsome (its a bit too rounded for me) and I don't like the model version's plastic base.  The Lincoln on the other hand was a handsome squared-off formal design, and Matchbox did a great job with the model.  Of the 4 colors that I have, the maroon is interior-less and so the obvious loser.  The basic dark blue one has nice wheels.  The $2.99 upmarket beige version is kind of an uninspiring color, and I never liked those wheels. Which leaves the beautiful light blue version with the super handsome 5 spoke wheels.  The detail is spot on, the sunroof looks great, the size of the casting fits right into 1/64 scale, and paint and wheels are great.  Overall, a great casting, and the winner of the Ford full size luxury SUV challenge!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mystery Car and Car Brand: "Wheeler" Ford GT, made in Hong Kong

I'm a huge fan of the 1/64 diecast cars from my childhood - the '70s and '80s.  So I eagerly collect them all, and am always on the lookout for something unusual but nice, regardless of brand...

...and about a year ago, I came across this very unusual car - a bronze Ford GT40, with wheels copied from a '70s Matchbox car.  The toy company name on the bottom reads as "Wheeler", and the car is identified as a Ford GT TO (I have no idea to what the "TO" refers).

Its a nice model, with a full interior.  The car rolls well even though there is not much suspension to feel when you press down against the Matchbox-ish wheels.  The full metal detail on the diecast body is comparable to what Matchbox would have done.  The baseplate is plastic and very plain.  Scale wise it fits into the middle of the normal range of what is considered 1/64th scale, if perhaps a little short and slightly too tall for a real (roughly 40 inch high) GT40..... 

I'd love to collect more of these "Wheeler" models, but haven't been able to find anything about them or any mention of them anywhere.  (It doesn't help that typing in "wheeler" into an internet search engine invariably results in lots of big rig "18 wheeler" references).  Does anyone know about this brand? 

Overall, a nice model and very unique part of my collection!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Hot Wheels Redlines - Can Am / Sports Car Racing Race Cars

My post last week about the Laguna Seca historic races, and seeing cars that I'd only before seen as a Hot Wheels Redlines, inspired me to pull out the redlines and admire them...  Hence this post! 

Regular readers of my blog (are there any?) know that I'm a Matchbox guy much more than a Hot Wheels guy.  But really, I love all well-modeled 1/64 scale cars, and so I've got plenty of Hot Wheels in my collection.  And while my Redline collection isn't nearly as deep as my Matchbox collection (with a few embarrassing omissions), I've still got plenty of them to admire.  But with the current price tags and valuations of Redlines, my examples tend to only be in the fair-good condition categories - since I have a hard time spending the $100-$1000 to get mint examples!  

Given my inspiration, I started by pulling out examples of sports car / Can Am race cars from the late 60s and early 70s.  I pulled one example each of the 7 that I could think of and took a look at them.

All of these are delightful models - all with opening hoods that reveal the engines.  But I'm not a fan of the Ford J-Car - (in gold in these photos) - it seems too small.   I love the Ferrari (the red #60), the McLaren (purple), the Lola (red - on the right of the red Ford) and the Ford MK IV (on the left of the red Lola).  But my favorite is the Porsche. 

Maybe its the glass engine cover - I'm not sure.  But its my favorite of these cars.  So the bottom 2 photos show the Porsche in all the colors that I've got (which for a hardcore Redline collector is not very many).  You can see a couple (pink, red and green) that are in VERY poor condition, as well as the yellow re-release of it that Hot Wheels did a few years back. 

More redline articles coming soon! 

P.S.  For a fun view, compare these photos of the Ford and Lola with the real 1:1 scale Ford and Lola that I saw at Legana Seca, in my previous post! 

P.P.S.  I neglected to mention that the green car with the wing is the Chapparal!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Laguna Seca Historic Races 2014 - part of Monterey Auto week

Its been a dream of mine since I was a child to visit Monterey California and see the Pebble Beach Concours - the most prestigious classic car show on the planet.  And last year, in 2014, I got the chance to go...

What I didn't realize was that the Pebble Beach Concours was just one part (albeit the grand finale) of an amazing entire week of car shows and car auctions.  In fact, there is so much going on that you don't even need to attend any of the events - just being in Monterey for this week allows you to see an endless plethora of amazing classic cars.  I would go out for walks just to see the cars parked on the street - DeTomaso Mangustas, Mercedes Benz 300SL gullwings, Lamborghini 350GTs, etc., etc., etc.! 

But as great as the Pebble Beach Concurs was, the highlight for me might have been the afternoon I spent at Laguna Seca raceway for the classic car races.  I saw cars I'd only dreamed about, or only seen modeled as Hot Wheels, suddenly in the metal right in front of me.  I saw a Ferrari 250 GTO, the most valuable post-war classic car, being raced with abandon on a racetrack...  It was a dream come true, so I thought I'd share some of my car photos with my readers.

I'll start off with some real-life Hot Wheels Redlines - Lola and Ford racecars that I'd only before ever seen in 1/64 models...

Next up, some really cool car car haulers...
 ...Porsche race cars from the '70s and '80s (with a cameo by my little girl). 

 My vision of a Porsche 935 was shaped by the matchbox version...  So I didn't realize how much of the back of the car really was a 911 with massive fender extensions...  

 I'm not sure I'd ever actually seen a Porsche 959 in the metal... 

At Laguna Seca, a Lamborghini Espada tooling around was "nothing special...".  Wow!
 A 250 GTO!?!  For real? 

 2 300SL Gullwings, casually parked and almost seeming to be a "paddock car"...  I couldn't imagine being in a place where 2 (TWO!) of these parked together wouldn't have had a crowd of admirers....  Check out the interiors!  


 An Iso Rivolta...  I later saw it raced through the corkscrew!  Nice interior!
 By comparison with the exotics, these '80s race versions of the Camaro, Mustang and Thunderbird at first didn't catch my attention...  Then I decided that they looked pretty cool anyway!

 Classic 2+2 Ferraris like this one were almost a dime a dozen... 
 A racing BMW M1...  Much nicer than my Matchbox versions!

I hope you enjoyed my photos.  Let me know if you want to see photos from the Concours itself, or from various of the car auctions!