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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Coolest of the un-cool Mustang IIs? Johnny Lighning Mustang 2 Race Car!

Few cars in history went from universally loved to universally reviled, the way that the '65 first generation Ford Mustang turned into the '74 2nd generation Mustang II...

Based on a Pinto.  Underpowered.  Ugly...  Etc...

But just because it's a great car in real life, doesn't mean it'll be a great model.  And the reverse is true too.   Awful, ugly cars can be great when reproduced in small scale.

I've got 2-3 Mustang IIs in my collection.  Some are just as awful as the real car.  But not this race car....  This one is one nice Johnny Lightning!

Mettal base...  nice front and rear extensions....   Nice side extensions...  great paint....  amazing metal casting detail....  Nice side exit exhausts....  Great rims....

In fact, the only issue I can really find with it is the size - it's a little large for such a little car...

This model also came in some other colors - I remember seeing it in white, and I think there was a darker grey version - with more contrast in the colors.  At the time, $2.99 or $3.99 seemed like too much to pay for a color variation - but now I wish that I'd bought them! 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Red Fiat 1500: One of the earliest of Matchbox' color variations

I credit Mattel's Hot Wheels, with, among many other things, opening up Matchbox' eyes to the idea of making cars in multiple colors.  Up until Hot Wheels burst on the scene, Matchbox would typically only make a casting in one color. 

Perhaps that's what makes this particular casting, in red, so unique...  It came before Hot Wheels, even if only by a year or two, but it came in TWO colors.  The typical blue-green, and the very atypical red.  So when I saw this red model included as part of a set of cars, I bought the set, just for this one car. 

Thankfully I still didn't pay too much for the set, since this particular example is pretty beaten on and scratched up.  It was also missing its roof-top luggage - though they are easy to swap from car to car (and I did that for this set of photos). 

In addition, this casting has never been one of my favorites.  It's boring!  One Matchbox writer observed that it was such a boring model that it shares the interior tub with a Ford (and I can assure that in real life, a Fiat and a Ford did not have identical interiors)! 

The luggage on the roof adds a tiny amount of visual interest...  but only a tiny amount.  The wheels are measly, the engine output likely anemic, the paint luster and color, either in red or green, is boring...  I doubt that any American kid really lusted after this toy...  Its castings like this that gave an opening for Hot Wheels to flood the 1/64th scale toy market.  And thankfully, Matchbox chose to kill this casting rather than a better one, when they upgraded their line to the superfast specifications. 

Still, its a color variation from the time before color variations, and that makes it special... least to me!


Best Matchbox of the early '00s/pre-Rennaissance period? Mercedes E430 wagon - with metal base!

In the very early 2000s, just 2-3 years before Matchbox went into what many collectors refer to as their renaissance period (or 2nd golden years), Matchbox released this prime casting of the Mercedes Benz E430 wagon.  It was almost a preamble to the upcoming renaissance, or perhaps a throwback to the Lesney years casting, showing the world what they were still capable of. 
It was also the last casting that I know of that was available exclusively with a metal base... 
It is a great casting...  I have a soft spot for most Matchbox Mercedes castings - and this one is a doozy.  The metal base gives it a nice heft and feel, and is available in all of the color variations.  In real life, the E-Class wagon is a long and big car - and this Matchbox is a long and big casting - made precisely to scale. 
It's a little hard to find - perhaps collectors (like me) horde them, or maybe Matchbox just didn't release too many of them.  I've found it in 5 colors, 2 of which are police versions, however the black version was probably the most widely available, and luckily is also one of the nicest and most realistic versions.  The white is taxi is my 2nd favorite, partly due to the simple and realistic paint job, but mostly since I love those Matchbox 5 spoke wheels - the nicest wheels of the last 30 years, and much nicer than the wheels on the other 4. 
The blue crazy-paint casting is my most recent add - a find off of Ebay.  I bought it mostly since I'm such a fan of the casting - I'm not at all crazy about the paint.  Also, as you can see in the photo, the blue has a thicker spray of paint - masking the relief of the trim and cheapening the appeal of the casting. 
The 2 police (Polizei) versions are fun - I like the gray one paint scheme a bit more than the green. 
Overall, its a really nice casting - my favorite of the period.  I love the profusion of great castings that came out just a few years later during the Rennaisance, but when you compare this car with the Rennaisance castings - I'm thinking particularly about the direct competitor in the terrific Audi A6 avant - the E430's metal base gives it an edge..  The metal base sets it apart from other castings. 
This is your chance to get the last of the metal base Matchbox...  

Friday, February 12, 2016

'80s and '90s Volkswagon Van Comparison - who makes the best one?

As a kid I was always partial to Volkswagons...  I lusted after Scirroco 16 valves, and I always wished that my Dad drove a proper GTI vs. his humdrum '78 Rabbit.

Then as an adult, I actually had a '93 Corrado SLC 2.8L VR6 (bought very used - and an unfortunate money pit...  $10,000 in repairs put into a car that I bought for $3500 and sold for $4500), and a Passat GLX 2.8L V6 (bought brand new in '01, and not at all a money pit - though now in sorry shape after a hailstorm and an unwillingness to put money into it...  (and yes, what I would have given to have that car be a W8 stick shift wagon rather than a V6 auto sedan)). 

...and I always thought Vanagons and Eurovans were cool, particularly when they stuck the VR6 from my Corrado into the Eurovan...  Eurovans never sold well in the USA, but they were all over the place in Europe - though frequently powered by an underpowered diesel or small 4 vs. the VR6. 

So now of course, the question is, how do you get one of these modeled in 1/64 scale...   ... and you realize that there are a few to choose from - which one do you choose...?   Who made the best model of a VW van, post the air-cooled transporter era...? 

The most widely available casting is from Hot Wheels - the Sunagon - with the motorbike stuck on the back - and the pop-up roof camper.  This was a casting that as a kid I didn't have, but dearly wished I did.  It is heavy (all metal base and top (aside from the extending pop-up top)) and so feels like quality, with a nice metal grill with a lot of casting detail (the type of detail that you NEVER see on a modern Hot Wheels casting), a camper interior, and ordinary '80s Hot Wheels wheels.  A few letdowns include that the motorbike is such a flat 2 dimensional piece (similar in 2 dimensionality to the one on the Hot Wheels Ford Bronco), and the lack of any suspension to speak of.  While it rolls well, there is no give when you press down on it.

As an adult, I only have 1 of them, and mine is pretty beat up, with the paint flaking off of it.  Surprisingly, I have it in blue vs. the more common orange.  I'm sure it was available in other colors as well...  Overall, a nice casting.  If you don't have this one, you should get it.... 

Next up is a somewhat rare Matchbox casting - a Vanagon in ambulance spec.  This seems to be one of the cars (Peugeot 205 GTi, Vauxhaul Astra, etc.) that is easier to find in Europe than in the USA.  Again, I only have 1 copy of it (and it was 15 years into collecting as an adult before I got it), but its in reasonable shape.  Size wise it is almost identical to the Hot Wheels, so it feels appropriate.    A nice touch is that the tailgate opens up to reveal an ambulance interior - though it doesn't feel like it opens up wide enough.  It has 5 dot wheels and a reasonable suspension.  The casting has nice metal detail all over the top side.  The grill and headlights are a separate piece from the rest of the top casting.  They don't photograph well - but look nicer in real life.  Overall, again a nice casting, and a tough competitor for the Hot Wheels Sunagon...   

To get additional models of a Vanagon/Eurovan, I reached into my Siku collection, and surprisingly found several. 

The least exciting is a late '90s casting of a Eurovan, in Police guise.  It actually has nice paint detail on it, but this is mostly there to highlight the lights and grill - which are just barely cast into the casting.  While the casting has detail - it is so faint that its hard to see.  Typical of a lot of '90s and '00s Siku trucks, its base is plastic and without detail or even many markings.  While its an OK model, it feels a bit light and has no opening parts.  Size wise its right on target with the first 2, but its other flaws mean that its a little bit of a letdown vs. the Matchbox and Hot Wheels.

Then I have an earlier ('80s) Vanagon/Transporter by Siku, in yellow.  This is a GREAT model, fully metal, with an opening tailgate.  Unlike the others, this is a commercial version of the Vanagon, so it is without any windows in the back.  Also, it is a bit larger than all of the others, making the others look small.  It has a chewed up plastic antenna on the roof.   When I first got the model, it was still mint in blisterpack - and yet now the antenna looks as if its been chewed on by a toddler.  I've tried to protect it, but even so its been very hard to keep the antenna from getting broken.  If an adult collector can't keep it together, I can't imagine how quickly the antennas break when kids play with this truck and toss it into a storage bucket!  This casting has lots of cast-in detail (including a proper scale toe-hitch - unlike the Marjorette hitches which are 3X too large).  While both the Matchbox and the Hot Wheels have nice casting detail, somehow the Siku's detail is just a little bit deeper and clearer.  It also has the nicest suspension of the lot, with more suspension travel than the Matchbox. 

Looking at these 4 models, it was obvious that the yellow Siku would be the winner, followed by a tough choice between the Hot Wheels and the Matchbox, with the newer Siku Eurovan bringing up last place.  This was to be it...   Except that then I dug deeper into my collection and found another contender from Siku...  

And what a contender!  This is again an '80s Siku model, but this time of a full-size (ie - larger than a Vanagon) VW van (a Kastenwagen?!?) used mainly as commercial and delivery vehicles.  If the yellow Siku made the other ones look small, then this green one makes the yellow Siku look small.  It is huge!  Massive!  And, from what I remember about seeing these big trucks on the road when I lived in London, pretty accurate in scale!  Aside from the larger actual size and the twin opening doors, the green Siku has detail that is right in line with the yellow Siku - which means its very good...  and since the Kastenwagen has everything that the yellow vanagon has, plus more of it, it becomes the easy winner! 

So there you have it.  Siku, the German toy company, makes the best version the German van, with 2 excellent versions to choose from (and one considerably less excellent newer version).  While both of these '80s Siku's will be tough to find - I think the bigger Kastenwagen is the harder of the 2 to find... 

And the battle for 3rd place..?  Its a tough decision between the Hot Wheels and the Matchbox, but in the end I made the decision the old fashioned way - by just choosing which one I liked more and wanted to play with more...  The Matchbox casting is nice, but the Hot Wheels one is somehow more exciting and more enticing..  Hot Wheels takes 3rd, Matchbox takes 4th. 

Let me know if you have a good quality casting of an 80s/90s VW van that I missed...  If you send it to me, I'll re-do this post and include the additional casting (but if I like it - I'll keep it rather than return it to you!).  You've been warned! 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hot Wheels Chevy Nomad throwdown: Newer premium car takes on the classic "Custom Nomad" (AKA "Alive 55") redline...

I always think its odd when toymakers bring out a new casting of a car that they've already done before... 

Matchbox is the unfortunate king of this - a few years ago they brought out new castings of the Lamborghini Miura, Lotus Europa (why couldn't they have at least changed it up and done an Elite?), E-type, VW Transporter (bus), etc.  While some collectors were happy with the new castings, they just looked tacky and plasticky to me.  I wondered why anyone would buy them - especially the more expensive premium paint versions - when fair condition original superfast transitional versions of them were available on EBay for just a few bucks...  And in my opinion, the original superfast transitional versions were hundreds of times nicer - even if the one you got on EBay was a little banged up.  The old ones were all metal, with nice detail, and a soft soft soft suspension, vs. the new plastic cars with virtually no suspension at all. 

But I've gotten off topic...  This post is about Hot Wheels, and they are also guilty of bringing out new castings of previously modeled cars.  In this case, its a newer casting of the 1955 Chevrolet Nomad, a casting which was one of the original (and highly valuable) redlines. 

However, Hot Wheels redeems itself relative to Matchbox in that the new casting is actually a nice casting, with premium paint, rubber wheels and (gasp - can it be?!?) a metal baseplate...  Seems like its time for a comparison - of new vs. old Hot Wheels Nomads! 

Size:  The new car looks bigger than the old car.  However when you actually measure them, the new car is just a touch longer - maybe by the width of a fingernail.  That size helps in this comparison, in that a '55 Chevy was a BIG car, and the Redlines nomad always seemed a little underscale....   Advantage:  New!

Wheels/Tires:  The new premium car has beautiful huge (too huge?) 5 spoke hollow alloys with rubber tires.  The Redlines have traditional redline wheels and plastic redline tires.  Sorry guys, but this one is no contest.  The new car's wheels would beat 99.99% of diecast competitors - resulting in an easy win.  The only downside is that the wheels actually appear too large in back...  Still, the Advantage goes to...  New!

Paint:  The new car has beautiful period correct 2 tone paint with lots of paint detail and trim.  I love spectraflame paint - but my example is 45 years old and only in fair condition.  Interestingly, Hot Wheels did add red stoplights to the redlines...  Still, its hard to win against perfect paint - Advantage:  New!

Body Casting/trim:  The new casting has a ton of detail, with correct side countours, curved rear quarter windows, a beautiful grill, etc.  However the old one has a nicely louvered hood and a sunroof in its own right, and very reasonable levels of detail.  The old looks nice, until you compare it to the new one, when it looks toylike and slab sided...  The new one has all of the weighting / heft you expect from an old car, but with all of the new detail you expect from a new premium casting.  Advantage:  New!

Base Casting:  Unusually for a modern car, the new casting has a metal base.  Typical for a modern car, the new casting has a lot of detail on the base.  But the old casting also has the (period-typical) metal base.  I never realized it - but the base differs between the Nomad and Alive-55 - with the older Nomad having a lot more detail on its base.  This category's comparison was the closest I've had - and I'm declaring the advantage to:  Old!

Suspension/Rolling ability:  When Hot Wheels burst in on Matchbox' scene, their primary weapon was its suspension - allowing it to roll much faster than regular wheels Matchbox.  So this category goes to...  ...Old!

Engine:  Both castings have opening hoods - but the older Redlines' open wider, allowing better visibility and access...   Advantage...  Old!

Interior:  The new car's interior just has more detail than the Redline's...  Advantage...   New!

Mistakes:  The new car has a paint flaw, with paint on the passenger side rear window...  Advantage...  Old!

Overall desirability:  I really wanted the old car to win...  ...but the new car is just a great model.  The new car wins on the overall desirability scale - and so also wins the overall contest. 

Was it a fair contest - to compare a new premium model to a 45 year old example from a time when the idea of a "premium" model didn't even exist...?  Of course not.  That being said, this new casting is such a nice premium model (vs. a typical one which is just glossy paint on an average casting) that it deserves to be taken seriously. 

On the other hand, I'm a sucker for old things.  As I said at the beginning, I'd choose Matchbox transitional superfasts over any of the new plastic cars.  I'll completely understand (and even partially agree with) anyone who chooses to pay more for a poorer old redline.  In a perfect world, you'll get both!

The great news is the winner car is a bargain compared to the redline - with brand new perfect cars selling for $5 or less vs. insane amounts of money for perfect redlines. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Rare model (at least in the USA): Matchbox Ford Falcon

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Matchbox seemed to occasionally have cars that were somewhat country specific, where for some reason the car was harder to find than you'd expect.  I have no actual evidence of this, but there were always models that seemed harder to find in the USA, and seemingly very easy to find in Europe.  The prime example of this is the Rover 3500, but the Skoda, the Vauxhall Calibra, and the Carmichael Commander also seem to fall into this category.  While not impossible to find in the USA, they just seemed to be harder to find, and thus may be missing from many casual collector (and kids') collections. 

And in the late '90s and the early 2000s, 2 examples were the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon... 

I have 7,000+ diecast, of which at least 4,000 must be Matchbox, yet I only have this one example of this (relatively nice!) casting, which came out while I was in the heyday of my collecting binge.  I think I only came across this model once (the time I bought it) - and I never saw it in a mainline big box retail store like a WalMart or a ToysRUs. 

The model is a pretty nice model.  There are no opening parts (typical of a late 90s MB casting) and has a plastic base.  But the base has nice detail on it, and there is nice metal detail on the diecast body, including mirrors, vents, grill, and additional contours across the car. 

The paint is reasonable - although I find the specific color to be a kind of boring super-man blue, but the rear stop lights are painted in and there is a "Ford" in script letters on the front license plate bracket. 

Overall, a nice, reasonable, casting - not overly inspiring casting, but a worthy effort by Matchbox...  

And very rare...