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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! 

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