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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The best looking Miata is... Italian Miata? (or maybe - the one that is in your garage!).

(This post about 1:1 scale (real) cars, vs. 1/64 scale toy cars...   ... though given the Miata's size, it's ALMOST a Matchbox...).

My first new car, this '99 Miata, was purchased in June of '98.  She's now almost 18 years old, but still beautiful and in great shape.  I've loved her since she was new.  I think of her as a golden retriever puppy (given her black color it should be a Lab retriever puppy - but still she's a golden puppy in my imagination), always playful, bouncing around, ready to go for a ride.

I know what the muscle car snobs say about Miatas, that they need more power, that they are chick cars, etc.  What they miss is that the Miata is one of the most perfectly balanced and honed cars ever made.  Yes, it's not overly powerful, but it loves to have the engine wrung out at 10/10ths, and once it's up to speed, that utterly communicative chassis lets you keep it at speed like no other car I've ever driven.

I own several other cars, including a Porsche 911 and a BMW 330i ZHP, both of which have substantially more power than my Miata.  But consistently my long commutes get done in the shortest time when I drive my "under-powered" Miata...   She zips through traffic with ease, with me always knowing exactly where my car ends and which gaps I can squeeze into.

I've got the best-looking Miata...   The first generation (NA) was too rounded...  the third generation (NC) was slightly too big and fat...  And while the reviews of the newest (fourth (ND)) generation are nothing short of glowing about the car ("the best Miata ever"), the knife-edge styling has not yet enabled me to warm to it.  But mine....?   It's got the best curves of any of them, with stretched fenders that turn the innocence of the NA first generation into a sexier looker....   Plus, I love the black and tan color combination - my favorite - even though I literally changed my mind with the salesman four times before settling on black...   the Mazda speed NB version is the only version that I feel is better than mine, it came out several years after I bought mine, if it'd been out when I was buying I undoubtedly would have gotten it.

But then I saw an article in Car and Driver, saying that Fiat was going to use the Miata as a basis for the new spyder, and that it would have styling hints from the old 124/2000 spyder...  I'd previously heard Alfa would be using the Miata as the basis for THIER new spider - but this was the first time I'd heard about Fiat taking advantage of the Miata's architecture.

Either way, I was somewhat open to the idea.  I've never owned either a Fiat nor an Alfa spider/spyder, but they are both cars that I'd thought about and looked at for 4 decades.  I didn't like Fiat/Alfa taking the cheap way out and NOT bringing a truly unique car to the table, but still...

...But then I saw these photos of the new Fiat in Car and Driver...   ... And I was SMITTEN.  It looks like the perfect modern updating of the 124/2000 spyder.   Check out the round headlights, and the trapezoidal taillights!

Wow.  If I can get the excellent dynamics of the 4th gen ND Miata, but in a package that heralds back to the Fiat 124 spider...?!?   SIGN-ME-UP!  I might have just found my next new car!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Final Battle of the Full Size SUVs, Part III: Chevy Tahoe Throwdown, Matchbox vs. Hot Wheels vs. a mystery contender!

For my third installment of this blog trilogy, I focused on the Chevy Tahoe.  The Tahoe is an interesting vehicle in that it is shorter than the Suburban but based on the same platform, creating a challenge for toy makers who want to model both of them.  As discussed in my last post, Matchbox screwed up by first making this well-scaled version of the Tahoe (in green to the right), and then following it up with an undersized and equal length Suburban (when the Sub is a foot or so longer in real life). 
Matchbox was first to the party with this Tahoe.  The first one was a pretty red with yellow stripes version (prettier and brighter paint than the alternate variation in the far right of this photo).  This green version is from the late '90s, when they brought out "Premier" 2 packs, with a painted and an unpainted model.  I never understood the appeal of the unpainted model (other than that you didn't need to strip the paint if you wanted to custom paint it), but the painted model here is a nice toy. 
It has nice rubber wheels, alloys, and really nicely detailed paint-trim.  But more importantly, it is a nice model in itself, nicely sized, a full, square model of a full, square SUV.  It doesn't have a metal baseplate (one of my pet peeves), but admittedly the plastic baseplate is easy to deal with when you want to drill out the rivets and strip/re-paint the casting. 
In the photo above, you can see 2 more color variations of this model - a black and white police version (no light bar), and a maroon/red version with an ugly black grill.  I've got a few additional colors (the red/maroon version mentioned previously), but wasn't able to lay my hands on them for this photo shoot.  I chose to focus on the green version, since it's easily the nicest of the 3. 
The next contestant who came to the party with this blue casting, without a name on the base.  I bought it at a store (vs. an EBAY/toy show find), but I can't remember exactly who made it.  Probably Motor Max, or Malibu, or another Wal-Mart brand that is there for a while and then disappears. 
The model is actually a pretty OK model.  It is a model of the next generation newer Tahoe, but sized almost exactly to the Matchbox model - so in scale.  It has a full interior, but is in black with dark windows so it is hard to see.  The paint is fine but boring, with little additional paint detail.  The wheels feel a bit cheapy, though width-wise they are more in scale than Matchbox' wheels.  Overall, it is a solid effort and a solid model, a nice one to have in the collection, but not an outstanding "must-have" model. 
That brings us to the final model - a Hot Wheels model of a newer Tahoe that is only available in emergency guise - in this case - a fire chief's car.  This one IS a nice model.  I'm not usually a fan of emergency models that don't come in civilian versions, but this is such a nice model that I don't mind it.  Size wise it stacks up again exactly in line with the first 2, so the scale is great.  Its suspension is slightly cut down, so its a little lower, but not so much as to be terribly unrealistic. 
I don't know what Hot Wheels did to make it such a nice model - but this is the one you want to play with and zoom around.  The tires are plastic but the wheels just look cool - why can't Matchbox regularly make wheels this cool?  The push bar in the front looks super tough.   Unlike the other 2 it has no rear mirrors - but you don't really notice their absence.  For a $.99 car - its a bargain!  If you don't have this model and happen to see it on the pegs - you should DEFINITELY pick it up.  Just writing about it makes me want to buy a 2nd one and repaint it in police colors! 
So, which one wins this throw-down...?  Well, the blue generic model is easy to eliminate - it's a nice model - but somehow lacking in overall appeal against the other 2.  I immediately relegate it to 3rd place. 

But the battle for first is a tough one.  Its the classic Hot Wheels vs. Matchbox battle - a battle run as often as the V8 Mustang vs. V8 Camaro battle in real life (which incidentally - is a battle I've always followed closely - loving the Fox body Mustangs of the '80s, being under-whelmed by the ugly Mustangs of the '90s, liking but somehow not loving the retro Mustangs of the '00s (and loving the contemporary retro Camaro - especially in ZL1 form), but then being utterly smitten by last year's redesign of the Mustang - and the new GT350....).  The Hot Wheels has a strange appeal - similar to the appeal of the Hot Wheels Suburban in the last article.  I want to put my hands on it and play with it.  It easily wins the battle of the $.99 basic cars - running circles around the red and black basic Matchbox's...   But compared with the more expensive premier version of the Matchbox...? 
Yes, the rubber tires, alloys and paint detail of the Premier Matchbox give it the edge to push the Hot Wheels back to 2nd place.  But just imagine if Hot Wheels ever made a "Whips", or other adult collectible, version of this casting - with glossier paint, more detail, a metal base and rubber tires...?  Then I think we'd have to do a re-match - and I bet the Matchbox would lose. 
But today we're not dealing in what-ifs.  Today we are dealing with the cars that came to the comparison test.  All correctly scaled - all contenders.  And out of that grouping, the Premier Matchbox wins the gold metal! 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Battle of the Full Size SUVs - Part 2: Who makes the best Chevrolet Suburban?!?

This post carries on my theme from a few weeks ago, when I compared 2 Matchbox castings of full-size SUVs - the Expedition from the late '90s with the Lincoln Navigator from the late '00s.  While the Navigator was the ultimate winner, I was thrilled to have both castings - both since they are great castings - and since I love (correctly scaled) models of full size SUVs. 
I'm a sports car guy in real life (RX7s, Miatas, 911s, etc.), but there is something naughtily enticing about these tough looking land yachts for the road...  And since the SUV revolution that started in about 1990 with the launch of the original Ford Explorer, Toyota 4-Runner, Nissan Pathfinder, Isuzu Trooper, etc., the toy makers have finally started to model these beasts in some nice detail... 
The modeling took a long time to come about...  Sure, in the '80s Hot Wheels had done the full size Ford Bronco, Matchbox the full size Blazer with off-road wheels in police guise and the '80s Cherokee (arguably the original contender in the '90s SUV craze) and Majorette the Cherokee with off-road wheels and a dog in the back (a favorite casting that I actually DON'T have), but they took a long time to respond to the next wave of SUVs... 
Majorette was the first to model one of them - with a nice casting of the 2nd generation 4-runner - most typically found in red.  Maisto produced a CRAPPY casting of the original Explorer (although it is so awful it doesn't really deserve mention).  But it was a long wait - until the Expedition and the Tahoe came out from Matchbox.  Some time in this range Matchbox also brought out a nice Jeep Grand Cherokee.  But then in Matchbox' mid '00s Renaissance they suddenly opened the floodgates and started producing some great models, like the Hummer H3, the Volvo XC90, the Jeep Liberty and the Nissan XTerra. 
But I digress.  This article is about the FULL-SIZE SUVs known as the Suburban.  Do we have any models of it - and if so - which is best? 
Ironically, Hot Wheels stepped into the scene as one of the first, with a non-regular-line-up Suburban that was too long to fit into a normal storage tray.  But since the Suburban is indeed a long vehicle in real life, it was right in scale.  I first saw this vehicle as a companion to their NASCAR race car series, frequently emblazoned with some race team's name on the side.  And this is the first model of it that I had - mine the blue one with the Square D electrical name on it.  But for this comparison, I showed my later one - a red "Team Bartwell" one done up with extra paint detail and rubber tires as part of their "Whips" series. 
This is a seriously nice casting.  As mentioned, the length is spot-on and gives it a lot of presence when compared to ordinary 1/64th scale vehicles.  Its a late '90s model, so its big and squared off - the way I like my SUVs.  The rubber tire, glossy paint and paint detail really finish off a beautiful casting.  The rims are BEAUTIFUL - MAGNIFICENT - EXQUISITE!    The only improvements I might make would be a metal base and opening doors or tailgate. 
Next up, and bought at roughly the same time, is a Code 3 collectibles fire chief suburban, a model of the same late '90s generation Suburban as the Hot Wheels. The size is right in line with the Hot Wheels, again too long for an ordinary storage case.  If anything, this model feels even more squared off than the Hot Wheels model.  This one is aimed at adults and again has great detail, with rubber tires, nice rims that are accurate replicas of the real Suburban rims, wipers, non-cast but attached mirrors, and excellent paint.  I would have loved to find this model in a normal consumer (non fire or police) version, but I don't think that one was ever made.  Interestingly, while the detail is more accurate on this one vs. the Hot Wheels, the Hot Wheels just feels more enticing...  The Code 3 is the one you want to have in your display case, while the Hot Wheels is the one you want to pull down and play with on the floor.   Advantage, Hot Wheels!
Next up is a JADA toys Dub version of the next generation newer Suburban.  I've never been a fan of JADA, since they often sacrifice realism in the name of crazy/fantasy customization, but this one was accurate and nice enough that I had to buy it.  It is in tan/bronze and looks much more rounded (too rounded for my tastes - though that generation of Suburban was more rounded - it wasn't as rounded as JADA made it).  This one has twin rear doors rather than a tailgate - a nice differentiating touch.  This is also the only version with a roof rack - though the body color paint that was applied to it makes it less appealing than the flat roofs of the others.  Typical of JADA it has big oversize rims and rubber tires.  The casting itself has a lot of detail, but little in the way of paint detail.  Overall, it comes off as a solid contender and a surprisingly nice casting, but is just not as nice as the first two... 
Finally, I have 2 Matchbox castings of the Suburban as a Police vehicle.  I talk about these last, since their size automatically relegates them to last place.  As an adult, correct scale is important - and these are scaled too small - smaller even than the Expedition/Navigator reviewed earlier - and smaller than Matchbox' own Tahoe that the Suburban is based off of (the 2 toys are roughly the same length - and since the Sub is longer in real life, the height and width of it has to be lower and narrower than the Tahoe to maintain consistency).  The scale issue is a killer... 
...but aside from the scale issue - it is an OK casting - and a NICE casting when in premium guise.  Matchbox had this odd run of premium cars where they would add opening doors to the premiums when they weren't available on the base model - meaning that the premium cars were no longer just nicer paint and rubber wheels - but were almost separate models.  I have an Impala police car with an opening trunk, and a Grand Cherokee, BMW X5 and this Suburban all with opening doors.  In the case of this Suburban, the detail really shines up the casting - meaning that it displays REALLY nicely!  Just don't put it beside something else that should have been smaller than it in real life! 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hot Wheels Renault 5 Turbo

Wow...  How did I miss THIS model...? 

Metal base...  ...awesome metal detail...  ...great paint...  ...rubber tires...  ...mag wheels...

One of the nicest Hot Wheels ever done.  I missed this one when it first came out - and only bought it after the fact.  A GREAT model and a great find!