As part of our 75th birthday celebrations, enthusiast, collector and author Marc E. Nonnenkamp takes Toy & Hobby Retailer for a spin through the world of die-cast scale model cars.
My father started buying Matchbox “1-75 Series” models, Models of Yesteryear and King Size models shortly after I was born in 1962. It was a collection and passion he later passed on to me.
I have thus been a model car enthusiast for my entire life. My book, “Scale Model Collectible Cars” is written primarily for those of us who enjoy such classic brands as Lesney Matchbox, Matcbhox International (not the modern Mattel product), Corgi (from its beginnings right up through the current product line by Hornby Hobbies) and Schuco (especially the Micro-Racers still being reproduced in Hungary for Lilliput Motors of Nevada in the USA).
Success in the die-cast toy market requires manufacturers to pay attention to quality, pricing and distribution – they must be able to reach their consumers with an attractive product.
They must also keep production costs under control – most of these costs being related to employee compensation and benefits.
For most Australians at least, the two names that partiucularly stand out, especially those those of us of a certain vintage, are Matchbox and Corgi.
The modern toy industry in the UK, however, looks back to the founding of Dinky in 1933. Dinky pioneered the popular 1-43 O-scale cars, but the company eventually went bankrupt, was purchased by Matchbox International and the brand name now belongs to Mattel.
Lesney began making Matchbox toys in 1948 and continued right up until its bankruptcy in 1982. Matchbox International, of Macau, did a good job of saving the brand and continuing in a similar tradition until the sale to Tyco Toys in 1992.
To me, however, since 1992, and especially since the purchase by Mattel in 1997, the Matchbox brand has never been the same – it now has far more in common with Mattel's own “Hot Wheels” product than with the original Lesney or Matchbox International product.
Corgi is a different story. Corgi was founded in 1934 under the “Mettoy” brand name and adopted the Corgi monicker in 1956. Corgi had its own financial difficulties and changes in corporate ownership over the years, but happily it continues to provide tremendous quality and value for money under the ownership of Hornby Hobbies.
Corgi continues to offer a tremendous product line today. Think of Corgi Classics (the many 1:50 scale trucks), Corgi Haulers of Renown (more modern 1:50 scale trucks), Corgi Trackside (British 1:76 “Ho” scale cars and trucks), The Original Omnibus Company (1:76 scale British buses), Rail Legends, Days Gone (inherited from Lledo just like the Vanguards line), Corgi Vanguards (1:43 O-scale cars in the tradition of the late Jack Odell’s “Lledo” brand name) and the Corgi Aviation Archive (pioneers of flight, World War One, World War Two and the postwar era).
Corgi has also produced a line of toys to complement the 2012 London Olympic Games, and also has once again introduced a line of “pocket money” toys for children.
Appealing to young consumers is important for any business, and especially for toy makers. Many die-cast car producers have abandoned the juvenile market and appeal only to more affluent adult collectors.
Appealing to the adult market is fine, but it offers no long term future. Eventually your customer base will die out – you need a younger audience at all times to ensure the longevity of your product line and your income stream.
I believe that Corgi would do very well to re-introduce something very similar to the old Husky and/or Corgi Juniors line of toys. Kids will love them when they’re young, and those same kids will “graduate” to the more upscale Corgi and Hornby products when they’re older and more affluent.
While we in Australia are probably most familiar with these venerable British brands, true scale model car enthusiuasts would also be well aware there's been a lot of global competition to thse over the years.
Minichamps, for example, is made by Paul’s Model Art of Aachen, Germany. The models are known for tremendous detail, and have captured 60 per cent of the global 1:43 O-scale market.
Nevertheless, I have noticed a few quality issues. I have an Audi 100 Sedan where the license plates and dashboard grain have peeled due to age.
The most serious challenge to Minichamps market dominance comes from Corgi Vanguards, from IXO-IST of China and from BUB-Premium Classixxs of Germany.
IXO and IST not merely manufactured in China (as do most toy makers in the world today anyway), they are both also Chinese-owned. They offer a very good product at a good price. IST specializes in 1:43 O-scale cars and trucks from the former Eastern bloc – from the former Soviet Union, former East Germany and Poland. IXO models represent cars from the rest of the world.
BUB-Premium Classixxs comes from the city of Fürth in Bavaria (Germany) – the same home town of the famous Schuco brand name.
BUB (Bavarian for “boy”) makes German 1:87 “Ho” scale models whereas its Premium Classixxs brand concentrates on both 1:43 O-scale cars and trucks and on larger scales. It makes the nicest Volkswagen Type Two T2 and T3 (Bay Window and Wedge, respectively) models you will find anywhere.
Schuco is owned by Simba Dickie Toys, a German toy holding company. It works with Hornby Hobbies of England to market each other’s products in their respective countries.
Schuco is famous for its classic tin windup toys (still made in Germany), for the 1:45 scale Micro Racers (reproduced in Hungary and sold through Lilliput Motors of Nevada in the USA), for the German 1:90 “Ho” scale Piccolo models (made out of a heavy resin material), for its German 1:87 “Ho” scale models, for 1:43 O-scale models and for the Schuco Junior line.
The Schuco Junior line models (made in 1:24 scale, 1:43 O-scale, 1:64 scale and in 1:72 scale) are actually made under contract by the Chinese toy companies of Hongwell and Yat-Ming. They offer very good value for a lower price (as do both Hongwell and Yat-Ming in their own respective line of die-cast cars and trucks).
The classic Schuco tin toys are sought after by collectors all over the world and are not inexpensive to buy. The Schuco 1:43 O-scale line of cars and trucks suffer from quality issues. I’ve noticed things like crooked wheel axles or headlamps that fall out when the product is brand new. I would prefer either the company's Schuco Junior line models, or models made by competitors such as Corgi Vanguards, Premium Classixxs, IXO-IST, Hongwell or Yat-Ming.
Solido is a French brand now owned by Simba Dickie Toys of Germany. Solido is still manufactured in France, but the quality leaves much to be desired. In a comparable price range, the collector would do much better with Hongwell, Yat-Ming, the Schuco Junior Line or even with brands like Maisto, Welly or Kinsmart. A subsidiary brand name of Solido is Majorette – which makes 1:64 scale cars and trucks comparable to Matchbox, Hot Wheels or the former Husky and Corgi Juniors line.
The mass consumer brand name of Maisto is made by Hasbro of the USA, which is the second largest toy company in the world after Mattel of El Segundo, California (USA). Maisto offers a decent product at a lower price – much like Hongwell and Yat-Ming of China. You will find Maisto die-cast cars and trucks in 1:64 scale (much like Matchbox or Hot Wheels), 1:43 O-scale, 1:24 scale and even 1:18 scale complete with opening doors, hoods and trunks (bonnets and boots in British English).
Wiking of Germany is known for its German 1:87 “Ho” scale models and for 1:40 scale models, all of which are made out of plastic – and still made in Germany. The 1:40 scale models were once carried by all parts departments of Volkswagen dealerships all over the world. Their detail is phenomenal, but beware that they are extremely brittle – they are made for display purposes.
Brekina of Germany is known solely for their German 1:87 “Ho” scale models, all of which have great detail, good quality and all of which are still made in Germany. Its USA distributor is German Air Cooled of Southern California.
Welly is yet another mass consumer brand name I would compare to Maisto. It offers an acceptable product at a lower price – mostly aimed at children or at adults who don’t wish to spend too much money. Kinsmart is another brand which I would describe very much like Welly or Maisto.
Jouef of France is one of the many brand names now owned by Hornby Hobbies. Jouef is well known for making scale model trains and railroads as is Hornby, but Jouef also made a line of 1:43 O-scale and 1:18 scale cars in the past. The quality and the detail of the cars did not come up to the standards of Corgi, Minichamps, Schuco, Wiking, Dinky, Lledo, IXO or Hongwell – but they were interesting when they were brand new. It was amongst the first toy maker to have a 1:43 O-scale Volkswagen Super Beetle Sedan and Super Beetle Convertible with a curved windshield (known as the 1303 model in Europe).
Tomica of Japan is yet another one of the international partners of Hornby Hobbies of England. It is very well known for the “Thomas the Tank” line of trains and train sets aimed at very young children. The Tomica line of 1:64 scale cars and trucks is superb, albeit very geared toward the local Japanese market. They even come in boxes similar to those used by the popular Lesney Matchbox “1-75 Series.” Most of the company's cars and trucks represent Japanese brand names, but you will also find some brand names from European manufacturers as well – such as Porsche, Lamborghini, Smart and Mini. Even more appealing are the diorama play sets for the Tomica vehicles – gasoline filling stations, parking garages and the like. These remind me of the play sets once marketed by Lesney Matchbox, Matchbox International and by Mettoy Playcraft Corgi for the Corgi Juniors line.
Ertl of the USA was founded by a Bavarian-German immigrant to the State of Iowa. It makes a number of uniquely American products – cars and trucks from American manufacturers as well as die-cast models of farming equipment common in the midwestern USA. I would place their detail, quality and pricing comparable to that of Maisto, Welly, Kinsmart, Hongwell, Yat-Ming and to the Schuco Junior Line.
Faller of Germany still makes its products in Germany. It has been known to make some 1:43 O-scale cars comparable to Wiking of Germany, but Faller is much better known for making 1-87 “Ho” scale model kit buildings for cars, trucks and train sets. Quality and detail are nothing short of amazing – the company's website and catalogues show entire portions of German cities rebuilt in miniature form with astonishing attention to detail.
Igra of the Czech Republic makes a number of models unique to its homeland, representing cars and trucks from the Skoda and Tatra brand names. They are still made in the Czech Republic, but the models I have seen are extremely brittle – not well made. Only buy these if you are a real enthusiast for the Czech brands. I found the Tatra 11 Sedan to be of particular interest. This unique car was designed by the famous engineer Hans Ledwinka in 1919 – I see it as the technical ancestor of the original air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle Sedan designed by Ferdinand Porsche, Sr.
"Scale Model Collectible Cars" is available mainly through Amazon in the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain and Japan as well as through Barnes & Noble in the USA. It is also on the Australian ebay site from the retailer, Booktopia: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Scale-Model-Collectible-Cars-NEW-/290714114788.
It is also available Borders of Australia: http://www.borders.com.au/book/scale-model-collectible-cars/24623888/ as well as through Fishpond of Australia: http://www.fishpond.com.au/9781460915028 and Mighty Ape of Australia: http://www.mightyape.com.au/product/Book/Scale-Model-Collectible-Cars/10978878/.