O F F - T H E - S H E L F

The following editorial reflects the personal thoughts of Doug Breithaupt relating to our common hobby of miniature cars. It is intended to generate discussion relating to 'Tales of Toy Cars'. Your letters are welcome and may be submitted via the 'Guest Book'.

Big Disappointment from Johnny Lightning

Original Topper 'Custom Eldorado'

New Playing Mantis 'Custom L'

Nose to nose - Who stuck the Chevelle SS hood on the 'Custom L'
It was totally unexpected. Johnny Lightning and Playing Mantis have been setting the diecast car world ablaze with some of the best small-scale models on the market. At the same time that they are offering such gems as the BMW Z8 in their Bond series and the 1955 Chrysler C300, the third set of Topper re-issue models have now been released.

Over a year ago, TofTC interviewed Tom Lowe, the Founder, President and CEO of Playing Mantis. He mentioned that the third set of original Topper cars would be released in 2000. He also mentioned that the first car from Topper, the Custom Eldorado would be one of the new models.

Since that announcement, I've been waiting for this very car. You see, I own a real 1968 Cadillac Eldorado and I have the original Topper model as well. I was exited to think that this beautiful model would be available in new colors, maybe even gold like my car. The 1967-68 Eldorado is considered one of the most beautiful Cadillac designs and has been selected as one of the top 100 automotive designs of all time.

Last week I found the re-issued car. I was even driving my '68 Eldorado at the time and as I opened the package my heart sank. Instead of a beautiful re-production of the original Custom Eldorado, I saw a pathetic mess of body lines and details. The coup de grace was that it did not even have the same name. For some reason, it was called the 'Custom L' instead of Custom Eldorado. my guess is that when Cadillac saw the casting they refused to license the use of the name. This new casting is clearly not an Eldorado.

It's hard to believe that Playing Mantis could not afford to do this car right. The package says "replicas of Topper originals" and a card is included, picturing the original model. It is a shame that Playing Mantis forgot to look at this picture when the 'Custom L' casting was approved. Is this a quality control problem or just sloppy work?

If you have not looked closely at the pictures here, you may be asking how bad is it really? It's bad, real bad. Let's start with the nose and work back. The Topper model has a black painted grill which is the same on the real car. Playing Mantis just painted it body color. The hood is just flat wrong. As the pictures show, the Topper model correctly had a 'V' moving back from the nose as does the real car. This is one of the essential design elements. The hood on the Playing Mantis car looks like it came from a '70 Chevelle SS, and that's where it belongs.

If you raise the hood, both motor castings are close but Playing Mantis allowed over spray to saturate half of the motor. The 425 cubic inch V8 of 1967 did not look like the casting but then both cars are labeled as 'Custom'.

Moving to the body sides of the two cars, things get worse. Topper's original and the real car are distinguished by 'haunches' that peak behind the doors and carry the line of the car in a graceful decent to the tail. Playing Mantis simply left these off! The slab-sided new model has no hint of this important design feature. The original Topper model had opening doors but that has been dropped from the new model as well.

The black interior on the new model is a bit hard to see without opening doors but it appears to be the same as the original. The wheels however are quite different. As neither wheel is correct to the car and both are 'custom', I can't say one is the best. The 2-piece wheels on the new car are better-made than the original one-piece wheels but the redline is gone. One complaint is that the rear wheels on the new car are larger than the front giving the model a hot-rod stance. This was not done on the original and looks strange on a car like the Eldorado. It is also a bit silly as the Eldorado is a front-wheel drive car and fat tires on the rear would be of no use. Then again, whoever did the new casting obviously knew nothing about the real car.

The rear window of the Topper model and the original car have a center crease in the glass. The new model simply wraps around in a smooth curve. Lastly, the sharp creases in the fenders and roof that define the real car were captured very well in the Topper model. The Playing Mantis model softens all these lines, changing the overall look of the car.

Most collectors may not be as picky as I've been. That's a shame as the original Topper model was one of their best and my personal favorite. If this had come from anyone other than Playing Mantis, I would not be so disappointed. Playing Mantis has been largely responsible for bringing the diecast industry to new levels of quality, value and authenticity. It is ironic that this landmark, first car from Topper is so far removed from these same standards that Johnny Lightning has come to represent. In contrast, recent Hot Wheels re-issues have been excellent, often hard to tell from the original. At least we can be sure that no low-rent diecast re-sellers will be able to pawn off the 'Custom L' as the original Topper car.

What can Playing Mantis do to correct this ugly situation? They could do an authentic re-issue but that is a costly and un-likely possibility. A new hood would be a simple improvement that would help the most glaring error. Changing the back wheels would also be easy.

Another option would be to do a real replica of the '67-68 Eldorado. Perhaps this could even be a series like the Mustang/Camaro/GTO/Corvette series. The '73 Eldorado has already been done. Add the original '53, the '59, the '67-68, '73, '79 and current 2000 model and the first six could be released. I think these would be snapped-up by collectors. It could even make me forget about the horrible 'Custom L'.

Topper has haunches and opening doors

Playing Mantis has nothing

Topper detailed the grill in black, Playing Mantis just sprayed everything in sight.