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'.

Spanning the decades - 1930's to 1990's

1935 Dusenberg SSJ by Racing Champions #21

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz by Hot Wheels #970ZA

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda cvt. by Johnny Lightning #785

1987 Porsche 911 Turbo by Majorette #

1993 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport by Matchbox #15-1

Cream of the Crop

This month, a new addition to my collection became the new contender for the crown of 'best 1:64 scale diecast car of all-time. Racing Champions' '35 Dusenberg SSJ is truly one of the most exquisite miniature cars ever produced. In order to make such a statement it is only fair to hold this gem of a toy car up to comparison with the top contenders from the competition.

Five diecast manufacturers have offered deluxe or collector editions in 1:64 scale. In addition to Racing Champions, Hot Wheels, Johnny Lightning, Majorette and Matchbox have offered specific lines for collectors. Racing Champions began with 'Mint Edition' cars, now offered in the 'Classified Classics' series. Hot Wheels calls their high-end series, 'Collectibles - Limited Edition'. Johnny Lightning has many series, with their 'Hollywood on Wheels' series selected here. Majorette offered their short-lived 'Premier Edition' cars. Matchbox was one of the first to move into this arena with their 'World Class' offerings, later called 'Premier Collection' as well.

To be fair in any review, price must be considered. The following indicates the original price of the model represented and the present price where applicable.

Racing Champions - Classified Classics $2.99
Hot Wheels - Collectibles - Limited Edition $7.99
Johnny Lightning - Hollywood on Wheels $3.99
Majorette - Premier Edition $4.99
Matchbox - World Class Premier Collection $4.99 (now $7.99)

I have selected five cars for comparison, attempting to identify the best model from each manufacturer, as represented in my collection. While some may disagree, these are my choices.

The choice for fifth place is the easiest. Matchbox originally offered the World Class cars as regular models with better paint and wheels. When they were priced at $2.99, this was a reasonable value for collectors. At $7.99 today, they remain un-purchased on most toy store shelves. The Corvette Grand Sport was one of the few to attempt correct-look wheels and the paint was above average in detail. The 1987 model casting is not correct for the later-bodied Grand Sport but it is reasonably close. It remains the only small-scale model of this unique Corvette.

Fourth place goes to the Majorette Porsche 911 Turbo. I like this model very much as i do the entire series. It's too bad Majorette pulled the plug on these highly detailed cars. The Porsche badge is too large and the opening doors leave some big gaps but otherwise this model is hard to fault. The body is actually plastic with the color injected into the casting. Correct wheels, separate head and tail-lights and an excellent interior compliment the perfectly shaped body. Unlike others in this series, the Porsche does not offer engine detail.

Hot Wheels takes third place with their beautiful '57 Eldorado. The correct color is excellent and it is so nice to see a '50's Cadillac in a color other than pink. The pale yellow headlights are a curious choice, can we assume the lights are on? The front grill is especially well done. The tires are too wide but with nice white walls. The wire wheels are reasonable for this scale. At $7.99, the price is double what it should be for the level of quality.

In second place Johnny Lightning shows how far their models have come. The '71 Hemi Cuda is a replica of the car used on the Nash Bridges TV show (the car used on the show has been made to look like the ultra-rare '71 convertible). The detail on this model is exceptional. The paint, tires, interior and engine are first-rate. The best part about this car is it look and feels so solid. To truly appreciate this car, it must be removed from the package. Here is a toy car I want to get in and drive. For $3.99 it is a bargain.

If you have not already purchased the '35 Dusenberg SSJ by Racing Champions, don't wait another minute. To begin, the SSJ is one of the greatest cars of all-time and it had never been done in small-scale. Only two SSJ models were built, one for Clark Gable and one for Gary Cooper. The detail on this model is amazing. The wire wheels are the finest I have ever seen with actual spokes and painted hubs. The tires are the correct size and even the tread pattern looks right. The covered spare is perfect. The interior includes a beautiful chromed gear shift with a white knob, just as it should be. The side-pipes actually appear to extend through holes in the fender. Under the removable hood is a magnificent Dusenberg straight-eight. The engine color is the famous Dusenberg green and it includes carburation and an actual fan for the radiator. The windscreen even has the correct rake. For $2.99, this is a diamond for the price of glass. This color series is limited to 20,000. I plan to buy several more for long-term storage.

All of these cars are favorites in my collection and I hope you have them all too. We have never seen quality of this level before and competition should keep manufacturers honest with their pricing. Mattel will likely be forced to drop prices on their Matchbox World Class as they are not moving at all. Even the Hot Wheels are easy to find. While Racing Champions has done a great job on the Dusey, other Classified Classics are priced just right at $2.99. Meanwhile, the SSJ is my new standard by which all 1:64 scale cars will be measured. I'll let you know if I find any serious challengers to the new 'King of Small-Scale Toy Cars'.