(or how many Dodge Vipers do you really want or need in your collection?)
by Brian Willoughby, images by Doug Breithaupt
T H E
Johnny Lightning (GTS)
T H E
R U N N E R S
CHEVY CORVETTE C5 (13)
Hot Wheels (coupe)
Johnny Lightning (Indy Pace Car)
Johnny Lightning (convertible)
Racing Champions (coupe)
Motor Max (convertible)
Road Champs (coupe)
Hot Wheels Collectibles (not shown)
BMW Z3 (12)
Siku (top open
Siku (top closed)
Majorette (Z Coupe)
PORSCHE BOXSTER (10)
Thirty years ago, the ranks of manufacturers offering a line of 1:64 scale, diecast model cars was easily double the number of those selling a similar product today, and, the number could perhaps be tripled if all the recently discontinued product lines that were still available as new-old-stock were included in the tally. Granted, there were probably too many brands with too little distinction to survive in the marketplace at the time and eventually only those brands that were backed by massive financial resources and that possessed a keen sense of marketing and advertising would triumph. Unfortunately, this meant that some of the most detailed and finely crafted brands were among the earliest casualties in the march toward rationalization and small scale cars from Politoys' Penny series, Lone Star's Impy range and eventually Schuco's 1:66 miniatures were all, one by one, withdrawn from the market.
At its peak, the variety of small scale cars on offer was both remarkable and bewildering. During this time period, even vehicles that have historically been largely ignored made unexpectedly frequent appearances in the diecast catalogues alongside more eye-catching and stylish sports cars. In retrospect, it is interesting to note how well the automobile industries of certain countries were documented by the highly nationalistic selections made by diecast producers. For evidence, look no further than the heavily English flavored models generated by Lesney's Matchbox or Tomica's concentration upon Japanese vehicles. Then, the mighty fell and those that survived found diversification necessary to remain competitive. Tomica unveiled its F-series that consisted of models of vehicles made outside of Japan and Lesney began deleting some of its more unique offerings such as the M.G. 1100 and supplementing its range with more and more miniatures that it perceived to have more appeal in the important markets outside of the United Kingdom.
By the late 1970s, most of the older, European-based brands were struggling against high production costs and lost market share that had been picked up by increased competition from miniatures made in the Far East. By the early 1980s, Lesney, the stalwart of the industry, sadly fell into receivership behind other time-honored names such as Dinky, Mercury and Schuco. Barely clinging to life, Corgi Juniors limped along into the mid-1990s before being absorbed into Mattel's stranglehold on 1:64 scale toy cars and eventually the Matchbox brand name surrendered to the upstart from California. In the meantime, a few companies somehow managed to soldier along and even thrive on their own terms in niche markets: Siku continued to have a respectable showing in its home market of Germany and after retreating from the North American marketplace, both Tomica and Majorette have stayed the course and held their own in Japan and France, respectively. Nevertheless, it was during this period of turmoil that a peculiar trend began to surface in diecast manufacturing.
For some unknown reason, the remaining brands of 1:64 diecast vehicles began to emulate one another and when one introduced a new model of a popular car, all the others soon followed. The 1983 Pontiac Firebird was one of the earliest examples of this trend and only a year later, history repeated itself with the unveiling of the new Nissan 300ZX which nearly every active diecaster replicated in small scale. Old favorites were not immune either and the 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird and 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air began to witness a lot of action surrounding them some 25 to 30 years after the actual cars made their bow on the market.
Fast forward to today and note that the situation has not improved; rather there is less variety and more of the same from every manufacturer. Perhaps automotive licensing favors the manufacturers' new models as a subtle method of promotion; this would seem logical considering that certain cars tend to be reproduced excessively while other vehicles made by the same manufacturer are never bothered with. Some of it may be simple rivalry and the one-upmanship among the diecast companies that build the little cars (this is very obvious to collectors of 1:18 scale models where Maisto and Bburago are clearly attempting to out-do one another by offering models of the same cars.) And, it should not be discounted that manufacturers may be encouraged to tool up their own version of a toy car that has proven to be a big seller for the competition. Whatever the reason, collectors now see increased numbers of the same sports cars when gazing down the aisle of diecast miniatures.
While the BMW Z3 is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable cars on the road today, one has to ask why 12 different models of it are necessary, especially considering that many of BMW's highly noteworthy historic products such as the pre-war 327 and 328 and the stunning post-war 507 have never been honored in 1:64 scale. Likewise, how many Porsche Boxsters are too many? Yes, granted, its is another wonderfully fun car and a remarkable value, though does every diecast model maker have to generate a miniature of it? In conclusion, inclusion in the 'How many is too many' list is something of a dubious distinction; however, it will hopefully highlight the need for diversity in the world of toy cars. After all, how many Dodge Vipers do most collectors really need?