The Third Time's The Charmer

The third time's the charmer

November, 2008

The first segment of my thoughts and impressions as a collector of precision diecast models "The New Collector," was featured in issue #69 of the Die Cast Car Collectors Club (D4C) Journal. Well, it is now almost four years later, and my point of view has matured somewhat. Here then, is the third segment…

I've been collecting 1:24 precision diecast cars for over four years now (that sure went quickly), and I find that I'm just as addicted as ever, although my taste in models has been refined in many ways and expanded in others. I am much more particular about what I buy nowadays, but I have also begun to add 1:12 scale and custom models to my collection. Rumors have been circulating for years about a declining market for these little models, and much as we'd like to deny it, with today's beleaguered U.S. economy and production costs soaring in China, the number of new model introductions really has decreased noticeably. Still the mints have been churning out the occasional gem to thrill the collecting faithful among us.

The Internet continues to be the number one place to find out what's new, and to get a feel for what other collectors are thinking (and buying). Sites like The Diecast Zone, and JSS Software have been around for years, and have their own character and personality, whereas we are the new kids on the block here at Diecast Ramblings, and that gives us an opportunity to carve out our own niche. I'm delighted with the interesting and knowledgeable people that have already joined our new forums.

Rule number one is to keep it light and fun. I continue to see some folks posting elsewhere with their own agendas, and those who enjoy stirring up controversy. Sometimes it can get very annoying when petty little arguments and personal vendettas creep into the conversation. Maybe people have been stressed about gas prices or the economy--I don't know exactly why, but there has been more contention lately. Of course there are still lots of good guys posting too, especially here at Diecast Ramblings, and I'll keep reading and contributing and trying to keep it fresh and interesting so long as you folks keep coming back.

I still visit the other diecast websites, like D4C, JSS, and others as a reference source or for modeling tips, but having my own forums to manage and monitor now, I don't really have a lot of time to chat and participate in the other diecast forums like I used to. I still enjoy seeing the photos and reviews, and I especially enjoy "Playing With Cars" an online companion to Joe Kelly's exciting new magazine The Car Room, but there's no substitute for seeing a model in person, or at a minimum, hearing what collectors think once they get it in their own hands. Most reviews we see are from websites and magazines that receive free, handpicked review samples from the manufacturers. Not that they get better models or are biased, mind you. In-fact I believe they try to be as honest as possible with us, and I commend them for doing such a great job, but the potential for influence is there nonetheless. The best approach is to read all the online reviews and The Car Room magazine, listen to the comments of ordinary collectors like yourself on this site's forum and on others, and put it all together to paint an accurate picture before you buy.

The online auctions have really dried up in this tight economy too. Ebay and D4C auctions have fallen off sharply, with buyers reluctant to sell in such a depressed market, and who can blame them? It's just like your long-term investments--you don't sell when the market's down unless you have to. Of course it's a plus for buyers looking in the secondary market for models, and especially the rarities like the white Pebble Beach Lincoln or the Pierce Arrow with opening trunk. These are way off their record high prices right now, and ripe for the picking if that's your thing.

The number of new issues is down from prior years, and yet we still see that each manufacturer has their own strategy. Franklin Mint, the company that almost single-handedly started this hobby, continues producing older toolings with new paint colors, some of which are of questionable authenticity. That, combined with their higher prices has caused many collectors to shy away, preferring to wait for a sale that invariably happens if one is willing to wait. FM's new toolings, though few and far-between, have been pretty good overall with hidden hinges and sealed foil scripts among the upgrades. For their 25th anniversary, they even produced a model with a working convertible top--a first in 1:24 scale. Unfortunately, the model had problems and was not the big seller FM had hoped, so this relatively small limited edition that should have sold out by now sits languishing on shelves at $195 apiece. Too expensive, and not enough time spent working out the kinks. On a brighter note, the company's new ownership brings with it the possibility of change, and we're hoping it's for the better. Only time will tell.

The Danbury Mint's strategy of exclusively selling direct to the consumer continues to pay off. No bargain basement sales by haggard retailers, and total control of pricing and their customer service, which is still the best in the business. DM does a rare straight repaint (no upgrades at all) about once a year as an exclusive limited edition for its Classic Cars Preview Society members only, but other than that, everything that leaves Connecticut in one of their little white boxes is either a new tool, an updated/revised tool, or a repaint with upgrades like badging, hinges, etc. They have also kept their prices competitive, with the newest limited edition models selling for $149 as compared to $150 for an old repainted tool from FM. Guess who gets our money? One sad note (for some) is the recent observation that DM is beginning to de-content their new models. We have seen two new releases without working suspensions or working sun visors. Is this a big deal? For most of us, no--in fact, some are delighted at the prospect of an end to ride height problems that were often the result of trying to make a scale suspension operate. Still, it signals changes in the basic equation, where features were always added--never taken away. More likely than not this is an effort to keep costs from soaring beyond the reach of their target market, and they are probably very wise to do so. Let's just hope they don't start to cut corners where it matters.

West Coast Precision Diecast is about to start shipping what we hope will be their next big success story-the 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept car. If you saw the real thing at the auto shows back in 2003 then you will remember what a striking image it was. Brian has faithfully reproduced the car right down to the matching luggage in the trunk and wine glasses in the back seat. These are slated for a pre-Christmas release, and will hopefully infuse some much-needed cash into the WCPD coffers. They have so many models on the roster right now, but not enough pre-orders (or capital) to put them into production, so the Cadillac sales should be a definite plus. It has been said time and time again that they need to advertise and market their product better. I'm no expert, but I agree, and hope that whatever it takes, WCPD continues to produce the amazing models we've come to expect from them.

GMP (Georgia Marketing and Promotions) was rumored to be getting out of 1:24 scale, but apparently they aren't dead yet. There's a buzz going around about some new offerings in this scale, and we look forward to seeing what the folks down south have in store for us. Of course, they tend to specialize in hot rods and muscle cars, but you never know when a plain-Jane will be slipped in there for the rest of us. They continue to produce a range of 1:18 precision diecast, and innovative scale models like their dashboard series--not to mention scale guitars if that's your thing. You may have heard that George Bojaciuk has left to pursue other interests, among them a 1:24 diorama called Esler's Garage, which is due to start shipping soon, and promises to be a big hit with collectors. We wish "G-Bo" the best with his new venture, and hope we will see more from him and also from GMP.

CMC hasn't done much lately in 1:24 scale, but they've had some stellar releases in 1:18, like their recent Porsche 901. Their Ferraris, Mercedes, and other foreign marques are also exemplary, and typical of the precision engineering and attention to detail the Germans are noted for. There have been few rumors, but a fervent wish expressed by many collectors, is that CMC will start producing more models in 1:24 scale. We second the notion, and will keep our fingers crossed that somebody at CMC is listening to American collectors. Their offerings may be a bit pricey, but you always get what you pay for. Just take a look at Bob A's photos of the 1937 Horch and you'll see what I mean. The cloth convertible top on that model looks for all the world like it operates, and that you could just put it up with a touch of your finger. It doesn't of course, but that's how good the detail is. If FM had done their 25th Anniversary Hudson this way, they might have sold a lot more of them.

So what do you do when new releases are down, and you've already acquired most of the discontinued models you want? Branch out! Into other scales, or other categories of diecast models. This year I added a 1:12 scale model and a Custom to my collection--two categories I never considered before. You can also divert your diecast dollars into displays, whether you're buying new cases, lighting old ones, or buying dioramas and accessories like garage tools and scale figurines. Whatever you do, you have to expand your realm of collecting to keep up the pace of recent years. Otherwise, you can just spend less and be more selective about what you DO buy, and this is the route most collectors seem to have taken judging from the declining sales. This also means the competition for our dollars is stronger than ever--a danger for those manufacturers content to rest on their laurels while others innovate, and amaze with new offerings.

Collecting is often a solitary hobby, but it's at its best when shared with a friend or loved one. I enjoy looking at my models every day, but when a visitor stops to admire them or ask questions it gets much more exciting. My enthusiasm is usually fairly controlled, but when somebody asks me about that 1:12 DM Caddy sitting up on the top shelf, my eyes light up as I describe the many working features and the number of parts it has. The excitement is often contagious, and leads to more questions: "is that a Jaguar?" or "we had a '57 Mercury just like that when I was young." Since we don't entertain everyday (well, most of us), we most often find our camaraderie through fellow collectors online, and seek a place where we can share the fun with others. That's where the Diecast websites come into play as a meeting place for those that share the passion, or even just the interest. Each website has its own distinct personality and cast of characters, and you may find you like one more than another, but there is no reason you can't enjoy all of them for their unique flavor and what each has to offer. If you're looking to make friends, there is no limit on where you can go to meet them, and that's the way it should be.