Model Reviews: 1:18 SCALE! SunStar 1956 Mercury Montclair Coupe & 1959 Mercury Park Lane Hardtop

Reviewed and Photographed by Peter Brown

This is our first close-up look at some of the new crop of higher-end 1:18 Scale models from the folks at SunStar, who were kind enough to provide us with a pair of Mercurys, a '56 Montclair Coupe and a '59 Park Lane Hardtop. Many of our visitors and members here at DR focus on 1:24 scale models for a number of reasons, but chiefly because of the high levels of detail and accuracy, so we're typically reviewing stuff that sells for nearly double the sticker price. Of course, the 1:24 models appeal on other levels too, for instance their size requires less display space, and to modelers who built 1:25 scale kits growing up, the size feels familiar and connects with those memories. But there are, and will probably always be, cars and other automotive subjects that slip through the cracks, and that haven't been done in 1:24 scale. That creates an opportunity.

SunStar has seized this opportunity, and begun to feed this unmet need among diecast collectors. Some of their early forays into the precision realm were more successful than others, but each one filled a void among diecast collections, and that's not a bad way to get things started. Remember how much everyone was dying for a '59 Impala until West Coast launched its diecast line with that very model? The choices, then as now, are not accidental. These two Mercurys are a perfect example—a subject nobody's touched. If you've been waiting for one how could you resist?

It's hardly fair to compare these to new 1:24 scale models selling at nearly twice the price, but they do raise the ante by loading up on more precision features—the bells and whistles the 1:24 crowd has come to expect on their models. Looking closely at this pair, it's fair to say they have more in common with their precision brethren than you might think. So let's start with the similarities.

The paint quality is up to a very high standard, doors are mounted on very sturdy feeling hidden hinges, hood is on scissor hinges, and the trunk has realistic, slim hinges. The engine compartment is fully detailed with wires, hoses, and miniature labeling. The trunk has what looks like a properly patterned mat, a spare tire, jack, and jacking instructions. The fit of the hood, doors, and trunk is excellent. Scripts are done in delicate foil, which look great, but tend to be problematic if they're not sealed properly with a clear coat. We all know about this from similar experiences with our 1:24 models. These don't look sealed, but it's a pre-production sample and may get some tweaking before release. I'm checking with SunStar to find out. Nicely replicated full wheel covers on body-colored rims and real rubber tires with tread patterns complete the effect.

The separately cast emblems, door handles, and window cranks look great on these models, but there are some clever combinations of finishes which look like separately casts pieces and are not. You can hardly tell without magnification, but some parts are either partially chromed, or more likely chromed and then partly painted over. This latter solution has been problematic in the past at times (FM Black 1957 Brougham doors come to mind), but it has been done successfully on more recent models, so it may not be an issue at all.

Proportions look to be spot-on, and ride-height looks pretty good too. These models boast working suspensions, and they even have the heft of a 1:24, with a couple of pounds of metal and other bits and pieces. That inexplicably lends more of a quality feel to them. All in all, they stack up very well against their smaller cousins despite a lower parts count, which they've managed in part by doing more painted details. It seems all the important bits are up to a very high standard.

In the detail shot below, you really can't tell it's a 1:18 model. It looks as good as a 1:24 and could almost be convincing as a 1:1.

Now we get to the differences. Obviously they're larger and require more display space, but what are the more subtle differences? Well, under the hood you'll find most of what you'd expect on a detailed model, including labels and wiring/plumbing. But here's one of those areas where they've used paint to pick out details rather then separately cast parts (note the wing nut on the air cleaner). Overall the effect is good, but the variety of materials used in the more expensive 1:24 models gives them an edge in the realism department-at least under the hood.

In more visible areas like the interior, they've used soft-touch vinyl seating, for a realistic look and feel. Seatbacks tilt forward, and they even made an operating fold down center armrest for the rear bench. Dashboard gauges are readable, but not enclosed behind a clear screen, which makes them look more like just decals. Also, under magnification, we see what looks like applied chrome foil accents on the dash and horn rim instead of separately cast and chrome plated pieces. To the naked eye these are quite passable and don't detract from the overall effect, especially when paired up with things like what appears to be a photo-etched foil script (or a darn good decal) on the glove box door.

Inside the trunk, these models are getting very close to "mint" level detail, with the liner, spare, and jack all nicely replicated.

They look good from almost any angle, though the undersides are a bit lacking in detail. There's enough there to fool the eye when you're looking up at it reflected off the ground as in these shots, but pick it up and turn it over and it's not so convincing. There are some collectors, who like to turn their models over and find the same high detail level as the rest of the model, but it doesn't matter a lot to me personally, and I find this to be a good compromise between cost and detail.

One more area where you'll find some differences from the precision scale models is in the packaging. These still use a screw-down base plate, which isn't noticeable once displayed if you don't turn the model upside down. This in combination with clear plastic straps wrapped around the model to secure the hood, trunk, and doors, alleviates the need for a Styrofoam pod, an allows them to use lightweight outer boxes. My only issue is that those straps can scuff the paint jobs ever so slightly, so I'd like to see them replaced with something better. Instead of the typical window box we're used to seeing, they've made the packaging a bit classier by adding a flap which completely covers the window side of the box. This way you can still lift the flap in the store to check out the model inside, but the package retains the more premium look of a non-window box.

Wipers on the Park Lane are movable, but on my pre-production sample they didn't seem to sit right in the down position so I posed them up instead for the shots. I would be willing to give up that operating feature and not miss it, and just have them fixed in the down position.

This monster was built on a Lincoln chassis back in the day, so in this scale it's huge! The "anodized" and chrome trim on this model are extensive and well-done, however the chrome on the doors is picked out from behind the red in a single casting, and upon very close inspection you can see a little "under-spray" where the chrome edge peeks out a bit further than it should. As these photos attest, it displays very well and this is truly a minor nit.

I have to tip my hat to SunStar for choosing a subject like this, and getting it so right. It's a complex shape compounded with other complex shapes, and they did a great job of capturing the feel of this car.

Under the hood, we again see all the requisite details-certainly enough to satisfy somebody like me, but a real motor-head might find the appearance a little clunky or plastic-looking. More parts in differing materials would certainly remedy that, but their added cost might not be worth it to many diecast fans, especially those on a budget.

The dash on this one is accomplished better than on the Montclair, and the door panels are great too. Soft-touch vinyl seats are nice, though I might have like to see a little more detail such as simulated grain or stitching. Overall the interior is superior to anything I've seen at this price point. These Platinum Collection models tend to retail for under $80.

Separate photo-etched letters on the Park Lane's trunk lid are fantastic, and the inside of the trunk isn't bad either, though the liner looks a little plain. Not sure if that's accurate, but it's certainly good enough to pass a cursory inspection.

Mounting posts on the lower taillights (set into the bumper) are evident, but not terribly intrusive on the red lenses. This is one area they could probably improve upon without a lot of added cost. The main (upper) lenses look great.

Quite an impressive beast, and well captured in this scale model.

Don't they make a pretty pair?

My reviews tend to be very detailed and critical, but I like to present a balanced view including both pluses and minuses, and my readers expect nothing less. SunStar has really impressed me with these two models, and I am amazed at the realism and detail they offer for the money. They have most of the visual details of more expensive 1:24 scale models, and it looks like they got all the important stuff right; talk about bang for your buck. Where they have compromised detail to cost considerations, they have deliberately chosen areas which aren't visible from up on the shelf, like the underside and to a lesser degree the trunk and engine bay. Also, by offering subjects we can't get in other scales they are really filling a gap, which is always a good thing in this hobby. Even though I personally don't collect this larger scale due to space limitations, you can bet that when they make a model of a car I've been waiting for, I'll be first in line to add one to my collection. I look forward to seeing more models of this caliber from SunStar, and you'll be among the first to hear about them when I do.