The devil is in the details

Published 07/11/21

When is a model good? And when is it bad? It all depends on accuracy. If, in scale, the model represents well the real car, then it’s obviously a good model. Though I think this is patently obvious, a 1:43 model can never be exactly like the real deal but 43× smaller. It’s just impossible to have ALL the details. Somewhere the model manufacturer will have to compromise. Either because of financial constraints or because of manufacturing issues, the manufacturer will have to cut back somewhere. Therefore, you can’t expect a 1:43 model too have 100% of the details seen on the real deal.

Very few 1:43 models have this level of detail (AUTOart’s Jaguar D-Type).

That said, detail level is not the most important factor. No amount of modeled detail will make a disproportionate or out of shape 1:43rd model good. If the model car doesn’t respect the real car’s shapes and proportions, it’s a bad model. No questions asked, it’s a basket case. I won’t get into that, since I collect so-called “scale replicas” (NOT TOYS) and as a norm they competently represent the real car. That being so, my focus here is the amount and quality of small details on the model. The presence or absence of details will make the model good or bad. And just as important, some details stand out more than others. Well, depending on who you ask, of course.

From top to bottom: Minichamps (#22), Minichamps (#18) and Premium ClassiXXs (#10).

Case in point: wheels. For me at least, an accurate wheel makes a lot of difference. I think the best way to illustrate this is showing wire wheels. Borrani wheels are hard to recreate in 1:43. When made of plastic, with too thick wires, they look toyish and ruin the looks of the model. But when made of metal, by photo-etching, they look great. In the photo above you can see the difference, especially with the W196 Stromlinie #22. It’s not bad, but the wheels on both the W196 Stromlinie #18 and W196 #10 are much more delicate. Interestingly, both W196 Stromlinie #18 and #22 are from Minichamps.

From top to bottom: Altaya (#6), Spark (#81) and Ixo (#50).

And if we are looking at wheels, let me talk about tires. A marked tire gives a model a much more realistic look. Above I selected three models, from Altaya, Spark and Ixo. As you see, the best looking model is Ixo’s C6.R #50, just because it has marked tires. Even though Spark’s XKR #81 has nicer rims then Altaya’s ORECA O1 #6, the lack of tire markings kind of equalizes both. An important factor here, and I’ll get back to this later, is that the Spark model is much more expensive then both the Ixo and Altaya.

Ebbro on the left, HPI on the right. Little details that make quite a difference.

Another aspect that helps a model to look good is aerials. Above, on the left you see a close-up of Ebbro’s Toyota 88C, and on the right HPI’s Sauber C9. On the HPI aerials are very delicate and realistic, with different materials for base and rod. On the Ebbro the antenna is a single solid piece made of the same plastic. Though a small detail, without a doubt HPI did a better job, and in the end the C9 looks more realistic than the 88C.

Zytek Z11SN from Spark on the left and Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S from Ixo on the right.

Interior detail is also something that can help a model look more or less realistic. However, in closed 1:43 models there’s not much to see inside. This is much more a factor in convertibles or open-top race cars. And again, not something major, but something that can help a model’s overall score. As an example, look at the the Z11SN and Roadster-S above. Spark went with molded seat belts, while Ixo used cloth belts and photo-etched buckles glued to the seat. Because of this small detail, Ixo’s Roadster-S cockpit looks more realistic.

Humble Atlas pw silver 959 and fancy-schmancy Spark red 959.

And now it’s time to talk about price. As a rule, the more expensive the model, the better it looks. In other words, a US$ 41.12 Spark has to look better than a US$ 6.43 pw. That’s what I payed (with shipping) respectively on my Spark red 959 and on my Atlas (pw) silver 959. But if you look at the photo above, it’s hard to see why the Spark is 6× more expensive than the pw. Of course the Spark is better, no doubt about it. It has better wheels, better windscreen wipers and better tail lights, and still, the Atlas holds its own. In essence, the pw is not 6× worse, and that is something to consider.

Brumm (#21), Minichamps (#19) and Spark (#20). Windshield wipers look progressively better from left to right.

In other words, you also have to factor in bang-for-the-buck. Sometimes you will get just a little better detail level but for a huge premium in price. As an example, look at the three 917K above. A massive price difference between them, but detail level does not differ as much. What I’m saying is that don’t take for granted that a cheaper model is automatically rubbish. I have a few cheap models that are as good or even better than something from a premium brand. Specially if you’re looking at an older mold, like the Jaguar XKR #81 I cited earlier.

Poor wheels, headlights, wipers, everything. Objectively, a bad model this Gordini, but the only game in town. Is it worth buying?

In conclusion, there’s a lot of factors that make a model good or bad, and personal preferences play a part. Just as important, sometimes a bad model is the only game in town – sometimes you don’t have many options. Nevertheless, a prestigious brand is not a guarantee of a good model, or at least may not be a good return for your money. As I like to say, buy the model, not the brand. That being so, it is interesting to factor in price. So if possible, before you buy a model, it is a good idea to do some research.

Whoa, that came out longer than I expected.
Now I need coffee ☕.

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