Guest Posts Posts

Swiss-Made Sports and Luxury Cars in Full Size and in Miniature

By dbeck

Daniel Beck lives in Marly in the Canton of Fribourg (Switzerland) and is a long time supporter of hobbyDB abd the creator of  the popular model car website modelcars.mbeck.ch where you can get information about the model car scene of 71 countries, illustrated by some examples from his collection.

Switzerland never had an important car industry. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were numerous small producers, but most of them went out of business during World War I or soon afterwards. Among the few exceptions, Martini continued production until 1934, while Saurer, Berna and FBW specialized into trucks and buses. However, several Swiss companies in the second half of the 20th century made small series of exclusive cars, and some of these cars have also been modeled by contemporary or current model car manufacturers. Let’s have a look at Monteverdi, Felber, Sbarro, and Enzmann cars in full size and in miniature.

Monteverdi

In the 1970s and 1980s, the most important Swiss car manufacturer was Monteverdi. Peter Monteverdi had already constructed several racing cars called MBM and ran a dealership handling Ferrari, BMW and Lancia cars in Binningen near Basel when in 1967, he started production of high performance cars powered by Chrysler engines and bodied by renowned Italian coachbuilders, first Frua, then Fissore. About 60 cars per year were made in the early 1970s. The first model was the 375S High Speed two-seater coupé, followed by the 375L four-seater coupé, the 375C and Palm Beach convertibles, and the 375/4 luxury sedan. Peter Monteverdi reportedly offered the 375/4 to the Swiss government as a state car, but the Federal Counsellors were not interested – they used Cadillacs in the 1970s. A super sports car called Hai 450 debuted in 1970, but only two prototypes were built. By the mid-1970s, after the oil crisis, Monteverdi started producing “boutique cars”, technically unchanged serial cars with modified bodywork and tuned-up interior. His greatest success was a luxurious off-road car, the Safari, based on the International Scout, of which at least several hundred items were built between 1976 and 1982. The Sahara was another SUV with an only slightly altered body of the International Scout. Furthermore, Monteverdi used the boutique car system on two sedans, the Sierra (1977-1982) based on the Plymouth Volare, and the Tiara (1982-1983) based on the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Serial production ceased in 1984, and the Monteverdi facilities in Binningen became a museum. In 1990, Peter Monteverdi shortly ran his own Formula 1 team after having bought the Onyx racing team. His last car was the Hai 650 F1 super sports car presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1992, a single piece using remaining parts from the Formula 1 project.

Monteverdi 375S Frua by Matrix

Monteverdi 375S Frua by Matrix

Monteverdi 375L by Dinky Toys

Monteverdi 375L by Dinky Toys

The models: Contemporary diecast models of Monteverdi cars were made by various manufacturers in the early 1970s. Dinky Toys produced a 1:43 scale model of the 375L four-seater coupé from 1970 to 1974, painted in metallic red (no. 190). Matchbox released a 3-inch model of the Hai 450 in 1973 (no. MB-3d). This was issued in various non-realistic colors. In the USA, later models were sold under the “Rallye Royale” name. The Hai 450 was also modeled by Pilen from Spain in 1:43 scale, and Juguinsa from Venezuela released a model of the Hai from the same mold. Several highly detailed 1:43 scale resin models of Monteverdi cars have been introduced in recent years: 375L, Hai 450 and Safari have been made by Neo, while Matrix has released a 375S with Frua body. As of June 2016, a model of the 375/4 sedan has been announced by Kess.

Felber

Like Monteverdi, Felber Automobiles, based in Morges on Lake Geneva, made exclusive cars in the 1970s and early 1980s, but even in lower quantities. Willy Felber ran a dealership for Ferrari and Rolls Royce cars called “Haute Performance Morges” before he introduced his first own car in 1974, the Felber FF. It was a roadster with a body reminding of the 1947 Ferrari 166 Spyder, but based on the Ferrari 330 GTC from the late 1960s.  About a dozen of these cars were built. Felber also made two shooting brakes, based on Ferrari 365 GTC/4 and 365 GT4 2+2, and a beach car based on a 365 GTB/4 Spyder for a customer in the Middle East, but these cars probably remained one-offs. Two more roadsters were built on Lancia chassis, and then Felber specialized into customized versions of production cars: Apart from a new front design and some details, the bodies remained unchanged, but the cars got luxurious interiors and could be equipped with more powerful engines. The first of these cars were the Excellence from 1977 based on a Pontiac Firebird, and a Felber Version of the Lancia Beta. They were followed by the small Rubis (Autobianchi A112), the Pacha (Buick Skylark) and a VW Golf Special.  12 items of the Excellence and 35 of the Pacha were built, but Willy Felber’s biggest success was the Oasis, a luxurious off-roader based on the International Scout and a direct competitor to Monteverdi’s Safari and Sahara SUVs. About 70 items were built and most of them sold to the Middle East. Production of Felber cars ceased in 1984.

 

Felber FF Ferrari by Tron

Felber FF Ferrari by Tron

The models: Several manufacturers of 1:43 scale resin handbuilt models have produced models of Felber cars since the 1990s, but so far they were apparently only interested in the Ferrari-based items. Tron from Italy has released a nice model of the FF Ferrari in their “Glamour” range; another Italian manufacturer of highly detailed handbuilt models, ABC/Brianza, has modelled the 365 GTB/4 Beach Car and the 365 GTC/4 shooting brake, while a model of the 365 GT4 2+2 shooting brake was made by Swiss Mini 43 from Switzerland in the early 2000s. As of June 2016, no major manufacturer has ever released a model of an Oasis, Excellence, Pacha or another Felber car.

Sbarro

Franco Sbarro, a mechanic from Lecce in Southern Italy, settled in Switzerland in 1957. Ten years later, after having worked for Georges Filipinetti, owner of the Scuderia Filipinetti racing team, he founded his own small factory to produce sports and racing cars in Grandson on Lake Neuchâtel in 1967. The first Sbarro car was a replica of the Lola T70, then he released various sports coupés of his own design, such as the Tiger with a V8 mid-engine by Mercedes-Benz, or the Stash powered by a VW K70 engine, and like Monteverdi and Felber, he also offered luxurious SUVs in the late 1970s which were even more exclusive than their Swiss competitors, such as the six-wheeled Windhawk built for King Khaled of Saudi-Arabia in 1979. Most Sbarro designs were single pieces or made in very small numbers: about a dozen of the Lola coupés, five Stash, twelve items of the four-wheeled Windhound SUV. But Sbarro also produced small-series replicas of Bugatti Royale, Ford GT40, Mercedes-Benz 540K, and most notably a BMW 328 of which more than 100 items were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Later Franco Sbarro concentrated on concept cars and founded the Sbarro Espera school in Montbéliard, France, which offers training in car design and mechanics. Its creations are regularly exhibited at Geneva Motor Show.

Sbarro Isatis by Ministar

Sbarro Isatis by Ministar

Assystem City Car promotional model

Assystem City Car promotional model

The models: So far, no manufacturer of diecast models has produced a Sbarro car in miniature, and there are no models of the early 1970s designs at all, but several small companies have released 1:43 scale resin models of later Sbarro concept cars. Ministar from France made the 1993 Isatis and the 1995 Alcador sports car concepts, while another French company, Ministyle, focused on Sbarro designs from the late 1990s based on less exclusive production cars: Citroën Xsara Picasso, Renault Clio and Scenic.  The 1996 Sbarro Issima, Sbarro’s interpretation of a big Alfa Romeo roadster, was modelled by Tecnomodel. But the widest range of Sbarro models has been made available by ABC/Brianza in their range of highly detailed handbuilt resin models: Besides other models of the Alcador, they modelled various Sbarro concepts based on Ferrari cars, including the 2002 Christelle, the 2004 and 2005 SB1 Tornado, the 2010 Autobau and the 2012 Memory 400i, a tribute to the famous Ferrari 250 GTO, but also the Mercedes-Benz-based GT12 from 2000. Another Sbarro design which has been reproduced in miniature was the 2007 Assystem City Car, a prototype of a small city car with a diamond-shaped wheel-design allowing an extremely small turning cycle. A model of this concept car has been offered by Assystem as a promotional item. It is a simple reproduction made of foam plastic in about 1:30 scale.

Enzmann

Emil Enzmann, a doctor from Schüpfheim near Lucerne whose family owned a hotel and a garage, designed an affordable sports roadster based on a VW chassis in the 1950s. His prototype was shown at the Comptoir Suisse fair in Lausanne in 1956, and in the following year the car was presented at stand number 506 of the Frankfurt Motor Show. “506” then became the definite name of the car. In 1958 production started in a small series. The roadster had a glass fibre body and some very modern features for a 1950s road car, such as bucket seats, safety belts, an integrated roll-bar and a safety paddling in front of the passenger. But the most striking characteristic was the absence of doors – driver and passenger had to climb over the side walls by means of the steps inserted in the niches on both sides of the car. The advantage of this unusual design was high stability and low weight: The complete car weighted only 550 kg. Most Enzmann customers didn’t choose the standard VW engine, but preferred tuned engines by MAG and Okrasa, and sometimes even more powerful Porsche engines, which made the light car very competitive. A special version prepared for mountain races was equipped with the 130 bhp Porsche Carrera engine. The road car was sold either as a “Spider” with small windscreen or as a “Cabriolet” with larger windscreen and optional soft top. A retractable hardtop was also available. About 100 cars were built until the early 1960s, but since 2001, Karl Enzmann and Werner Schreiber, son and son-in-law of the company founder, have produced replicas of the original Enzmann car to order, now based on a modernized VW Beetle chassis.

Enzmann 506 by Renncenter.ch

Enzmann 506 by Renncenter.ch

Enzmann 506 by SwissMini43

Enzmann 506 by SwissMini43

The models: The Enzmann 506 has never been modeled by diecast manufacturers so far, but there are several hand built models, mostly made by Swiss companies. A 1:24 scale model was released by Renncenter.ch, a slot car racing centre in Uzwil in the Eastern part of Switzerland, in December 2006. The model has a body shell made of PET and was available either as a slot car or as a detailed static model. It was made to order for some years, but according to the Renncenter.ch website, production has now ceased. All other existing Enzmann models are 1:43 scale: Swiss-Mini-43 released a  Cabriolet in 1996. This model is made of resin and is rather simple, without any photo-etched parts. The most common colors are orange and red. PE43, another Swiss manufacturer usually specialized in Borgward models, offered special versions of the Swiss-Mini-43 model in mint green or silver with white wall tyres. Finally a heavy 1:43 scale model of the Spider has been made by Emmy Models from Berne. It was originally released as a road car in 1996, later also as a race car in red or blue. After longer break, this model was reissued in 2013 and has been released in various colors since then. While the older models are fully made of white metal, the new models have a resin body. The parts are molded by Tin Wizard in Germany before the models are assembled and finished in Switzerland. The most recent 1:43 scale Enzmann model is the first one which has been made by a non-Swiss model manufacturer: Neo released a resin model in early 2015. For their first issue, they chose a version which had never been modeled by other manufacturers before: a white Cabriolet with red hardtop.

Conclusion

Like their prototypes, models of exclusive Swiss cars have usually only been made in small quantities. Several Sbarro and Felber designs have been modelled by Italian and French manufacturers of hand built models, but so far these companies have focused on designs based on Ferrari cars which are thus interesting for collectors of Ferrari models. Enzmann models could only be found in the small ranges of Swiss model car manufacturers until recently. Only the Monteverdi cars were modeled by big contemporary diecast toy and model car manufacturers. In the last years, the availability of detailed 1:43 scale models of exclusive Swiss cars has remarkably improved thanks to the efforts of Neo and other companies producing Chinese-made resin models. Due to the increasing interest of these companies in rare and uncommon cars, it is quite possible that we’ll see more models of Swiss cars from the 1970s and 1980s in the future. Since Monteverdi, Felber and Sbarro were among the first companies to sell luxury SUVs, Monteverdi Sahara, Felber Oasis, or even Sbarro Windhawk could be particularly interesting projects for today’s model manufacturers.

This article is certainly not a comprehensive overview. Furthermore, a much wider range of models of Swiss vehicles exists in other fields – racing cars, most notably sports prototypes and Formula One cars by the Sauber team, and commercial vehicles, i.e. trucks and buses by Saurer, Berna, FBW, NAW and Hess. The hope is that all of these are soon added to hobbyDB!

Designer Notes: Unreleased Heller Matra kits

Lincoln Futura Philippe de Lespinay

Philippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller Matra MS80

In 1969, I decided to make four kits of Formula One cars, but only three were produced. Unfortunately and for reasons I do not know, the tooling for Matra MS80 was never built.  It is so sad, that this kit for the was never issued. The car was the Formula One world champion in 1969.

Heller Matra MS80


Heller Matra 650

Heller Matra 650

Heller Matra 650

I think what might be my best drawing and kit concept was that of this MATRA MS650. Drawn in 1968, this model was never issued for an unknown reason. 

It would have made the most detailed, most fantastic kit ever issued in the 1/24 scale.

The MATRA 650 was shown in the 1971 catalog. Why was it not produced remains a mystery to this day. Also shown are the Porsche 908, a revamped (and inaccurate) Porsche 907, and the Ferrari 512M that was issued that year.

Heller Matra 650 Heller Matra 650

Mini Mini vs Mini Not-So-Mini

When BMW took over the Mini brand of automobiles, enthusiasts held their breath waiting to see what sort of shepherd they would be for the iconic marque. The good news is they kept the factory in Oxford, and they designed a car that echoed the proportions along with some of the quirky details of the old car. On the other hand, many purists were upset that the overall size of the car grew significantly. 

Testors joy ride mini cooper

A good way to compare the two cars is to look at two 1:18 scale models.  In full size, the reincarnated Mini is about 20 percent larger in every dimension than the original. The proportions hold up here, seeing them at this size really brings that difference home. In one corner we have the Testors 1959 Mini, and in the other, the Joy Ride Austin Powers “new” Mini. Both models are out of production and gaining collector value in the secondary market, although affordable versions can still be found online.

Testors mini cooper

The Testor’s model came as a kit requiring some simple assembly. It’s odd that a company best known for making paint and glue for model builders would offer a kit with a pre-painted body that screws together, so no paint or glue is required.

joy ride mini cooper

On the other hand, a bit of paint would have made for a more accurate model, as the engine block is bright red instead of the correct greenish-blue of a real Cooper. The car seems a little pudgier and rounder than the original — especially in the roof area — but the overall shape is unmistakable. 

This model of the new Mini has an interesting lineage. It was marketed under the Joy Ride brand, a division of Racing Champions/Ertl several years ago. When you take the car off its base, however, the name underneath reads “Solido.”

In all likelihood Joy Ride needed to produce a model quickly to take advantage of the Austin Powers license, so they made a deal to use Solido’s molds. Also on that base you will find annoyingly long molded shafts to accept the screws that hold it to the base. 

Testors joy ride mini cooper

Here’s a perplexing detail: despite the fact that the Mini represents the UK as much as fish and chips or The Beatles, the Union Jack roof graphic is incorrectly executed on both cars — although the same can be said for the cars upon which these models are based. On the proper Union Jack the broad diagonal white stripes should line up straight across the flag in an X shape, while the thin red stripes should be offset in a pinwheel effect. The original Mini never did get the offset right, although the factory version of the modern Mini approximates it pretty well. However, the movie car wasn’t factory-painted; it was by the film crew’s prop department, and they completely rearranged the spacing so the stripes could be extended down the sides of the doors and the hood. The upshot is that although the graphics on the roofs are a far cry from an actual Union Jack, the “errors” on the models are fairly consistent to those on the real cars.

Testors joy ride mini cooper

Flag flaws aside, these cars are both a hoot to drive in real life, and good fun to have in your collection. And as a bonus they take up less space on your shelf!

This article originally appeared on diecastx.magazinecom

Designer Notes: Heller McLaren M7A

Lincoln Futura Philippe de LespinayPhilippe de Lespinay started with Heller, the French model kit company in the 1960s as a designer and project engineer. He also also worked for Cox, who are now known for their remote control and gas powered vehicles, but also created many kits over the years. More recently, he was the curator of the Los Angeles Slot Car Museum. And he’s on the hobbyDB Advisory Board, so yeah, he’s our kind of guy.

hobbyDB will be regularly sharing his insights on particular models he has worked on including production kits, never-produced projects, and his own custom builds. We hope you enjoy the journey through his career as well.

Read more about his history in the toy and model business here.

Heller McLaren M7A

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

In 1969, I decided to make four kits of Formula One cars, but only three were produced. Unfortunately and for reasons I do not know, the tooling for MATRA MS80 was never built. But the basic 3-view and parts-distribution drawings did survive in my files.(We’ll cover that kit in a future entry)

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

The McLaren kit could be built with or without the side tanks. Again, another model that drawn from pictures and not from the real car, but it is not that far off, is it?

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

I painted the illustration below for the 1970 catalog in less than 1 hour, because time was of the essence. It was done with China ink and water. 

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

This is the only surviving document of the kit’s parts distribution. It was published in Champion, a French magazine, in 1969.

Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

This model has been released with different box art over the years, such as the one below.Philippe de Lespinay McLaren M7A Heller

From Newsletters to Databases: The Evolution of Information

Ferrari

by Karl Schnelle.  This article appeared first on MAR Online, an excellent diecast blog and is republished with kind permission of both the author and publication.

I’ve been thinking lately about how our hobby has changed and how we get information about our hobby. Back when I started collecting as a kid in the US, there were not many, or really any, model car collectors in my city.  I somehow found a newsletter called Trader’s Horn  (1974-2005) that was a combination editorial by a knowledgeable collector and sales/wants ads. Then along came the MCCA newsletter (Michigan) replaced by Model Car Journal (California) in the 1970’s and soon gone by the early 1980’s.

Traders Horn newsletter

There were no toy shows that I knew of back then. After I moved to Chicago in the 1980’s, I discovered the big shows there and in Toledo, OH. Shows were good sources for adding to the collection but not really for knowledge about the hobby.

During that time, I discovered three books by Cecil Gibson from the UK (one is pictured below), then the series of books published by Schiffer in the US (still in print!), written by Dr Ed Force -about Dinky Toys, Corgi Toys, Matchbox, Solido, etc. So in the 1980’s, books become the main source of discovery about variations, gaps in my collection and what to look for next.

Diny Toys newsletter

Chicago had huge newsstands back then, so I discovered the first issue of Model Auto Review (1982) and  also Model Collector (in its fifth year, 1991). All the above was the status quo until May 1997. That’s when I joined a new website called eBay… perhaps you’ve heard of it? This did not replace books and magazines, but it did replace Trader’s Horn and many toy fairs.

Many online forums have popped up since then, but if you think about it, eBay has become the default database for collectors to lookup not ‘value’ but also variations and even find gaps in your collection. I’ll go to eBay many times to look something up with no intention of buying it. So for the last 19 years I have been doing that.

Then last year, I discovered a new site, hobbyDB, designed to be a database for collectibles of all kinds. The admin team are model car collectors so the DB is currently dominated by that subject now. With fellow collectors’ help, I have added sections on Märklin RAK and RAMI. Now I’m thinking about how to approach my other favorites: such as Tekno, Vilmer, etc.

With two online ‘databases’ now, I wanted to compare their content. One way to do that is in the graph below. I selected 10 representative brands to compare – some that I thought were popular and some that I like myself. hobbyDB counts are along the bottom x-axis and eBay counts are on the left y-axis.

hobbyDB versus eBay chart

One learning from this analysis was that Hot Wheels is amazing.  Or should I say epic, because I had to use log scale on the graph; that means it does not go 10 – 20 – 30 – … but 10 – 100 – 1000 – 10,000 – … because Hot Wheels are sooo much larger than the other manufacturers, both for eBay and for hobbyDB.  Perhaps the future of our model car hobby rests with Hot Wheels?  I do not know…

Another learning was that the trends on the two databases are about the same. eBay has many more items but they list every example for sale; hobbyDB only lists unique examples. In a recent blog post, that is in fact what one of the hobbyDB admins said:  “On hobbyDB, [a collector] can see everything that’s ever existed, regardless of whether it’s for sale or been sold recently.”

Just by coincidence, I also picked three that all cluster together in the middle: Brooklin Models, Franklin Mint,  and Dinky Toys.  I was surprised that they had such similar number of listings on each site.

On the low end of the scale are the Märklin RAK and RAMI, both brands that I helped upload to hobbyDB with 66 items each, but eBay lists many more RAMI items for sale than RAK. Is this indicative of the number made per item? Both are old and obsolete now. The Batmobile phenomenon is also shown on the graph: hobbyDB has 20 different Batmobiles, but eBay lists 500 for sale!

Hot Wheels Epic poster

To understand more about the Batmobile and the Hot Wheels markets, read another recent blog from another of the hobbyDB admins: How Big are the Collectible Markets? Are we really spending $200 billion every year on them? You might notice I included the brands from this blog in my graph above. I think it’s a fascinating story. The Evolution of Information deserves some more thought.