Advisory Council Posts

Designer Notes: Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

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 Matra MS5 Formula 2

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

For many of these kits, there is very little original information still available. I was able to scan some of the prints I had kept, that constitute apparently the only surviving company archive as things were thrown about as the company changed hands several times.

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

All what survived of the MATRA MS5 documentation for the mold makers. This was the second kit I did for Heller after the Alpine A210. The model and decals represented the car of Jean-Pierre Beltiose.

Heller Matra Forumla 2 kit

Here I am in the MATRA MS5 at Velizy. This was Joe Schlesser’ F2 car with the Cosworth FVA engine. Great and fast car!

Heller Matra MS5 Formula 2

In the early 1970s, AMT released some Heller kits under their own brand. The Matra was paired up with aHeller Brabham Cosworth BT15 F3 Formule III kit and featured new box art.

AMT Matra F2 Brabham F3

Diecast Car Toy Shows and Conventions – a Continental Divide?

Rob with just a small portion of his collection.

Rob Graves is a Hot Wheels collector and was the creator and for 16 years the only operator of the South Texas Diecast database.  He is now the Head of Data for the hobbyDB project.


When I met my European hobbyDB colleagues Andrew and Christian, I was surprised to find that on “the other side of the pond,” even the biggest diecast events last just a few hours! Events like Sandown Park in England, Houten in Holland or Aachen in Germany are one-day-events and the longest last for about eight hours.  You can find some amazing stuff but there is no other program!

Sandown Park Toy Fair draws up to 5,000 collectors - for a few hours each

Sandown Park Toy Fair draws up to 5,000 collectors – for a few hours each

 

The NAMAC event in The Netherlands attachts even more - up to 12,000 collectors

The NAMAC event in The Netherlands attracts even more – up to 12,000 collectors

It’s a little different in the US. Imagine if you will, a Hot Wheels car show that lasts for 4-7 days. Hundreds of attendees are there, some of whom have traveled from all over the country – some even from overseas. They include everyone from seasoned collectors to new enthusiasts. There are competitions for individuals who customize diecast cars, a huge charity auction, charity bingo and poker games, a dinner honoring a special well-known guest, autograph sessions with Mattel designers, multi-lane downhill and battery powered oval car track racing, a question and answer open forum with Mattel. Oh, and in the evenings, everyone who has models to sell puts up a sign outside their hotel room and everyone goes from room-to-room, buying, selling and trading everything from Original Redlines to the latest Treasure Hunts.

Customzier Competitions

Customizer Competitions, …

 

Hot Wheels Racing

Hot Wheels Racing, …

 

Games!

Board games, …

 

Dinners and interesting talks

Talks over plush dinner (here with Larry Wood) and much more!

No you haven’t entered the Twilight Zone, this is a real event that occurs twice a year. Currently the fall event occurs in California and the spring event can be found in different towns across the Midwest or East coast each year. The first Hot Wheels convention was held in Toledo, Ohio in 1987. It was produced by Mike Strauss of Hot Wheels Newsletter and Tomart’s Hot Wheels Guide fame. This was a single, annual event, until 2001 when the 2nd show, the Hot Wheels Nationals, was added.

Both of these Hot Wheels conventions are now produced by Jennifer and Mark Millhollin from Collectors Events Unlimited under license from Mattel. This year, the fall convention is the 30th Annual convention and will be held in Los Angeles.

Some of the most notable conventions include those held in 1998 and 2003. The 1998 Convention coincided with Hot Wheels’ 30th Anniversary and was the first convention for which Mattel officially produced event cars. This was also the event where ZAMAC (unpainted) cars were first offered. There were 25 carded models (only 500 each produced), a baggie release, and a 4 car set.

At the 2003 Convention, Mattel was celebrating Hot Wheels’ 35th Anniversary. In addition to producing the event cars for both conventions, they also provided all the event baggie cars (which are normally Code 3 versions). The Nationals convention in Cincinnati featured nine different colors of the Midnight Otto casting and the fall convention in Irvine featured nine different colors of the ’32 Ford casting.

In the past there have been smaller conventions, including the Wild Weekend of Hot Wheels (hosted by Randy Price of Randy’s Wooster Street Pizza), Summer Smash, and DiecastSpace. The DiecastSpace convention is now part of the Super Toy Con which is held in Las Vegas in the month of August. And other brands are now doing their own events.  Jim Gallegos has been organizing the  Matchbox Gathering since 2003 and Andy Goodman, CJ Cramer and Sean Taylor from M2 Machines are now organizing an annual M2 Experience,

The US-style Hot Wheels conventions have now even spread to other countries, including Brazil, Mexico, and Australia. The Brazil Hot Wheels show started in 2008 and now encompasses all major diecast model car brands. It is produced by Marcos Torresi at Expo Diecast. The Mexico Collectors Exhibition also started in 2008 and will be hosting their 9th Annual event on 11th,12th, & 13th of November this year. The Australia Diecast Models Expo was started in 2011 and also includes all the major diecast model car brands.

And on the other bonuses these conventions have is that there are always special convention cars!

Libery Promotions' Flamethrower VW Drag Bus for the last Brazil Convention

Flamethrower VW Drag Bus by Liberty Promotions for the last Brazil Convention

In fairness to the Europeans they have an annual 3 day Matchbox event (link to come); the NAMAC event is organized by the largest toy car club in the world (NAMAC also published a great diecast magazine) and the Danhausen event is organized by Minichamps and you can combine it with visiting their fantastic inhouse museum!

As they continue to thrive, conventions become ever better places to meet, socialize and talk diecast – and a truly unique experience for anyone attending!

If you want to go here are the next ones coming up

Where else can you discuss planned models with folks like Hot Wheel designer Brendon Vetuskey?

Where else can you discuss planned models with folks like Hot Wheel designer Brendon Vetuskey?

Make sure you add going to each of these events to your bucket list!

Designer Notes: Heller/AMT Renault R8 Gordini

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.


Renault R8 Gordini
Heller AMT Renault R8 Gardini

After a minor dispute with Heller, I designed this Renault 8 Gordini racer for a company called Verneuil. But Verneuil did not have the capability of production and I was offered a better deal at Heller and returned. So the kit was eventually produced by Heller.

Heller AMT Renault R8 Gardini instructions
Here is a kit I assembled for factory pictures and the 1969 catalog. I added some decals from an American slot car decal sheet. The kit was simple and did not have opening doors, but had plenty of engine detail. The Delta Mics aluminum wheels were a typical upgrade from the stock steel wheels.

Heller AMT Renault R8 Gardini

Heller AMT Renault R8 Gardini

AMT negotiated with Heller for the distribution of the car kits, and issued 4 different “double” kits in 1971. The injections were packed in clear plastic bags and sent to the American company that repackaged them in large boxes with their own illustrations, that unfortunately paled compared to those of Paul Lengellé. The Gordini was packaged with a version of the Heller Renault Alpine A 210 as one of the sets in this series.

Heller AMT Renault R8 Gardini Alpine A 210

Designer Notes: The 1960s French Slot Car Racing Scene

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.


We recently looked at one of the large scale slot cars that Philippe de Lespinay designed for Cox in the 1970s. As he was beginning his career as a professional model designer, he was also a member of a growing community of slot car racers in France who actually raced for money in the 1960s. Here are some recollections and his cars and the French racing scene…


In the 1960s, slot car racing hit France in a big way. I was caught in the fad and spent much of my time on this new hobby that I loved. I’ve never stopped since, save for an interruption of 21 years between 1973 and 1994.

I began as a simple amateur in Paris, first using Revell cars since, working for the Heller plastic kit manufacturer, I had access to some samples they were thinking about importing. Quickly I found that they were not up to the job and began making my own. 

vintage mirage slot car 1960s philip de lespinay

There were two main raceways in the city, one by the Opera, one in Neuilly, a chic suburb near the Etoile plaza. That one was my “home raceway” and was located on Erlanger Street, and was simply called by the fans, “Erlanger.” The raceway had four huge Revell tracks, the largest having over-and-under passes that made the car invisible to the driver for what seemed like an eternity. The raceway was extremely clean, well appointed and run by Raymond Ami, a person who later became Honda France’s racing manager. Every evening, the Erlanger center had “money races” where the racers would pay a 10-Franc (like 2 bucks) entry fee and the winner collected actual cash in the amount of 30 to 45 Francs ($6.00 to $9.00) depending on the number of entrants.

Those races, run on the “smaller” tracks, were my favorite hunting ground… many evenings for a period of a little over two years, I would show up with a contraption built from Dynamic bits and a Russkit Lotus 40 body, later a highly-chopped Lancer Ferrari 350 Can-Am body. The early cars had an inline motor, generally built from a Mabuchi or Hemi can, an armature rewound by Yours Truly with Mura silver wire, epoxied and tied with very strong fiberglass thread, and a Tradeship commutator. Later cars had sidewinder-mounted Mabuchi FT26 motors de-wound by Hot Slot.


This well-used Ferrari was one of those evening prowlers that kept me cash-rich to purchase the parts needed to build more of them as well as a good dinner at the raceway’s cafe and the gas to go home in my Peugeot 404 wagon.

vintage ferarri slot car 1960s philip de lespinay

The chassis was standard Dynamic fare with hinged brass tongue, my own body mount, and my own version of a Hemi can, fitted with one of my arms (generally a double 27 wind) and Mura Magnum 88 magnets. The endbell was from a Cox TTX150 motor. The pretty front mag wheels were from a Dynamic Super Bandit, while the rears were Cox aluminum screw-on with Classic gray sponge tires (now fossilized!)

vintage ferarri slot car 1960s philip de lespinay


vintage hand made slot car motors

My later cars used hand-built wire frames with brass-plate drop arms and Dynamic guides. This Ferrari 350 has Riggen wheels, a rewound FT26 motor using a Champion 601 can and endbell and one of my rewound arms. The chassis uses pillow blocks with large ball bearings, and is not soldered but… brazed with bronze welding rod. With a Mirage body, it finished in third place at the 1000KM of Paris in 1967, and was pictured in the French magazine “Champion” reporting the race.

My motors were assembled as best as I could with the limited means and technology available to us then, but these have survived quite well. One has a Champion “507R” endbell, I must have been a millionaire that day!  Right: Some of the surviving armatures. All are double or triple wound on Hemi blanks, epoxied, tied, and statically balanced (there were no dynamic balancers available in France)

pdl-1967-armatures


This car, another 350, has quite an interesting story: it won the 1000KM race in Bad Godesberg, Germany, in 1967. A team of six French drivers and this machine defeated nine other teams from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the UK and Sweden on a 10-lane speed-bowl in that city.

vintage hand made 350 slot car motors

The track was a huge 10-lane elongated figure 8, not the least challenging, and it was a true speed bowl. Most of the foreign teams quickly gave up on their own cars and did like the locals, purchasing new Fleicshmann Lotus 40 kits as they ruled the track. Well, we (the French team) stuck to our guns, and while slower, we gained on reliability and inflicted a huge defeat to the other teams.

vintage hand made 350 slot car motors

The car had a built-up wire frame, (See photo at the top of this article) a Swiss-built Buhler can with a genuine Mura silver-wire #26 arm (we used two to win the race, that lasted 53 hours!), and multiple sets of homemade rear tires on home-machined extra-wide hubs. The rubber used was by Classic and was doubled to get enough width.


As time passed, brass became the material of choice and brass rod and tubing became more available, so I built this Lancer-bodied Chaparral that was quite an effective car.

vintage hand made lancer slot car motors

The fenders on the Lancer body were flared using the American pro-racing technique taught to us in the few slot car racing magazines we were getting from the USA by our idols, Morrissey, Steube, and cohorts. We used to devour those publications as soon as they arrived, then we would rush home and copy the latest chassis design, or rewind our motors following the latest specs… We were totally addicted. Those were the days!

vintage hand made lancer slot car motors


vintage hand made russkit slot car motors

This one, I remember well and it was inspired by the early Team Russkit cars. The main difference with the American cars is that I used a can-side drive for the motor to get more weight onto the rear wheels and could not understand why the Americans were using the endbell-side drive system… all that was to change in early 1968 when we heard of the angle-winders.

vintage hand made russkit slot car motors


 Somehow, some of my old cars survived all these years and were acquired a few ago by Scott Bader for his museum in Los Angeles.

Designer Notes: Heller Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans

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 Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans

Renault Alpine a210 kit Heller

The first kit I designed was that of an Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans car.  I traveled to Dieppe to the Alpine factory and was able to take all the measurements, pictures and information as a personal guest of Alpine’s founder  and president, Jean Redele. He also loaned me an Alpine A110 Berlinette 1300S, and I had great fun with it for several weeks. It actually pushed me to purchase one, that I raced until I smashed it comprehensively while trying to avoid an errant car.

Heller Alpine-Renault A210 Le Mans Instructions

I tried to do a good job on the new model and introduced some new features that were not present in any available kit, such as separate rim sections for the racing wheels, real rubber safety belts and suspension springs made of steel wire that one could form over a nail, a trick I learned from a great model maker long passed away. I even tried to get a windshield rubber seal to work but it did not, and I had to revert to the standard method of gluing the windshield in place. The kit was well received in the period magazines and sold extremely well to a public welcoming a French racing car model, something that simply did not exist then.

Not much has survived of the Alpine A210, except for the assembly notice of which I drew the images, and assembled the old-fashioned way, by gluing the text blocks in place. Those were the days!

There were plenty of “firsts” in this kit, including that one had to make his own suspension springs wound over… a nail! The wire and nail were supplied in the kit. This system worked very well and was reconducted for most of the kits I designed for this company.

Philippe de Lespinay Renault Alpine

Soon after I had a Alpine-Renault 1300S, here in 1968 in Paris (before the turmoil that hit the country and caused a near revolution). This car was unfortunately destroyed when I hit a snowbank while the car was fitted with Dunlop racing tires for dry pavement.  A year and a half later, was on my way to Los Angeles, California.

AMT negotiated with Heller for the distribution of some car kits, and issued 4 different “double” kits in 1971. The injections were packed in clear plastic bags and sent to the American company that repackaged them in large boxes with their own illustrations, that unfortunately paled compared to those of Paul Lengelle. The Alpine was packaged with a version of the Heller Renault R8 Gardini as one of the sets in this series.