Matchbox Posts

From Sketch to Blister Card: How Prototypes Shape a Matchbox Model

Rob Romash

Rob Romash, former Matchbox modeler, has a large collection of preproduction models.

We recently met Rob Romash, who has worked in the design department for several companies including Mattel, and got to talking about the design process. For over 20 years (with various companies), Romash has been part of the team that makes the 3D prototypes of toys. He did just that for most every Matchbox car of the early 2000s.

matchbox prototype police car

Some of the many steps towards the creation of a diecast car.

So we asked him how a diecast car goes from an idea to finished model on the pegs. How a bill becomes a law, so to speak.

It all starts with sketches, of course (as photos if the model is based on literal interpretation of a real car). Steve Moye was the lead designer during Romash’s tenure, and they collaborated on countless models. Once those are refined and agreed upon, the Master Modelmaker (Romash’s official title at Mattel)  figure out how big the vehicle will be.

The exact scale of a model car is up to several factors. Some companies like Wiking, make all their cars to a specific scale, such as their 1/87 models. A more common approach, like Hot Wheels and Matchbox take, is to make all the vehicles similar in overall size. Even though collectors refer to their main offerings as “1/64 scale” very few models from these will actually be exactly 1/64. Many will be larger or smaller. So a VW Beetle might be about as big as a Mack truck. As the model nears a certain size, available wheel options are often the factor that will decide if a model needs to go up or down a bit in scale.

At Matchbox, the process began with a “Butterboard” model carved from soft yellow foam. At this stage, the overall shape is represented minus any detail. In addition to wheel size, the vechicle must also fit existing packaging parameters.

matchbox prototype police car butterboard

This is the “Butterboard” size study, carved from soft foam for the 2001 Matchbox Police Car.

In some cases, the design of a real car must be tweaked proportionally to fit these requirements. “Selective compression” involves removing or reducing portions of a design in such a way that most people won’t notice. Romash’s collection includes a pair of Volkswagen Bulli (a modern VW bus concept) carvings that show an accurately scaled model that was too big, and a slightly compressed one that fit Matchbox paramaters. This scaling has to be done just right so as not to offend the licensing department at Volkswagen.

matchbox prototype vw buiil

The longer version of the VW Bulli concept is more accurate, but the final design had to be compressed lengthwise a bit to fit packaging requirements.

 

matchbox prototype police car detail

Here’s a second “Butterboard” model, more detailed, painted gray, and with detail notes written on it. This is an unusual step, and not a lot of prototypes like this exist.

Traditionally, the first design study would be carved out of wood. When Romash was in the Mattel Mt. Laurel modelshop the preferred material for master patterns was an Acetate that had the properties for very detailed carving and the ability to revise the model without noticing. At times some models were modified on the fly during the sculpt process.  “It comes in giant monoliths like 2001: A Space Odyssey,” ( I had a great impression routine of the waking monkey from  the film when a block came in !) he said. “It’s simple. You just start carving away everything that doesn’t look like a car, and you’re done.”

matchbox prototype police car acetate

This is a pattern made from a mold based on the original carving. This would be cleaned up a bit, and in some cases additional details might be fabricated from other materials and glued on, but it’s essentially a single piece from which all future molds would be made.

For most small models, the prototype was usually carved at double size (so about 1/32 scale) to include more detail. Then a pantograph machine was used to make a smaller version (here’s a neat video that shows a pantagraph in action at Matchbox in the early ’60s. It’s the big machine at the 0:59 mark.) For most models, there may be a double sized buck in existence, but not for any of his.

Romash always did his carvings closer to the final, smaller size, allowing for a tiny bit of shrinkage from carving to first test mold . “If you give me a bunch of photos and a block of material, I can carve just about anything.” Romash also eschewed precise measuring tools, prefering to naturally eyeball the carving instead. His results speak for themselves. “I also created my own custom scribing and sculpting tools from carbide blanks to suit my style of building—a lot of 3M carbide sandpaper also came into play.”

“Moye’s sketches had a look and a feel,” according to Romash.  That’s what I went with, at least for the non-licensed models he designed, which was the larger part of the collection per year.”

You’ll notice the bodies on most of the prototypes are a single piece with solid windows and no consideration given to the chassis yet. Once the test casting is approved, it is sent to the factory overseas. As that point, additional designers will carefully remove the windows from the mold, and create a separate molds for those. Same for things like the grill or other details that will not be included with the main casting. Opening doors, hoods, and tailgates also must be taken into consideration here.

matchbox prototype police car resin

Here’s the first “Test Casting” of the design. Notice how everything including windows is a single piece.

Additional chassis details, as well as logos, trademarks, and other information are added as well. Depending on the brand, scale, and budget, the chassis may have a lot or very little detail In some cases, the engine, tailpipes, and other undercarriage details are kind of generic. As long as they line up where they’re supposed to for the design, it’s good enough. Also, at this time, the bits for attaching the axles to the chassis are figured out.

“Interiors are usually the least detailed part of most cars,” Romash said. “Unless it’s a convertible. I didn’t do a lot of interiors, but when I had the chance, it was fun!”

matchbox prototype taxi

In some cases, a painted prototype might be used for promotional purposes, such as the Taxi on this poster featuring the new releases.

The next step is to create a Silicone mold for samples. Then a “First Shot,” wihch is a resin casting of the pattern model. These usually have some flashing and other imperfections, so they are sorted and smoothed out. At this time, the designer’s color schemes were implemented, and sometimes a prototype of a paint master was done. After the paint is agreed upon then more resin castings are done for sales or Toy fairs and other marketing materials. It may also be hand painted to give an even better idea of the final product. (Glenn Hubing, a good friend of Romash, was one of the painters for thise models. We hope to feature him in an article soon as well!)

matchbox prototype police car final

And here it is, the production version of the 2001 Matchbox Police Car.

Once all of that is worked out, final mold is made, usually with 10 of the same body (a “Ten-up” as it’s called in the industry). and production begins.

It’s all simple, really…

  • Sketch
  • Color rendering
  • 2:1 model (Romash skipped this step, saving weeks per project)
  • 1:1 model
  • Silocone mold
  • Resin test casting
  • Paint study
  • (Then the body is sent to the production facility)
  • Separate components
  • Technical drawings
  • Test mold
  • First white metal shot
  • Refinement
  • New multi-car molds
  • Production

Much of this process has been disappearing over the past few years, however. As 3D printers become more precise, companies are first perfecting designs on screen and then having the printer spit out a more or less perfect replica. While it may be more precise, not to mention cost and time-efficient, a lot of the romance of the design process is lost.

In fact, Hot Wheels debuted the new VW Rockster as a “prototype” of sorts, assembling a limited edition of actual 3-d printed models on cards to sell. (If you produce replicas of a prototype for market, doesn’t that make it a production model?) It’s too early to see if the replica/prototype (Replitype? Reprotoica? Reprototype?) will catch on.

“When I was at Mattel, the model came first always, as the human hand can do things you can’t do on the screen. It’s also why pretty much every major car company today still relies on full size clay models for their final shapes before turning it into 3D data,” he said. “The art of the human hand does come into play.”

matchbox prototype police car

With 3D printing, prototypes like the ones Romash owns (and is offering for sale) are becoming a thing of the past from most companies.

 

—–

You can buy some of these prototypes in Robert’s store

If you want to own the real McCoy, you’re in luck… all the models you’ve seen in the article and dozens more, as well as sketches and technical drawings are for sale on hobbyDB. “I thought it would be great to pass some of these on to collectors who will really appreciate owning a bit of diecast history,” Romash said.

What I Learned From Toy Motorcycles: I Shouldn’t Ride One

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Toy Motorcycles hold a curious spot in the world of miniature vehicles. Consider this: A toy car or truck, especially one with a closed cabin, looks ready to drive, and requires no assistance to stand on its own when stationary. But a motorcycle? It looks weird moving without a rider, and it can’t stand alone without a kickstand, a sidecar or training wheels. In fact, without any assistance from such things, the only way to make one scoot around was to hold onto it the whole time lest it fall. That’s a lot to engineer into a small toy.

LEhmann Tinplate motorcycle

A typical tinplate motorcycle has at least three wheels, sometimes four. But it can’t go fast enough and far enough to sustain the momentum required to balance on two wheels for long. And that’s kind of disappointing.

matchboxcycle

Matchbox offered some motorcycle models in the 1960 and ’70s, but most had a permanent, fixed kickstand. Even this Honda cycle with posable kickstand was designed primarily as a trailer load. The message was clear: You can look, but you can’t ride.

Hot Wheels Rrrumblers Bone Shaker

Hot wheels eventually offered a series of freewheeling cycles, the Rrrumblers, which could do all the things their cars could do: zoom down orange track, go over ramps, get buried in the sandbox. And they had cool removable riders, too. But like the earlier toys, they still required some assistance in the form of clear plastic bases with training wheels. Some had two wheels, but their three wheeled choppers needed assistance, or they would get squirrelly on the track. (Eventually, I figured out they could go downhill backwards without assistance, but who wants to ride that way?)

Hot Wheels Sizzlers Chopcycle Triking Viking

Mattel upped the ante when they added similar trikes (These were all 3-wheelers to accommodate the battery-powered motor) to their self-powered Sizzlers line. Instead of going in a straight line down a hill with some difficulty, The Chopcycles could go in circles and figure eights at high speeds before crashing even more spectacularly. These also came with a sled-like removable attachment to keep them pointed in the right direction. It should be pointed out that most of the rider figures wore appropriate protection (except for the fancy lad who wore a top hat and the other fellow in the newsboy cap).

Kenner SSP Cycle Stunt Show

Kenner’s SSP line offered a few motorcycles in the early 70’s as well. With their gyroscopic flywheels, they demonstrated how to ride balanced and without restraint, no training wheels, no sidecars… until they came to a stop by either falling over as they slowed down, or by running into something and slowing down instantly. The full gold racing suit and helmet was pretty cool, though.

Evel Knievel Jet Cycle

In 1974, Ideal came out with a line of toys that boys of a certain generation consider the all time champion coolest thing ever: The Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle. The commercials were filled with promise… enthusiastic boys cranked up their motorcycles with fury, the gears whining to a loud, high-pitched shriek. And suddenly, the bike shot off at great speed! They showed it on pavement. And on dirt. And jumping!!! And perhaps as a warning, crashing, causing a floppy-limbed rider to go flying and landing in a heap!!!!! And when I got one for my birthday and tried it for the first time… It was even louder and more chaotic and more exciting than promised!!! And the harm that came to Evel was even more real. Mine even suffered a gash on his nose when his helmet ended up sideways on his head after a crash. Never mind the carnage Evel would inspire on a regular street bike, the series quickly expanded to include jet-powered bikes and dragsters.

ssp rockin rickIn the late ’70s, SSP offered a new series of cycles, this time resembling street bikes, with posable riders. The drive wheel was hidden in the middle of the bike, so they really had three wheels, (or four for chopper trikes) this time in a line. But the riders clearly cared more about looking cool than they did about safety. Sure, boys wanted to be Rockin’ Rick and girls wanted to be with him, but his long flowing hair and ill-secured guitar sent a questionable message about responsible cycling.

So what did I learn from all these toys? Ride too fast, you will crash. Ride too slow, you will crash. Training wheels look silly. Wearing a helmet is a good idea, unless you have long, flowing hair or a top hat, in which case, you ride at your own risk.

I’ve ridden a motorcycle exactly once since: It was a friend’s dirt bike, and I wore a helmet. The sudden acceleration from standstill caused the bike to do a wheelie, dumping me off the back in seconds. Somewhere Evel Knievel is shaking his head.

Am Amazing Matchbox Hoard

A Guest Blog Post by Tracy Martin
This article was originally written for Rareburg which last year joined forces with hobbyDB. 

I’ve recently discovered a newfound respect for collectors and specialists of British Diecast cars. I admit, up until four weeks ago I knew nothing about these vintage boys toys. To me they were just cars in boxes that came in different colors, had wheels and resembled in smaller scale real life motor vehicles. How wrong could I be, as this complex and quite technical collecting area is an absolute minefield! So here is my diecast car collecting tips. 

After landing a very rare collection of Lesney Matchbox cars to value and catalogue in my role as an auction valuer, I had to quickly learn that I couldn’t just put a load of general job lots together, add the pre-sale estimate without research and pray they would find the right level at auction. Every single car needed to be checked for the slightest variation. Calling in help from esteemed experts at Vectis Auctioneers, avid collectors, reference books and the internet I began to learn as much as I could, in a very short period of time so I could confidently put my specialist sale together.

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Initially there were the different ranges and models to learn, Lesney Products, the toy manufacturer, first launched the ‘Matchbox’ diecast car collection in 1953. The brainchild of Jack Odell, after his daughter was told she could only take a toy into school if it fitted inside a matchbox. Odell scaled down the model road roller, an existing Lesney toy, and packaged it into a matchbox. An instant hit. All the children wanted one and so the ‘Matchbox’ series was launched initially with three models; a cement mixer, Muir Hill Dump Truck and the Aveling Barford road roller.

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Following on each year, new models were added with some being replaced until there were 75 different cars in the series which became known as the 1-75 range. Although Lesney made the cars, ‘Moko’ were responsible for distributing them which is why on early boxes up until 1959 you will see the ‘Moko Lesney’ banner.

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After this date, Lesney took over their distribution and the Moko name was removed. The boxes themselves are important to collectors and are known as different series with grading. For example, an early box is referred to as ‘Series A’ with the scripted Moko being displayed, then ‘B series’ shows Moko as capital letters with ‘C Series’ having Moko dropped altogether – this grading of boxes carries on alphabetically up to present day.

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Now, if that wasn’t complicated enough, the end flaps of the box are all different too and so the boxes are split into sub categories for example ‘B1’, ‘B2’, ‘B3’ etc. So before I could even start looking at the cars themselves I had to get my head around the initial 1-75 range and the different types of boxes these miniature cars were housed in, as this makes a huge different to collectors and the price.

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In 1969, the Superfast range of cars were introduced and this is where collectors can really find some exciting and rare pieces. Known as the transitional period when Matchbox moved from one model line to the next, they switched from the regular plastic wheels to Superfast speedy rolling cars and Rolamatics was added to the 1-75 series. Some cars were produced in different shades to indicate which range they were from, whilst other regular wheels were fitted with Superfast wheels which makes them more desirable.

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Oh yes, wheels – now there is a mind blower – there are literally loads of different wheel types from original hub to dot dash and five spoke to 5 arch and if that is not technical enough then there is the tread on the tire – yes I did count some of the bumps to make sure I was cataloguing the right wheel and tire type! If the wrong wheels were fitted onto a model then boom, the price of the car has gone up, not forgetting the hot foils (silver bits on the wheel) if a car is missing them – value is added.

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I have briefly mentioned car shades, but this is one of the most relevant areas of Matchbox car collection, as there are so many cars out that that are either one-off never produced colors which are usually Pre-production or known as a color trial. Within the collection I had there were loads of these. For example, the No. 20 Lamborghini Marzal is extremely rare in metallic green as the standard was maroon. However there is also a pink version and a yellow. The green being the most valuable, worth in the region of $1,000-$1,200. I also found a No.16 Badger in Canary yellow and a bright red ‘Stoat’ (Rolamatics tank). In fact, I have found so many pre-production cars in rare colors as the owner of the collection had worked for Matchbox in the 1970s as a prototype model maker and thus there was an abundance of never seen before cars.

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Other aspects of Matchbox cars I had to consider were the color of the windows, the interior and the base plate if there was the chance it was different to the standard model, again more sought after with collectors. The casting of the model also had to be examined as if there was any variation then this is something else collectors like to have, the base plate with incomplete year date or a factory error instantly creates interest such as the wrong model number or “Superfast” branding rather than the production issue “Rolamatics” and then there are the decals – if a vehicle has unusual decals then this is a collectors must-own.

Pre-sale estimate pricing was exceptionally difficult because how do you value something that hasn’t a precedent – never been on the open market for sale before. I know my estimates are what is known in the business as ‘come and buy me’ and probably most of the potential buyers think that I don’t have a clue what I have been cataloguing but that isn’t true. I know exactly what I have done – kept the estimates ridiculously low in order to entice potential buyers.

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I am only too aware that my 30-40 estimates will be exceeded by at least a couple of hundred Dollars. I know there are going to be some real ‘sleepers’ when the price goes into the top end of the hundreds of pounds but honestly I have done this purposely because I was a novice when I first picked up this collection. The last thing I wanted to do was over estimate the price – so, as I was advised by a specialist “keep it low and watch it go” – that is exactly where my pricing mind was at.

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I had never realized how complex diecast collecting was and my hat goes off to those that have mastered the art. So how did I manage to catalogue nearly 200 lots in just two short weeks? Much painstaking research! Cross checking on websites to see if identical cars had sold before, getting an eye glass over every single car in the collection to find the tiniest variation and basically filling my brain with as much information as possible. Very little sleep was had but much excitement too when I discovered yet another rare and valuable Matchbox car.

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Even though I have worked my socks off, I do not confess to be an expert by any means as some collectors have been fascinated with diecast for over 30 years and still do not know it all. I am proud of the fact I have learnt so much in such a short period of time and certainly have a better understanding of what to look for along with a newfound interest in this fascinating area of vintage toy collecting.

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Such simple toy cars with much history and so much appeal have captured my heart as well as my mind and I now hope they will each find their way into the hands of collectors that will share the same love that I have discovered for these retro vintage boys toys.

Some of my favorite Lots

  • Superfast No. 70 Dodge Dragster pre-production in dark Maroon with snake decals – $100-$150
  • Chopper No. 49 Chop Suey in metallic Maroon and chrome handlebars – $100-$150
  • Superfast No. 62 Renault 17 TL in lime green $200-$300
  • Pre Production Superfast No. 65 Saab Sonett in red $200-$300
  • Pre Production No. 5 Lotus Europa in metallic blue, unpainted base $200-$300
  • No. 20 Lamborghini Marzal in green, amber tinted windows, unpainted base and trial wheels – $400-$600
  • Monteverdi Hai No. 3 trial color in lime green misprint of year date to base. $100-$150
  • No. 30 Beach Buggy in metallic blue silver $60-$80
  • No. 21 Foden Concrete truck – finished with white cab $300-$400

Math, Science, Randomness: The Origins of Model Scales

One of the key attributes of collectible vehicles is the scale in which they are reproduced. Most collectors know about 1/64 scale cars, such as Hot Wheels, as well as other popular sizes such as 1/18 and 1/43. But have you ever thought about HOW and WHY these particular model scales became the standards in their hobbies?

Buick Riviera scale models

1:43 and 1:64 Buick Rivieras

There are many reasons why model companies gravitate towards certain scales. As it turns out, a lot of scales are the result of simple math involving division by 2 or by 10. But several scales are the result of scaling down model trains, or more specifically the track they run on, which we’ll discuss in a moment.

So put on your thinking cap, get out your calculators, and let’s hop into the hobbyDB Shrink-O-Matic to discover the origins of the scales! (All images are approximately to scale.)

1/1 through 1/6 – The scales in this range are simple ratios, easy to calculate. These are of course, large scales, so they’re usually reserved for real items that are not particularly big. Of course, there are some larger objects modeled at full size.

1/8 – Hey, we skipped 1/7! It turns out you don’t get into a lot of prime numbers outside of single digits. Seven is hard to divide by. But 1/8 equals half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy. This scale has become popular in recent years for super detailed model car kits. 1/8 scale is often used for replicas of race car driver helmets as well as standalone models of engines.

1/10 – Not that commonly used, but, the math is pretty easy when you multiply and divide by ten. Think metric!

1/12 – Here, one inch equals one foot. This is very common in the world of action figures, as an “average” person of six feet tall scales down to six inches. 

1/16 – Not really used all that often, but it equals half of a half of a half of a half, so the math is pretty easy to convert.

1/18 – This is a widely used scale for model vehicles, but has only been in use since about the mid 1970s. It translates to two thirds of an inch equalling one foot, which is a weird ratio. In this case, its origin likely lies in model cars measuring in at a pleasing size technically known as “big enough for lots of nice detail but not too big to fit on your shelf.”

carousel1 jim clark lotus

Carousel1 Jim Clark Lotus F1 racer in 1:18 scale

1/22.5 – Wait, what? Perhaps you recognize this as “G scale,” popular for large scale outdoor model railroad equipment. It’s based on a measurement of 1.75 inches between the rails, yielding a strange ratio. G scale is often mistakenly referred to as “LGB” or “Lawn-Garden-Basement” scale, which are common locations for such layouts. However, LGB is just a brand name that has nothing to do with those words.

1/24 – This is a popular scale for model car kits, particularly in the U.S. But why? It’s pretty simple if you don’t live in the metric world… one half inch equals one foot at this size. Meanwhile, in other countries…

1/25 – On the other hand, this is a popular scale for model kits everywhere else in the world, as it divides nicely into 100, which is great for the metric system.

1/32 – This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some brands of model kits. Its use in toys probably comes from being small enough for little hands but not so small as to be a choking hazard. As with several scales we’ve visited before, the math is easy to calculate, equalling half of a half of a half of a half of a half.

1/36– This size shows up in cars meant as toys as well as some smaller model kits. Corgi popularized it as an alternative to smaller scales because it resulted in larger models without too much extra material, so it felt like a good value to the consumer. It’s also half of 1/18 scale, which may shed light on how that scale came to be.

1/40 – A scale divisible by four and by ten would be ideal for metric and English, perhaps: It never really took off, so who knows? Diapet is one company that used this size.

1/42 – Not familiar with this scale? It’s not really used that often. Tri-Ang, a British toy company settled on this size for their model trains and were consistent when adding model cars and trucks to their line. The standard railroad track measurement of 4-feet, 8.5 inches (don’t get me started on where that oddball measurement came from!) reduced to 33 millimeters, then rounded down slightly equals 1/42. For some reason, other companies settled on a different scale…

scalecomparison

1/43 – Honestly, this one’s a head scratcher. It’s one of the most-used scales for models of all kinds, but the ratio makes very little sense. It does come out to 7 millimeters per foot, but that’s a weird juxtaposition of measuring methods. The standard track measurement reduced to 33 millimeters, rounded UP slightly equals 1/43. Or close to it, anyway. Confusing? You bet. And having to multiply or divide by 43 all day will make your head hurt. Many theories suggest that 1/43 originated as a rounding error that went too far to fix. While popular for cars and trucks, this scale never really caught on for trains soon and was eventually replaced by yet another scale, which is not too much smaller…

lionel o scale catalog

Chewbacca lego minifig1/48 – This is technically the exact definition of “O Scale,” the size popularized by Lionel trains among other brands. It rounds out to 1.25 inches between the rails, which makes some sense. And 1/48 works out to .25 inches per foot, which makes for some easy math. When we get to smaller ratios like this, the difference of a few points is hard to notice, which is why 1/43 cars go along with 1/48 trains and no one seems to complain. This is sometimes called “O27” scale (that’s a letter O, not a zero), meaning an O scale train capable of handing a 27 inch radius curve.

Fun fact: a Lego Minifigure is equal to about a 1/48 six foot tall person, so this scale plays nicely in Legoland, too.

1/55 through 1/63 – You know what? we’ll come back to these seemingly random ratios in a minute. But first…

1/64 – This scale serves so many purposes in the hobby world. In its earliest uses it became known as “S Scale,” or “Standard Scale,” the size of American Flyer brand trains. The distance between the rail is .875 inches, but more importantly, 1/64 is basically half of a half of a half of a half of a half of a half. Whew! 

Of course, this is probably the most popular scale in the diecast world, representing most offerings from Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Johnny Lightning and countless other brands. But hold on a second… Many of these cars aren’t really 1/64. They’re all about 3 inches or 10 centimeters long. Even though the vast majority of them fall well above or below this exact scale, “1/64” it has become a convenient shorthand for vehicles around that size. So what gives? Well…

majorette jaguar xke

1/55 through 1/63 and 1/65 through 1/80 – Back to those larger scales we skipped a moment ago, plus some smaller ones. Many cars called “1/64” size are really smaller or larger than that. The key is that the model companies often use the wheels as the basis for what size the model will actually be. A toy Mini Cooper model might use the same wheels as a Hummer H2 and therefore be about the same length, but their scales will be radically different. Majorette is one brand who puts the proper scale on the bottom of their cars, usually falling in the ranges listed here. Tomica is known for this practice as well. Which brings us to…

3-Inch Scale – The wide range of 1/64-ish vehicles we just discussed ultimately fall under this umbrella, all about three inches long. This could include anything from a 1/30 scooter to a 1/2,000 model of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

1/72 –  Popular for many military kits such as planes, tanks and helicopters where the more standard kit scales produce very large models. They don’t look too out of scale when placed on an HO scale model railroad. The ratio itself is kind of a mystery, but Tri-Ang used it for many trains and accessories, similar to the way they used the “almost but not quite” 1:42 scale.

1/76 – Also known as OO, EM or P4 scales, this is a popular size in Europe. The exact origin of this number doesn’t relate to any particular ratio that makes sense mathematically. OO rails are 16.5 mm apart, which isn’t accurate to that ratio. Truth is, it’s a mishmash of a one scale of rail (the equivalent of HO, which you’ll see in a moment) and a slightly larger body. According to many sources, the larger body was to accommodate wind up clock mechanisms that were just a tad to big for smaller bodies back when this scale started. Got all that?

1/87 – You probably recognize this as the most common scale for model trains in the world. 1/87 is better known as “HO scale,” an abbreviation for “Half of O scale.” But it’s not precisely half, it’s just sort of close. HO represents .625 inches between the rails. Technically, the ratio is 1/87.0857142, rounded to 1/87.1 if you want to be a tiny bit less precise. The names “HO” and “OO” are often used interchangeably or as “HO/OO” since their appearance is close and they use the same track.

ho and n scale locomotives

Athearn HO scale and LifeLike N scale locomotives

1/120 – Also known as TT Scale, this is popular in Russia.  The ratio would be easy to divide by 12 or by 10, so it’s handy for English or Metric scales. TT stands for “Table Top,” by the way.

1/148 – 1/160 – 1/160 is known as “N Scale,” or more accurately “N Gauge,” which sets the distance between the rails for a standard train at .375 inches. Confused? In model railroading, “gauge” refers only to the rails, while “scale” refers to the size of everything else. There’s some wiggle room in that some models might be built to slightly larger sizes (all the way up to 1/148), but regardless of the discrepancy, the rails and the wheels that run on them must be exactly 1/160.

While we’re on the subject of “N Gauge,” this track is sometimes used on HO scale railroads. See, in many steep, mountainous locations around the world, railroads were built with rails much closer together than the standard width. If you were to create a narrow gauge railroad in HO scale, it would conveniently use N-Gauge track but with the height of the rails in HO and HO scale bodies.

1/220 – Also known as “Z Scale.” In this case, the track is .25 inches between the rails, which is tiny, about as tiny as a working electric train can be without needing a nanotechnolgy. As with the other train sizes, only the rail gauge is perfectly accurate, while many objects and details are slightly larger, especially the couplers that connect the rolling stock.

Gemini Jets Boeing 757

This Gemini Jets Boeing 757 doesn’t look so huge at 1:400 scale

1/400 and beyond- We’re getting into some really tiny scales now, best used to make manageable models of enormous objects like airplanes, ships and buildings. These scales simply take nice round numbers in multiples of 100.

1/1,200 and 1/1,250 – Somewhere in the vast range of tiny scales we should mention these two. Both are used for models of large warships, the first being a traditionally British model scale, and the latter being German.

There are many more scales of course, some of which are rarely used. If you know how any other scales came to be, let us know in the comments.

John Oliver Shows Some Toy Cars on “Last Week Tonight” *UPDATE*

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

If you watched “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver this past weekend, you may have noticed an interesting graphic on screen during one segment… He was discussing the epidemic of shady, even predatory, used car financing, and this image appeared over his shoulder several times:

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

As you can see, the cars are clearly some sort of small models. Regardless of your politics or interest in the story at hand, this is a pretty neat sight for diecast collectors. So, we’re going to toss this one out there to you hobbyDB Users… can you identify the brand, scale, and make/model of the cars in the graphic? (We’ve identified several of them already, but we want to leave the fun up to you!) As a handy helper, here’s the graphic again with each car numbered. Respond in the comments below, and we will publish them later!

last week tonight john oliver diecast cars

Also, we know that some of these cars are already in our database, but if you can identify any that aren’t, would you mind adding them?

And if you want to watch the segment, you can find it here. It’s on HBO, so there might be will definitely be some salty language. So, maybe watch the clip after work or with your headphones on. Enjoy!


UPDATE! Several folks have emailed us with at least part of the answer… let’s see if you can fill in the rest. First of all, these are all Johnny Lightning 1:64 scale cars, as most people figured out.

Here are the ones that have been correctly identified so far…

1.

2.

3. 1971 Buick Riviera (Big Boats Series)

4.

5. Studebaker Golden Hawk

6.

7. 1960 Ford Country Squire Wagon (Big Boats Series)

8.

9. 1967 Oldsmobile Toronado

10.1963 Ford Galaxie

11. Dodge Monaco Taxi  (Big Boats Series)