Scale-Model Cars

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Scott Benjamin: Welcome to Car Stuff. I'm Scott Benjamin, the auto editor here at

Ben Bowlin: And you know me, Scott. My name is Ben Bowlin and I hang out with you. And I also work for the same website.

Scott Benjamin: Why do you always feel like you need to introduce yourself to me?

Ben Bowlin: What's that?

Scott Benjamin: You always introduce yourself to me before every show.

Ben Bowlin: I have a bizarre form of retrograde amnesia.

Scott Benjamin: I guess I do the same to you, though.

Ben Bowlin: Who are you?

Scott Benjamin: Every time. Anyway, so I'm excited about today's topic.

Ben Bowlin: I can tell. You've got a bit of a glow about you.

Scott Benjamin: Maybe I do, yeah. That's a condition. I'm going to get that taken care of. But the thing we're going to talk about today is scale model cars. And I'm pretty excited about it because I happen to collect them. I haven't seen my collection in about four years, though. They've been packed away in the basement in storage bins, every one wrapped up in a t-shirt as a matter of fact. So I'm going to get a lot of t-shirts when I finally unpack as well. But I loved collecting them. I used to spend part of my paycheck on these models every couple of weeks or every month or so. I've been to a lot of places that have some really cool stuff displayed, unusual things. And digging into this, I've found out a lot more about them. There's another whole world out there that I had no idea existed.

Ben Bowlin: Absolutely. I had the same experience. And before we go further, we should figure out what type of scale model cars you go for. Most collectors go for a specific, right?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, they do.

Ben Bowlin: A specific ratio.

Scott Benjamin: We'll talk about that, too. People collect by all different types of parameters. I have it written down somewhere, how people do it, and we'll get to that in a minute. But I collect 1:18 scale. And that's relatively big. They're about a foot long each, and they have a moderate amount of detail to them. They're metal. You can usually open the doors and the hood and there's an engine there. There's a dashboard that has a little bit of detail to it. There's usually seats that have some type of grain in them and stuff like that. I guess moderate is the best way to say it.

Ben Bowlin: Now are these dye cast?

Scott Benjamin: No, they're not. I don't think they are. I could be wrong in this - it depends on the brand that you buy. I'm sure there are some out there that are, but the ones that I collect are - I'm just going to say this. My collection is very eclectic. I have a whole mix. I started out collecting 1:18 scale and over the years through gifts from family and friends and just gathering things along the way at auto show giveaways, it's turned into its own thing. I've got a display case for it that's far too small. But it has developed over the years. I have many different scales now, different types of things that I initially didn't collect that now I have a few of them. So I don't know if I collect them or not, but jus some odds and ends - signed pieces and -

Ben Bowlin: Signed pieces?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, yeah, some signed cars.

Ben Bowlin: Nice.

Scott Benjamin: If you happen to be in the presence of somebody who can sign that vehicle for you - not that I purchased any like that - but I had them signed. You know the cubes of crystal that they laser cut a design into?

Ben Bowlin: Oh, yes.

Scott Benjamin: I've got a hemi engine that's in glass. I've got a glass F1 car.

Ben Bowlin: Really?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, I've got some unusual things.

Ben Bowlin: You do have some unusual things. I would've pegged you maybe as a collector, but not with such eclectic taste.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, it definitely is. It's a big mix right now at this point - all different makes, models, years, vintages - just everything.

Ben Bowlin: But for the record, anyone listening about to mail Scott something, 1:18 - that's the preferred ratio.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's what I prefer really.

Ben Bowlin: But you can't turn people down.

Scott Benjamin: And the reason is, if you get a little bigger, they get a lot more expensive and if you get a little bit smaller, you lose a little detail in some cases - unless you're willing to pay for it.

Ben Bowlin: Ah, so there's a sweet spot.

Scott Benjamin: There is. Now obviously someone could put a lot of time into a much smaller model and make it even more dramatic than a 1:18, and etcetera. But we'll stick with this here. We'll go through a list of the typical scales, some of the larger scales, the smaller scales, how they size up, about what they cost - just ballpark figures on these things. Do you collect anything like that - even if it's not cars - do you collect anything?

Ben Bowlin: I used to build model cars. I think a lot of kids -

Scott Benjamin: Oh, the plastic ones.

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, yeah. Where all the pieces comes in a plastic frame and you pop them out. Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: Those are great.

Ben Bowlin: I was an avid fan of those.

Scott Benjamin: Did you blow them all up?

Ben Bowlin: The only thing I know for sure - I'm not sure what happened to those vehicles that I worked on, but my dad still does that as a hobby.

Scott Benjamin: Really?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, it's a relaxing thing.

Scott Benjamin: The plastic models? The kits?

Ben Bowlin : Um-hum.

Scott Benjamin: No kidding. That's cool.

Ben Bowlin: And he paints them and all that stuff.

Scott Benjamin: That's a good hobby.

Ben Bowlin: I think it's a good hobby. Right now, I'm a little bit concerned that if I started it now I would do the worst thing you can do and lose one of the pieces before you're done. It's so much worse than losing a piece of a puzzle.

Scott Benjamin: I think you would put a lot of time into it. I bet you it would be pretty spectacular.

Ben Bowlin: Oh, thanks, buddy.

Scott Benjamin: I think you would. You seem to set your mind to something and do it, right?

Ben Bowlin: Aw, shucks. You're too nice. What's going on?

Scott Benjamin: No, no, really. I think once you're an adult and you take on something like this, you maybe give it a little bit more attention to detail. When I was a kid, I used to get glue all over the windows and everything and it was a mess. I tried to put the stickers on and they wouldn't quite peel off right so it'd be a little bit torn. I tried when I was young to build my own, but with varying levels of success. I did boats and cars and planes and everything. I don't know what kind of fate those had eventually.

Ben Bowlin: Well I have glue all over my hands right now.

Scott Benjamin: We moved a lot, so they were probably just broken and lost.

Ben Bowlin: I am going to perform an important segue into these different classifications.

Scott Benjamin: Thanks for letting us know.

Ben Bowlin: Right. Yeah. I just want everyone to be clear.

Scott Benjamin: The smooth factor.

Ben Bowlin: So 1:18 - when we're saying that, what we're saying is these are cars that are 18 times smaller than the actual production car. However, they are modeled after real vehicles.

Scott Benjamin: They're scale models, so everything is proportional. So if you had two scale models that were 1:18 scale and you put them side-by-side - let's say I've got a Cadillac convertible from the '60s and I've got a Dodge Charger also from the '60s, they will be proportional to the size. The Cadillac's going to be a longer vehicle, of course. And you can also get a good feel for height and width if it's done to scale like it should be. They claim to be scale models, so you'd hope that they'd maintain that. But you can get an idea for the size of vehicles if you have the same scale across the board.

Ben Bowlin: And that's why we have some standardized scales.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's right.

Ben Bowlin: Such as -

Scott Benjamin: Let's go through the list here. And some of the popular ones - and when I say popular, it means the ones you'll probably find on the toy store shelves or retail stores. That's not a bad place to get them, but I'm going to tell you about some places later that are better, I think. There's just a lot more variety out there than you may initially think.

Ben Bowlin: For the intrepid enthusiast.

Scott Benjamin: Now some of the popular ones we mentioned are 1:43, which is smaller than the 1:18. As the bottom number gets smaller, the cars get bigger. There's also some of the larger scales that are 1:12 or 1:8. They get up into 1:5 and 1:3, even. I've seen 1:4 cars. Now these are pretty big. I mentioned you could have a Cadillac or you could have an MG Midget. You can't say a 1:18 scale model is this size. It just doesn't work that way. It's proportional to the way the car really was on the road. But just has a guideline here, the 1:12 scale and 1:8 scale, you'd look at that and say, "That's a larger than normal model." It may be a couple of feet long. They're really big and also often really expensive.

Ben Bowlin: And these, when we're talking about this size - check me if I'm wrong on this - we know that some of these larger scale models actually have industrial uses. They're not the ones that you get your kid for Christmas. They're the ones that you put in a wind tunnel.

Scott Benjamin: Well, they can be.

Ben Bowlin: They can be. Oh, that's right. Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: As a matter of fact, I'll tell you in a moment about some of these big ones that are very expensive. So maybe you didn't know about that.

Ben Bowlin: I didn't.

Scott Benjamin: That's all right, I'll let you in. But you're absolutely right; the manufacturers use approximately 1:8 scale models. They're pretty big. They're three to four feet long or something like that. They're an exact representation of what the vehicle will look like that they're ready to build. And they put them in the wind tunnels and they can check wind flow over these things. You've probably seen them. It looks like a full size vehicle, because they go right down every detail. They run a wand over it that has a stream of smoke so they can watch the air patterns, where there's high pressure or low pressure, and where's some disturbance. Also, they can check the load aerodynamics as far as how much pressure is put on each wheel.

Ben Bowlin: Per inch, as well.

Scott Benjamin: Exactly. And they just increase the speed as if it were going down the road. So a 55 mile an hour wind simulates what it would be like on the highway at 55 miles per hour.

Ben Bowlin: See, and I think that' super cool. I kind of want one of those as a souvenir.

Scott Benjamin: Really?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: Maybe a Monte Carlo.

Ben Bowlin: That would be awesome. I'm sure that those mockups have been destroyed or are already sitting in someone's -

Scott Benjamin: You want to hear a little something intriguing?

Ben Bowlin: Yes.

Scott Benjamin: And I'll keep it brief. This is just throwing it out there as a possibility.

Ben Bowlin: Put me on the game, man.

Scott Benjamin: Highland Park, Michigan used to be the headquarters for Chrysler. And when I first started working in that group, I was down there often, as was a former boss later in life. He also worked for Chrysler and still does. He claims that towards the end of the days when they were ready to tear down the Highland Park facility and they were going to build the Tech Center, which is out in Auburn Hills, Michigan and is enormous. It's the one that's the Pentagon size or bigger - that building. He was telling me about some of the underground tunnels that are down there. I know they're there because I had been in the buildings before. I just had never explored them. He apparently had explored them. They go between buildings and there's outlets that go out to the side to who knows where - locked doors. Some are unlocked, apparently. He found a few on various lunch hours that were unlocked. And there were rooms full of drawings and scale model cars from long long ago.

Ben Bowlin: What?

Scott Benjamin: Wooden models, metal models, that type of thing.

Ben Bowlin: Awesome.

Scott Benjamin: But the thing is, they were tearing down the buildings all around this thing. It was almost like these are forgotten crypts underneath the property. And I don't know how deep or what's on that property now at this point, if they've dug down past that and it's been destroyed, or if they did find those and empty them, or if all that stuff is still preserved down there. I don't know.

Ben Bowlin: In which case, we cannot wink-wink nudge-nudge say that it would be a good idea to find that.

Scott Benjamin: No, that would be trespassing and you shouldn't do that.

Ben Bowlin: You should not do that.

Scott Benjamin: No, exactly. Do not do that. But I'm just throwing it out there that it's a possibility that it may still be there. It's kind of interesting, isn't it?

Ben Bowlin: Oh, that's awesome.

Scott Benjamin: Well, there may be a lot more of that going on all over the US.

Ben Bowlin: I'm glad you talked about the older models, pointing out that they're wood. When we talk about scale model cars, it's sort of this human habit to take everything that we have in ordinary life and make a smaller representation of it. Typically, it starts out for children - like lead soldiers, tin soldiers, and then of course horses and animals. So naturally when we get scale model cars, it's because cars have been invented. It's funny to me because growing up with these, it never occurred to me that there were people I had met in my life who were around before cars were invented. And so these scale model cars to them were like the newest toy.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, yeah. Sure. Definitely.

Ben Bowlin: Remember that thing you showed me off air?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, we'll get to it.

Ben Bowlin: I'm waiting for the end on that one.

Scott Benjamin: There's an interesting thing that everybody needs to see, I think. We'll bring that up at the end.

Ben Bowlin: We'll hold that until the end.

Scott Benjamin: One quick thing - did you say lead soldiers?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah.

Scott Benjamin: Did you play with lead soldiers when you were a kid?

Ben Bowlin: No.

Scott Benjamin: Are you sure?

Ben Bowlin: No. Let's say I'm 98 percent sure.

Scott Benjamin: Never mind. I understand. The other two percent you've lost memory of.

Ben Bowlin: Well, I'm from the hills, man, so yeah.

Scott Benjamin: All right, I'll move on. So ballpark, you can get some of the 1:18 scale cars for $10.00 if you go to certain retailers. You can also find them for several hundreds of dollars if you go to a place like the Franklin Mint where they have exact replicas with the correct wire coloring going to the motor and everything is -

Ben Bowlin: And they're authorized, authenticated reproductions.

Scott Benjamin: Exactly. So expect to pay anywhere between - this is strange - $10.00 and several hundred dollars for these. My range of comfort in that was between $30.00 and $80-something.

Ben Bowlin: You paid $80.00 for one?

Scott Benjamin: I did and that was a long time ago.

Ben Bowlin: Was it worth it?

Scott Benjamin: It was, yeah. I still look at those models and it's amazing. I love to look at them. They're like a small sculpture or piece of artwork that I can put out somewhere. Some of the other ones, like the bigger scale -

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, you said it gets more expensive as we go further up.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, it does. I won't mention the 1:43 scale. Those are a little smaller and a little bit less detail in most cases. But again, you can go the opposite end of the spectrum where they have more detail and they're more expensive. But when you get up into the 1:12 scale cars and the 1:8 scale cars, you can expect to pay - for the 1:12 scale cars, which are relatively big, you can expect to pay several hundred dollars for just an entry level type vehicle if you're going to get one.

Ben Bowlin: Just a base price.

Scott Benjamin: Just a model that you're going to put on a shelf and admire. It's not something a kid would bang into another car - hopefully not. And if you get up to 1:8 scale cars, which are pretty big, you can expect to pay several thousands of dollars for those models.

Ben Bowlin: Could you fit a kid in there?

Scott Benjamin: No. Not in a 1:8 scale car. You wouldn't be able to do. You have to get up into the 2:3 area for like a small kid to drive one.

Ben Bowlin: Okay, for someone to actually fit in one.

Scott Benjamin: Almost like a go-cart with a small motor. They have that type of vehicle as well. They're exact replicas, but they're 2:3 scale. They get even bigger than that, and you'll expect to pay several thousands of dollars for that, if not tens of thousands of dollars. When you get up to like 2:5 scale, then you're talking about $20,000 for a -

Ben Bowlin: Really?

Scott Benjamin: Yeah. If you're talking about a well done piece of art -

Ben Bowlin: I guess it is handmade.

Scott Benjamin: They're handmade. You can go to Neiman Marcus and by a 1:8 scale car. You can look this up online right now if you wanted to. They've got the McLaren F1 LM Model Car that sells for $4,700.00. That's a 1:8 scale, so it's pretty big. It comes in papaya orange only, which is a tribute to Bruce McLaren. They also have a Ferrari FXX and a Lamborghini Reventon.

Ben Bowlin: Don't want to steal your thunder, my podcast partner, but riddle me this. What would people use this for? If you get this F1 for $4,700.00, what -

Scott Benjamin: You put that on your mahogany desk and admire it, as do all of your clients who enter the office. Really, if you're a collector of something like this, that would be the centerpiece of your display. That may be the focal point of the room, if you have a room that's dedicated to something like this. Or in a garage that you have exotic cars or vintage cars, you may put this up on a wall in a covered case. It's something to look at and admire the scale and craftsmanship that went into it. If you can't afford the million dollar McLaren, then here's the way to spend less than five grand to get one.

Ben Bowlin: Okay. You see, when you put it that way, now you're speaking my language.

Scott Benjamin: But there is a company called Amalgam Motor Cars.

Ben Bowlin: Oh yes, Amalgam.

Scott Benjamin: Do you know this one?

Ben Bowlin: I ran against them in some of our research.

Scott Benjamin: All right. They build large-scale models. They have several 1:5 scale Ferraris. They have 1:4 scale Ferrari 458 Italia, which I think is pretty cool. But they do other things. They do F1 cars, yachts, engines - which are unbelievable, helmets, steering wheels, and all kinds of things. But again, you're talking about several thousands of dollars for these cars just as they are. And you have to order them well ahead of time to ship by the end of that year when you order one. And you can have them personalized. If you want them painted certain ways, you want interior packages that are different than what they advertise - all of that can be done. But you have to pay additional for that. Again, expect several thousands. You're getting into the $10,000 mark.

Ben Bowlin: Something you said here piques my interest, and hopefully our listeners' interest as well. You said engines.

Scott Benjamin: Engines, yeah.

Ben Bowlin: Now we're talking working engines?

Scott Benjamin: Now this one we're not.

Ben Bowlin: Oh.

Scott Benjamin: But there are several makers now that will make V8 engines, V10 engines, V12 engines - every engine you can imagine - that actually runs on the stand. And they're incredible to look at. They're beautiful - really well done. Oh, one more thing. I want to mention another scale that maybe you haven't heard of.

Ben Bowlin: All right.

Scott Benjamin: This is a small scale, very small scale - and I had no idea this was out there - 1:87 scale cars and trucks.

Ben Bowlin: What? Really? How?

Scott Benjamin: I'll show you a picture. Now, these are 1:87 scale. That's a picture of a motorcycle and a car. Just to give you an idea of the size, there's a penny next to this motorcycle and a penny next to what looks like a hotrod of some kind - a Model A maybe or something like that.

Ben Bowlin: It's a hotrod Model A and it looks to be a Harley motorcycle.

Scott Benjamin: I think it is. And the Harley is standing upright and so is the penny.

Ben Bowlin: And the penny is taller than the Harley.

Scott Benjamin: The penny is much taller than the Harley. There's a reasonable amount of detail in that model.

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, there is.

Scott Benjamin: I mean, it's a small - I bet if you put it on top of that penny, the wheel span might not overhand the penny at all.

Ben Bowlin: Yeah. I've got to say, this reminds me of - have you ever been to Ripley's Believe It or Not?

Scott Benjamin: Yes.

Ben Bowlin: You know where they have the tiny grains of rice where they have carvings? This reminds me of that sort of stuff.

Scott Benjamin: Exactly. This is extremely precise work. And there's a whole group of collectors out there that are into these 1:87 scale models and the level of detail that's put into these. They have all different types of photographs of semi truck trailers, like the old Coca-Cola haulers. They have an unbelievable amount of product out there - motorcycles, cars, hotrods, trucks, heavy hauling trucks. They have everything - farm implements. I saw some cool farm machinery. Each individual track, I guess - if it's a track like a tank would have, you could see the detail in the tread on the tank. It's unbelievable. These are great as far as something to collect or have. They're expensive, because there's a lot of work that goes into them, but they're very small and very detailed.

Ben Bowlin: And you can carry your entire collection in a briefcase.

Scott Benjamin: That's right.

Ben Bowlin: However - and this is one of the main objections one of my cousins had to model cars when they were younger - you can't run them. They don't actually run. And would that I could travel back in time to tell this kid about the last thing!

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, this really cool thing we found. We stumbled on this thing online. And judging by the number of hits this thing has on YouTube, I'm going to guess that a number of listeners have seen this already.

Ben Bowlin: Probably, yeah.

Scott Benjamin: But this is pretty awesome. It is a very old episode of Top Gear. It's a Top Gear feature with Jeremy Clarkson. He's narrating and interviewing someone. If you want to search for this vehicle, search for this exactly and you'll find it - Ferrari 312 PB Replica Scale Model. And you won't believe what you see in this.

Ben Bowlin: It's crazy.

Scott Benjamin: It's unbelievable. I mean, you watched it right?

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, I watched it.

Scott Benjamin: What did you think?

Ben Bowlin: I watched it. Our producer, Matt, watched it. Sometimes when I see levels of skill taken to that degree, Scott, I start to wonder what I'm doing with my life.

Scott Benjamin: All that TV watching?

Ben Bowlin: I don't even watch television that much.

Scott Benjamin: Just wasting your time reading?

Ben Bowlin: Oh, my gosh. Okay, so this Ferrari is tiny and perfect.

Scott Benjamin: It's a race car.

Ben Bowlin: I'm going to go ahead and say it. It's a real car.

Scott Benjamin: It is.

Ben Bowlin: It's like this little version of a real car.

Scott Benjamin: It's a real car. And I never did get the scale number on this. I don't know what scale it is, but it's big.

Ben Bowlin: I didn't see it either.

Scott Benjamin: It looks ballpark 1:8, maybe 1:12, scale. I think it's probably 1:8.

Ben Bowlin: And that's what he had to do. He built a working engine.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, that's the fascinating part about this. This isn't a model that this guy put together. This is a model that the guy built.

Ben Bowlin: Every piece.

Scott Benjamin: Every single piece of this car he built by hand in a machine shop. There's a whole interview with him, so watch it and you'll get it. The audio doesn't start until about 20 seconds in, so don't think that you're watching a bad version of it or something. But it's really fascinating. The guy's a Telecom engineer. He spent 20,000 hours on this model. That gives you an idea of how important this was to him. He made every single part himself. It took him three years just to make drawings that he had created from photographs of the actual car that he saw. I guess that's what drove him, when he was a kid he went to see this car race. And he called it the Ferrari Music, I think, and he longed to have that around him all of the time and he couldn't afford the real car. So he decided to make his own. It took him three years to make the drawings and 12 years to build the model, so a total of 15 years he has tied up in this project. And before you think that it's maybe not worth it, you should take a look at the video. It's pretty awesome.

Ben Bowlin: And we should say in full disclosure, it's fair to say that you and I are both the kind of guys who would rather see one thing done really well than ten things done average.

Scott Benjamin: Correct.

Ben Bowlin: So I think that's why we're so on the same page with this fellow.

Scott Benjamin: Oh, yeah. He made it so authentic. He designed and built the engine itself. It's the Ferrari engine. It's a 100 CC - of course, much scaled down - flat 12 fuel injected dry sump 24-valve engine that really works.

Ben Bowlin: Somehow.

Scott Benjamin: It really works. And the thing is, because everything is scale, he made the tiny little exhaust exactly like the Ferrari exhaust. He made every bit inside the engine just like the Ferrari would be. It sounds identical to the Ferrari 312 PP.

Ben Bowlin: Which would be Ferrari Music?

Scott Benjamin: Exactly. And the cool thing is - Ben, did you see the part where he has a key in the ignition? He turns the key -

Ben Bowlin: Yeah, with the tweezers.

Scott Benjamin: And the lights work. The dash lights up and the gauges work. And he made those gauges. He did every bit of this car.

Ben Bowli n: It's crazy, man.

Scott Benjamin: He has a gear box that has five speed with a little gaited shifter and a wooden knob. And it even has reverse. The wheels work, so if you could find somebody that's 1:8 scale, they could drive the car.

Ben Bowlin: Okay, that's the perfect ending for that one, man. I officially nominate this for favorite scale model car of the show.

Scott Benjamin: Yeah, definitely.

Ben Bowlin: Any objections?

Scott Benjamin: No, not at all.

Ben Bowlin: Okay. Then we've done it and made it official. We have to say, before we head out - there's probably some people wondering, "Why aren't you guys doing Matchbox cars?"

Scott Benjamin: Yeah.

Ben Bowlin: We can't give you any spoilers, but we feel like maybe that's a separate thing.

Scott Benjamin: I think so. This is a different level. Matchbox does some scale models. We're not talking about the kind that you buy in the little blue packet with the little plastic case over it. They make other types of models, too, so I'm not discounting that at all. I'm just saying that we may talk about Matchbox in the future.

Ben Bowlin: You'll have to stay tuned to find out. And to our listeners, thanks for tuning in guys! Are you a car collector, a scale model car collector? Do you have any particularly crazy stories about that? If you do, feel free to find us on Facebook or Twitter - Car Stuff. Feel free to drop a line on our awesome blog on Or you could always cut out the middle man and email us directly at -

Scott Benjamin:

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