VW Modeling

VW Models Car History

By Herschel D.
(Continuation of August 2003)

In the fifties several other companies came into being making both die cast cars and plastic assembly glue kits. AMT was one of the first to make fully assembled promos of new cars. They began that around 1949. They provided their first assembly kit in 1953 (a three-car kit with a Ford, Studebaker and Pontiac), which was plastic with metal parts and which was designed as a screw together kit. It is long gone, but I had that kit too.  In 1958 AMT issued their first all plastic “3-in-one glue kits. One that I had was a 1958 Pontiac convertible. In 1959 AMT issued their first antique car kit. It was a 1932 Ford Model “B” 4-cylinder Roadster (AMT used 1/25th scale). Not long ago that same kit in its original form was reissued, and I bought it. It was 3-in–one also (stock, custom, and dragster).  Pyro was also an early provider of engine-detailed plastic model kits in the late ‘50’s. They included a VW Beetle. Some promos were made by PMC and Johan, too. Volkswagen had PMC make a 1/25th scale promo Beetle and Karmann Ghia in 1959. Otherwise VW’s promo maker was Viking in 1/40th and “HO” (1/87th) scale for a long time (not currently).

Sheet metal models and toys continued well after WWII, too. The first had wind up motors, then friction drive and then, increasingly they became battery operated.  Schuco of Germany made very accurate wind up sheet metal models in various scales that actually had 3-speed gearshifts! Though Schuco sold that tooling they are still available (including VW’s) under new ownership. Schuco, itself, also under newer ownership, now makes 1/43rd scale die casts, including some promos that have been made for VW. They have some new tooling of vintage VW’s now, too. Another company was the Japanese company, Bandai. I have several of their’s including a 1/15h scale bump and go Beetle and a 1/22nd scale friction drive late’50’s single cab Type II. 

Meanwhile, Dinky Toys were still being made and continued in the original form until company ownership changed in the early 1960’s. By that time they had a lot of competition, too. Such as Corgi which began in 1959. Corgi made a great line of VW Buses, Beetles, and even the types 3 and 4 later on! So the, then, new owners of Dinky (since then the Dinky name has come under Matchbox ownership) were compelled to add working features to the cars. I have both a 1/48th scale 1956 Beetle and a 1/43rd scale 1965 Beetle by them. The ’65 has openable doors, trunk and engine lid. 

We can’t forget the Matchbox line of cars that began in 1953, either. Their first VW’s were the 1956 Type II Panel Van and a 1958 Beetle complete with engine detail in its tiny 1/72nd scale. Mattel began their Hot Wheels toy line in 1968 including a very customized V8 front-engined Beetle. Their popularity with kids forced Matchbox (and others) to change over from realistic wheels to the easy rolling “fast wheels” around 1970. Personally, to me, though, most Hot Wheels are more toys than models!

Another really nice line of 1/64th scale model cars that did include VW’s was Tomy (Tomica).  Back in the 1970’s they were accurate models like today’s Johnny Lightning’s are but they were ignored (they are still made but are no longer imported) just because they weren’t the brand names that Matchbox and Hot Wheels were.  Johnny Lightning has an excellent line of VW miniatures that I think are even more realistic than today’s 1/64th scale Matchbox and they have become a formidable competitor. The company “Playing Mantis,” got into making Johnny Lightning cars by applying for the abandoned trademark of the defunct 1970’s company “Topper,” who had also fallen victim to brand name preference.

Since then, in this age of computer games, model car kit manufacturers have had to add pre-painted easy assembly kits in both all plastic and die cast metal to their lines to keep up their sales.

Competition has driven the pre-assembled die cast model carmakers to provide amazingly detailed models at very affordable prices. As I discussed in a previous article I dreamed of this many years ago before technology had yet made it possible. Back in the 1960’s the detail provided so inexpensively now was still the stuff of $10,000 one-off’s!

The current models are still getting better and better, too! You can get the best detail from Franklin Mint and Danbury Mint but they are still much pricier than the 1/18th scale ones that nevertheless have great detail at less than $25.00!  Bburago, Gate,  Yatming, Sunstar and Maisto have VW’s. Quite frankly, in my opinion, the higher price of the Mints is not just from the greater detail, it is also intended to be a sort of built in artificial low production “collector’s” price with the idea being that they will sell later for a lot more than you paid for it.

In reality, because most of them are carefully preserved and therefore the attrition is low, they are actually more likely to resell for less than you pay for them. That, however, doesn’t take away from the fact that, as said above, they are the very best detailed models that are available commercially without paying a craftsman for an expensive one-off model. Franklin’s “1962” (really an early ’63) VW Microbus is an excellent miniature right down to the gas heater, of the 1 millionth VW Type II that was given to UNICEF and is now in VW’s museum. That, too, is in my collection. Today’s “toy” VW’s are often near scale models and often have “pull back” motors. I believe that, that kind of toy propulsion was first seen in the 1980’s?

This brings us up to the present in the progress of miniature car making. I have only mentioned some of the most important companies. I think the Beetle is probably the most modeled car ever!