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Guide to F1 model cars

Although there are lots of grand prix model car manufacturers, you can narrow down the list to just a few based on price.

There are also a few simple rules in terms of cost when it comes to Formula 1 model cars – proper metal diecast vs plastic, handmade assembly, inclusion of a driver figure, accurate tobacco decals, engine detailing (usually with a removable engine cowling) and rarity all add to the retail price of a model. Models made of metal parts should usually be more expensive. An easy way to tell the difference between metal diecast and resin or plastic is by touch. Metal will feel cold when touching.

F1 grand prix model cars come in 3 types – model kits (metal, resin or plastic), assembled cars (diecast metal, resin or plastic) and radio control cars. Scale is an important consideration – collecting car models takes up lots of shelf or cabinet space, especially the 1:18 models. If you have limited furniture space, 1:43 scale is the way to go.


Model Kits

Hobby modellers with plenty of time and the thrill of the challenge will probably collect or build from car kits. The Japanese hobby manufacturers dominate here. The most mainstream manufacturer is Tamiya who make a lot of plastic kit models from all eras in 1:20 and the larger 1:12 scale. Other plastic kit manufacturers are Fujimi (recent cars in 1:20 scale), Hasegawa (1:20 and 1:24 scale Ferrari’s) and Revell (1:24 scale cars from Schumi era Ferraris, Williams BMW, etc.).

For diecast metal kits, you can find excellent kits from Tameo, S.R.C. and Kyosho – these are usually in 1:43 scale and will require intermediate to high modelling experience. One advantage of metal kits is the huge back catalog of cars to choose from compared to the limited releases of the more popular pre-assembled or boxed cars. There are plenty of good websites and blogs for F1 diecast modellers if that is your interest.

Note: The skill in building a metal diecast model is several levels higher than assembling the plastic moulded Tamiya type model – you’ll also need more special equipment, a lot more working space (including airbrushing space) and a lot more patience!


Assembled/boxed model cars

The vast majority of collectors will prefer to buy assembled models. You can of course buy hand built metal diecasts such as BBR and Tameo models but because they are individually hand built these usually carry an expensive price tag. New collectors will probably ask the obvious questions of the differences between CMC vs Exoto or Minichamps vs Spark vs Hot Wheels models – I will try to give a some brief observations below.

The major brands in this category are:

Amalgam – Upmarket handbuilt preproductions in 1:8 scale and 1:5 scale. I’ve only seen a few Amalgam models up close – some Ferrari F1 models and the BMW Sauber 2008 car which were all absolutely stunning. They are priced for the wealthy collector and out of reach of the average collector (£3000+) but Amalgam also produce small scale F1 nose cones and miniature F1 steering wheels in the sub-USD100 price range which is more accessible for the average collector. Official site: www.amalgamcollection.com

Biante – This Australian company produces a lot of touring car diecasts but they did commission 1:43 diecasts of the Cooper T51 and T53 cars driven by Sir Jack Brabham and Sir Stirling Moss in ’59 and ’60. These diecasts have removable engine cowlings. Official site: www.biante.com.au

BBR – Italian model company, BBR makes hand built models for the serious collector. Diecast collectors particularly fawn over BBR’s Ferrari 1:43’s. Official Site: bbrmodels.it

Bburago – Hong Kong manufacturer. Their older F1 models are generally in 1:24 scale and driverless. I’ve only ever owned Bbruragos of the early Schumacher Ferrraris and felt the build quality was reasonable given the price back then. Even though the chassis was mainly a combination of rubber plastic, it was a solid model, didn’t look too toyish and the wheels could turn. I’ve seen more recent season Bburago Red Bull’s and McLaren’s  in 1:32 scale in hobby shops – they aren’t works of art but neither is the price. Official Site: www.bburago.com

Brumm – this Italian manufacturer also makes road and GT car models but is known for its Ferrari grand prix cars in 1:43 scale. Their early models had no driver figures but their recent model productions are worthy of a serious look. Their newer collections have a driver included and some even have background dioramas, Ferrari fans can pickup Brumm 1:43 specific cars with driver figurines that are not covered particularly well by Minichamps or HotWheels such as most of the Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari race cars, Michele Alboretto 126C4 (review here), Clay Regazzoni 312B, Von Trips 156, Jacky Ickx 312, Jim Clark Lotus 25 . Brumm also have an Auto Union collection in 1:43, the only driver model I’ve seen in the 1938 Nuvolari Auto Union Tipo D. Brumm models have more visible plastic parts and are more affordable than Minichamps, but their detailing is still quite good. Official Site: www.brumm.it

CMC – relatively expensive (USD300+) but highly detailed 1:18 metal diecasts comparable with Exoto models. CMC are popular for their Silver Arrows, Maserati 250F and Ferrari 156 Sharknose reproductions. CMC models are without driver figures, and you will have to search around for specialized driver figures if you want the complete look. Official Site: www.cmc-modelcars.de

Ebbro – have a small collection series of diecast and resin 1:43 and 1:20 scale of the classic Honda F1 RA272, RA273, RA300, RA301 and RA302 cars from the 60s. Official Site: www.ebbro.com

Exoto – generally considered to be the best diecast 1:18 models in the USD300+ range.  The more expensive Exotos are the out of production cars with driver figures – Ferraris (e.g. Lauda/Regazzoni 312T2, Scheckter/Villeneuve 312T4, Mansell/Prost 641), some of the Lotus cars (Clark Lotus 49, Fittipaldi Lotus 72) and the Tyrrells (Scheckter P34). Exotos have highly detailed engine parts and their driver figures are very accurate (right down to Alain Prost’s nose!). Since most models are out of production, Exotos also have very good re-sale value. If an average collector wanted to indulge in one expensive model purchase, an Exoto would be a good choice. If you have a choice, stick to the Exotos with a driver figure (note: the faces and helmets are very accurate) – although they cost more, they look better and will retain better value. The more expensive and recent Exoto XS series collection includes the Hill Ferrari Tipo 246, Sharknose 156 and the Alfetta 159 with much more detail and moving parts than the standard Exoto models. Official Site: www.exoto.com

Fujimi Collection – Fuji Collection only have a few assembled 1:43 resin models (Scheckter signed 312T4 limited edtion, Alesi 312T2) although Fujimi are more well known for their 1/20 plastic model kits of past classic 80’s/90s race cars (Ferrari 126CK, 126C2,  641/2, F92A, 248 , F2007, McLaren Hondas and Williams FW14B, FW16), Senna cars (1981 kart, 1993 kart, Lotus 97T, Williams FW16) and recent season cars (Ferrari F2012, McLaren MP4/27 and Sauber C31). I haven’t managed to see the Fuji Collection 1:43 resins up close yet. Official Site: www.fujimimodel.com

Hot Wheels – Hot Wheels came to prominence when Mattel secured the exclusive licensing for Ferrari diecasts in the early 2000s. Hot Wheels models come in 1:43, 1:24 and 1:18. Aside from Ferrari, Hot Wheels also had licenses for the early 2000s Jordan, McLaren, Williams and Jaguar cars. The early Hot Wheels cars were poor in detailing compared to their Minichamps counterparts but slowly improved. The most obvious early deficiencies were in the livery colors and detailing, although they are cheaper than Minichamps cars of the same scale. Hot Wheels also have an Elite edition which is a higher build, mostly focused on Ferrari GP cars however these models have no driver figure. Official Site: www.hotwheels-elite.com

IXO – IXO are better known for their La Storia Ferrari collection of 1:43 F1 cars. The La Storia models come in large red metallic book container boxes, so they do take up a lot of shelf space. There are 2 main La Storia series collection, the Ferrari Collection series in the black clamshell plinth which has cars with driver figures (10,000 unit production run and 57 different models) and the other La Storia cars are driverless. To make things a little more complicated, Mattel in the early 2000’s took over production of the La Storia models. Official Site: www.ixomodels.com

Looksmart – Like BBR, Looksmart is an Italian manufacturer of expensive hand made diecasts. More know for its exoticar 1:43 diecasts, Looksmart have Ferrari licence rights to the recent SF15T and a back catalog of many Ferrari historical F1 cars including the 156, 158, 312B3, 126 C4 and F1 89 and historical Alfa Romeo race cars including the 179 and the 184T. Official Site: www.looksmartmodels.com

Minichamps – Minichamps of Germany are probably the most popular brand for collectors. They regularly produce the latest season cars and the build quality of 1:43 and 1:18 models are high.  The size of the 1:43 models make them ideal to stack on book shelves. Many of their earlier limited production runs (e.g. World Champions cars) now command high re-sale prices.  Its worth noting that there are 2 generations of Minichamps 1:43 models and the best indicator is to look at the driver detailing. Many early Minichamps models used a very simple block driver figurine with no detailing or decals. Minichamps’ later generation models used a better figurine with proper hands, legs and race suit detailing.  Interestingly, Minichamps have now also changed their box and plinth sizes to the same size as Spark. They are also now releasing an Evolution series for GP winning cars during the season – these will be resin models and from the images I can find online, these look suspiciously like re-packaged Spark models. Official Site: www.minichamps.de

Norev – Norev is a French model car producer. I haven’t personally seen any of their models but in the F1 category, they have released 1:43 and 1:18 scale Renault R28, R29 and R30 race cars. Their cars have no driver figures. Official Site: www.norev.com

Onyx – Onyx of Portgual produced a lot of models in 1980s & 1990s and have a lower build quality than Quartzo and Minichamps. You will see 2 types of Onyx series models – one series in the square plinth boxes similar to Quartzo (usually post 1994 cars) and the other in the more conventional rectangular boxes with a sloping base (usually the early 1990s cars McLaren and Ferrari). The early 1990s Onyx cars were slightly toyish but later series Onyx models with the square boxes were a bigger improvement. Onyx models are sometimes a good compromise if you want to pickup a cheaper version model of a rare car or world championship car that is a lot more expensive than the Minichamps version. I believe Onyx stopped diecast production around 1997 due to licensing reasons.

Polistil – Polistil was an Italian model manufacturer that produced several plastic F1 cars in differing scale of a similar quality to Corgi models. Polistil are probably more known for their slotcars but they have produced the  flat V12 Ferrari’s (312B2, 312B3, 312T2, etc) in larger scales (1:16, 1:18).

Quartzo – I’m not sure if Quartzo still manufacture models. Quarzto were part of Vitesse which is now owned by SunStar Models. Quartzo are famous for their 1:43 models of the 1960s and 1970s GP cars although they also made 1:18 cars. Quartzo build quality is not as detailed as Minichamps, the obvious difference is in the driver helmet figurines (especially the visor) which are very toy-like. See my comparison review. Quartzo box sizes  are also tall square boxes which take up more shelf space. Quartzo models are good if you are interested in Matras, Coopers, Brabham, March, Tyrrell, Lotus and Honda cars of that era. I previously owned a 1:18 scale Lotus 49 and while the chassis was metal, overall it was more plastic than metal (especially the engine parts), however the model itself did compare reasonably well to the much more expensive Exoto version. Official Site: www.vitessemodels.com

RBA Collectibles – RBA models were sold as part of a publication series in UK, Spain and Italy (I think). These models were manufactured in China and you can find plenty of these listed for re-sale online. Build quality is more at the budget end similar to Onyx.

Redline – Redline models produced only Ferrari cars and are a sister company to Spark. I have seen the Niki Lauda 312B3 (reviewed here) which is excellent but not all Redline’s contain driver figures. The ones I am aware of are the Lauda/Regazzoni 312B3, Surtees/Bandini 158 (the open driver helmet figures look slightly toyish) and the Massa/Räikkönen F2008. Redline model prices tend to start from USD100 upwards (but if  you can find a Räikkönen F2008 sharkfin with driver figure, expect a much higher price tag, as these are super rare…). Note: Spark/Redline no longer make Ferrari models due to licensing reasons, so any Redline model you see in store or online are now out of production. Official Site: www.redline-models.com

Solido – Solido were a French manufacturer but changed owners several times and are now part of the German Simba Dickie Group. Solido is known for their 1:18 Alain Prost collection diecasts – Renault and McLarens. These diecasts had no driver figure but had removable chassis covers with engine detail. I haven’t owned any Solido models but you will still find these on ebay. Official Site:www.solido.com

Schuco – I haven’t seen a Schuco F1 diecast up close. This German manufacturer (also a part of the Simba Dickie Group) is more well known for their Piccolo style models. Schuco will be releasing the previous Biante commissioned Jack Brabham Cooper T51 in 1:18. Official Site: www.schuco.de

Spark – Spark produce excellent 1:43 scale cars. These are resin models rather than metal diecast. Spark models are slightly more expensive than the same Minichamp models and have traditionally been focused on 1960s and 1970s F1 cars. They are well known for their Lotus, Tyrrell and BRM model cars, although  I have noticed that Spark have been releasing the latest cars – HRT, Caterham, Sauber and even McLaren. I would rate Spark build quality higher than older Minichamps models – Spark models have more detailed brake ducts and the driver helmet has a plastic visor with some facial features underneath. Although on some recent Spark 70s models, the helmet shape/visor looks a little more open faced than it should which might irritate some collectors. Official Site: www.sparkmodel.com

Tamiya – Although Tamiya produce mainly plastic kits, they did do a small diecast production run in 1:20 scale which included a stock driver figure called the Collector’s Club. This series  included 1992 grid cars: Alesi Ferrari 643, Mansell Williams Renault FW14B, Schumacher Benetton Ford B193B, Hakkinen Lotus 102B, Herbert Lotus 107B and Senna McLaren MP4/6. I’m also aware that Tamiya have added Williams FW24 and Honda RA272 to the Collector’s Club range (although these models are without driver figures).

Truescale (TSM) – Truescale Models is another Hong Kong manufacturer. I have only seen a few Truescale 1:43 scale models and have a Peterson Tyrrell P34 on my shelf (reviewed here). Truescale prices are a little higher than Minichamps (although the gap is closing due to increase in new Minichamps pricing) but the TSM build quality, driver and additional engine detailing is superior. The ratio of metal vs plastic parts is much higher in a Truescale model. TrueScale have announced they are going to producing more Lotus, McLaren Honda and Brabham 1:43 models and these will probably be much better than the Minichamps versions. Official Site: www.tsm-models.com

I’ve posted some comparison reviews between different manufacturers on the site. I would rank the order of quality and cost like this  (starting with lower quality to higher quality):

1. Onyx/RBA/Bburago

2. Quartzo & Brumm

3. Kyosho, IXO & Hotwheels

4. Minichamps & Spark

5. TrueScale (TSM) & Redline

6. CMC

6. Exoto

7. Amalgam


Remote controlled models

I don’t have too much experience with radio control F1 cars, but I have seen the Tamiya Ferrari, Williams and McLaren RC cars in 1:10 scale in the hobby shops. There are also slot car models for Scalextrix sets – Carrera and Fly produce some good looking 1:43 scale grand prix slot cars. The more recent Scalextrix F1 1:43 models I have seen, like the Jim Clark Kyalami GP Lotus 49, looked seriously good, and could easily just be bought as a display model like a Minichamps or a Spark. New Scalextrix 1:43 models retail for slightly cheaper prices than new Minichamps or Spark models, so I might investigate this when I get the time.

I’ve been toying with the idea of getting an RC model but just don’t have the time but I would be happy to hear from anyone who can offer other readers guidance on RC models.


A friendly tip about diecast collecting…

I started collecting Formula One diecast models almost 20 years ago, and for new collectors I offer the following tips:

  • Collecting can very easily become addictive, even if you only have a small budget or a big budget. The size of your budget will determine how quickly you go through the collecting cycle that all collectors experience. When you first start you will buy a few cars that you like the look of, then you will set yourself a goal like collecting every car driven by your favorite driver (e.g. Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton or Vettel, etc.) or you target certain team cars (e.g. all the 80’s Williams or 90’s McLaren or RedBull racecars) or even all the world championship F1 cars. If you start with Brumm or Quartzo, you will upgrade to Minichamps or Spark, then possibly the more expensive category of Exoto, CMC, Tameo, BBR, etc.
  • The best warning sign is when you realise you are running out of display shelves in your home and you have to start storing cars in their boxes away in a storeroom or start selling off some of the cars you realize you don’t like so much any more. Or if you start telling excuses to your wife or partner about the new package in the mail…
  • So don’t be tempted to buy models that are cheap that you wouldn’t normally buy if it were normally priced. A lot of the 80s and 90s Minichamps models fall into this category – for example, unless you are a driver or team fan, would you spend $50+ to grab a batch of Diniz Sauber, Wurz Benneton, Heidfeld Jordan and Yoong Minardi or use that same $50 to buy a single more valuable model?
  • The average diecast model loses its original value, especially after a driver has retired, unless it is a special car or limited edition. A good example would be Minichamps Ralf Schumacher 1:43 Williams cars (with the exception of maybe the FW26) or Coulthard McLarens. You can expect the same to happen to Trulli, Kovalainen, Glock, De La Rosa, Kobayashi cars too. Even if you are a fan of a less popular driver, you can always wait  9-12 months after a release and pick it up online for a cheaper price.