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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Article that ran in the NY Times today.

By PHIL PATTON

Published: March 8, 2004

The difference between men and boys, the saying goes, is the size of their toys. But considering the growing number of grown men - and women - obsessed with tiny cars, that may not be true.

Model cars are no longer just toys, nor are they designed for children. Increasingly they are aimed at adults and intended for collectors. And just as the companies that build big cars have sought out artists to get a fresh view of their products, toy makers like Mattel are turning to today's style setters to help develop model cars in tune with the times.

For instance, at the American International Toy Fair in New York last month, Mattel's Hot Wheels division introduced a line of new toys modeled after cars done by independent customizers, including Funkmaster Flex, the hip-hop D.J. and television host who has built a small Bronx-based industry customizing cars for celebrities such as 50 Cent, P. Diddy and Queen Latifah. Called Whips, the vehicles in this line resemble the full-size bling-bling models favored by musicians and professional athletes built by 310 Motoring in Los Angeles; West Coast Customs in Inglewood, Calif.; and Flex's own Team Baurtwell shop in the Bronx.

"I feel like a kid," Flex said, holding up a purple scale model of a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T - a smaller version of one he has outfitted in real life.

A glimpse of the new toys at the fair, most of which go on sale this summer, suggests that little cars, for children of all ages, may say more than real cars about the shapes of people's automotive obsessions.

For instance, Hot Wheels is expanding its line known as Blings, which feature cartoonlike custom sport utilities. An exaggerated version of the Cadillac Escalade is offered in this line, with giant, menacing wheels and a tiny cabin - a spot-on reflection of many people's attitudes toward S.U.V.'s.

Toy makers have fast and furiously added import tuner models to their offerings, too. And the Hot Wheels Hardnoze line turns on the retro trend, with fantasy hot rods whose bodies seem to be melting in motion, like a 1949 Mercury.

One goal of model-making is authenticity, of course, but not literal authenticity. To make a foot-long Ferrari look like a real Ferrari may require artistic license - subtle changes in proportion and detail.

"We stay on the cutting edge of the car culture," John Coyne, vice president for marketing at Hot Wheels, said. Maintaining authenticity and credibility means finding partners like Flex and West Coast Customs, he added.

Model makers also call in vehicle designers whose works are not necessarily meant to be driven on public roads. Harald Belker, who created the futuristic Lexus for the "Minority Report" has designed for Hot Wheels.

Television shows like "Ride With Funkmaster Flex" and "MTV Cribs: Whips, Rides and Dubs Edition" provide encouragement to collectors of models that resemble celebrities' cars. But it is easier than ever to buy all kinds of models. They show up for sale not just at toy shops, but at newsstands and convenience stores. Filling stations have stacks of Maisto 1:18 models behind the checkout counter, in case a customer picking up a bag of peanuts or a pack of cigarettes is also struck with the sudden impulse to own a 1956 Chrysler 300B for $50.

Collectors, with their own Web sites and with eBay and other digital marketplaces abetting their habits, tend to be specialists. Rob Mitchell, the director of corporate communications for BMW North America, is known for his vast collection of Bimmer models, each neatly sealed in its box. These provide a visual index to his encyclopedic knowledge of the company's models over the decades.

Model makers seal deals with automobile companies to get the dimensions of coming models long before the real cars roll into dealerships. The just-announced Mini Cabrio will be available in model form this September, at about the same time that the actual car arrives. But Mattel will sell you a new 2005 Corvette right away, though dealers won't have the real versions until later this year. And Hot Wheels has an exclusive relationship with Ferrari, so its model of the 612 Scaglietti is already out; the car itself will not arrive for months.

"Our engineers work right alongside their engineers in Maranello," Negim Kamali, a Mattel spokeswoman, said of Ferrari.

Miva Filoseta, the director of engineering for Hot Wheels, explained that he receives computerized drawings directly from manufacturers months before the actual cars appear anywhere except in clandestine "spy" photos. "We have high security," Mr. Filoset said. "We sign in blood."

It is not only kids and collectors who take models seriously. The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angles opened the Hot Wheels Hall of Fame, a permanent exhibit, last April. The most valuable Hot Wheels model, according to the museum, is a prototype of the 1969 Volkswagen Beach Bomb Rearloader, which brought $72,000 at auction. The production version sold for 69 cents when new.

Whether in 1:18 scale or 1:64, many models are made in special series for collectors. You can collect the highway patrol cars of all 50 states as easily as you can pick up penalty points on your license.

Matchbox offers a line of Ford Mustangs to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that car. Corgi, the venerable British model maker whose first cars appeared in the 1930's, puts out a group of James Bond cars, modeled on vehicles in Agent 007 films over the decades.

The Hot Wheels Whips were not the first venture into modeling hip-hop rides. Jada Toys shrewdly linked up with Dub, a magazine dedicated to celebrity custom cars, to produce a line that includes a number of large S.U.V.'s.

Model makers are changing in the same ways the car industry changed.

Like real car companies, the toy makers seek design themes. Mac Ragan, a toy collector and author of books on both Matchbox and Hot Wheels, says that Matchbox's top designer, Trevor Hayes, goes for a chunky look that he calls "Matchboxness," to emphasize that the company still makes its bodies of metal.

The model industry, like the real auto industry, has been consolidating: the two leading makes, Hot Wheels and Matchbox, are both owned by Mattel. Model makers now have platform strategies: they mount different bodies on a shared chassis, Mr. Ragan said.
 

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That was an interesting read X. Thanks for posting that for us. :cheers :cheers :cheers
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
MockingBird said:
"Our engineers work right alongside their engineers in Maranello," Negim Kamali, a Mattel spokeswoman, said of Ferrari.
someone's been sleeping on the job... :p
To maintain tight security Mattel sends their blind engineers. :lol
 

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RichardM said:
MockingBird said:
"Our engineers work right alongside their engineers in Maranello," Negim Kamali, a Mattel spokeswoman, said of Ferrari.
someone's been sleeping on the job... :p
To maintain tight security Mattel sends their blind engineers. :lol
No they're not totally blind, just have a very very severe case of myopia.
 

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Thank you, DX! WE'RE ON THE MAP, BABY! Finally, the world knows about us! :happy
 
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