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Posted on Oct 20, 2004 in Armchair Reading

Scale Vehicles Measure Up

By Peter Suciu

Taking control of the vehicle

The notable improvement with today’s miniatures is that they offer radio control abilities that previously were unheard of with past models. The current generation of products utilize much more precise computerized controls and as a result perform much better than those of the past. The results have actually led to a cottage industry of experts that will custom build vehicles to the buyer’s specifications. Additionally, the miniaturization of the electronics has meant that vehicles of all shapes and sizes can be created.

Hong Kong based Dragon Models, a company that leads the market for their 1/6 scale action figures, recently introduced a line of 1/72 scale Tiger tanks. Although small in size, these R/C tanks are big in features and include well-detailed chassis and turret and even come with small details like cables and tools. The tanks are factory painted with authentic camouflage schemes and markings, with patterns for both the Eastern Front and Sicily available, as well as highlights and weathering. A five-minute charge will give would-be tank commanders a full 15-minute of battle time.

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RC Tiger

1/72 Scale RC Tiger I from Dragon Models

For those looking for a larger miniature there are plenty of options available and currently the hot trend is in 1/8 and 1/6 scale vehicles – which as the size suggests can be quite large and quite heavy, often over 100 pounds. With prices well over $1000 these probably aren’t in everyone’s budget but they are especially impressive. These are also vehicles that for the most part need to be ordered and are custom built.

Currently these tanks are assembled and painted by only a relatively small group of dealers. Moreover some dealers have even taken the role of middlemen, taking custom orders domestically and then importing the finished product from Russia. David F. Lawrence, whose company goes by the name Armor Group South, works with partners in Europe to construct the actual tanks, where they are then shipped directly to the consumer. He has seen a steady base of buyers that already enjoy modeling armored vehicles and now has discovered the appeal of remote controlled tanks in the 1/6 scale.

“They really like the thought of customizing the model to their own taste with camo paint and weathering techniques that they honed on the smaller scale models,” explains Lawrence. He adds that the quality is one of the issues that has made collecting these larger vehicles so desirable but doesn’t believe it is necessarily the driving issue. “What excites them is the size of the vehicles and the fact that they are remote controlled. No other toy manufacturer is offering anything on this scale that can be controlled via a remote controlled radio.”

And as for why the sudden surge of imports from the Russia, Lawrence admits that there are several people in the USA with the skills and technical knowledge to build these vehicles, but only his comrades have been able to produce these miniatures in mass. He does add that he while these models are fun to drive and own, he doesn’t consider them of real collectible value even though these are very expensive. “However, I certainly can be wrong about that, since people collect just about anything.”

Collectibles worthy of a parade or display

No matter what the scale collecting miniature vehicles can be an expensive hobby, but at least there is currently little issue in the way of “fakes” when it comes to purchasing new products. However collectors do need to be on guard of poor quality imitations of the more expensive items. There is also a growing cottage industry of sorts that Dultz has seen crop up that upgrades or changes many of the die-cast metal vehicles offered by mainstream producers.

“These after-market houses are based all-around the world,” Dultz explains. “And will generally produce limited numbers of truly unique vehicles that are simply not available from the larger companies.” He cites how a standard German Mk. IV medium tank might be turned into a Wirbelwind flak gun by replacing the original turret with a high quality resin superstructure. “I’m oftentimes amazed at some of the home-brewed designs they’ve been able to replicate.”

Prices for a standard 1/43 or 1/50 scale military vehicle averages around $20-30, while these after-market versions might sell for as much as $150 or more. Older vehicles produced in the late 1960s, the first heyday of die-cast miniatures, may command much higher prices, especially adds Dultz if the examples are in mint condition and packaged in their original box.

World War II German and American tanks lead the charge when it comes to collectible miniatures in the smaller scales but the more modern Russian T-90 and M1 Abrams seem to be the armor kings in the 1/6 scale. Lawrence says he gets more requests for these modern armored beasts, possibly to use with the modern figures from Dragon and 21st Toys.

As mentioned, both of those action figure manufacturers have introduced a limited number of 1/6-scale products. 21st Century has released a German motorcycle and sidecar as well as the go-anywhere Schwimmwagen, but as with their figures, the detail is lacking and require a bit of end-user work to give it that authentic look. Dragon meanwhile has turned their attention to those 1/72 R/C Tigers but the company did release two versions of the infamous German Kubelwagen, including a tan-colored ambulance. Collecting 1/6 scale vehicles isn’t as expensive as attempting to purchase the real deal, yet it does require some space especially as you’ll no doubt want a few troops to make your tank look all the more impressive.

Miniatures take to the air and head out to sea

One downside to even R/C land vehicles is that they really don’t do all that much – and they certainly don’t engage in combat. There is an entire hobby based on R/C aircraft but it is mostly beyond the scope of this article. However, there are numerous options of large-scale aircraft with wingspans well over 100 inches and these planes actually fly! They do require a lot of skill, as well as a great deal of maintenance but seeing a 1/8 scale B-25 take to the air is an impressive sight.

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