Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Tomica Memories - Knight Rider

I didn't really watch the Knight Rider series in the 80s but I do know of the car. I didn't know it was named KITT then. I got to know Knight Rider through my cousin when we visited him one afternoon. As per our standard operating procedure, we (including my brother) will check out if he bought any new toy cars as he usually did. His lot of toys usually includes mostly Matchbox, a number of Tomica, some Yatming and a little of other brands.

To our surprise,  we found the basket of toy cars are all full-fledged black. Black cars, trucks and buses. He painted all of them black. I even saw a Matchbox London bus painted black too. I got curious and asked him why? He told me about Knight Rider and he wanted his toy cars to look like KITT. I didn't really know what is Knight Rider then but I thought it was cool that cars are black. Toy cars are usually not painted black then, well, most of it.

The black painted cars got both me and my brother interested and we watched a little of Knight Rider (not full series) as we do not know the exact aired time. Anyway, even if we watch it, we didn't really care about the storyline as we just want to take a look of the car. What we understood about Knight Rider car then, it's black, fast, super, awesome and it talks. We thought that it must be the fastest car on earth.

One day, my grandma brought us to a nearby provision shop and we bought a Chevrolet Camaro each. I don't know if it is a coincidence. Whenever we buy our Tomica in a provision shop, we didn't really pick them ourselves as there wasn't many choices comparing to a toy shop. The provision shop was closed for years and was demolished, new apartments are standing tall where the shop locate then.

We were very glad to buy the 2 Camaros although we didn't pick it ourselves. I was very excited because it look like a Knight Rider car in blue. I need to make it look like a Knight Rider so we brought our Camaros to our cousin and request him to paint it black for us. Seriously, I think that it was a dumb thing to do that to this blue Camaro now but that's what kids do during childhood.

We collected the black Camaros from him some time later. Although it was not professionally painted, we were very happy that we had a Knight Rider car. The car was actually painted with black marker.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Song of Sonata

My father has driven cars which have close relations with the Sonata which somehow inspired me to collect Korean toy cars. He never really owned any Sonata. He had a 1987 Hyundai Stellar and now a 2005/6 Kia Magentis (MS).

The first Korean car my father bought is the Hyundai Stellar. He bought this car in 1987 and it was a black one. I was amazed by the sheer size of this car comparing to the car my father replaced, the Sunny California. The Hyundai Stellar once roamed the roads of Singapore due to its low cost to own. The car was Corona size (or larger than) but you pay lesser than a Corolla. The Stellar was available in 2 engine sizes, 1.6 and 2.0 as the Stellar Prima. It was based on chassis of a Ford Cortina, donor engine from Mitsubishi and styled by Giorgetto Giugaro. The Stellar was sold in Singapore from around 1984 to 1990. The car was given a facelift in 1987 and Komoco (Hyundai's agent) was doing a more intense promotion then on the refreshed model. It was a success. You might be asking what does the Stellar got to do with a Sonata? Well, the Stellar was actually a Sonata predecessor before Hyundai decide to rebadge it to a Sonata on its second generation. The Hyundai Stellar must be the most forgotten car in Hyundai history.
The slogan for Hyundai in the 80s was "Cars that make sense" and from the early 90s, they change it to "Prices that make sense" which I think is a horrid. We all know its cheap to own but it's painful to remind customers that it is a fact. One interesting fact about Hyundai is how they do the facelift of their cars which requires mid life update. Most of the Hyundai models look totally different from the original after the facelift. Sometimes you might think that they launch an entire new model. The facelift is usually done on the front and the rear. Headlights is usually a "victim" in this facelift exercise as it is a norm for Hyundai to change the design totally. Just to name a few Hyundai models that has dramatic facelift. The original Stellar in 1983 looked totally different to the 1987 facelift model that they called it Stellar II. The 2nd generation Sonata (Y2) looks much better than the original with slimmer and sleeker headlights. The first Elantra (J1) looks completely a different car that I thought it was the best looking compact family sedan then. The original design was sleek enough and the designer made it sleek plus a dose of sportiness at the same time. The EF Sonata (1999 to 2005) should be the best selling Sonata in Singapore of all time. 2005 is the year when COE started to fall below the 20,000 mark and the facelift EF Sonata was sold at the price of a 1.6 Japanese car. The facelift was actually not tastefully done in my opinion as it looked too much like a Jaguar X-Type when viewed from the rear. The headlights looked almost (or inspired by) a Mercedes C Class W203.  This must be the worst facelift exercise ever done by Hyundai.

The Stellar did have good memories during my growing up. The first time I sat in it was in Jurong Bowl (if you know where it is), my father picked up the car from the distributor and drove to fetch us. We were shopping in Yaohan with my mum, aunt and cousins. I can't remember how many of us squeeze into the car but it shouldn't pose much problem as it was considered a huge car in the 80s. The air conditioning in the car is so effective that I always freeze in it. We would wait by the road side after visiting my aunt's home. She would always comment that opening the door of the Stellar is no different to opening a fridge. We had driven to Malaysia in the Stellar and it was comfortable enough for my brother and I in the rear for long journey. The car was sold after 4 years of ownership before it was replaced by a 1991 Elantra. I kind of miss the Stellar because it was a larger car than the Elantra. My father said that the Stellar lacks power and he usually changes car every 4 to 5 years then to avoid high repair cost. Finding a Stellar toy car is one of the toughest task in my collecting life as it is so rare that eBay is impossible too. When I found this Stellar in Tokyo last year, I was so excited and finding this car totally made my day. Although it's a taxi version and not black like my dad's Stellar, this should be my best find of the year way above any Tomica I bought in 2013. Korean made toy cars are not of top quality but they do have certain charm in a way.

This is the Sonata Y2, successor to the Stellar. I always thought this Sonata looked like a blown up Proton Saga but much nicer and elegant than the Saga from any angle. I remember this car was in the showroom when my father brought us to Komoco to view the new Elantra in 1991. I didn't really took notice of it as I was hoping that my father to buy the Scoupe instead of the Elantra. Komoco showroom was not air conditioned then and the Elantra was not in the showroom too. It was hidden in the workshop so I believe my father was one of the first few customers who bought the first Elantra. I did preserve this Sonata brochure till today, both pre-facelift and the facelift ones.

I couldn't find a Kia Magentis (MS) model car so I had to use a EF Sonata since the MS Magentis is a rebadged EF Sonata. Since Kia was under the Hyundai family, all cars in the Kia range shares the same chassis and engine. Before the launch of the Kia Magentis, there was a Kia Clarus but understand that Magentis might not be a direct successor to the Clarus. It could be because the Clarus was a Mazda 626 clone and all Kia cars were previous Mazda source (engine and chassis). The same goes with the Kia Sephia which is a Mazda Familia and the name was discontinued after the merger with Hyundai. Cerato was introduced and it's a Elantra variant. The EF Sonata was cheap to own in 2005 and sales soared. Kia at the same time introduced the Sonata variant which is the Magentis. The Magentis did not sell as well as the Hyundai although the price of the Magentis in 2006 is lower than most Japanese 1.6. Imagine getting a basic Magentis for $51,000 and a Lancer or a Sunny cost almost the same. I don't have any driving experience with the EF Sonata but driving the Magentis should spell the same. The Magentis drive like a tank on first impression. It feels heavy but reasonably comfortable for this price. I thought it looked better than the facelift EF Sonata although the Magentis headlights looked suspiciously like a W210 E Class.

Before buying the MS Magentis, we did view this car as well. Not exactly the NF Sonata but the MG Magentis. I wanted to avoid this car since NF Sonata and MG Magentis are used widely in Singapore as a taxi. If the price is cheap, I think we can convince ourselves to buy one for short term use. We are not really seeking for a Korean car in the first place but the price is much lower than Japanese car and my father doesn't want to spend too much on a used car. This is also his first time buying a used car in his entire life. I was helping him look out for Nissan Sylphy instead, we were on the way hoping to buy a white Sylphy 2.0 but upon reaching the showroom, the sales person informed that it was sold. We left with disappointment and ended up with a Magentis. In between, we also considered Toyota Corolla Altis, Honda Civic, Mitsubishi Lancer 1.6 and also a 1.8 turbo charged one over a few months of hunting a used car. I was kind of surprised that my father to decide on the Magentis immediately since we never had the thoughts of a Korean car during our shopping.

I didn't have the chance to buy the Korean made latest Sonata (aka i45 in Singapore) toy car yet but I have the Tomica Hyundai Sonata. It's the first Hyundai Tomica made. Initially I preferred the Optima K5 over the latest Sonata but the i45 has a more lasting look than the K5. It's elegant as compared to the K5 sporty feel. Who knows as my father might buy a used i45 to replace his Magentis in 2016 when the car is due for scrap.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Schuco Modell & Family

I am not a specialist for any brands, not even Tomica. I  know Tomica a little more than any other brands which makes me a Jack of all trades in collecting. Pros and cons somehow but I would think it do me more good as I have more exposure to different kinds of toy cars. I am always a big fan of Schuco 1/66 toy cars although I do not go to the extend of collecting the whole range like some serious collectors do. Schuco is similar to Tomica in a way as they made mainly German cars like what Tomica done with Japanese cars although the latter made foreign cars from 1976. Schuco do had cars made under license by other brands and some were no license copies. Above 2 Porsches are made by Schuco of Germany and Norev of France. Can you differentiate them correctly?
Both Schuco and Norev do have specifications of the car on its base. Notice that Schuco made the Carrera while the Norev made the 911S and the specifications are different. I was so excited when I found this Norev in a swap meet in Japan. The feeling is as good as buying a Hong Kong made Tomica except that it was 10 times cheaper but still not cheap for a car this size. Schuco based Norev are hard to come by these days.
Schuco are mostly packaged in a acrylic case with a coloured sponge to rest the car in it. There is another Schuco based toy car which was made under license as well. The car was packed the same way like a Schuco. Rei of Brazil made both 1/66 and 1/43 scale of Schuco under license.
Rei are like Norev in terms of rarity. It is hard for me to comment which is rarer because they are not as common as Schuco. To say Schuco is common is also unjust. I have tried looking for a minty Schuco in its original box but it's almost negative. Most occasions, you will find a few junk Schuco in flea market. The condition is too beaten up that I don't even consider if it is just for an Euro.
Although Rei was made in Brazil, the quality was not compromised. In fact, the quality surpassed the original Schuco. Some Schucos do have problems of "sticky" paint and oxidized base probably due to improper storage or maybe due to the test of time. The Reis I have comes with shiny chrome base and the car look no different from a Schuco. Rei toy cars do cost an arm or a leg due to its rarity as it is only sold in Brazil.

This is a Portuguese made Metosul VW Microbus. It is not known if it is based on a Schuco but the casting look very much similar to one.
Metosul made mainly larger scale vehicles and this is an oddity as it is made in scale of approximate 1/66 which is similarly sized like a Schuco. The VW microbus should be the only 1/66 Schuco based car in its entire range. Build quality is average but still a charmer. This Metosul is also hard to come by.

Lastly, Schuco also comes in the form of "Winner". Winner is made in Hong Kong which they are based on Schuco and Tomica. The distinctive difference should be the shut doors. Schuco and Tomica have doors that open but Winner shuts them. They are made on a budget since they are meant to be a cheap toy then. Comparing Norev, Rei and Metosul, Winner should be the hardest to hunt down. I do have a few pieces but still hunting them piece by piece.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Childhood Memories - Aviva Peanuts

Do you remember having any one of these Aviva Peanuts vehicles while growing up?  I grew up watching Charlie Brown & Snoopy cartoons, it was not my favourite but it still made my eyes glued to the screen. I remember playing Snoopy & the red barons video games on Atari as well and I was hooked. My mum only allows me to play video games during school holidays so I treasure the time playing my Atari.

Among all the Aviva Peanuts vehicles, the Charlie Brown racing car is the one I had connections with. I had this when I was a kid and I am trying to collect all the childhood toys I felt connected to. I thought this racing car is made by Tomica then because it looks identical to my Tomica Mazda Sigma MC74. Aviva produced the toy under licence so there are a few Avivas which were Tomicas in disguise. It was an interesting toy to me then because Charlie Brown is on the driver seat of a "Tomica".
My cousin had one of these trucks too which I believe was the button wheels version. I believed that our toys were bought together which I couldn't recall at all. I tried to exchange my Charlie Brown with her Snoopy but was not successful. Probably she like Snoopy over Charlie Brown. It is surprising that the button wheel Hiace Truck was made in Japan while the rest of all vehicles here are made in Hong Kong. This is also one of my favorite Peanuts vehicles beside the Mazda Sigma.

Here are some other Aviva vehicles which are based on Tomica casting. I think the Datsun No.1 is missing, any other cars missing which you think I should start hunting?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

My Tomica Memories - Compact Cars

During the 80s, it was common to buy fabric to tailor made your own clothes. My mum and aunt often brought me out for their fabric shopping during those days. They would usually go to Beauty World, Chinatown or nearby Boon Lay Shopping Centre. I am totally not interested in fabric for sure and I will resort to ways of cutting the trip short. I will tell my mum that I wanted to go home or any excuses to make things go my way. My "Ah Yee“ (my mum's sister) will usually pacify me asking me to be good and she will buy me toys after their shopping. It was an afternoon trip to Boon Lay Shopping Centre, after their shopping, my aunt brought me to a departmental store where NTUC sits today. I don't have the slightest idea what is the name of that departmental store. Any kind souls who are old enough to recall let me know the name of the store? My dad brought me to the same store to buy my first RC car (actually it's a van). I was welcomed by the 2 Tomica display cases filled up with Tomica. If I remembered it correctly, the cases should be red resembling the one above. The display cases were placed on top of a glass cabinet which displayed RC toy cars made by either Taiyo or Nikko. The sales girl stands behind the counter and I choose the car I want. She will take the car I need from her counter instead of self service today.

As usual, I will need to pick 2 cars which one will be for my brother who isn't there at the scene. The Honda City for myself while the Red Suzuki Cervo for my brother. I usually choose a hatchback over a saloon car when I was a kid. I always had the impression that a hatchback looks more beautiful than a car with a boot. That might explains why I had 3 hatchbacks and never a saloon car as my daily ride. Did you realise that the Cervo and the City comes with black and red box respectively? I believe it was during the transition period from black to red box. I guess it was the mid 80s then.

1984 Honda City Turbo II. This is one of my favourite Honda cars although I am seriously not a Honda fan. I find that Honda made the best cars during the 80s (in terms of styling). To name a few, the '87 Accord Aerodeck, '83 and '87 Civic 3dr and '85 Quint Integra. Note that all are coincidentally hatchbacks. The City is one of the few Hondas which incorporate a turbocharger on their engine.

1982 Suzuki Cervo. Not very sure why I chose this then. I guess it's a hatch and it's a nice little car. I have sentiments on Tomica I used to play as a kid so I have to get a mint version when I can afford them.

Before I picked the 2 little hatches, I pointed this to the sales girl and she told me that it was out of stock. I was attracted to this car because of the unique colour. I was kind of disappointed then as I wanted this Pontiac Firebird Trans AM very much (because of the colour) but never did I imagine I could buy this car when I grow up. Thanks to the creators of eBay that I could buy this some years ago.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Tomica of 2013

2013 ended and it's time to do a recap of the Tomica released last year. We saw foreign cars released almost every month. Not a bad thing for collectors who love foreign vehicles but most of the cars are badly made. Is there any good cars made in 2013? Yes, a couple of them but not something I would say outstanding. I will grade them from A to F, "A" being the best of course. Again, this is something I do for fun yearly so please do not get offended if my opinion does not synchronize with yours.

1/66 Volkswagen Beetle, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: June 2013

Remarks: This is the car I have been looking forward but it turns out to be a flop. The Beetle suffers the most corners cut for 2013. In my opinion, Beetle should be scaled between 1/60 to 1/62 instead of 1/66 as this scale is for big saloon cars. The rear window is not spared either. They did it on opening hatch 2 decades ago and they are doing it on rear window in recent years. This is something I couldn't accept for a Tomica. Real Toys and RMZ City can do a proper window for their cars at half of the price.

Award: Most Disappointing Tomica of The Year

Grade: F

1/67 Tokai Challenger, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: April 2013

Remarks: Actually no major faults with this car because I can't really think of any special working features for this type of vehicle. The vehicle is too simple to have any flaws. Why this car is released is a puzzle to people like us who are non Japanese. Most of us will not really appreciate this vehicle and I foresee that it will be another short production Tomica. It is ranked lowly because it is not mainstream and it is not really something which collectors looking forward to buy one. 

Award: Least Popular Tomica of The Year

Grade: F

1/59 Fiat 500, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: September 2013

Remarks: The Fiat 500 came a little late as the actual car was around for quite some time. The Fiat 500 has the worst front end. The headlights and grill are done abruptly without much thoughts. Side windows and rear hatch windows are painted. Car has no suspension as well.

Grade: F

1/64 Chevrolet Corvette, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: February 2013

Remarks: Overall presentation is nice but if you look closer, there are some cost cutting measures too. The worst feature is the big chunk of painted rear window which could have been made of plastic instead. The front headlights seems painted by some primary school children. Paint quality and opening doors save it from being ranked last of the lot.

Grade: F

1/61 Toyota Corolla Field, Made in China

Released Date: January 2013

Remarks: I would rather Tomica made the Corolla Axio like what they did on its predecessor. Side windows are painted, rear hatch has painted window. They could do it like what they have done for the Legacy wagons. If they couldn't do a proper opening hatch, they could have just do opening doors or bonnet.

Grade: E

1/62 Volkswagen Polo, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: August 2013

Remarks: It looked really promising when Takara-Tomy presented it on their official website. I thought we might have a winner until I saw the actual product. Again, there is no plastic rear window.

Grade: E

1/60 Audi A1, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: April 2013

Remarks: The front end is nicely done and that is all about it. Rear hatch problem once again. Majorette done a better A1.

Grade: E

1/65 Toyota Porte, Made in China

Release Date: May 2013

Remarks: Ditch the rear hatch, they could have done a sliding door instead as it is the trademark of the Porte. I seen the actual car and I am quite impress that Toyota made a small car so spacious. Tomica did put in effort on the plastic headlights but it just didn't blend into the car well.

Grade: E

1/58 Honda N Box, Made in China

Release Date: August 2013

Remarks: A well made Tomica although it has no suspensions. I could have rank it higher if not for the rear opening hatch. This should be the best Kei car among all the Kei cars in 2013.

Grade: D

1/58 Honda N-One, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: November 2013

Remarks: No much complains on this car with exception of the rear hatch.

Grade: D

1/58 Suzuki Wagon R, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: September 2013

Remarks: Another nice Kei car made by Tomica except for the rear hatch.

Grade: D

1/59 Mitsubishi Mirage, Made in China

Release Date: June 2013

Remarks: I saw this car roaming the roads in Bangkok when I was there last year. Honestly not really a fan of this car but Tomica managed to do a nice job on the Mirage. It did not win my top vote due to the ugly opening hatch.

Grade: D

1/64 Porsche 911 Carrera, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: January 2013

Remarks: Tomica made the 911 too fat or should I say crude? It managed a better ranking because there is a rear plastic window. A basic feature and it should be there by default but I find it funny that it has become a rarity in Tomica now. 

Grade: C

1/65 Subaru Forester, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: November 2013

Remarks: A little surprise that Tomica made the Forester finally as previous generations were not considered. It seems like painted 3rd quarter side windows are now a trend in current Tomica. Nice model which suffers from budget constrain.

Grade: C

1/69 Nissan NV350 Caravan Fire Chief, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: October 2013

Remarks: The Nissan NV350 is actually a very well made Tomica regardless in the form of a Fire Chief car or Ambulance. If you look at the rear windows, Tomica could have do an extra effort to cut the windows out since they do not coincide with the rear pillars. 

Grade: C+

1/69 Nissan NV350 Caravan Ambulance, Made in Vietnam
Release Date: July 2013
Remarks: Same remarks as the Fire Chief Car. Take note that the Ambulance has plastic headlights.
Grade: C+
1/61 BMW Z4, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: March 2013

Remarks: Everything looks in place except for front grill not pronounced or sharp enough.

Grade: B-

1/64 Porsche Boxster, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: May 2013

Remarks: I wanted to rank it in top 3 but there are better cars for me to pick from. Overall, it is a well made Tomica.

Grade: B+

1/174 John Deere Combine, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: March 2013

Remarks: There are many John Deere collectors out there. This John Deere doesn't disappoint as a Tomica. As it is made to very small scale, we shouldn't nit pick on the details. Take note that there are many parts made for this vehicles and a few moving features as well. 

Grade: B

Isuzu Elf Sagawa Express, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: December 2013

Remarks: As Isuzu Elf was made sometime ago, I did not rank it highly. Besides, the previous Sagawa truck was much better made.

Grade: B-

1/62 Audi R8, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: July 2013

Remarks: A super car considered very well put together by current standard of Tomica. Just a whisker shy of making it into the top 3.

Grade: A-

1/64 Lotus Evora GTE, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: December 2013

Remarks: Nicely made especially the detailing are mould into the casting. It could be better if it is not white.

Award: Bronze

Grade: A

1/66 Mazda Atenza, Made in Vietnam

Release Date: October 2013

Remarks: You will not see a Japanese sedan with opening doors and rear plastic window in the near future.

Award: Silver

Grade: A

1/68 Nissan Cima, Made in China

Release Date: February 2013

Remarks: I would say it's the same remarks as the Atenza. Front and rear end finish is nicely done. It looked better than the Atenza in my opinion.

Award: Gold

Grade: A+