Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ken's Garage visits Singapore

I guess some of you may have heard of Ken's Garage if you have read my post on toy car shopping in Hong Kong. I was in Hong Kong some months back and Ken informed that he will be visiting Singapore with his family in May. I was delighted as it will be my turn to play host to him. Some of my friends do know Ken's Garage through photos from my blog. They have also indirectly becomes his customer through little help from me. I organised a small group and invited those in my Tomica group who has similar collecting trend. We had a really good time discussing on early Japan made Tomica to future of Tomica. Since all of us collect Black box Tomica, Foreign Series and also current regular, we never lack of topics for discussion. The few hours we spent passed like seconds. Anyway, I will be meeting up with Ken next week when I am in Tokyo. We will be staying in the same hotel so we can catch up again from there.

(From left to right): Aaron, Kelvin, Ken, Michael & Julian

18th June is Ken's Garage 3rd Anniversary

Gifts from Ken. All these are specially made for his shop to commemorate Ken's Garage 3rd year. Limited numbers were made only.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tomica Pace & Safety Car

Was tidying some of my Tomica and found some pace car and safety car. Just to post and share with you. I will try to post more Tomica here before I go for my toy car hunting in Japan. I did that in 2006, will be going for another trip only to visit the major minicar shop in Tokyo. I will try to post some pictures here after I return from my trip.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tomica vs Matchbox - Bentley Continental GT

Bentley Continental GT

Tomica Bentley Continental GT, 1/61, Made in Vietnam

Matchbox Bentley Continental GT, 1/64, Made in Thailand

Have you wonder which is the best car maker in Japan? Toyota? Honda? Well, the answer is Tomica. To date, Tomica has made 5,3800,000 cars since 1970. This is achieved within a short time span of just 40 years. Jokes aside, since this year marks the 40th anniversary for Tomica, this issue comparo will be based on a new Tomica released in 2010.

Car industries in the real world today is much similar with minicar in the toy industries. For example, Honda Jazz we get here through the authorized agent are Thai build in order to lower the production cost but you are still able to buy a Japan made by parallel means (Honda Fit). For the toy world, it is much more cruel, every maker is moving to a less developed nation to maintain a healthy growth in profit margin for the company. For Tomica, it was first made in Japan in 1970. Due to budget constrain, some productions were shifted to Hong Kong to keep the cost down in 1971. The Honda N360, Capella Rotary for example were fully made in Hong Kong. Quality is a far cry from their Japanese cousin then and production was shift back to Japan. By then, Hong Kong has already made 6 casting including the Colt Galant, Datsun 1300, Datsun Cedric and Sprinter 1200SL. As the Hong Kong made Tomica are of a very short production, these are highly sought after by Tomica fans. Although quality is bad but it is still better than most current day Tomicas. If you intend to buy one, the price of a mint in box will cost you around S$1000.00 but MIB condition is hard to come by even you are ready to pay for one. For a loose and heavily paint chip condition, the price might be around S$150.00 since they are consider really rare now. It is also rumoured that Korea also produced Tomica at a very short period. I have seen one in Yahoo Japan once but I am not really sure if the car or the packaging is Korean made. Tomy started to shift their product to China in early 90s and by 1995, the first casting roll out of the Chinese factory although there is still a transition production for older cast being made in Japan. By 1997, all productions are done in China, I remember I started actively buying Tomica in 1996 and I was still able to find Japan made Tomica till 1998. Fortunately there are still some Japanese cast being kept in Japan but not many are left already. They are destroyed for customers who love gift set or anniversary set which were produced in China for lower cost. New collectors don't mind or don't care if the quality is good or the origin of the production. As a Tomica collector, I do mind but maybe it's good for me too as I don't have to waste my money on extra gift sets. Regular Tomicas which started in China varies in quality depending on models. I remember the worst were the Nissan Primera, Mercedes C Class and Range Rover. Primera has big gap on doors (after closing of doors), bad suspension and poor paint, C Class is same as the Primera but suspension was good while the Ranger Rover has a little of everything mentioned. I was totally disappointed with Tomica then as this is not the Tomica I used to play with when I was a kid. There are also some good China made Tomica as mention in my previous post. As cost of production in China gradually becomes higher and there are many Chinese copies of Tomica. Production were shifted to Vietnam in 2008 and the first Vietnamese effort rolled out in 2009, the Toyota iQ. There will be still transition of Chinese made and Tomy plan to shift totally to Vietnam in 2011.

When I first know that Tomica is going to make a Bentley, I was really excited. This is the first time Tomica is making a Bentley. They have made a Rolls Royce before but that was many years ago. When I lay my hands on this Bentley in January, I was thinking Tomica must have wanted it to be really a big car, note that the scale is 1/61 vs 1/76 of the 70s RR Phantom (ok, I know Phantom is a huge car). I would appreciate if the size is slightly smaller at maybe 1/65. For Tomica scale, Kei cars or small hatch are usually from 1/50 to 1/57, mid-size cars usually from 1/58 to 1/62, larger sedan 1/63 and above. First impression were good on this Bentley, nice cast, nice paint but can they improve on the Vietnamese made button wheels?

As for the Matchbox, it was originally a English made toy car back in the 50s as Moko, Lesney in 60s and Superfast in the 70s. In the 80s, they were shift to Macao and repackage into a blue box. At one time, they were made in China but that was the worse era as they are into no direction and no nice cars that can attract collectors. I started to take notice of Matchbox again in 2008 when they have some classic cars like the Austin Mini Van, Cadillac Hearst, Citroen DS etc. Thanks to my friend Enyozilla who crush countless toy cars under his zilla feet for sponsoring (and sparing) this MB Bentley for my comparo. Blister was thrown after opening up this Bentley. Just a simple comparison of the 2 casting between the Tomica and the Matchbox, you can see that the Tomica has a finer cast while the MB has rougher edges. Paint used on the Tomica is also better than the MB. The walk over of Tomica versus the MB extends to interior department where better plastic and better crafted interior are found in the Tomica. The base of both cars are both plastic but Tomica follows its tradition style of base but the MB base can be laughable as being "economy class in a budget airline".

Perhaps I was a little fussy with Tomica. Common flaw of a Vietnamese made Tomica is the button wheels. Look at the 2009 Toyota Townace if you do not understand what I mean. The wheels are more Yujin Tomica rather than Tomica button wheels. Japan made button wheels are chromed, China made button wheels are painted (so you will see the chrome fading off after a few years), Vietnam made Tomica are painted but with better paint but the spokes becomes "Yujinised". Above picture shows that there is uneven control of the spoke size.

MB wheels are closer to the real thing but it looks much more suitable for a Porsche and a BMW M3. In my personal opinion, it is really ugly too but it should be the correct size as compared to the Tomica button wheels.

It seems like both Tomica and Matchbox are using decals extensively today. Tomica has a use better quality decal and do not over use them like in the case of the Matchbox. Front grill of the Tomica is crafted with the casting, not so for the MB. The head lights on the MB looks a little misaligned. I personally feel that die cast at this level (Tomica or Matchbox), just keep it as simple as possible, there is no need to make it with with such details. If you are looking for details at this level, you might be looking at the wrong segment. Matchbox should not be over dependent on decals for detailing. Although MB might want to enhance the details by using decals, the Bentley logo is just a "black" spot on its bonnet without the "B", the "number plate with the "Bentley" name is not carefully applied.

So, when buying a Bentley Continental GT. Who should you buy from? I will list out the package that you get for the price you are paying for and you decide for yourself.
Tomica Bentley Continental GT
Price in SGD: $5.95,
unit above from Japan for 378yen
What you get:
- A nice red/white TakaraTomy Box
- Color only Gun Metal Gray
- Car Made in Vietnam
- Bigger car, larger scale of 1/61
- Nice Bentley logo
- Car has suspension
Matchbox Bentley Continental GT
Price in SGD: $3.50
What you get:
- A blister pack but I thrown it
- Available in a few colors
- Car made in Thailand
- Sport Rims
- A pair of wing mirrors

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Best Tomica for Past Decade

This issue is to choose the best Tomicas produced for the past decade from 2000 to 2009 based on my criteria. My idea of a good Tomica must possess the good qualities of the earlier Tomicas made in the 1970s and 1980s. So, what kind of good qualities does an early Tomica possesses? I will choose the best Tomica that follows the Tomica tradition and most importantly, it must be very "Tomica" like. I know it is not quite possible, the top ten I chose are my personal favourite that are close to early roots.

Most Tomica do come with suspension, as a kid, I like to "bounce" the rear of the car to test the bounce factor. The longer the car bounces, the smile on my face will be wider. It's a relief that today's Tomica do comes with this basic feature. So are the button wheels that are found most Tomica either in form of 4 or 5 spokes. There are more than 60 different types of Tomica wheels and I shall not cover that in this issue at the moment.

Early Tomica front grill are fitted with chrome. This feature made the car look more realistic and classier than painting over on the front grill and lights. This is what the current Tomicas are missing out today. I do understand that current day cars do not have as much chrome as the "classic" Japanese cars but I believe there should be a better way rather than painting over. Please see the green Mercedes Unimog below as a good solution.

Most Tomica usually will have a movable part or an opening part. Example, a fire truck, will have a extensible ladder. A car will have features which has doors or hatch that opens. The above Lotus is a little more unique than other Tomicas. The headlights are able to "pop up" by pushing the lever underneath the car.

Even if the Tomica doesn't have much chrome on its grills, they are still able to instill nice details into the car by working on the casting. Old Tomicas are built with passion which is lacking in current range. Note that the truck has all details crafted in the front grill and no additional painting over required. Don't you think that this is nicer than paint over job?

Old Tomica which has opening hatch with "through" hole on rear screen, is total welcome feature for me or any other Tomica collectors. The Tomica collectors I referring here is those who has played with Tomica since young when Tomica are still made in Japan. Since 1994 when production is shifted to China, all opening hatch are paint over work. This is totally not acceptable as some of my collector friends who collect Japan made Tomica stop buying Tomica as they felt it has lost the Tomica characteristics. If Tomica wanted to lower production cost, I would prefer they shut the hatch and give me a plastic screen in return. Those "collectors" who doesn't mind are usually those who never enjoyed Japan made Tomica when they are young or they only know Tomica when it is already made in China. In my opinion, real collectors are those who appreciate the beginnings of Tomica models. Although I do not agree with the way Tomicas are made today but I still buy and collect current day Tomica because Tomica is part of my growing up.

Some vintage Tomicas has red colored light covers like this Nissan Cedric 280E. This is really cool and just too bad that we don't see this kind of work anymore. It could be Tomy knows that consumers today wanted details on a Tomica so they introduced the idea of painting over. In order to get more shares of the pie, Tomica Limited is introduced at a premium price but most TL are actually existing cast with more paint jobs only. If collectors are really looking for detailed models, they should go for Kyosho, Minichams or Autoart etc. I prefer Tomica the way it was and I appreciate that it is more toy like as this is the real Tomica that I know and preferred.

Most Tomica in the past comes with a registration number or a number plate that reflects its nomenclature or Tomica number. I hardly see that now or should I say "extinct". Today's Tomica cast is just outlining the shape of the car but most of the time, I do not know what make and model as most cars today look rather similar. It's hard to imagine the Tomicas in the past has so many details incorporated into the casting. Lot of hard work, time, effort and passion are put into early Tomica. Kudos to the past Tomy heroes behind the design and production.

Need I say more? Did you see nomenclature of the car crafted together with the body versus today's imprinting. Imprints are nice but the above effort is much more appreciated.
I do hope I have covered most of Tomica distinctive features. Below are the top 10 Tomica rated based on finishing, build quality, Tomica roots, collecting value etc. which I will not disclose with details. You might be surprise some models are not in my top 10 while some models are in. Let me know what is your top 10 for past decade too.

10th : SUBARU LEGACY (11-3), Released Date: 2003.10
Tomica Score: 57.0%
From 2000 to 2009, there are total of 3 Tomica models requested by car maker to be made into a promo car. They are later acquired by Tomica to be made into regular series and the promo car versions are Japan made. They are Mitsubishi EVO IV (Tomica #104), Mitsubishi Pajero (Tomica #30) and the Subaru Legacy above. Other promo cars like Nissan Tiida and Nissan Atlas are not made into regular series. This Legacy has a good size since most current Tomica are over sized. Tomica has incorporated many interesting features into this model like the panoramic roof, tastefully done air scoop and wing mirrors which are found mostly in 80s Tomica. This Tomica indeed has shadows of a 80s Tomica but a low score was given. Many points are lost due to paint and questionable quality of the car. The chrome on the wheels started to fade, paint used are too thick covering the lines and some paint chips even car is not played with. The paint over job on rear lights are horribly done. It is a good looking Tomica viewed from far but far from good if you close up on it. It should deserve a higher position if QC is done properly.

9th : TOYOTA COROLLA AXIO (27-8), Released Date: 2007.05
Tomica Score: 62.0%
The last Tomica Toyota Corolla sedan was released in 1983. That was a really nice Tomica model as it is based on the first front wheel drive Corolla sedan (E80). This 5th generation Corolla was a hit in Japan then. You can tell that because Tomica also released the Wagon version (Sprinter Carib) and the Coupe version (Levin AE86) in the same year. No Corolla was release till 1998 but it was a Corolla Spacio instead of the Corolla Sedan. I can understand why Corolla sedan was not made by Tomica. After invention of the MPV, most cars in Japan are either a MPV or a Wagon and these are the volume sellers in land of the rising sun. In the 70s, before popularity of MPVs, Tomica actually made 3 Corollas models, KE25, KE30 and KE70. I do hope Tomica will continue to make Corolla sedan since it is a world best seller. As Tomica concentrate mainly on MPV, SUV and Wagon today, it is quite rare to have a sedan in the pool of van-like-cars. The car has got the right size, classic Tomica 5 spoke button wheels which are already not standard in most Tomica today. No major fault with this model but still hate the paint over work on front and rear although was done nicely. They should have chosen a lighter color for this car instead of a darker shade. Dark blue has disguised its line and could be mistaken as a Nissan Sunny. It should be more recognizable as a Corolla if silver or white is used.

8th : HONDA AIRWAVE (112-4), Released Date: 2005.12
Tomica Score: 75.5%
This is the station wagon version of the Honda Fit/Jazz. I believe that the Honda Jazz has close relation with the first generation Honda City in the early 1980s but it was known as a Honda Jazz in Europe when it was exported there. Tomica has made the Honda City in 3 variants, Honda City, Honda City Bulldog Turbo and Honda City Cabriolet (Limited Edition). A 50cc motorbike is given upon purchase of a Honda City, this bike is able to fit into the car boot. Check your Tomica Honda City if you happen to own one. If not for the ugly finishing and ugly paint-over hatch of this Airwave, it could rank as high as top 3 in my list because it reminds me of some early Tomica. It could be the Airwave has a unique shape, Tomica has crafted it accurately and undeniable an Airwave at first look at the car. The panoramic roof is the best feature and the Airwave could be the only model that has a full "glass" roof in the Tomica range. Thank you Tomy for not doing a paint over work on the roof. It has lost at least 10 points because of bad finishing and the most hated hatch which I don't want to talk about again. I am just wondering if the Honda Freed is the replacement for the Airwave since Freed was the MPV version of the new Honda Fit/Jazz.

7th : MITSUBISHI CANTER SAKAI MOVING SERVICE (29-3),Released Date: 2003.02
Tomica Score: 78.0%
If you have been to Japan, you should like this truck more as the real one looks really "adorable" to me. Sakai is a moving company for general cargo in Japan. I don't really fancy this truck but I am attracted the the decals of the truck. Overall impression is good and I did buy a few spare of this Tomica. The value of this Sakai truck should appreciate if Tomica decide to discontinue it.

6th : TOYOTA DYNA REFUSE TRUCK (45-4), Released Date: 2006.06
Tomica Score: 80.5%
Tomica should not and must not fumble on the refuse truck. The reason is simple, refuse trucks have been one of the best selling models in tomica history. True enough, this model did not disappoint. Build quality and finishing is surprising good for a current Tomica. It will be better if this same truck is made 30 years ago.

Released Date: 2007.07
Tomica Score: 81.0%
Tomica should have made this earlier since it is not exactly a new model and been widely used as a taxi in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. After released of this model, I really have the urge of doing a project of Singapore Comfort Cab or with any Singapore Taxi companies who use this Crown as a taxi. Shame that Tomica don't allow anyone or even popular minicar shop in Japan to make limited edition anymore. This taxi is finished in almost excellent paint work and it is also the first Tomica that has a rear opening door. I do hope that there will be many variants based on this model in near future.

4th : MITSUBISHI LANCER EVO X UK POLICE (39-5),Released Date: 2009.07
Tomica Score: 88.0%
Tomica has not produce any foreign police for a very long time and this is also the first attempt on British police. The road car version is already very well made and Tomica better it with the UK police version. If I have a special request on the Lancer, that will be to ask Tomica to produce a N/A version with button wheels. Tomica never made a Lancer with button wheels for regular. One of the better EVO in recent years.

3rd : TOYOTA MARK X OWNED CAR (60-4), Released Date: 2008.12
Tomica Score: 88.5%
Japan have many different taxi operators. This is my favourite as I am attracted by the color scheme. In fact, I sat in a Mark X taxi in Tokyo recently. For this private taxi, there is also a Nissan Fuga and a Toyota Crown. The Fuga is the best looking out of all Nissan passenger cars. I understand that Tomica will be making a Nissan Fuga and I really hope they make a Nissan Fuga owned car too since Tomica made a Crown Taxi in previous generation. The plastic taxi signage on its roof top is well made just like the real thing. Comparing this taxi version with the road car, the road car looks really plain and nothing special about the car. This Mark X taxi should appreciate in value once discontinued by Tomica.

2nd : ISUZU ELF SAGAWA EXPRESS (83-4), Released Date: 2002.04
Tomica Score: 89.5%
Sagawa Express is found almost anywhere in Tokyo city. They do mainly freight forwarding and courier service. There is a branch in Singapore too but I never see them using this truck here except mini van. The Isuzu Elf should be the nicest Tomica truck and it is finished in excellent silverish paint. One of the higher quality Chinese made Tomica.

1st : MITSUBISHI PAJERO (85-5), Released Date: 2007.04
Tomica Score: 90.5%
When I first saw this Pajero, I told myself that this is how a Tomica should be. I would say this Pajero model surpass even some Japan made Tomica in terms of quality. I did not expect so many details to be crafted into this model like side step bar, rear skirt, detailed wheel cover etc. This Pajero is quite close in relation of the early Tomica. Front grill is chrome although not really of a high quality as compared with a 70s Tomica. Wheels used are for Tomica 4WD. Nice wheel arch that are not too exagerating. The green strip on the side are nicely done too. I would say this is the only model in the Tomica range for past decade which has convinced me fully.