Risky Business: Investing In Model And Toy Cars
The AACA Museum in Hershey, PA is offering 1:43 scale models of the 1948 Tucker Torpedo. These miniature sedans are hand cast in white metal by Brooklin Models at a small industrial park in Bath, England. I toured the factory in 1991. The Hemmings article has interesting photos showing the manufacturing and assembly process for producing Brooklin's small Tuckers.
In the early days, the company was based in Brooklin, a suburb of Ontario, Canada (hence the name), but relocated to Great Britain in 1979. Brooklin specializes in American cars, although its Lansdowne line showcases European and British models.
Each model vehicle is crafted by hand (rotationally cast in rubber molds - the same process used for producing metal jewelry). The company's staff of 25 workers produces around 20,000 models annually. "That's enough to make Brooklin the world's largest producer of 1:43 scale hand-built white metal models, though such volumes wouldn't come close to justifying the cost of (hardened steel) tooling for die-cast manufacturers."
"To craft a new model, Brooklin's designers seek out the desired automobile and take careful and precise measurements. Next, a model master is made from brass, which allows the production of a vulcanized rubber mold. Molten white metal is poured into these molds to form the body, which is then de-flashed and sprayed with automotive grade finishes. It's a laborious process, but the elimination of costly tooling (necessary for creating die-cast models) allows Brooklin to produce modest product runs, generally of less than 1,000 pieces. This low volume also allows Brooklin models to retain value better than die-cast models, which are generally produced in significantly higher quantities."
The little Tuckers are priced at $139.99 each. That's a lot of money when you consider that you can still buy a Yat-Ming 1:43 scale Tucker for under $10.
I paid five bucks for mine in 2002. Yat Ming Industrial Factory Ltd. produces diecast items, mostly toy cars and aircraft, at its 660,000+ square foot facility in Dongguan, the third largest export region in mainland China. The company employs over 1,400 workers - quite a bit larger than Brooklin Models. Yat Ming was founded in 1970 by a Mr. Wai Ming Lam. 'Yat' in Chinese means "best or number one."
As to Brooklin models retaining their "value better than die-cast models," I'm unconvinced. I bought a 1:43 scale diecast Ferrari Testarossa made by Bburago for $2.25 in 1988; examples now sell on eBay for $15 or more. (In the 1980s, Bburagos were made in Burago di Molgora, Italy. In 2007, the brand name was acquired by the May Cheong Group; models are now made in Thailand and China.) A hand cast Brooklin 1968 Ford Mustang fastback, purchased in 1988 for $48, is worth only about $110 in 2014. Some Brooklin models have actually lost value over the years - too many examples chasing too few prospective buyers. That's true for other 'limited edition' collectible scale vehicles, as well; Franklin Mint models are the poster child for "collectible depreciation."
In 1982, I paid $37 for a Canadian-made Brooklin Chrysler Newport Phaeton. Today, a mint, boxed example of this rare model will typically sell for $200 or so. I should have put my money in a container load of Bburago Testarossas Or Apple stock. Or a good no-load mutual fund.
Speaking of investing foibles, I visited a model car retailer in early 1981. French toymaker Solido had just gone bankrupt and a fellow shopper was grabbing up as many Solido models as he could. This well-dressed gentleman confided to me that he was selling all his stocks and putting his savings into diecast Solido models, especially their line of old cars, aptly named the 'Age d'Or' series - 1:43rd scale models of classics. He said that he was renting a couple of storage units to hold them. "This will be my retirement fund," he proclaimed.
Well, it's now almost 34 years later. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has gone from 975 or so to almost 18,000. On the other hand, an Age d'Or Bugatti, which retailed for $15-$20 in 1981, now commands $25-$30 on eBay. Do the math.
I wonder what happened to that guy. Maybe he's now living in a storage unit. (posted 12-18-14)
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If I have slandered any brands of automobiles, either expressly or inadvertently, they're most likely crap cars and deserve it. Automobile manufacturers should be aware that they always have the option of trying to change my mind by providing me with vehicles to test drive.
If I have slandered any people or corporations in this blog, either expressly or inadvertently, they should buy me strong drinks (and an expensive meal) and try to prove to me that they're not the jerks I've portrayed them to be. If you're buying, I'm willing to listen.
Don't be shy - try a bribe. It might help.