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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Motormax 1:24 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata



Man, this summer's been filled with lots of large scale convertibles lately: S2000, Ford Mustang Cobra, BMW Z3 M Roadster, 40th Anniversary Corvette, and now another Mazda Miata.  After being impressed with the new 2015 MX-5 Miata from Hot Wheels and Matchbox, I also brought in a few other Miata's that I kept to show the transition over the years.  One of them was a green one from Motormax that has excellent details despite looking a bit plain and having a warped upper windshield header.  What I never predicted is that I would own the larger 1:24 scale version in the same color.  Now I pondered this casting from time-to-time inspired by the details but unsure about having another Miata to the collection, especially since I'm not a fan of the 1st generation's rounded styling.  Then this dark green/tan interior beauty appeared and I had to have it!





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Motormax is not a company known for excellent detailing or quality: it's a budget diecast model for those who cannot afford the highly detailed, but pricey premium versions or who wants a younger generation to start their love affair with cars.  Most recently Motormax's quality has gone downhill to the point with fewer opening parts, more plastic than metal, and fewer details.  (Like how can a nice 1:18 2015 Ford Explorer lack opening front hood and liftgate???)  The earlier Motormax, or Redbox, castings of the 1990's were the best with more opening parts, a bit more metal, and pretty good details for the price point.  I had quite a few Motormax 1:24 castings that I have yet to share that I like, and including the 1987 Buick Regal T-type and 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee that I reviewed here earlier this year.  The Miata is another one.  This dark green was offered twice as limited production models in the first-generation Miata: once as the 1991 British Racing Green to celebrate the U.K.'s introduction of the Miata sales and in 1996 for the M edition.  A few details here and there point to this casting being based on the 1991 model.





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The rounded look is clearly there on a car that looks smaller than it is in scale.  The front and rear bumpers are plastic and separate from the body: they look uniform in this darker color, but the gaps between body and bumper do show.  The front has concealed pop-up headlights, detailed signal lights and side marker lights, Mazda logo, and lower grille with visible silver radiator pan.  The hood has the correct hood bulge, though the hood does not close flush.  The sides have a strong windshield design, side windows on the doors right next to the exterior mirrors and the chrome door handles.  I added details to the side marker lights, while the 6-spoke wheels are correct even though the treads are a bit deep and the wheels roll very poorly (they don't feel as smooth as a typical 1:24 wheel should roll).  The rear has round taillights with two lighter dots for the signal and reverse lamps; I added silver to the reverse lamps to differentiate the colors.  The MX5 Miata plate is in blue, while the exhaust tip stands out of the bumper and even more in silver.







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Nothing sets a fine dark green car like a tan interior, and this Miata doesn't disappoint.  What does is the lack of color separation that is commonly found in lighter-colored interiors: there is always a touch of darker color, mostly black, in some areas with the dashboard the most common to cut down on windshield glare from the dashboard.  After researching the actual tan interior colors I added black to the correct areas of the interior, along with silver on the pedals.  Now it looks even better!  The front seats are buckets that need a back rest to cover the hollow insides visible from the back, a convertible boot in black to conceal the top, a small storage area inbetween, and a trunk that opens up to reveal a full-size spare tire: I tried to add full details to the spare but the confined space in the area prevented me from doing a finished job.  The door panels are detailed and I added black to the speakers and the door handles.  Speaking of speakers there are additional ones located in the headrests as well on the actual car.  The center console was painted black to match the center stack and houses the shifter and parking brake, both not properly seated on my tester with the shifter sticking up and the parking brake rattling around in its seat.  The dashboard looks nice with the black and tan accents that features three-spoke airbag-less steering wheel, detailed gauges, pedals that stand out with silver accents, and center stack with radio and HVAC controls.  It's very simple as this car is more fun to drive on the road than just inside the cockpit alone.





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The hood opens up to reveal the 2.0L DOHC I-4 and 5-speed manual combo.  The engine bay is nicely done despite being an engine pan, but painting it all-silver seems like an afterthought.  Then again after researching photo's of the engine bay and adding the detailing it occurred to me that there is more silver in the engine bay than what I originally thought.  The engine is in the center with the large valve cover, detailed hoses, belts, and fluid resovoirs throughout the engine bay, and an airbox that enters the left and crosses over to the right to the large intake manifold.  The base underneath does not show much depth, either, but like the engine bay just add enough color to make the details stand out.  I detailed the front subframe with lower wishbone control arms that sit above a detailed lower oil pan, drive belts, and radiator fan shrouds.  Then the transmission and exhaust system is detailed in the middle, leading to the rear with the detailed lower control arms, half-shafts and differential, gas tank, and the muffler exiting out to the single exhaust tip.







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Is it one of the best Motormax castings?  Well, not really as there's a few blemishes here and there that need improvement, but otherwise it's very nicely done for the scale and price point with more opening features and details that not even today's modern 1:24 Motormax castings can match.  Plus, this Miata looks killer in British Racing Green with a Tan interior!






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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Matchbox 1984 Dodge Caravan and Renault 11 Turbo




Recently I obtained a few vintage 1980's Matchbox vehicles that mark off a list of vintage vehicles to find on my to-do list.  The Dodge Caravan was a big one because I wanted one since I first saw the replica and its sliding door, and the closest that I come to finding one was at a flea market in a box of beat up toys: a while Caravan that was missing a key element: the sliding door.  No go for me.  Now I finally gone one with the door and in good condition, along with a Renault 11 Turbo that joined along, both in black.  What you may not know is that these two share a common relationship.




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1984 Dodge Caravan

It was a revolution in the car business, a love it or hate it depending on your view.  It help save Chrysler and pay off the government loan and relieve it from the dreaded Chapter 11.  The Chrysler Minivan's created a new model segment: a smaller van designed for families who need the space but not the complex size of a full-size vans that were popular in the 1970's.  The idea came from Lee Iaccoca and Hal Sperlich, both who worked together at Ford and came up with an idea for a small van in the Ford line, but when Iacocca was let go from Ford in 1976 both him and Sperlich, who moved to Chrysler, went to Chrysler with the idea for the small van that would be more important for Chrysler than Ford in the state of Chrysler's ill financial state.  After getting the government loan to continue operation, the Chrysler model lines were revamped, including the release of the important Chrysler K-cars.




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In 1983 the new Chrysler Minivans were finally revealed: a van that is a uni-body, front-wheel drive based on a car platform and small enough to fit in a standard garage.  Aside from that it had all of the features found in a van: plenty of room for three rows or cargo in panel van versions and styling that reflects the larger Dodge Van's.  The rear lift-up hatch was similar to the K-series wagon's, while the second-row bench seat was off-set to allow access to the third row for a total of seven passenger seating.  The engine's started off wit I-4's until the V6 arrived in 1987.  Engine's were either Chrysler or Mitsubishi-based with the largest a 2.2L I-4 that produced 96 hp and 119 Ib-ft of torque through a 5-speed manual (yes, minivans once had manual transmissions) or a three-speed automatic.  The S-platform was a larger derivative of the K-car platform, and interestingly enough there's speculations that there was some Renault components within the vans even though AMC would not be bought by Chrysler until 1987.





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Because of the complex sliding door on the side the Dodge Caravan (and Euro-spec Chrysler Voyager variant) mostly lasted during the 1990's with several variations.  A few of them were very clean, like this black with lower silver stripe.  I like this deco because the black hides the plastic sliding door that becomes noticeable in lighter colors, and the silver sides match with the chrome front and rear bumpers; well almost: the bumper ends are not painted silver and look unfinished so I used a silver Sharpie to fill in those bumper ends for a universal look, and while I was at it I touched up some black chips and detailed the front side and rear lamps.  The front has a bold look with stacked headlights, mirrored with side signal lights that look just like the larger Dodge van.  The grille is a large eggrate and the bumper has a lower chin spoiler.  The sides show a traditional wagon-like profile with a taller beltline of a van, and the 8-spoke wheels look nice here though the treaded tires do make a bit of noise.



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At the rear is the liftgate area with tall taillights and detailed Dodge, Caravan, and Plate logo's stamped into the body.  The base is plastic chrome with a lower center hump to provide the working suspension of typical Matchboxes in this era.  The front subframe is detailed and leads to an exhaust system, center fuel tank, and to a beam axle with trailing arms.  The coolest feature is the sliding door that operates seamlessly despite being a bit wobbly at times and when the door is not opened for a while it tends to require a bit of a finger pull to unlatch and start moving.  The only support arm is at the top, sandwiched between the roof and window support piece; this would explain why so many played-with Caravan's are missing the sliding doors because they can easily come off.  The red interior is very nice with seating for seven, though entrance to the third-row is interrupted by the large wheelwell.  The big disappointment is the dashboard that lacks plentyful details and on my tester the steering wheel was bent downward.  Dash layout was pretty simple and similar to the Chrysler K-cars, even though it did not share a lot of parts with the K-cars until later in the 1980's.




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Renault 11 Turbo

I'm not sure what parts are shared with the Renault and Chrysler Minivans, but it was evident that the two did have some sort of connection.  Maybe it was the fact that the Renault Escape, The first European minivan, arrived in the same year as the debut of the Caravan.  Renault was the savior for the AMC brand, who was not too big to fail and needed help from another automaker.  The French automaker stepped up and introduced a line of cars that made more sense than the awkward 4x4 sedan and wagon's that AMC was stuck with.  The Renault Alliance and Encore were based on the Renault 9 and 11 families despite being designed in different continents.  The Renault 11 replaced the 14's controversial styling with a more traditional, modern sedan and hatchback styling with a bit of a sporting flavor.  It was a very popular car for its time and the US version was praised for its excellent quality and reliability despite not doing enough to save AMC.  The hatchback had a coupe/hatch look at the rear with a rear spoiler and stacked taillights, while the front had quad headlights and optional foglights below.  The interior has a nice gauge layout with 4-spoke steering wheel and HVAC controls close-by.  The radio was placed too far down in the dashboard.  The hood opens up forward to a selection of I-4 motors, with the Turbo model gaining a 1.4L SOHC I-4 that produced 113 hp. through a 5-speed manual.  Suspension upgrades control excess bodyroll and provide a more solid feel than the non-Turbo models.




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Unlike the Caravan this Matchbox Renault 11 Turbo looks rather basic:  The plastic base does not show much in the way of details, the styling is basic and does not stand out, the wheels do not look a bit sporty, and it lacks any opening features.  But after some touching up with Sharpie pens and a sharp black with silver side graphics and orange tint windows this Renault 11 Turbo looks pretty neat once you get to know it more.  The front has quad headlights connected to the windshield with Renault diamond badge on the center of the grille and lower chin spoiler with integrated foglights that I detailed.  The sides feature a 4-door layout with hatchback rear and a raked rear end, while the rear has taillights that I detailed to make the rear stand out more and front and rear Euro plates with detailed letters and numbers.  The interior lacks fine detailing of today's modern diecast, but looks pretty good with seating for five in nice plush tan seats, the correct silhouette of the dashboard, and the steering wheel.  The shifter is missing here.  The car features a working suspension and on a brief track test despite the soft suspension feel the Renault was very fun to toss around and was nice and composed with little body roll; ironically the Caravan acted the same way despite being slower, a bit larger, and with grinding tires.




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I still don't know what Renault is in the Caravan, but one thing's for sure both of these castings look good in black with a little bit of added details even if they're not the most exciting or best Matchbox diecast out there.