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Monday, March 24, 2014

Comparison: The Matchbox 2014 Exotics 5-pack

 


Despite the ruins that are currently going on at Matchbox (from a collector's perspective), there are times that Matchbox still puts out the home-run hits for collectors.  None other is best explained than the newest 5-pack from Matchbox, the 2014 Exotics 5-pack.  So far, unlike recent 5-packs that contain a few vehicles that you can get by themselves for $1, this 5-pack is all-exclusive and properly done.  The sole vintage model of the group is the 1968 Lamborghini Miura P400S in the natural gold color, the BMW Z8 in red, the Lotus Exige in dark blue (both the BMW and Lotus sport the new 5-spoke wheels for the first time), the 2009 Corvette ZR-1 in the eye-catching yellow, and the VW W-12 concept in black.  So out of the five, let's see who is the best:


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Exterior Styling

Nothing is more graceful than the classic Miura styling with round pop-up headlights behind the slotted eyelashes, the front grille with foglights and signal lights, the lower separate trim with scoop, and the rear with the taillight, plate, bumper, and logo details.  Top that with the black wheels with spinner center cap and you have one sharp, and accurate-looking car!  The Z8 is the same way, despite being a casting from 2002 with a few defects and the only vehicle here with solid headlight graphics.  The tooling is beautifully done with details abound, including the lower rear bumper with dual exhaust that's part of the body and gives some heft to the casting.  However, the windshield could lay back slightly a bit.  The Lotus Exige looks wonderful as usual, though some graphics are a bit off and the LOTUS letters in the back are barely visible in the dark paint.  Headlights, scoops, spoiler, and vents are nicely done.  The Corvette ZR-1 looks much better in the yellow despite a few paint flaws here and there.  The headlight and taillight details are nicely done, so is the lower trim and the accurate multi-spoke wheels.  The coolest bits on the 'vette is the supercharger poking out of the hood and the clear roof designed to emulate the lightweight carbon fiber of the actual car.  Despite all of the nice things, the car looks narrow compared to the actual car.  Despite being long in the tooth, the VW W12 solders on even though it never saw the light of day as a production car.  The black finish looks good and hides the lower front bumper, which is part of the base.  The curves are nice, though bland and the full-width window roof looks nice except for the exposed press in the center above the seats.  The multi-spoke wheels also look good here as well, so does the red background on the front and rear grille slots.





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Interior

The Miura has a classic feel with Daytona-like seats, tachometer and speedometer in front of the 3-spoke wheel, gated shifter, and auxiliary gauges in the center.  Yea it may lack a few modern creature comforts, but look classic otherwise to a gearhead.  The Z8 has one of the most beautiful interiors BMW has ever made with a colored wrap-around dash with center gauges, classic 3-spoke wheels, and plenty of creature comforts.  Oh, and it has a trunk.  The ZR-1 has reasonable creature comforts and the largest trunk in the group, but the C6 generation still has a cheap-looking interior no matter how much you spruce it up, and unsupportive seats.  The W12 has a showcar interior, but is very useable with a few small details like the bubbles on the console, the separate shifter and AC controls, and the center navigation unit that looks like something you see on modern VW cars today.  The VW is the only car here with butterfly doors.  The least impressive is the Lotus with bare bones interior, unsupportive seats, no visibility anywhere, no soft touch panels, you're lucky you have air and a radio, and is the only car here that is right-hand drive.  Best save this one for track days!





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Engine

The Miura features the classic V-12 arrangement, the 393 cc V-12, in a transverse layout with the 5-speed manual mated with the engine as to share the same fluids as well.  The engine produces 360 hp. and 386 Ib-ft. torque.  The VW W-12 uses the first adaptation of the W-12 block (essentially four rows of three cylinders in a Vee), a 5.6L producing 414 hp. through a six-speed manual and the only car here with all-wheel drive system.  The ZR-1 uses the supercharged 6.2L V8 producing 638 hp. through a six-speed manual.  The Z8 uses a naturally-aspirated 4.9L V8 producing 400 hp. through a six-speed manual.  Finally the smallest engine of the group goes to the Lotus, employing a 1.8L I-4 producing 190 hp. through a six-speed manual.



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Acceleration

The Miura, W12, ZR-1, and the Z8 zoomed off the line at rapid pace.  The Z8 was the slowest of the four due to some extra weight.  The Miura and W12 were very smooth off-the-line.  The Exige was the slowest, but the lightweight body allowed the Lotus to catch up to the back of the pack even though it was still far behind.



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Braking

The W-12's flat, low stance helped it achieve the best stopping distance of the group.  The ZR-1 followed close behind.  The Exige also stopped quickly thanks to the lack of weight.  The Z8 was the second longest thanks to the weight, again.  Finally the old-school Miura took the longest, no surprise there!



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Handling

Both the Z8 and ZR-1 were neutral, fast, and fun to toss around, of course providing that you don't push the limits of these rear-wheel drive cars too far to provoke oversteer.  That can't be said about the Miura: even though it glides smoothly, it lacks that road-hugging grip of the other four cars in the group.  End result:  Push the Miura a little too fast in a corner and you can easily spin out!  The W-12 has the advantage with the all-wheel drive and supercar-like stance, but still fell short of expectation.  Same goes for the Exige with it's lighter weight that can't overcome the lack of power in the engine bay.


Features

The Z8 wins hands-down for the incredible detail work on the body, the interior, and the base.  It is spectacular!  Next is the Miura with the classic bodywork and level of accuracy to the details, yet I would like to see a view of the engine in the back window.  The ZR-1 has plenty of cool features like the carbon-fiber clear roof, the hood window, and the level of details, but the narrow stance just looks out-of-place on this car thus tying with the Exige, which has a cool racer look but nothing much good elsewhere.  Finally the W-12 is getting old and boring:  it's got the stance, just not the eye candy anymore.

Price

Yes, these cars are all out of our price ranges, but there's an even more grand difference.  The Exige is the cheapest of the group, but judging by the content you get not by much.  The ZR-1 and Z8 blitz above the $100,000 price tag to tie for second place.  The Miura is a classic that is treasured by most, and is hard to get, while the W-12 is a three-off concept that never made it to production.

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The result

Fifth place goes to the VW W-12.  It's got the supercar look and one awesome color, but lacks any interesting details on the casting itself.  Fourth Place goes to the Lotus Exige.  It's a lean, aggressive track machine that is out-of-place in this power field and is not pleasant for daily driving during the work week.  Third goes to the Corvette ZR-1.  It's got sass, looks, and plenty of eye-candy, but suffers from a narrow track and paint quality.  Second goes to the Z8.  It's an old casting, but still looks good today; what would really make this casting stand out is a little less weight, a little more performance, and a windshield that tilts back a bit.  The first-place winner goes to the Lamborghini Miura.  Classic, beautiful, fast, this old-school exotic still has the goods to take on it's modern counterparts.

Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning 1971 AMC Javelin AMX



AMC was late to the pony car wars that the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro/Pontiac Firebird started in the mid-to-late 1960's, yet arrived with some eye-catching pieces.  The Javelin was the first vehicle from AMC to go after the pony car competition.  The AMX was the high-performance version with rear seat delete and big-bad colors on a monochromatic look.  The AMX was cancelled in 1971, now merged into the rest of the Javelin line as a performance package.

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The classic 1971 Javelin shape

Once regarded as 'futuristic', the 1971 Javelin featured a more pronounced long hood/short deck look with the front fenders having a raised look to match the aggressive front-end with headlights now mated into the grille.  The rear has the one-piece rectangular taillights with the integrated rear spoiler.  The interior still carried the twin-cockpit design of its predecessor, now with the information and switches more tailored to the driver.  The AMX packaged included a fiberglass cowl hood, front and rear spoilers, mesh grille, and a 360 CID V8 producing 285 hp. through a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic.  The slippery shape, with the front and rear spoilers, helped the Javelin dominate the Trans-Am racing circuit, winning the championship in 1971, 1972, and 1976.

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The sleek Hot Wheels version

There have been many variations on this casting, but these three from the 2009 debut are the best.  The orange was the first, with the green arriving later.  The black version is the February 2009 Kmart special recolor.  All three sport the hood stripe in black (silver on the black recolor), badges on the front fenders, and AMX and Javelin on the rear decklid behind the spoiler.  The curves are gracefully done, and the correctly-shaped front and rear bumpers are part of the base.  The base features plenty of details to gawk over, while the interior features the driver-oriented dash and seats prominently.  Sadly this one was detailed with the automatic transmission instead of the four-speed indicated by the square transmission pan underneath and the basket-handle shifter inside.  Other recolors to note is a red, white, and blue side pattern and one based on the Mark Donahue Trans-Am car in 2012.

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The somewhat-confused Johnny Lightning

For it's time, the Johnny Lightning version of the Javelin is very clean-looking in this silver color.  It has the correct shape, curves, front-end detailing, but the rear has the eggcrate taillights of the 1972 model so i'm not sure which model year they're trying to depict here.  The hood opens up to a well-detailed engine compartment, the interior looks pretty good though not as great as the Hot Wheels version, and the Mag wheels look splendid.  This was my first foray into the AMX models, but at the time I've never seen the 1971 body-style before.  Even though I wanted the 1969 AMX, I admired this casting for years until someone (which happens to be Johnny Lightning again) finally offered the proper 1969 casting in my collection, plus the 1968 Javelin to boot.


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I always like the AMX's for their wild Big Bad colors and muscular stance, and these 1971 have no problem showing it off.

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Johnny Lightning 1969 AMC SC/Rambler



In the 1960's, muscle cars designed for the track were very popular not only with enthusiast, but with drag racers as well.  Even more so is one that is decked out as a race car straight from the production line!  The AMC SC/Rambler is one of them.

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Built for the track!

390 CID V8 producing 315hp. from the AMX, four-speed manual with Hurst shifter, and modified exhaust to give a nice Flowmaster-style exhaust note was just the start for a basic Rambler American model.  The suspension gets enhancements including a stronger drivetrain, anti-axle hop links in the rear, enlarged wheel openings to allow for bigger tires to fit, Magnum 500 wheels on Goodyear tires, and a hood scoop that is open and closed by the engine vacuum-powered flap.  The interior is striped clean with no radio, ventilation, headliner (it's paper thin!), includes Sun add-on tachometer, and seats with red, white, or blue head rests.  Finally the exterior adds white with blue and red accents and, on some models, racing decals.  There's more additional modifications that I have room to mention, but it's a lot for a basic street car to prepare for the track.  The limited run was prompted by NHRA F-class stock car rules with 1,512 built in A or B trim levels.  The SC/Rambler was a beast on the track with it's powerful engine and lightweight body, matching 1/4 mile times only Cobra Jet's and Hemi's could reach!  Starting price was affordable back then; nowadays one of these at auction would fetch up prices three-to-four times the original price after inflation!


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The sleek J.L. version

Despite the lack of details on the base and the rather chunky tires, this casting is the finest of the late 1990's Johnny Lightning models.  The wheels have Mags and the correct Goodyear lettering, the hood scoop is correct and stands proud with AIR on scoop and blue arrow the tell the air where to feed to.  The red stripe is occupied with racing decals all over the vehicle.  The interior is ok, though some more detailing would be nice.  The hood opens to an engine that is nicely detailed in the bare metal.

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It's not often I run across castings like this one, heck only the very first release of the Hot Wheels 1968 Dodge Dart in the 2003 Auto Affinity line came close to matching the attention of details this SC/Rambler provides, but man what a looker this 1/4 mile 'rambler can be!

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Hot Wheels AMC Rebel 'The Machine', with the Johnny Lightning version



When it comes to classic high-performance muscle cars of the 1960's, the more wild it looks the more attention you get.  Sometimes that's not what you want, you just want to fly low under the radar.  Some basic versions get noticed, while others don't.  One of them is the Rebel Machine, introduced on the Rebel line in 1970.


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AMC Rebel Machine: Not always hiding in plain sight

The Machine was the high-performance, low cost performance car of the AMC Rebel line.  Unlike the AMX, the Machine has contemporary relatives in the Rebel line.  That means square body lines, grille with quad headlights, and the bumper-mounted taillights.  But the Machine gains enhancements modeled after the success of the 1968 SC/Rambler models, including hood scoop with integrated tachometer, the Kelsey-Hayes Machine wheels, red, white, and blue stripes on white body, and the AMC 390 CID V8 producing 340 hp. and 405 Ib-ft. torque through a four-speed manual with Hurst shifter.  Unlike the SC/Rambler, you can order options to make your Machine more comfortable for daily commuting.  0-60 6.4 sec. with a top speed of 124 mph, and it was the most powerful street motor for the AMC line.  Interior features bench seat with console in front and a dash with driver-oriented controls, including a vertical radio scanner; the passenger stares at the silver accent along the dashboard.  First run of Machines were painted white with blue, red, and white accent stripes around the vehicle.  However, after that run other colors were offered, with no striping and a flat black hood.  Amongst the colors, only one in Big Bad Green was made!  The Machine only lasted for one year before the Rebel line was replaced by the Matador.

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Hot Wheels in Big Bad Green

In the second release of the Cool Classics series, most vehicles in that release were alright, but this Spectrafrost green Machine just stands out from them all!  The stripe on the sides, wrapping around the trunk into three sections and the Machine badges remain, and join a darker green stripe at the bottom.  The front grille is part of the interior piece and the base is metal and features all sorts of details.  Compared to the Johnny Lightning version, this Hot Wheels version is nicely done! The interior even has the correct amount of details as well. The wheels, on the other hand, look out-of-place on this classic and lacks the rubber treads of the 2012 Boulevard version (in the original red, white, and blue color scheme).



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...as for the Johnny Lightning

Nice wheels, correct detailing outside, and the opening hood is nice, but the car looks weak, lacks finer detailing on the casting that the Hot Wheels provides (see the rear bumper), the tires are plastic and look awkward on this car, and the interior detailing is sub-par.  When I got this casting having the Machine was nice, but nothing to really get excited about.  However, that changed when Hot Wheels came out with this one, and laying a green color almost close to the Big Bad Green color just makes this Machine "Pop" out!

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Comparison Test: Hot Wheels Fiat 500 vs. 2012 VW Beetle vs. 2001 Mini Cooper vs. Matchbox Smart FourTwo



This is the first time that I posted this style of test on my blog, but it won't be the last.  As much as I like to review each vehicle separately, I also like to see how it compares with others related to body-style or whosever is in the same 5-pack of vehicles.  This one involves the latest (well, sort of) of the new sub-compact cars that you can currently buy.  The newest is the Hot Wheels Fiat 500 Sport in metallic red.  Hot Wheels with a 500, yes, but I wasn't expecting anything short of an Abarth!  The next is the 2012 VW Beetle which got it's first redesign since the revival of the New Beetle in 1998.  The next one is the oldest, though still the finest: the 2001 Mini Cooper, and just like the Fiat I was expecting more of the S model than the regular Mini Cooper model when it was first introduced in 2002.  Finally is a wild card, one that has been in-and-out in the Matchbox lineup since 2002, and has made most of it's American appearance in 2008:  The Smart FourTwo cabriolet (now Hot Wheels makes a generic version called Four-one, but I rather prefer realistic versions over generic).

So, before the winner is picked, let's take a look at the four in eight categories:


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Exterior Design

The Fiat looks sharp in the metallic red with lighting details front and rear.  Oh, and their own double 5-spoke wheels look spot-on to the actual set on the Sport models.  The Fiat is also the second smallest car in the group.  The Mini is next and even at twelve years old the body lines still look sharp, and this Wal-Mart baggie version has front and rear detailing.  The roof is always separate-colored, and the trim around the wheelwells and lower body is separate from the metal body.  The rear-end is a bit squared-off than normal.  The new Beetle is a step-up from the older model with flat roofline, rear spoiler, dual exhaust, and angled bumper corners, giving the Beetle a more masculine look.  While the details are nice, the rounded-off front-end looks odd and waay off from the actual car.  As for the Smart...eh it looks good in the color combination with headlight details, but lacks rear taillight details and looks odd any way you look at it.  Not to mention the rear end seems to squat down more than the front!


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Interior

The Fiat looks good with central speedometer hub with tachometer and other gauges within the speedometer like a watch.  Also nice is the body-colored dash panel to highlight the otherwise coal-black interior.  Front seating is good, but anyone over six-feet tall will cut the 2 + 2 seating down to just a two-seater.  Cargo area is slim with rear seats up, but can make up some more with the rear seat down.  The Mini still uses the central speedometer (which will end in the 2015 model) and central controls below, but the regular Mini lacks the steering wheel tachometer of the S model.  Interior is much more roomier than the Fiat, but still kind of snug, ditto the cargo area.  The Beetle has the roomiest interior of the bunch, though rear headroom is still snug, but not as bad as the New Beetle (I remember a picture of someone tilting their head to the side because the fast slope of the rear window cut headroom in the back quite a lot!) .  The dash is a major improvement with a smaller front overhang, body-colored insert (if equipped, otherwise it's black), and seats and shifter that pays nod to the GTI.  Cargo area is roomy despite the rounded lower opening of the hatch.  The Smart is only a two-seater, with the passenger seat sitting farther back.  The dash is funky, if it's started to look dated already.  As for cargo area, good luck!  Kudos goes to the open-top look despite the lowered top blocking rear vision.



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Engine Displacement

The downside of the 500 Sport is the 1.4L MultiAir I-4 only mustering 101 hp., and the 5-speed manual is a gear short and a bit vague to use precisely.  Then again, probably not as bad as the Smart's Turbocharged .6L I-3 producing 53 hp through a clunky 6-speed twin-clutch automatic.  As for the Mini it features the 1.6L I-4 producing 90 hp. through a 5-speed manual.  The VW Beetle blows all away with the turbocharged 2.0L I-4 producing 138 hp. through a six-speed manual.




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Acceleration

The Beetle is the fastest with more power and smoother delivery.  The Fiat 500, surprisingly, felt just as fast despite the lack of power.  The Mini Cooper is quick, but without the turbo S engine falls behind the Beetle.  While the Smart leads the back with a weezy motor and laughable times (Note: all of these performance tests were based on brief testing of the cars and from reviews of the 1:1 car from various sources).



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Braking

Despite being fast, the Beetle also had the best stopping distance of the group.  Next is the Smart, which is no surprise since it doesn't go that fast!  The Mini placed third, with the Fiat coming in last place.



Handling

All four handle great, just like how small cars do best.  However, how they performed was a different story.  Both the Fiat and Beetle were fast, smooth, flat, and just downright fun to push around:  The Beetle using it's power and braking as an advantage, while the Fiat used it's small size and flat handling dynamics.  The Mini was not too far behind with zero body roll, but the lack of power was imminent, plus it felt less fun to toss around, which is very odd to say for a Mini Cooper.  The Smart has a higher center of gravity to deal with, and along with the lack of power was no-way fun to toss around.  This is a car more for the crowded city streets than the racetrack!


Features

So, what other goodies do these vehicles offer?  The Mini wins this one with classic detailing, practical interior, and despite the contrary today IT STILL HAS A METAL BASE AFTER ALL THESE YEARS!!!  The Fiat was next with the nice exterior touches and the fun play matter of the handing.  The Beetle, while fast, was badly hurt by some unfinished areas, frumpy front-end, and the lack of variations (only two so far!).  The Smart may look cool and have the correct details, but the interior details is flat, it's odd-looking, and not-so-fun to toss around, and you wonder why this Smart disappeared from the Matchbox U.S. line rather quickly.

Price

All three (Fiat, Mini, Smart) scored points for the affordable price, though it depends on what models and features you add up.  In reality the Mini (which would be a pre-owned model by now) would be the best bet, followed by the Fiat.  The Beetle is bigger and offers more, so it loses a point for a slightly-higher price but not by much.

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The result?

Fourth goes to the Smart FourTwo.  It looks neat, but it's just uninspiring elsewhere.  Third goes to the Fiat 500.  It looks cool and is fun to toss around, but the small motor and cramped interior comes up short to stronger competitors.  Second goes to the VW Beetle.  It is fast, roomy, and fun-to-drive, but the shape of the front-end severely downgrades this car from the winning position.  The first place winner goes to the 2001 Mini Cooper.  Sure it's not a S model and is three model generations behind, but still looks good today with full level of details inside, out, and a metal base.  Sure the handing is dull, but at least it still holds on to the original Mini heritage of fun, compact hatchbacks.