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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hot Wheels VW Drag Bus vs. '85 Chevy Astro Pro-Stock

One of the most popular Hot Wheels castings that, sadly, will never see life in the Mainline again (unless that plastic version in last year's Color Shifters comes back around), and for those who cannot get a hand on one of these in the Adult Collectible line.  For example, the recent VW Drag Bus that I got from the Mars candy line is my first Drag Bus in 18 years, yes, 18 years!  So it was nice to bring the newest one out, which separated from the cardboard during mail transit, to show off against my first one, the Drag Truck from the Classics series, and the '85 Chevy Astro Pro-Stock.

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One Wild Bus!

Everyone knows the story with the VW Microbus history, so what if you take a stock Panel Bus onto a tube chassis with a supercharged, and rather large, flat-4?  You get the VW Drag Bus, designed by Phil Riehlman and introduced in 1996.  It was released in the regular Mainline, but the weight of the vehicle, which has a metal body and chassis, was too much to bare for the slim blisterpack, so it was resorted to premium lines on the thicker cardboard (unless you get the Mars one like I got where the plastic retainer separated from the cardboard thanks to a weak seal).  Combine that with the sharp rise of air-cooled VW collectors and every version of this casting is hard-to-find.  The front has the round headlights, signal lights, V-shaped front, and VW logo of the actual Microbus, but at the rear there is a spoiler, vents to the rear quarter panels, and a cutout for the single whip exhaust.  Speaking of the exhaust another round comes out on the sides below the body, and then there's the massive drag wheels unique to the Drag Bus until the release of the new larger mag wheels with rubber tires.

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Lift the body as it tilts forward to reveal the front driver's seat with rollcage, the only plastic item here, while the middle shows off the air scoop to the large and supercharged flat-4 with tri-exhaust tips.  I dunno what this engine makes, but it would be sure of a heck more than what the underpowerd flat-4 of the standard Microbus.  The first release was the blue with graphics also used on the VW Golf recolor that same year.  The white one shown here was part of the 1997 Hot Wheels Custom Car Designer CD-ROM set; you use Avery labels in a printer to print stickers for the white body.  This was the closest I could come to the VW Drag Bus, and has been for a long time.

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Now it joins a newcomer from the Mars line.  I love the M&M deco on this Bus: The yellow body with a brown roof that looks like delicious chocolate!  Down to the round M&M's that grace the lower edge of the body.  Tasteful and eye-appealing.  Add to that the detailed headlights, VW logo, and taillights and you get one complete package!  The body still opens up and still shows off the metal chassis as before, but now the wheels are a full, and identical, 5-spoke mag wheels with rubber redline tires.  All-in-all this has to be one of the best versions by far of the Drag Bus.

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The Drag Truck and the missing wagon

The second release came in 2004 as the 101th vehicle for a Toys-R-Us mail-in: a VW Drag Truck.  This one, however, has a body bolted to the metal chassis, a VW logo as part of the metal base, new side vents above the rear wheels, lower stance, and the return of the rear cover panel as the whip exhaust relocates to the top edge of the bed.  The clear plastic lid, with a rear spoiler and vents, open up to reveal double trouble: try twin supercharged flat-4's that are even more highly-detailed than the Drag Bus!  This bus also sees limited use in thicker cardboard collectible lines, but has been easy to obtain a few times, one of them in the Hot Wheels Classics series in 2006 where I obtained my version.  Then a third one has been released in 2010, the 21-Window Drag Bus.  The same as the Drag Bus, it has the windows of the Samba bus and the rolled-back softtop of the roof  I have yet to find this one, but hopefully someday I will.

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Chevy Astro vs. VW Drag Bus

At Two Lane Desktop I like to do the comparo's, but not when they're stuck in a package.  In this case I had no choice due to the popularity of the castings, so i'll make this one quick.  The Astro was released in the 2013 Boulevard series to another popular success, but unlike the Drag Bus it is a bit narrower and slimmer than the pudgy Bus.  The red and black look great with simple logo's, as does the 5-spoke mags with Mickey Thompson on the rear tires.  It looks clean, with a rear spoiler, wheelie bars, parachute bags, and the Astro Panel van look, but the front grille and headlights, part of the metal base, look a bit off to the slant nose of the 1985 Chevy Astro van's look.  Drag Bus, while a bit old, looks great in any variation and identifiable.  The interior of the Astro is worse with the driver's seat just ahead of the rear tires, so the driver only sees the front in a tunnel-vision look.  The Bus is at the front with slim, but clear visibility.  The Astro has a supercharged V8 at the front, cutting out of the front hood, with the exhaust exiting out of the sides just ahead of the rear wheels, so it has a slight edge over the VW Drag Bus.  The Astro is likely to pass the Drag Bus on the track, but then again maybe not.  So in the end it all comes down to a winner. Both are at a tie by now, but the VW's cool looks and varying degree of models (not to mention the dual flat-4 Drag Truck can probably take on the V8 Astro), the VW Drag Bus wins this one by a slim margin.

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