A little while back I saw some photos of an interesting 1:43 1959 Australian Ford Fairlane which was being offered on eBay. Unfortunately the model was photographed in its box, making it hard to see some of the detail. I found the website of the maker, Ace Models (www.acemodelcars.com) and just for fun I contacted them to ask if they had any decent photos. It turned out that the owner, Tony Hanna, knew me from my scribbling days in MAR and was happy to provide some background info.
He spend 20 years working as a pattern-maker for Trax, but has also produced models on his own account, like the Holden Torana GTR-X Concept and a Broadspeed Mini, under the Modelcraft Miniatures and Revolution names. Ace Models is his latest independent venture. He supplied me with the Fairlane shown here in pale blue and white resin. The brightwork is a mix of photo-etching and adhesive chrome strip (like a kind of very heavy-duty Bare Metal Foil).
He was very honest about the fact that he would like to improve some small details. For example the rear amber indicator lamps (which were white reversing lamps on US cars) are a little too large. He also hoped to improve some of the trim pieces. But as you can see, it is a pretty attractive model as it stands, and there are plenty of resin models on the market with more serious detail faults – and not a word from their makers about correcting them!
Some of the first examples went to a well-known Australian model shop, Gateway Models, so to us foreign buyers it looked like they were the only game in town, as the Ace website doesn’t show them. But in the meantime Tony had been approached by Trax and offered a deal, with the result that they took the rest of the first production batch. Suddenly, the model is on the front page of the latest Trax mini-catalogue. They don’t actually claim it is a Trax model, it is meant as a stop-gap until the next real Trax models come along. Apparently it is part of the deal that the additional stocks now being produced will keep the model in its original form, without any changes, so if an enhanced version eventually appears, it will come out under the Ace Models name. In the meantime he is working on a 1959 Fairlane station wagon in both Australian and US versions, to be followed by a 1959 Dodge Custom Royal four-door and 1960 Dodge Phoenix four-door (both cars were imported CKD from the States, so they will effectively be the US versions). I don’t know at the moment if these will also be marketed by Trax, or independently under the Ace brand.
He also mentioned that other forthcoming items this year include a 1966 Chevy Nova, initially in sedan racing form for Australian race fans, then in a civilian version for world-wide sales, a New Avengers Broadspeed Jaguar XJC (complete with John Steed figure!) and a Goggomobil Dart, which was a diminutive but surprisingly pretty Australian fibreglass-bodied sports car. It was based on the what is of course acknowledged to be one of the finest sports car chassis of its generation, the Glas Goggomobil microcar.
Tony is currently looking for overseas distributors in the UK and elsewhere. In the current overcrowded market he will have to come up with models that fill a gap and catch the imagination, at an acceptable price. Brave man; I guess we should wish him well.
The fact that the banner at the top of the Trax catalogue says Getting Trax back on track … is quite revealing. Without getting into personalities, it seems that the management changes at the top were a bit turbulent, and model planning and commissioning got somewhat sidetracked in the process. That was compounded by production delays and erratic deliveries from China, which cannot have helped the cashflow situation either. And just like MAR before it went digital, there are ongoing concerns about the impact of increased postal charges.
Tony reckons this whole upheaval cost them about a year of normal operations. There haven’t been many really new models, the only new item showing on their website for the past few months has been a re-hash of the old 1:24 Chrysler Charger. And they seemed to be pushing their luck with too many versions of the very nice Holden Statesman in the Opal series (basically just grille and colour variations) and may be struggling to unload them all. Then they pulled a real stunt with the Holden Trax LTZ mini-MPV, requiring Trax fans to cough up AU$100 dollars advance payment, with the balance of another 30 dollars or so payable when (or if) it eventually emerged. After some production problems it is now on release, which must be a relief, although unlike their usual limited specials not all were sold out in advance, so they are now on offer to all comers for a mere AU$99. Those who paid up front for the exclusive must be really happy. Available in eight colour choices each model comes with a cheap digital watch with a plastic strap matching your colour choice. (If that doesn’t break your resistance, nothing will). By the way, this SUV was apparently designed by Opel in Germany, mainly styled by Ford in the US but, oddly enough, with the nose and grille style contributed by Holden, and it is built in South Korea. There will also be Chevy Trax, Opel Mokka and Suzuki Kruze versions.
The mini-catalogue shows a couple of other forthcoming models, a Surfer Roo, which was a one-off built by Ford in 1969 based on an XW ute, and a Holden Commodore Walkinshaw Group A racer built by Holden Special Vehicles in 1988. Both models are resin, and look a little rough in the photos but Tony confirms they are mock-ups he produced some time ago and should be much better in production form. Whether they are of much interest to many people outside Australia is another matter.
It seems that much of Trax future production will be resin, and apparently at twice the price of their old-style diecast models. I don’t know how well that will go down with their traditional buyers, or maybe they have decided that casual demand for models of Oz family favourites is dwindling, and they are now catering to a hard core of serious buyers.
Another new string to their bow is that they seem to have joined forces with Century Dragon and are offering a 1:43 resin Land Rover (made from 166 parts) for AU$149 and a Toyota Land Cruiser (made from 266 parts) for AU$165. Again, not your usual pocket money model from Trax, but a lot of parts for your money.
Speaking personally, I thought they struck the best balance between the simple diecasts and the expensive Select models with their Opal series, which had nice quality and a distinctive style. But there you are.
Let’s hope they manage to get their act back together. There are still things to be done. A note at the back of the catalogue says COMING SOON … Things We Missed from the Past and Aussi Icons (Gee, I thought they’d done all those). We shall see what emerges.