By Robin Godwin
For pictures of these models please see the captioned photographs after the text.
I can understand the frustration of collectors when they see another new issue of a VW Beetle. Personally, I get very tired of seeing every possible iteration of Ferrari or racing Porsche, since I generally don’t collect those models. The Beetle has to rank up there in popularity with manufacturers and collectors alike. They will always sell. There has been lots of activity recently in the 1:64 scale world for VWs here in North America, but recently a couple of European manufacturers have jumped into the fray, and Kyosho of Japan adds a few new issues now and then. Perhaps the biggest difference between the US companies (M2, Greenlight, the reborn Johnny Lightning, and Hot Wheels) and those based in Europe and Japan is that the American companies are given to producing what editor Maz refers to as “artificial rarities” – deliberate, low-volume, special issues with some sort of difference(s) from the basic issue, not just a standard recolour. That is true, and some are low volume specials, but others are “event” specials like the auto show SEMA (Special Equipment Market Association https://www.semashow.com/the-sema-show ) or international market versions. The net effect is the same – hard to find and usually more expensive to purchase. I’ll touch on this phenomenon a bit, but leave the details for another article.
That said, Kyosho, Minialuxe (OK, so that one is 1:66), Schuco, M2, Greenlight, the “new” Johnny Lightning (OK, so these ones are slightly bigger than 1:64), and Hot Wheels (scale not usually a concern with the basic line, but around 1:64) are the current players that I’ll discuss. I have just discovered that the “new” Solido company, launched under the Otto umbrella will issue a 1:64 scale series which includes a Beetle 1303 sedan. Unfortunately, it is the Kyosho Beetle. I don’t know the business arrangement that has brought this to pass – whether the models are purchased directly from Kyosho or from the Chinese manufacturers, but it may be a slightly less expensive method of acquiring the Kyosho Beetle, which are generally only available from Asian dealers online. I’m reasonably confident that the base will read Solido rather than Kyosho, as Solido has done on other contracted models. I’ll update readers once I have one.
Other manufacturers are doing VWs as well. Norev is doing a “3 inch” model, usually described as 1:55ish, Maisto still does oval window Beetles, both for themselves and others (I’ve seen Burago VWs by Maisto) but these are a bit cartoonish “chopped” versions and also around 1:55 scale, maybe even a tad bigger, and there are others doing 1:72nd and 1:76th Beetles, but I’ll leave all those for another day.
Let’s start with the most prolific producers, Greenlight and M2. These two seem to be going head-to-head in the VW world. Greenlight (GL) started in 2010 with a VW30 Prototype and followed in 2011 with the “Classic VW” issue (big window), both of which were originally sourced from Chinese manufacturer High Speed. The VW30 has been phased out, but the Classic soldiers on. I’m not sure if these are still cast by High Speed, or if Greenlight now owns the mould, but this particular model has been issued by several other companies, including High Speed itself. Early issues had both Greenlight and High Speed cast into the plastic base, but more recent issues have just Greenlight. In 2015, GL issued a split window VW which they are selling as anything from a 1938 VW (they weren’t called Volkswagens back then, but were known as KdF) all the way up to a 1953 Beetle (later in 1953 the rear window was changed to oval). At this scale, minor detail differences, inaccuracies, or omissions are not such a big deal. There is lots of tampo printing for trim detail, but GL makes no effort to show the quarter light/vent window on either model. The GL split window has an opening bonnet and boot, with basic engine detail. Panel fit is actually pretty good, but one wonders if GL is only doing this because M2 Auto-thentics did opening panels first. GL special issues are called “Green Machines” (GM) and can feature a metallic green body colour or even a raw body casting (unpainted), or green wheels or even green tires or combinations thereof. GMs are usually 2% of regular production, and occasionally have low double digit production runs, so can be exceedingly rare. GL has also done VWs for California Toys of Brazil, to date only the big window “Classic”. Seven issues currently exist, four of which are police issues. Three of these have police roof lights, a first for GL. These issues are very difficult to find outside of Brazil. The Classic features painted headlights and taillights, with a plastic “riveted” base. The split window has clear plastic headlights, painted taillights and a metal base fixed by a single phillips screw (so I would never buy a “unique interior colour” online). The regular issues are sold on blister cards, but many of the variations of both Greenlight VWs are only sold in themed sets of up to five vehicles of which up to three could be Beetles. Some online dealers will split the sets and sell models as loose singles, but sometimes the models offered as singles appear to be quality control rejects. Look carefully at the photos before you buy. All you need to know about GL beetles (or any 1:64 GL casting) can be found at http://za3collectibles.com/index.htm about the best online collector resource I have seen.
M2 issued it’s first VWs in an Autothentics VW sub series in 2013, which included an oval window (so, good for 1953 to 1957 issues) and a big window version, good up until about 1967, after which the headlight housings became noticeably more vertical. Both castings feature opening bonnets and boots with engine detail. The oval uses a paint strip on the side windows to represent the quarter window, and it is badly placed, making the window too big. The big window model has cast quarter windows, a much better effort. I previously reviewed the first issues in a MAR online article, so won’t repeat the details or criticisms but, as forecast in the original article, M2 has played with the dies a bit so now we have sunroof (open and closed with canvas roof ripples cast in) versions, along with bumper variations to reflect different national vehicle standards. M2 also does special issues and “chase” issues (usually just gold wheels and gold tampo trim) and usually indicates the production numbers. Some of the special issues also have chase vehicles, for instance, the SEMA special for 2014 featured 492 regular issues, but there were another 108 chase issues as well, done in a different body colour. Wal Mart seems to be a driving factor, since they have had several Wal Mart exclusives, with accompanying chase vehicles (up to 1600 chase vehicles issued). There is a Wal Mart Mexico series as well, covering more than just VWs. These are unique colours, with Spanish packaging, and “MEX 01” (or whatever issue number it is) printed on the plastic plinth. Be careful if buying online, since many of the regular US issues/colours are also available in Mexico, with Spanish packaging, but without “MEX xx”. Except for the language, those ones are the same as you can find anywhere in the US. M2 also did a few VWs for a Puerto Rican toy store with 492 regulars and 108 chase Beetles. These are hard to find. Similarly, they did a special for a Canadian toy store with 492 regular issues, 108 chase models and 24 “Super Chase” models (and we’re talking really silly eBay prices for this one).
A couple of points to note if one is planning on buying any GL or M2 online. Both feature rubber tires on plastic rims. The regular issues are, of course, toys, generally sold for less than $6 US, so perhaps some quality control issues can be excused. Any GL or M2 that features white wall tires should be examined very closely in the photos. In both cases, the white is printed on the rubber tires. M2 tends to have less than perfect white coverage and also frequent off centre printing of the VW logo on the wheels. GL tends to have the whole white wall slightly off centre or oval in shape, but wheel logos are cast in. Both manufacturers frequently fail to get the tire properly seated on the plastic rim before putting the vehicles in the sealed blister packs (or boxes). Lots of folks like to keep their blister packs as originally issued (unopened), so an improperly fitted tire can be exasperating.
Johnny Lightning (JL) was reborn late last year and one of their first reissues was the 1975 Super Beetle Convertible. All of the original Playing Mantis issues but one had the top down, but the reissue is top up. This is clearly a toy, slightly bigger than 1:64, and appears to be unchanged from the original. It features slightly-too-wide rubber tires (mostly a good thing, as JL has done lots of plastic tires in the past) on incorrect generic wheels, or we could be nice and call them custom toy wheels. The first issue comes with an “A” series in red, and a “B” series in yellow, along with a White Lightning (WL) version. WLs represent 1 to 5% of regular production, but I have never seen a reference to real production volumes, so cannot even estimate the number of WLs. With painted headlights and taillights, there is nothing really special about the details, but the tampo highlights are well done. The base is cast in metal and riveted in place. These are respectable toys and retail for less than $6 in the US, but online sellers seem to want to try to get more than that. In its previous incarnation, JL also produced a 1964 – 1966 Beetle, and a 1951 split window Beetle but there is no indication yet if these dies will be resurrected. An outstanding JL reference website is Wyatt’s http://www.jlcollector.net/index2.html
As we all know, Hot Wheels (HW) is all over the die cast map these days, still going strong with the regular HW basic line that set the die cast toy world on its head in the late 60s. There have been multiple VW Beetle castings, mostly customs of some sort. The current 1:64ish Beetle is an oval window with fairly accurate body casting save for the excessively big real wheel arches, which enable the fitment of Hot Wheels usually huge wheels. Occasionally, HW will issue a model with “Real Riders” (RR) which translates into rubber tires. The photo shows a recent “Herbie” release with RRs that are too wide but otherwise realistically sized (which really highlights the oversize rear wheel arches). The Herbie markings are quite accurate, but of course the Love Bug was a square window VW and not an oval, so zero points for accuracy here. Basic HWs are still sold for $1.00, except when it is a special or a RR like the Love Bug, shown, then it is three or four times the price. It’s a bit of a shame that Hot Wheels does not revive their Chinese made 100% Hot Wheels Beetle casting from 2001, a square window model with excellent lines and an opening boot with a chrome engine. The wheels were always rubber, and accurately sized, at least in diameter, as were the rear wheel arches. It was always a custom of some sort, with a single exhaust (a separate plastic engine/exhaust piece on the base) and minus both bumpers. Adding bumpers and stock exhaust would have produced the most accurate Hot Wheels small scale Beetle, but unfortunately it appears this casting has been retired. They are worth tracking down on eBay.
The Minialuxe brand (France) was revived recently with lots of 1:43 vehicles, all in metal, and to a level of finish consistent with ’60s diecasts or the current Atlas Dinky Toys reissues. This is kind of a nostalgic range even though the original Minialuxe products were 1:43 plastic. Just within the past year, Minialuxe released a “Miniabox” line of 1:66 vehicles, again all metal, and included a square window Beetle. This is a very nice simple casting (except for the missing quarter light window) with windows and a well done interior (LHD). The headlights are Swarovski crystals. Wheels are spun aluminum and tires are very accurate thin 60s style. These come in four different colours, with unique “colour-matched” boxes. I would love to have all four versions, but they cost 20 Euros each, plus shipping from Minialuxe, who still seem to prefer direct marketing, although they do sell direct at some large French toy shows. Minialuxe have issued a couple of Beetles with roof lights in their 1:43 series (Polizei and Swiss PTT), so I would anticipate similar issues in the smaller range sometime in the future. The question remains – why 1:66?
An odd turn of events in light of the above, is Schuco issuing a line of vehicles called Edition 1:64, when they used to have an excellent 1:66 scale range many years ago (60s and 70s). I thought initially the Beetle 1500, issued in 2014, might be sourced from High Speed (Schuco did issue some High Speed 1:64 in their earlier Junior range, I have the E-Type Jag from 2005) similar to early Greenlight models, but they are unique castings that include the quarter lights. Base is metal with cast in bumpers and is fastened to the body with two small phillips screws. Headlights are clear plastic with tampo silver rims, and the taillights are separate red plastic bits – nice detail in this scale. No body panels open. The wheels are done the same as M2 and some Greenlight models. The rim is chromed then the outer portion of it is sprayed body colour to give the effect of a chrome hubcap on a body-coloured wheel. It is not always successful, with some off-centre painting and poor colour matching. To date, there have been five versions, including a “Herbie”, a Polizei with roof light and a Nurnberg 2016 Toy Fair model in red with white show graphics. The addition of the Polizei roof light is the only casting change to date. These are all regular edition models, except for the show special, and I have no idea how many of these were made. It appears that Schuco does not engage in “artificial rarities” as discussed above, nor are they issuing sets of models in unique colours (yet). These are priced at about Euro 11 in Germany, so a bit more expensive than M2 or Greenlight models, but perhaps Schuco does not have a Wal Mart or equivalent pressing for a lower price point.
Finally, Kyosho of Japan markets a huge range of 1:64 vehicles which seem to be only reliably available in Asia. The first VWs appeared in 2008 in a Minicar Collection Gashapon series (Gashapon = generic box, so that you don’t know which model you are getting until you open the box). There were two models, a 1303 Super Beetle sedan and the other a Super Beetle cabrio. It should be noted that the second issue of VW Minicar Collection (issued in 2015 and still current), has deleted the cabrio, and the Solido lineup as mentioned above does not feature the cabrio either. http://www.kyosho.com/jpn/products/diecast/brmc/volkswagen2/index.html My earlier comments about inaccuracies/omissions in this scale can be cast aside here. These are exceptional little models immediately noticeable in the wheel detail and the flush glazing with fine tampo window trim. Headlights are separate clear lenses inset into chrome trim bezels. Taillights are separate solid red plastic pieces. Unfortunately, there is no top orange (turn indicators) or bottom clear (backup lights) incorporated, but it is 1:64 scale after all. Tampo printing of rear engine vents is superb. The riveted base is plastic. There is one criticism, but it is only that the yellow paint has a hard time covering some of the cast ridges – other darker coloured versions do not have this problem. Although now obsolete, the cabrio is worth searching out on eBay, but also comes with a criticism. The windshield/frame is a separate mask-painted plastic piece, with a slight shade difference to the body paint. Still, these 1:64 models could embarrass some 1:43 scale manufacturers. Hopefully the Solido issue of these models will feature some new colours over time, but the first issue illustrated in their 2016 catalogue is the same colour as the recent Kyosho issue – how disappointing.
#1 An early “Classic Beetle” (large window) on bottom, with both High Speed and Greenlight cast logos. Top is a later version missing High Speed logo. It is from a GL Hollywood Film Reels set from the movie “Bullitt”, hence the Warner Bros. tampo
#2 The Bullitt VW alongside a Greenlight split window from their “Pennzoil” five-car set. The split window was bought as a singleton from an online dealer, but it looks more like a quality control reject – bad wheel paint
#6 A Mexico only issue. Note MEX 03 issue number. This means colour is unique to Mexican market. Others may be sold in Mexico, with Spanish language packaging, but without a Mexico issue number – these are the same as available in the US (from internet)
#9 The relaunched Johnny Lightning Super Beetle Convertible with collector card, also available in yellow with white convertible top (up, as well) and a White Lightning version. The WL version is based on the red car, since it has a black top and interior, and pearl silvery/white body and white tires
#10 Essentially the same came vehicle – Kyosho foreground is very accurate but you can see the colour difference between plastic and metal painted parts. The Kyosho highlights the toylike quality of the JL. Kyosho convertible is no longer available, but can be found on eBay
#12 A 100% Hot Wheels custom VW from an earlier era (right), and now obsolete, but it’s much more accurate casting than the current stuff. Left is the Kyosho, the current gold standard for 1:64 Beetles, although not everybody likes the “Super Beetle” with it’s curved windscreen
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