February 17, 2020 – by Doug Breithaupt
The overwhelming lack of comments on my last Road Champs contribution to the Lamley Group should have probably convinced me to change the subject for this week. However, since it is not possible to have any less response and I’m enjoying this subject, I’ll press my luck. It is unfortunate that Road Champs are not better known by collectors. The early cars are very nice and can still be found at decent prices. Later models are less attractive but worth notice.
Once I started down the Road Champs rabbit hole, the journey has proved quite interesting. Having learned a lot, I can’t resist sharing a bit more with you. Road Champs offered mostly American vehicles but the European and Japanese cars they produced also deserve attention. The European models were last week. For this post, the Japanese cars are the focus.
While there are only five models represented here they cover Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Mazda. I am missing the first generation Mazda RX-7 but more on that later. There is also a Lexus that I did not include in the group shot but it is profiled below. Here are several points to consider. Note the variety of wheels used on these examples. Early cars featured a mag-style wheel that is much like one from Hot Wheels. The next wheel is a phone dial version with eight holes. This was followed by a four spoke with a trim ring and lastly a budget eight spoke with a trim ring. You might also notice that only the Nissan 280ZX has opening doors. Like many companies, Road Champs reduced their opening features in order to save money during the 1990’s.
The Nissan 280ZX was introduced in the 1980’s when metal bases, mag wheels and opening features were still signatures of the Road Champs line. This is really a fine casting with clear t-tops and sharp details. The 280ZX is a solid, well-made toy car like all the early Road Champs. It was followed by the 300ZX which appeared in street colors and as part of the Racing Demons series with Dr. Pepper graphics. The clear t-tops are painted on the racing version. The base is plastic and the doors do not open but the details and paint are still quite good.
There are only a few of the first generation Toyota MR-2 models to be found in small-scale. Tomica’s concept and the Matchbox version are well known. Zylmex/Red Box offered one as well, including a police version. Road Champs again did both a Racing Demons example and later, a more generic racer. I am not impressed with the paint quality on either of these variations. It does not appear that Road Champs did a street version of the MR-2.
There are even fewer small-scale models of the original Honda Prelude so this example from Road Champs is a welcome addition. I’ve had the pink street version from new and added the Racing Demons variation just in time for this image. You will notice the inset sun roof is painted on the race car. The quality of the paint on the Prelude is better than that of the MR-2. Was the Honda Prelude active on the track? I’m not sure. Majorette also did a Prelude.
By the time the Mazda MX-5 joined the Road Champs line, the castings were far more basic. The plastic base wraps up into the body and also provides the interior and windshield. Budget wheels and single color paint give this model less appeal. The shape is reasonable but it is clear that financial constraints had reduced Road Champs to these simple, two-piece castings.
Like the MX-5, this Lexus LS 400 by Road Champs dates from 1992 and is another two-piece casting. The gold example is clearly identified as a Road Champs on the base. A number of years later, generic versions of this castings appeared with just ‘made in China’ on the base. Curiously, these genetics have full interiors and clear windows as seen on the yellow car.
As was mentioned earlier, Road Champs produced a Mazda RX-7. It is shown in the first image. The model I have is the same casting in the same colors but was produced by Welly. My research shows that Road Champs offered a few Welly models but with metal bases, mag wheels and identified as a Road Champs. It seems some Welly and Road Champs even shared their paint schemes. I do not have the Road Champs version yet so I shared an image from another collector. It came in a variety of colors. You may recognize the Welly casting as it is a very close copy of the same model from Tomica.
As I mentioned at the outset, the Road Champs story is one I am happy to share. There are several more chapters on the American vehicles, a few more from Europe and the final phase after Jack Robbins sold the company in 1997 to Jakks Pacific. I have already loaded a new post on the nine Racing Demons series models on my Tales of Toy Cars Facebook blog. If you would like a concluding piece on Road Champs for the Lamley Group, leave a comment. I can always finish up on Tales of Toy Cars and find a new topic for next week.