A tire company advertising on the side of a diecast vehicle is an idea almost as old as diecast vehicles. Take this 25a Dunlop Bedford van from Lesney’s Matchbox series, which first appeared in 1956.
As it happens, a Dunlop van is a good place to start a feature about Falken. Sumitomo Rubber Industries (SRI) – the company that produces Falken tires – has its origins in the Dunlop Far East Factory, which was established in the port city of Kobe, Japan, in 1909. The site is still home to SRI’s research and development operation today and SRI retains the use of the Dunlop name on tires in some markets, as well as producing Dunlop sporting goods.
The Falken brand was established in 1983. From the start, Falken wanted to use motorsport both to publicize its products and help develop new ones. In 1999, it went to the Nürburgring 24 Hours (N24) and raced in the VLN (now NLS) long-distance series at the track for the first time. With the 48th running of the N24 taking place this coming weekend and two Falken-supported Porsche GT3s involved, we’re going to take a look back at the history of the teal-and-blue cars in this classic endurance race.
I should say at this point that I’m a Falken collector. It started when a friend who works with the company got me hunting for Hot Wheels releases for use in promotional giveaways. I guess there’s something about those distinctive colours and pretty soon I was hooked – just like other people go for the classic Advan black and red, or Mooneyes, or Gulf, or any other popular livery. I now have about 30 Falken models, mostly in 1:64 scale.
The Falken Motorsports team has a number of diecast collectors in its ranks, too, including several of its drivers, which is one reason why there are some great N24 Falken models out there.
“I’ve a good collection of the Falken Porsches I’ve raced at the Nürburgring at home,” says Austrian driver Martin Ragginger. “I’ve always thought it was cool to have models of the cars I’ve raced and been lucky to get all of the Falken ones. Now I’ve got a son, he’s starting his own collection but at the moment, we are giving him the less delicate ones!”
“I’ve always had models of some of the key cars I’ve raced over my career,” adds Peter Dumbreck. “Falken has always licensed models of its N24 cars and it’s cool that some of them are ones kids can play with, as well as the detailed larger scales. The N24 fans are so enthusiastic and passionate about the event that in recent times, Falken has started selling models and other merch from the paddock. We’ve also seen more fans creating their own versions. The attention to detail is pretty amazing.”
The models you’ll see here are a mixture of cars from my own collection and some customs that Falken had made by the super-talented Ian Diaz (IG @meiandiaz), who specializes in GT racers. Go check out his stuff, it’s amazing.
Falken’s first N24 entry was an R33 Skyline GT-R, which finished sixth in 1999. Ian made a custom of this model – you can see it here, complete with Photoshopped lights!
The following year came a Supra, pictured below sandwiched between two Porsches in a Tomica garage diorama that Falken set up for its models. The teal-and-blue colours were also carried that year by an Escort RS Cosworth, of which Ian created another custom, based on the Matchbox casting.
Two Nissans were the next official Falken entries: first an R34 GT-R until 2005, then a Fairlady Z Z33 (350Z) until 2010. Here’s a shot of the #33 that I took on my first visit to the N24, in 2007.
Ian made customs of both the Nissans, too. Here’s the 350Z being worked on in the pits.
Also on track in 2010 in semi-Falken colours was a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X. You’ll likely recognize this one from the lovely Tarmac Works model (more from them later). Here’s mine, with a Spark 1:43 2013 Porsche 911 GT3 R (997) in the background.
The factory Falken team had made the switch to Porsche in 2012. In 2015, it delivered Falken’s best N24 result to date – third overall – in the hands of Ragginger, Dumbreck, Wolf Henzler and Alexandre Imperatori.
Porsches have been part of the team ever since – nowadays run by Schnabl Engineering – but a BMW M6 GT3 was added in 2017 and the squad raced a split M6/911 lineup for three years. Both cars have been modeled in 1:64, by Tarmac Works and Sparky respectively. They’re shown below: the BMW is a 2017, the Porsche a 2018. Behind them is a Minichamps 1:43 set of the two 2018 cars.
Ian also created some customs of the Falken 911s. Here’s mine, backing out of the Greenlight Aerovault trailer!
This weekend, the familiar #33 and #44 will be back at the delayed N24 as a two-Porsche team of the latest 991.2 GT3 Rs, with Dumbreck and Ragginger joined in the #44 by Klaus Bachler and Sven Müller. Here’s the car in an NLS race earlier this season. Hope we get a model of that one as well!
Whether you’re a Falken fan or not, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the models of an eye-catching race team. There are plenty of other Falken models out there of course, notably from Hot Wheels and Greenlight. I’m looking forward to that new Falken Trueno arriving soon, too – look out for that in a future article.
There are also lots of other good 1:64 N24 and VLN cars available – here’s the Spark Porsche with a Bentley (also Spark) and a Mercedes-AMG (Tarmac Works). Happy collecting!