The Bearded Best for 2021

I’ve said it time and again, it’s a great time to be a diecast collector. Despite having less and less brick and mortar stores stocking their shelves (or just keeping their doors open), the fire hydrant flow of new castings from a multitude of manufacturers has subjected the wallets of many collectors to relentless beatings. The amount of new castings, brands, series and the like released this year is enough to bankrupt a Fortune 64 collector. And despite my silence on the blog, I was still making more noise on my credit card statements than I care to acknowledge. Note to self, budget is a buzzword that only applies if you stick to it.

All of that results in a monumental task of compiling a Top 10 list. Actually, it’s a Top 11 since I appear to have miscounted my entries. Oh well.

Last year, I curated a class of ten new releases I found to be important. If you want to read it, find it HERE.

This time, I found it substantially more difficult in narrowing down my list to something capable of being read in one sitting. My wife says I’m loquacious with a keyboard and I won’t disagree with that statement. Let’s get started.

 Auto World has had my attention nearly since its inception. I recall seeing the wide body Challenger hanging on the pegs at Toys R Us for what felt like years, before being swept to the clearance end cap. The broader range of Auto World vehicles, released to collectors in 2014, started strong with three different lines targeting three specific price points. Eight years later and I feel as if it’s been one home run after another this year, which makes choosing a favorite that much more difficult. But I did.

While it’s hard not to be excited for a stock, premium MK4 Toyota Supra, especially an ordinary NA one without the shopping trolley wing, my interest was more piqued by the 2021 recolor of the Dodge Stealth. Now there was a car whose presence in the high school parking lot is seared in my brain. There was a red ES and a burgundy R/T non-turbo, but most importantly an upperclassman had a white R/T Twin Turbo with the all-important white wheels. A perfect match, and reason enough to select this rolling bit of nostalgia.

PARA64 played the part of diecast’s Lewis and Clark and traveled a path not yet taken with their RUF CTR casting. The initial yellow and black releases were joined by a mint green version more recently (I’ve yet to get that). Even better, a follow-up with RUF’s CTR2 is set for an early 2022 release. Expect that to make next year’s list. My last post back in April highlighted the CTR and also predicted what would come next. Check it out HERE.

Greenlight is a leading producer of police vehicle replicas, and with numerous departments across the country replacing older squad cars with the redesigned Chevy Tahoe, it wasn’t a surprise that they would make the complementary casting. The 2021 Tahoe PPV was concurrently released in a few different series, but the General Motors Fleet version from Hot Pursuit 38 was a way to gauge the casting without any formal livery. In typical GL QC fashion (or lack thereof, rather), the running board broke off as soon as I opened it, appearing that not enough glue was applied from the factory. Regardless, a dab of the Krazy stuff and it was good as new. The details are great, even if they’ve switched to painted taillights in their SUVs. At least they retained the diecast chassis. Now if they can only get their QC under control and maybe finally retire those horrendous steam roller tires…

Hobby Japan is slowly becoming one of my favorite premium makers. A few years back they released a whole handful of Subaru Imprezas and from there I was hooked. While they have the usual NSX, RX-7s and STIs, their recent release of the MK3 Supra really caught my attention. I had an ’89 NA Supra with the Sport Roof. And although the car overheated in journeys longer than 39 miles, I still pine for another to this day. In reality, 1:64 scale models are more affordable, and let’s be honest, more reliable.

Earlier in the year, Hobby Japan introduced their version of the A70 2.5GT Twin Turbo R in a palette of colors, with green really catching my eye. The five spoke wheels, reminiscent of the North American Turbo’s, looked great in a gun metal grey, and the body details were sharp. HJ has a way of increasing the items in the collector’s cart by offering stunt doubles, ‘customized’ versions that in this case, included mesh-style wheels, a sports exhaust tip and headlights 

More recently, they expanded their MK3 line to include the 3.0GT Turbo Limited in white and black, and the 3.0GT Turbo A. Because the wheels and color better matched the 1:1 I owned nearly 20 years ago, a group purchase was made and their two-week voyage from China ended with their delivery just a few days ago. They are awesome. Hobby Japan has opened pre-orders for a MK4 Supra, an NA Miata, and the Subaru 22B-STi. I have no doubts these will be just as detailed and desirable.

In keeping with the Supra theme, Mini GT cast their Gran Turismo net a bit wider than most, resulting in the release of a TRD 3000GT. And lest you think it’s just a slightly modified MK4 casting, the wizards at MGT massaged the flanks to portray the wider hips of TRD’s GT500-inspired silhouette. One curiosity I found is that the prototype showed a right hooker, the one in my collection is LHD. A brief search didn’t turn up a registry or anything that keeps track of the 35 specially built cars, so I can’t confirm if any ever came that way. Anyone who can point me in the proper direction will be compensated by a thank you.

Pop Race is another brand that has a limited catalog but focuses on incredible detail with each release. Their rally Celicas feature accessories such as external roll cages and rear mounted tires, yet their price point is on par with other premium brands without breaking the bank. The Volvo 850 T5-R is fantastic and the green really sets it apart from the standard yellow. In fact, after adding Pop Race’s version to my collection, I promptly sold a similar Tarmac Volvo from my collection as it was more a static display piece.

Matchbox has been turning out winner after winner over the last few years, but their choice to tool a Subaru Forester and then paint it in a shade similar to Jasper green…wow. There isn’t much to say about this other than they’ve done it justice. Front and rear tampos and pleasing proportions lead to me packing more than a few away for future shoe box discoveries. 

If one brand was to be blamed for bludgeoning my finances the most, it would be Tomica. Their monthly Limited Vintage releases are things I look forward to the most in the diecast world, followed quickly by thoughts of dollar bills being tossed in a fire pit. Actually, if I faced a financial catastrophe, the ‘investment’ in TLVs could most likely be recouped without any losses, if not a few gains. That said, there is a running Fast and Furious joke in my house whenever DHL drops my monthly “overnight parts from Japan” at my doorstep. 

With the handful of new castings TLV debuted, the one that moved me the most was easily the Toyota Chaser Tourer V. Again, anything Gran Turimso related is going to tug on my nostalgia strings harder than most, and this pearl green X100 plays a Slash-worthy guitar solo for an audience of one. I’m still not keen on having to add my own intricate bits such as the rear spoiler and sunroof deflector, so I don’t know why TLV insists on adding arts and crafts to some of their models. Regardless, I still line up every month to get my 1:64 fix from Japan’s finest.

I look forward to watching the Convention’s preview video every year to see what’s coming down the pipelines for Hot Wheels basics (and the entire brand, of course). To make a single selection from the plethora of new castings would be an impossible decision, so because it’s my list, I decided on a solution. I’m choosing all the new castings of 1990s models: 

Nissan R390 GT1: Ryu Asada’s casting is a handheld version of the Gran Turismo favorite. The paint matched perfectly to the only road-going version built (with the recolor matching the initial color of the pre-longtail version). With front and rear tampos, the premiere release is going to be tough to top.

Mercedes-Benz 500 E: The silver recolor, in particular, shows off the crisp casting lines penned by Lindsey Lee. This isn’t Lee’s first exceptional new model, with the Stinger GT and GT500 also part of her CV. The 500 E’s front and rear tampos are accentuated by 5SP wheels and the all-important side mirrors, giving added visual width to its already teutonic presence. A 2022 release in red is continuing on the stock look. Hopefully it hits premium at some point.

McLaren F1: With just 64 road going versions built, not including variants, an F1 is a special car. I recall seeing one in the same spec at the Petersen Museum a few years back, its image still resonating in my mind. Ryu’s casting is a great way to put a $20m car in my pocket, and while it could use a bit more tampo detail, the proportions are well done. Being introduced late in the year prevented a recolor, but perhaps we’ll see it in a nice deep blue or even better, the green one found in the Revs Institute.

Audi RS2 Avant: An all-wheel-drive turbo wagon tuned by Porsche? In Nogaro blue? Sign me up! Another winner by Ryu, the Audi RS2 Avant was forbidden fruit to the US market up until a few years ago when it turned 25 years old. Again, the Hot Wheels version benefits from small 5SP wheels and front and rear detailing. The chassis is a bit wonky, causing an awkward front lip and blocky side skirts, but overall it’s a welcomed addition to any obscure collector’s collection.

Bugatti EB 110 SS: Another mid-90s supercar executed in miniature form, the EB 110 SS looks resplendent in French Racing Blue. Ryu nailed the details on this one, especially the five round air vents aft of the side windows and the fixed rear spoiler, both indicative of the SS version. Next year’s recolor in yellow will certainly pop, but let’s hope a silver version finds its way to the pegs afterwards, perhaps in Car Culture.

Toyota Land Cruiser 80: My final choice for new castings that hailed from 1990s is the complete opposite of the previously listed. Hailing from the creative talents of Dmitriy Shakhmatov, the jacked up SUV that is the Land Cruiser lead the charge for a handful of diecast manufacturers introducing their own LC incarnations. Regardless of whether Dima’s casting was the catalyst, his version combines off-road elements to the timeless lines of Toyota’s oldest SUV. My only gripe is that the lack of tampos leaves the rear looking rather gray washed. With 2022’s release sporting overlanding-style decos, there is no doubt this initial outing will be the one to have.

Hot Wheels’ Premium, specifically Car Culture, has exploded over the last few years. It’s a herculean task to select a favorite, however one in particular does jump to mind: the Mitsubishi Evolution VI in Modern Classics 3. The Evo is a very cool car, and there is no argument that Tomica Limited Vintage’s versions of the Evo IV, V and VI are must-haves for any JDM fanatic. But I have a closer connection to Mark Jones’ version than any of the true 1:64 releases. Back in February, I was afforded the opportunity to pen a preview post on the upcoming Evo and noticed something out of place. The trunk lid on the prototype appeared to be from an Evo V, with the added inner taillights. I thought maybe it was a TME, but the front bumper was the standard Evo VI. I mentioned it to Mark, but logistics in production meant it might have been too late to adjust. Much to my surprise, the change was made and although the correction might not have solely rested on my shoulders, I like to think I had a little part. Holding the car in hand, it’s just perfect. From the color, to the white wheels, to the front and rear decos. I’m looking forward to seeing this repping some Rally El Segundo livery, or maybe a licensed design. Regardless, I’ll be hoarding this if I ever find it on the pegs.

The other Car Culture that has to be included on my Top 10 is the Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG from Deutschland Design. The creative cleverness applied by the deco team to recreate a Red Pig without saying it’s the Red Pig is one for the record books. The actual Red Pig was the first from the fledgling AMG, a car that took first in class and second overall at the 1971 24 Hours of Spa. The deep burgundy paint on the Hot Wheels miniature matches the grey RRE wheels to a T. And the rear muffler is actually part of the interior, giving it deeper dimension against the diecast chassis. The best part? Incorporating the Hot Wheels Dream Team members’ names where H.E. Sieger’s sponsorship stamp is. Brilliant.

So there you have it. The Top 11 list I agonized over for a while. For 2022, I’m going to try and earmark releases throughout the year to prevent having to rack my brain thinking back to what was new. But what’s a list without some honorable mentions in no particular order, right?

The late, great Ryu Asada left an indelible mark on the diecast community through his extensive back catalog. This past year might have been his strongest, with so many coveted castings being released to an enthusiastic reception. The Lancia Delta integrale just missed out being captured in the 90s umbrella above, but I’m willing to wager it’s going to be seen in a multitude of series. Team Transport Martini, anyone?

While I did a Mainline collective to solve a selection issue, doing so for the entire 2021 Car Culture would have been madness. However, I would really love to get a one on one with Mark Jones – I just have so many questions for him. In the meantime, his Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 from Modern Classics 3 and the Audi S4 from Deutschland Design both rank highly to me. The 3000GT is going to be perfectly complemented by Matchbox’s release and the model year tweaks on the Audi appear to be correct – the larger plate recess matching the older ‘S4’ badging. I just can’t put my finger on the color, as it’s too denim-y to be Santorin blue.

The only reason Greenlight’s 2021 Ford Police Interceptor Utility in a New Jersey State Police uniform didn’t make my Top list is because the casting was heralded last year. But needless to say, hailing from the Garden State and having a penchant for collecting police vehicles, I have more than one of these squirreled away in my basement, including the raw Green Machine version. The passenger-side only appliqué of ‘State Trooper’ is applaudable, but being in their Anniversary Series celebrating the 100th birthday of NJSP, it’s a head-scratcher as to why they didn’t utilize the retro cruiser scheme. I suppose that’s just Greenlight being Greenlight again.

Inno64 has been on a roll (figuratively only, unfortunately) lately with touring car specials and oft  lauded racing saloons. Nissan’s Primera, Honda’s Accord Euro-R and the R32 Skyline are sure winners. But along came a casting to trump them all – Ford’s Sierra RS500 Cosworth. I exhibited restraint by only grabbing the street version in white and the iconic Texaco-liveried Group A racer. I’m sure to add the Moonstone blue street version at some point. While Inno isn’t the first to tool a Sierra Cosworth, the line’s are crisp and as fellow Lamley contributor Willdiecast pointed out, the rear window is properly done with rounded edges. I’m looking forward to Hot Wheels’ interpretation as they’ve introduced one for their 2022 basics.

Matchbox’s Moving Parts line is a welcome addition to their Basics, if not hindered by its limited availability. The one casting I was patiently waiting for was the Subaru BRAT. In fact, knowing it would be some time before I would find it on the pegs (if ever), I took advantage of a Black Friday sale at J-Car Diecast and ordered the entire case it was in. Sense and sensibility is suspended when anything is on sale.

The final honorable mention has to go to PARA64’s Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 in street clothes – specifically in Cosmic blue. PARA64 has been particular with their castings to make sure their ROI helps to continue funding future products (or at least that’s how I believe every brand functions). So with the Galant, it was a no brainer than a street version would follow the rally releases. Additionally, the alignment of the rear door decals is different for each side, besting TLV’s Galant that uses the same decal for both. Future recolors in Oslo green and Grace silver are sure to allure JDM collectors.

One brand that’s noticeably absent from either of my lists is M2 Machines. I just can’t get on board with release after release of either some sort of speed parts graphics or soft drink partnership. I understand the relationships keep the lights on, but the Detroit Muscle and Auto-Thentics releases that built the M2 empire have been suffocated by the Coca-Cola kingpins. And when they do release a realistic color scheme, they no longer name the factory colors as they’ve done in the past. It’s a shame, but I’m close to liquidating my entire M2 showroom and writing them off completely. Change my mind.

So with that, another year of tranquil collecting comes to a close. There is no doubt I emptied my coffers earlier than anticipated each month, but I’ve got a collection that I’m proud of – even if it’s mostly binned up in my basement. More importantly, it’s been another year to be  fortunate for being part of the Lamley Group. It’s a great group of collectors that bleed zamac and are in it for the right reason – passion for the hobby.

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