Spreading their wings with the Yellowbird: Ritter Goods and Element 79 Collectibles enters the physical model car world

How often do you find yourself with the feeling of wanting more? As a diecast collector, I can say that feeling hits me often. Whether it’s wanting more releases, more of the same release, or more quality from certain manufacturers, the feeling is ever present in the limbic system of my brain. The focus today is Ritter Goods and Element 79 Collectibles with their release of the 1:43 1987 RUF Yellowbird. I was fortunate enough to speak with Pat Au, founder of Element 79, and Andrew Ritter of Ritter Goods. That conversation left me with the all-too-common feeling of wanting more. I want more Ritter Goods art, more Ritter Goods Models and quite frankly, I want more conversations with these two.

In the world of diecast and model cars I have been overwhelmed with the feeling of sameness. Different manufactures are doing the same cars, the same liveries and inevitably chasing the same trends that we continue to consume. Though it may read as a complaint, it’s not. Each leader and follower are pushing and pulling each other towards perfection which leads us to better models. That is a great thing! Though it is refreshing to see something completely different and someone forging their own path. In steps Ritter Goods.

 Many of you are familiar with its creative genius whether you know it or not. Andrew has been swimming in and pioneering car culture well before those two words were a colloquial term for the scene. With Stance Works, Andrew has found a way to merge his creative nature into the physical automotive world. His photography has been featured in countless publications and his words have been quoted in countless writeups. Each one reinforces the art style that Andrew has embraced and created. Andrew prides himself in world building and if you follow his Instagram, @ritter.goods, you are well aware of what that world is. It’s a world of 3D drawn ChoroQ/Chibby stylized cars. They are cute, detailed, personable, replicated in all the right places, distorted for amusement and ever present in the Ritter Goods World. The foundation of that world is Milton who is the curator for the R.G. Historics Archive. This Wallace and Gromit-esque character decides which cars to photograph, print and release to a few lucky individuals. Personally, I have four prints that adorn my walls. 

The other half of the Ritter Goods in physical form is Pat Au who founded the aptly named Element 79 collectibles. For those less science inclined, Element 79 from the periodic table of elements is Au, which is gold. Pat describes his previous career as the necessary and completely unplanned journey that led him to this exact spot to create these model cars. With a career in licensing that includes stops at Jada Toys, Disney and the video game industry, on paper, Pat seems to be the perfect candidate for a licensed model car business venture. Off paper though, he is more than perfect. His attention to detail, humor and choice in 1:1 automobiles round out his already qualified resume. Seriously, his 993 RWB is a sight to behold. 

How does one start a model car company? Well, the answer is more complex than I have time for, but simply put, you start one by not trying to start one. Pat had admired Andrew’s work for some time. As a fan, Pat asked their mutual friend, Jon Sibal, to introduce him to Andrew at a Cars & Coffee event. (Yes. That Jon Sibal.) They hit it off, fast becoming friends and before long were discussing their plans for a 1:43, albeit in secret. Only a few select friends and family knew about their creative endeavors. 

The process was a long one. The true devils were the details. They looked for factories that could build to their wishes with quality that justified the brand. After contacting multiple factories and reviewing numerous samples they found a factory that checked all the right boxes.  With the factory in place, they had to decide on what the first model should be.  The duo landed on the iconic RUF “Yellowbird”, inspired by its David vs Goliath rise to fame and its historic run on the Nürburgring.  The Yellowbird has certainly cemented its place in car culture.  With the help of friends and industry contacts, they were able to connect with the Ruf family, striking a licensing deal for the first model.

 Jeweled lights, treaded tires, separate pieces for door handles and near flawless paint set this piece apart. An exquisite finish to the paint adorns the body without the slightest hint of overspray, orange peel or nits. Each panel line is carefully molded and proportioned to the style of the car. As often happens at this scale, none are flooded and erased from the intended mold. Various finishes are executed perfectly. Personally, I am in awe at the .5mm matte black B pillars and window trim that sits perfectly against the shine of the window “glass.” And it wouldn’t be a Ritter Goods model without a bit of fun, right? Inside the speedometer is pegged at 211 mph, the known top speed of the CTR. Sitting securely in an acrylic case, the base has a metal etched plaque that states the model, year, brand, and number in the Ritter Goods Archives series; all in the iconic Ritter Font. 

Just like his prints, the car is only part of the dopamine injection. Having ordered art from Andrew previously, I was hoping for a fun packaging experience. I was not disappointed. Many diecast companies are getting on board with the packaging being part of the experience. From Hot Wheels hiring artists such as 8380 laboratories for card art, to Tarmac Works integrating liveries onto baseplates, they are giving us less of a reason to toss aside what used to be a functional-only aesthetic. Andrew and Pat ensured that this was not missed. The shipping box itself is performative exercise in fun. In a stamped pattern on the outside of an off-white box reads a label from the Ritter Goods Archive. Reminding us to have fun along the way, it also lets the opener know that this was curated by Milton and unofficially sanctioned by Andrew Ritter himself. After opening the box, the acrylic case is sleeved in an earth tone palette. Again, in the Ritter Goods font, we are told the details of the car. On the back there is a sketch of the car itself with a side, front and rear profile with the various specifications of the car. Against the matte green backdrop, the bright yellow CTR sits as a juxtaposition to the packaging itself. 

As for the sale itself, these models came out of relatively nowhere. As a quasi-shock drop about a week before the 7/18/2023 launch, Ritter Goods posted an Instagram story of a room with the CTR sketch framed, the rear of a CTR, and a framed picture of the Nürburgring teasing that something fun was on the way. I had hoped but didn’t believe that this could be the case. Regardless of my thoughts, I set a reminder to check back on launch day to confirm my suspicions. On July 18th, in a very on brand way Andrew Ritter posted an amazing animation or the RUF CTR ripping around the Nürburgring. In the middle of a straight, the car drives onto a black platform and a clear acrylic cover falls from the sky encasing the new static model. It then pans to a sleeved version of the model sitting on a shelf. 

It was here. Andrew had done it. As I had seen in comments on Instagram at least 4 years ago, Andrew was true to his word and brought his digital creations to physical form. With an initial order of 1,000 models both Pat and Andrew believed this was enough stock to last until Christmas, which was five months away from the launch date… Instead, they sold out in 3 days. Scheduled media exposure ran after being sold out and both Pat and Andrew gulped at their success. In a garage in Costa Mesa sat 1,000 models that Andrew needed to label and ship. There’s something about garages in California that breed company success. Turns out these had been in Andrew’s garage for quite some time as he wanted to make sure he got the animation right for launch. These are the types of details that carry his brand. The delay worked out well as it unintentionally pushed the launch to the anniversary of the original Road & Track article with the CTR and where it was given the moniker of ‘Yellowbird.’ 

If this model is any indication as to the future of Ritter Goods and Element79 Collectibles, I feel that we are along for a great ride with Milton as the pilot. They intend to release regularly enough to satiate our appetite but few enough as to not flood the market. After all, both men are fellow collectors and no one knows the market like us, right? So here is to Andrew and Pat on a great launch and successfully executing one of the best surprises of 2023.

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