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Masterpieces of Miniature Motoring

September 1, 2001, by Bill Cawthon

My primary railroad modeling scale is N or 1:160. I downsized from HO about seven years ago because I liked the fact one can do lots of modeling in a small space. All this space means I need lots of cars and trucks for our Grimy Gulch show layout. While there are a number of great white metal and resin kits on the market, I want to direct your attention to some other outstanding products. These are all high-quality, injection-molded plastic models ready to add to your layout as-is or with nothing more than a few minutes of detailing.

For sheer breadth of product line, the crown goes to Wiking Modellbau. If you are like most modelers in N scale, you have added one or more of Wikingís multi-car sets to your layout. Since 1969, Wiking has produced a wider variety of ready-to-run N-scale vehicles than any other manufacturer. With 48 different cars and trucks in its newest catalog, Wiking remains the leader. This isnít counting all the variations in color or decoration. Add all those and the total approaches 70 models.

Quantity is not everything, as Wiking admits. Their N scale products were well detailed compared to most competitive offerings, but not compared to their own HO scale products. Therefore, in 1998, Wiking created a new benchmark for detail and accuracy. Wikingís beautifully crafted models with interiors and rolling wheels need only the addition of a couple of dabs of paint for headlights and taillights. Audi A6 and Mercedes E320 sedans, a VW Passat station wagon, even VWís New Beetle are among the new generation, as is a very nice Fendt Favourite farm tractor in standard and wide tire variants. Wikingís Porsche Boxter roadster is especially nice, using none of the shortcuts normally employed when making a 1:160 ragtop.

About the same time that Wiking began upgrading their Mini-Model line, Busch introduced its own line of N scale vehicles. From the beginning, the Busch products were designed to be more than just an incidental scenic accessory. Boasting excellent tooling with superb detail and touches like separate headlight-taillight inserts, the Busch models were a welcome new addition to the selection of 1:160 vehicle models. As befits one of Europeís premier manufacturers of scenery products and electronic accessories, Busch was the first to offer such refinements as factory-installed lighting effects in N. Although the product line is not yet as extensive as Wikingís, Busch has continuously added new models and features like chromed parts. Buschís latest set includes a pair of the new-generation Audi A4 sedans that will be appearing in U.S. dealerships soon. Nicely detailed right down to the rear view mirrors, the new sets contain two cars in different colors. Busch also makes a model of the Mercedes Sprinter van that Freightliner is now building for the U.S. market.

In 1999, Busch introduced the first American prototype vehicle models produced in N-scale by a European model maker since Wikingís 1964 Chevelle Malibu. The 1950 Chevrolet 3100 pickup/Buick Roadmaster set is almost a must-have for any layout or module. Busch produces the two-vehicle packages in civilian, fire and police/dept. of public works versions. The great thing about the Chevy pickup is the fact it is easy to kitbash and modify using Evergreen Styrene, stripwood or bits from your parts box. The only limit is your imagination.

First prize in heavy truck models has to go to Herpa. Although they currently offer only one tractor with a couple of different trailers, their model of the Mercedes-Benz Actros COE has more factory-applied detailing than any other 1:160 scale model. Unless you want to add different markings or weathering, there is no detailing needed before adding this jewel to your fleet. In 1999, Herpa also began producing passenger car models in N scale. There are three two-car sets now available. Combining features like free-rolling wheels, interiors and factory-applied detailing, the Herpa models are the closest things to completely ready-to-run cars offered by the German model makers.

While the champion of value remains Katoís venerable 6-piece package of 1968 Toyota Crowns, not far behind are the Rietze-manufactured sets distributed in North America by Noch. The current catalog includes Audi A4 sedans, A6 station wagons, and Ford minivans in both passenger and cargo configurations and a model of the VW Caddy, a vehicle that looks like a mini-pickup with a camper shell. The Caddy is the latest version of the Volkswagen pickup, a vehicle that was originally designed for the American market and built in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. The per-model cost is comparable to the unfinished resin models offered by other manufacturers. A few minutes spent adding paint to headlights and taillights and a finish gloss or matte coat yields a first-class model that will look great on your layout.

Roco has offered 1:160 versions of a few of their Minitanks models, including a Leopard tank and an M113 armored personnel carrier, for a few years. While these remain in production, Roco discontinued their Miniaturmodelle civilian vehicle line last January. This is especially sad for 1:160 model fans as the line included several very nice models of Mercedes-Benz 1850, Scania and Volvo FL and FH tractor-trailer rigs and the Mercedes-Benz Unimog 1300. Volvo Truck sold both the FL and FH tractors in the United States and the U.S. government and North American railroads have used the Unimog for many years. You may still be able to find them at hobby shops and train shows.

While almost all of these models are of European prototypes, the vast majority of those prototypes were (or are) sold in North America. For example, of the 27 different cars produced by Wiking, only four were never imported. One of these, the Mercedes A-Class, will be coming to the U.S. sometime in 2003. Another, the VW LT28 van, looks so much like an American van of the late 1960s that I have used them for years. For that matter, the modern styling practice of designing everything like a soap bar makes it easy to use these vehicles freely.

When I first sent some samples of these new products to a friend, he was delighted with the quality and asked why American companies donít produce products like this. Well, at least one of them does. Atlasí F-150 is a world-class model offering every bit of the quality and detail found on the products I have been discussing. Their LNT9000 tractor was also a welcome addition to the selection of highway rolling stock. I hope the success of the Ford pickups will inspire them to try their hands at another vehicle.

If this segment of model railroading continues to grow, manufacturers will start to see an increase in the demand for high-quality scale vehicles. Then we can be almost assured of more great models. For now, we have a nice selection of good-looking cars and trucks, so why wait? A good start would be to click over to the 1:160 section here at Promotex Online.

Donít forget the 1/87 Vehicle Clubís Midwest Meet on Saturday, September 8. Itís at the Doubletree Hotel in Rosemont near OíHare Airport. Hope to see you there.

- Bill Cawthon

Bill Cawthon is an award-winning modeller and collector. His primary modeling interests are model railroading and vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales. He has written numerous articles for regional and division NMRA publications and is a contributor to the newsletter of the 1-87 Vehicle Club. He follows both the automobile industry and the European scale vehicle industry.

In real life, Bill is a full-time marketing and public relations consultant for the high-tech industry. He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and four children.

Bill writes bi-weekly for Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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