Grand Prix History in Scale Models

Collecting Indycars: Mission impossible?

by Vadim Stepanov,

Collecting Formula One scale models is not a problem other than financial – there are many manufacturers, large and small, and almost the entire line of racing cars from the early 50s to the present day has already been embodied in a 1:43 scale model. Few gaps are likely to be filled soon – Spark, for instance, releases more and more rare variants. In general, the building of a representative collection of Formula One cars is a trivial task. What cannot be said about collecting scale models of Indycars.

Here the collector faces a lot of problems. What exactly to collect? The history of American open-wheel racing is quite confusing. What scale to choose? The 1:43 scale familiar in the rest of the world is not very popular in America. Is it possible to collect a more or less complete collection of American open-wheel racing cars?

Let’s try to deal with these problems in more detail. Looking ahead, I’ll say that it’s impossible to assemble a collection similar in completeness to the European Grand Prix and Formula One. But building a collection that would represent all periods of history and all the main characters of American motorsport – racing drivers, cars, and teams – is quite a feasible task. However, the uniformity of scale will be sacrificed, and some irreparable gaps will have to be reconciled. For example, my collection now contains about 500 Indycar models in 1:43 and 1:64 scales, distributed approximately equally between these two dimensions and representing the entire history of American racing from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.

What is Indycar?

First, let’s agree on terms. For the purposes of this article, let’s use the term “Indycar” to refer to an open-wheel racing car that has competed in the premier level American racing championship throughout the history of such competitions. The term “Indycar” itself appeared in the 50s as a nickname for the cars that raced in the National Championship of the US Automobile Club (USAC), the main event of which was the Indy 500 – a five-hundred-mile race on the oval in Indianapolis. Prior to this, the most powerful cars of the American championship were called Big Car or Champ Car.

In the early 50s, when special racing models with a motor in front were produced for the Indy 500, the term Indy roadsters took root, which then was transformed to the Indycar. The term “Indycar” was patented by the organizers of the Indy 500 (Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IMS) in 1992, in the wake of the beginning controversy between IMS and CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), the championship organizer, which since 1979 has used this term in the name of the series – CART Indy Car World Series. In 1996, IMS proprietor and Indycar brand owner Tony George created a new championship, the Indy Racing League (IRL), forcing CART to drop the Indy Car term. CART reverted to the now forgotten Champ Car name for its cars, but with the stipulation that the term IndyCar would not be used in the IRL championship name until 2003. Since 2003, the IRL has been rebranded as the IndyCar series. That is how the premier-level American championship, which absorbed CART after the 2007 season, is still called today.

A Brief History of American Motorsport

Benz Victoria driven by Oscar Mueller won Chicago Times-Herald Expo Run in 1895. Model by Gama

As you can see even from the evolution of the term Indycar, the history of American motorsport is quite complex. It began in parallel with the development of auto racing in Europe, at the end of the 19th century, with city-to-city runs. The first automobile race, the Chicago-Evanston Run, organized by the Chicago Times Herald, took place in the United States in November 1895. In the pre-World War I period, American motorsport developed along two partially overlapping paths. On the one hand, European-style races were held on road tracks. The most notable events of this type are the Vanderbilt Cup, held from 1904 to 1916, and the American Grand Prix, which was ran from 1908 to the same 1916. But against the background of these long-distance races, short races on dirt oval tracks (originally hippodromes) became more and more popular. In 1905, the American Automobile Association (AAA) awarded the first national title to Barney Oldfield, who was declared the winner on points in a series of road and dirt oval races. It was not yet a real championship, but a declaration of the winner of the season post factum for the total of the main competitions of the year.

Locomobile, the winning car of 1908 Vanderbilt Cup Race. Model by Brumm

The first official national championship was established by the AAA in 1916. The AAA championship (and its successors) is the oldest racing series in the world, interrupted only in 1917-19 and 1942-45 during the World Wars. In the 1920s, AAA officials retrospectively determined the champions of the 1909-15 and 1917-19 seasons based on the results of races sanctioned by the AAA during that period. Of course, the awarding of the championship title many years later cannot be considered a real championship – it is rather an attempt to fill in historical gaps.

1969 Brawner Hawk, Indianapolis 500 winning car driven by Mario Andretti. Model by Spark

The national championship under the auspices of the AAA was held until 1955, and then the rights of the organizer of the series passed to the United States Automobile Club (USAC), a new sanctioning body formed by the then-owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tony Hulman. USAC sanctioned the championship until 1978. In 1979 the national championship was taken over by  CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams), the association formed by the leading teams of the series. USAC, however, remained the organizer of the Indy 500, and in 1979-80 USAC ran its own championship, which consisted of several speedway races, including the Indy 500.

1998 G-Force GF01B by Scott Goodyear from 1998 IRL season. Model by Ertl

As I already mentioned, in 1996 the Indy Racing League emerged, which at first lost to the CART championship in terms of drivers, teams, sponsors and popularity. However, gradually taking advantage of the main race of the season – the Indy 500, and usurping the term Indycar, IRL, renamed the IndyCar Series since 2003, seized the lead in open-wheel racing in the United States, and in 2008 absorbed the remnants of CART that existed from 2004 to 2007 years as the Champ Car World Series.

From 2008 to the present, America has a single premier-level championship for open-wheel cars called the IndyCar Series, in which only the name of the main sponsor of the series sometimes changes.

To complete the picture, the history of the “junior” series of open-wheel racing in the USA – midgets, sprint cars, dirt cars, Indy Lights and others is even more complicating. But let’s leave this topic outside the article. I briefly touched on it in articles about the series of GMP models:

Gilmore Stadium Midget Series by GMP: What? Where? When?

The 1/43 Vintage Series by GMP: What? Where? When?

US model scaling features

Worldwide, the most popular scale for model cars, including racing cars, is 1:43. As you probably know, this scale originates from the British and European scale O, which was used in the first half of the 20th century in railway modeling. Initially, cars and accessories in 1:43 were made as an addition to model trains and railways, but starting in the 1950s, 1:43 became the most popular in the production of model cars in their own right.

America went its own way here too. The 1:43 scale didn’t really catch on in the US. The larger scale 1:18, originally introduced by some European manufacturers (Bburago, Polistil, Maisto) in the 1980s as a replacement or addition to the 1:24 scale for the production of more detailed models, proved to be the most suitable for the American market. As an alternative, the 1:64 scale has gained immense popularity. Manufacturers such as Matchbox, Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning flooded the market with mass and cheap models of this scale. At first, these were models of trucks, agricultural and construction equipment, and then 1:64 became a commonly used scale for models of any type. Racing cars are no exception. Now mass models of Indycars are made in 1:18 and 1:64 scales, and only a few manufacturers have a small line of American racing cars in 1:43.

As for me, the 1:43 scale is optimal. At this scale, an acceptable compromise is reached between the level of details of the model, the quality of production, and the size. The 1:64 scale is too small and does not allow to convey small details of the car and its livery adequately. Scale models in 1:18 are too big and often look like big toys rather than scale models. “Modelity”, i.e., some artificiality and simplification compared to the prototype, which can be forgiven to the 43rd scale, is too conspicuous on larger models – at least, mass market items. That’s why I have some regret and concern about the emerging trend towards the expansion of the 1:18 line among manufacturers of Formula models.

In general, it is not easy to assemble a collection of 1:43 Indycar models, but for the modern period it is almost impossible – no one makes modern 1:43 Indycar models on a market scale. My approach to the problem is to collect everything possible in 1:43, and supplement the period from the late 1990s to the present with models in 1:64 scale. Next, I will talk about the 1:43 segment in relation to Indycar models, and an overview of models in 1:64 will be in a separate article.

Indycar models in 1:43. Who is who now?

Situation it this segment is extremely clear and not too optimistic. Modern manufacturers of 1:43 Indycar models can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The range of models is very restricted, the edition is limited to a small number, and the prospects for expansion are vague. Who makes these models now? – Spark, Replicarz, M.A. Scale Models. That’s all.

Spark. A well-known manufacturer of racing car models devotes some, very modest, part of its efforts to historical Indycar models. Spark only makes a few models a year, focusing primarily on its favorite period, the 1960s-70s, and making models of some of the Indy 500 winners, some interesting and iconic cars. Spark’s favorite Indycar themes include Eagle, Lotus, McLaren, turbo cars from the 60s. In total, Spark produced only a few dozen Indycar models – just over 30 by my count. The vast majority of them are represented in my collection. Spark makes very high quality resin models in relatively small quantities. Indycar models from Spark sell out pretty quickly, and after a couple of years after the release, the price of some models in the secondary market can reach several hundred dollars.

Spark Indycar models

Replicarz. The Vermont-based scale model retailer recently launched several its own lines of exclusive 1:18 and 1:43 scale models, including IndyCar 1:43 series. Models made of resin of very high quality are produced in a very limited edition. To date, no more than 50 models have been released, covering the period from the 1920s to the 1990s. In the Replicarz palette there are  Millers from 1920s – 30s, a series of cars of the 1950s, PJ Colt and Eagle of the 1970s, March of the 1980s. About two dozen more models are planned for release. Replicarz models in 1:43 disappear from the market even faster than Spark.

Replicarz Indycar models

M.A. Scale Models. A small workshop in California makes custom kits or finished Indycar resin models. The company’s lineup includes about 600 Indy 500, CanAm and IMSA models, of which more than 150 are Indycars. However, the capacity of the workshop is small, everything is done by hand and ordered models have to be waited a few months. Models from M.A. are extremely rare on the secondary market. M.A Scale Models line includes most of the Indy 500 winning cars from 1911 to the 2000s.

M.A. Scale Models

Others. Actually, the list of regular Indycar manufacturers in 1:43 scale is exhausted by these three names. However, there are some models in the production line of a number of other manufacturers. For example, Brumm makes several Indy 500 models – Wilbur Shaw’s Maserati, the 1939 and 1940 Indy 500 winner; Duke Nalon’s 1947 Mercedes, and 1952 Indianapolis version of Ferrari 375. Norev has a 1920 Indy 500 Peugeot; Rio Models makes an Alfa Romeo P3 that started in Indy in 1939; Tron produces a couple of Ferrari models that were designed for the Indy 500 but didn’t start. A few years ago  Greenlight, the main manufacturer of 1:64 Indycar models, released several models of Takuma Sato’s 1:43 cars for the Japanese market. Truescale released the Interscope IR01 (Porsche 940), a car which the German manufacturer tried to enter into Indycar racing  in the early 1980s. A small American workshop Automodello made two 1981 Eagle models as a Tribute Edition. The Tameo Kits line has a dozen cars of the late 80s. Finally, few very limited high quality kits of Sato’s and Alonso’s cars were issued under Japanese Brickyard Model brand in 2017-20. Perhaps, that’s all. This is a very modest addition to the modern line of Indycar models in 1:43, isn’t it?

Thus, modern manufacturers produce limited series of historical Indycar vehicles, mainly from the Indy 500, in a small number of copies. Models quickly sell out, rise in price, and do not include the modern period of history.

Who was before?

Let’s now turn our eyes to the recent past, catalog the former manufacturers of Indycar models and see how things are going with the search for these models in the secondary market. A number of manufacturers, including large ones like Minichamps and Onyx, and a number of smaller ones, have attempted to make 1:43 models of Indycars in the recent past.

Ertl. The American toy and model maker was perhaps one of the first companies to mass-produce Indycar scale models in 43rd scale. The first series of four Penske PC-9 models was released in 1980. Then occasionally and irregularly individual models were produced until 1998, when Ertl was bought out by Racing Champions.

Racing Champions. The American brand, which specializes mainly in 1:64 scale, produced simple models of modern Indycars in 1994 – 1996.

Onyx. This Portuguese brand was the first of the European manufacturers to attempt to enter the mass market of Indycar models. Following the success of its Formula One series starting in 1988, Onyx began producing 1:43 Indycars in 1990. Onyx made regular models for the 1990 – 1994 seasons, and a few promotional models for later years, releasing about 70 models in total.

Minichamps. The major manufacturer of racing car models of the 1990s-2000s Minichamps, a brand of Paul’s Model Art, followed the steps of Onyx in 1993 and produced several dozen cars of the 1993-1996 CART championship and the 1996 IRL championship. Since then, Minichamps has not returned to the Indycar theme.

U.T Models. Sister brand of AUTOart, also associated with Paul’s Model Art, took over from Minichamps in 1998 and launched a short line of CART models that season.

Action. American scale model manufacturer specialization was NASCAR and drag racing in 1:64 and 1:24 scales. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Action also produced several modern 1:43 scale Indycar models.

Most of the models released by these companies can be found on the secondary market, since the production number was large. For example, models from Onyx and Racing Champions are easy to find on eBay. Minichamps, UT Models and Action are less common, but also appear periodically.

There were a couple more limited editions from American companies specializing in larger scales. So, GMP released a vintage series of dirt cars in the early 2000s. In 1:43 scale, the series includes only four sets of cars, each consisting of three cars from the early 1960s – a dirt car (“Big Car”), a sprint car and a midget. I wrote about it in detail elsewhere. Hobby Horse, a brand of Carousel 1, produced four Indy 500 cars in 43rd scale in the first half of the 2000s, including the winner of the first race in 1911 and three cars from the early 1960s.

Finally, a whole group of small companies made a limited number of Indycar kits. The British brand SMTS made kits for several historic Indycars from the 60s and 70s. Ampersand produced kits of some cars from the 1980s. Precision Miniatures made a limited set of Indy 500 kits from the 40s and 70s. British workshop Formula Models specialized in quality Indycar resin kits, mostly from the 1990s. Most of these kits have long been rare.

In summary, with some significant efforts it is possible to compile a representative collection of Indycar models in 1:43 scale, which will include major eras, some of the leading drivers and teams. This collection will be far to be complete and exhaustive. There will be many gaps in historical periods and a huge hole in modern, since the 2000s,  American open-wheel racing cars. This niche can be filled only with 1:64. But let’s talk about that next time.

Any corrections or additions are appreciated.

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