by Vadim Stepanov, Formula143.org
In the previous article we made sure that it is impossible to assemble a representative collection of Indycars in 1:43 scale. The biggest gap begins in the early 2000s, when none of the mainstream 1:43 scale model makers produced Indycar models. The niche was occupied by American companies focusing on 1:18 and 1:64 scales. Based on the combination of factors outlined in the previous article, as an addition to the 43rd scale, I prefer the smaller 64th to the 18th. In addition, the range of models in 1:64 is wider than in 1:18.
The illustrated 1/64 Indycar model editions directory at the end of this article shows the history of 1:64 Indycar models from 1993, where first 1:64 real scale models appeared, to the present. But the pre-history of 1:64 “Indycars” is a little bit longer.
The beginning, 1969 – 1992
The first 64th scale toy model cars made on the basis of real Indycars were produced by Hot Wheels since the beginning of its “Redline” era. The term “redline” derives from the fact that, during the first ten years of production, 1968 to 1977, the Hot Wheels cars were manufactured with a red stripe on the tire. First issues of Indy Eagle, Lotus Turbine, and Shelby Turbine were released in 1969 and were manufactured in various casting variations and painting colors in 1969-71. In the 1980s and early 1990s Hot Wheels produced many variants of Indycar-like toy cars based on its Thunderstreak and Turbostreak castings.
Racing Champions produced several cars from the 1990, 1991 seasons, and Hot Wheels published a small Pro Circuit series in 1992 which was made with Thunderstreak casting. But these issues still were more toys than models – very simplistic, with sketchy liveries, where instead of sponsorship stickers there was sometimes a decal with the name of the driver. The models were packed in a blister and came with trading cards popular in the USA – collectible cards with a photo and a brief biography of an athlete. The first editions of the Racing Champions and Hot Wheels models were more like add-ons to the cards, not the other way around.
Hot Wheels 1992 ProCircuit series. Photos © hotwheels.fandom.com
CART, IRL, Racing Champions and others, 1993 – 2002
The first real Indycar scale models in 1:64 appeared in 1993. Minichamps launched a small line of 1:64 models at the same time as the 1:43 scale models of the CART championship cars. The Germans approached the theme with their inherent competent approach. The cars had the right proportions, detailed livery and even a driver in the cockpit with a full helmet paint job. Unlike the American blister packs, the Minichamps were packaged in clear plexiglass boxes with a stand, just like the Paul Model’s Art models at 1:43. In general, the quality of European models was incomparably higher than that of Racing Champions or Hot Wheels.
Minichamps released a few more models for the 1994 season before dropping out of the Indycar niche at 1:64. But this push from a strong European competitor was enough for American companies to think about, if not better quality, then at least more realistically looking small models. In 1994 Racing Champions launched the Premier Edition series, where the models finally looked like scale replicas rather than toys. The models were still in blister packs with a card, but included a small plastic stand. In 1995, Racing Champions added serial numbers to Premier Edition models, renaming the series Premier Edition Matched Serial Numbers. In 1996, the new IRL racing series was born, and Racing Champions, along with the CART models, released the IRL model series for the first two seasons, 1996 and 1996-97.
In 1997, a license to produce CART models was given to Mattel. The company under the Hot Wheels brand released a mix of cars from the 1997 and 1998 seasons issuing two editions of the Pro Racing series – 1998 Preview Edition and 1998 Premier Edition. Besides the list of models, the editions differed in the form of packaging and availability (in Premier) and the absence (in Preview) of a trading card. IRL also transferred the rights to the 1998 car models to the Maisto brand. Maisto produced a series of seven IRL car models of the 1998 season in a “limited edition” of 20,000 copies.
From 1999 to 2002, IRL models were manufactured by Johnny Lightning. By that time, the quality of the models had become significantly higher. The models were officially produced in limited editions from about two to ten thousand pieces. This, however, was quite enough to saturate the market. In addition to the Johnny Lightning, in 2000-2001, Action released several models in the IRL series. As for the CART championship, after 1998 none of the manufacturers took up this in the 64th scale.
The IndyCar Series and Greenlight era, 2003 – present
2003 was a turning point in the history of American open-wheels racing – the IRL adopted the name IndyCar Series, after a settlement with CART prohibiting its use had expired. The league poached the leading teams from CART, thereby starting the process of fading the rival championship, which lasted another 5 years. Indyсar models have been licensed to Greenlight, one of the largest brands in the 1:64 and 1:18 segments alongside Hot Wheels. It is Greenlight, with short breaks, that continues to make Indycar models on the two preferred American scales to the present day.
From 2003 to 2007 Greenlight used the same basic model template, with minor changes, inherited from the 1999 Johnny Lightning template. Actually, the prototypes of those seasons – Dallara cars of various modifications – looked very similar. Models of other chassis used in the IndyCar series of those years (G-Force, Lola, Panoz) were also made based on the same master model. In fact, all editions of the models issued in these years are almost the same, with the exception of painting. Greenlight also returned to the trading cards familiar to American collectors, which for some reason were absent in Johnny Lightning editions of 1999 – 2002.
In 2009 – 2011, the license for Indy car models returned briefly to Mattel/Hot Wheels. Hot Wheels released about 20 models in the 2009 season, less than a dozen in 2010, and at least one model for the 2011 season in its 2010 edition.
In 2012, Greenlight again regained the right to be the official manufacturer of Indycar series models. The 2012 season has become a year of cardinal changes in the technical regulations for the IndyCar Series. With the new Dallara DW12 chassis, the concepts of the ICONIC machine (Innovative, Competitive, Open-wheel, New, Industry-relevant, Cost-effective) and the base chassis with variable sets of aerodynamic solutions (aero kits) from different manufacturers, were introduced. Since then, Greenlight models have become the most realistic. The company made each year two basic models for two aero kits – Honda and Chevrolet.
In 2014, the IndyCar series models were licensed for a year to Auto World, one of the brands of Round 2 LLC, which also owns the Johnny Lightning and Racing Champions brands. Auto World models were produced from their own casting, but were not inferior in quality to Greenlight.
Since the 2015 season, Greenlight has finally usurped the right to release Indycars in both 1:64 and 1:18. Since then, every year Greenlight releases 25-30 current Dallara DW12 models in different liveries, taking into account the features of Honda and Chevrolet aero kits.
Thus, 1:64 scale models are the only source to build a representative collection of the Indycars raced since 2000s. All seasons of the IRL/IndyCar Series starting from 1996 are represented by a more or less representative and more or less realistic series of models. Modern Greenlight models are real collectors’ items and reflect the real prototype quite accurately. CART / Champ Car Series cars of the 2000s remains a significant gap. Mass production of IRL competitor series models ceased in 1998 in 1:64 scale and in 1999 in 1:43 scale, while the series itself existed until 2007.
Any corrections or additions are appreciated.
1/64 Indycar model editions directory
|Season||Series||Manufacturer||Blister example||Model example|
|1997||CART||Hot Wheels (2)|
|1999||IRL||Racing Champions (3)|
|2009||IndyCar Series||Hot Wheels|
|2010||IndyCar Series||Hot Wheels|
|2011||IndyCar Series||Hot Wheels (5)|
|2014||IndyCar Series||Auto World|
|2014||IndyCar Series||Greenlight (6)|
(1) Shell promo model, Bryan Herta
(2) 1998 Preview Edition
(3) Home Depot promo, Tony Stewart
(4) Al Unser only (?)
(5) JR Hildebrand, 2010 edition
(6) Kurt Busch only (?)