Soviet Buses in 1:43 Are Sturdier, Less Perturbed by Traffic Hijinks Than Other Diecast Buses

Jay Ramey March 14, 2013 Diecast Delights

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Remember these buses? They’re the ones you see shrugging and continuing on their way after getting clipped by Ladas overtaking traffic in reverse in those Russian dashcam videos. In addition to the Budapest-based Ikarus factory that supplied buses for the entire Eastern Bloc and for a time even had an assembly facility in Indiana, the USSR and its satellite states largely relied on buses made by the LAZ factory in L’viv and by LiAZ in Likino just outside of Moscow. While Russia now mostly uses larger, boxier mobile retainer walls/targets for automotive shenanigans, the buses you see in videos today are descendants of the 1960s era machinery that’s reproduced in 1:43 scale above.

Both the Likino and L’viv factories made medium-size commuter and tourist buses starting in the 1960s that were the staple mode of transportation in many Eastern Bloc countries. The green LiAZ 677, in particular, got a reputation as an indestructible piece of engineering, with many examples built in the 1980s still in service today. Made by ClassicBus, SovA, Ultra, and half a dozen small workshops, these buses are very charming and for the most part very affordable. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.

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V.I.S.I.T. – 1987 Renault Medallion

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What is that Japanese wagon from the eighties, you may wonder. That Japanese wagon from the eighties is a 1987 Renault Medallion, a car so extinct it’s not even really present in the automotive fossil record, also known as a junkyard. This machine was manufactured at the dusk of the AMC-Renault alliance, and then promptly poofed out of existance with barely a photographic record remaining. The Medallion is so extinct that even Alliance-owning Renault club members don’t know anyone who has one. And that’s how you know when a car is rare: when a car club’s members admit to not knowing anyone who has one.

If you thought it was tough to find one of these, slightly less rare is the version that is badged as an Eagle Medallion, which was Chrysler’s transitional effort at getting rid of stuff left over from the Renault/AMC era before they partnered up Eagle with Mitsubishi. The Medallion sold under the Renault badge for an entire year several months before it was rebadged as an Eagle, though “sold” may be too strong a word. Chrysler decided to stop importing them altogether in 1989, after only three years on the market. Based on the Renault 21, the Medallion was built in France and replaced the Renault 18 or the Sportwagon, a car that is equally absent from our roads today.

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V.I.S.I.T. – 1957 DKW 3=6

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If you thought last week’s Audi 90 Quattro was going to be the oldest Auto Union car you were going to see on Hooniverse for at least a month, you were mistaken. This 1957 Auto Union DKW 3=6  looked stunning in person, and was pretty much in concours condition when I saw it. The 3=6 was a front wheel drive car developed by Auto Union in the late 1940s. First shown at Frankfurt in 1953, the 3=6 was warmly received, even though its styling was clearly an evolution of pre-war aerodynamic design language.

The car’s curious name, as I’m sure a lot of you know, arose from DKW’s advertising campaign that sought to promote the new two-stroke 3-cylinder engine as being just as good as the four-stroke 6-cylinder engine. Though by the end of the car’s production cycle in 1959, it was sold simply as the DKW 900. But this is essentially one of Auto Union’s most popular cars of the 1950s, even though there are very few of these in North America.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Vauxhall Tigra 1.8

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That’s right gentlemen, that’s a Vauxhall Tigra 1.8 cabrio on Connecticut plates. In Connecticut. Just how is this possible? My money’s not on show and display, but rather, given the car’s “value” and country of origin, a non-resident registration. Foreign nationals can import a car into the US and keep it here for up to one year. This is only like the fourth of fifth example that I’ve seen of this type of importation, and it often appears in the form of owners bringing their own cars or campers to tour the US for several weeks or months. But since I’ve seen this Tigra around Connecticut a few times, it appears to be likely owned by someone who keeps a home in the state.

It’s not all that uncommon to hear a British accent in Connecticut. And by that I don’t mean the British accent that one picks up after a semester in Ireland, a 4-hour layover in Melbourne, a Downton Abbey marathon, or after watching several Guy Ritchie flicks. Or by marrying Guy Ritchie, for that matter. For instance, a cashier at my local supermarket is from the UK, and thanks to years of watching Top Gear I was able to correctly identify her accent as not being from Scotland or the midlands. I still have no clue what part of the UK she’s from, but it’s definitely not the Scotland or the Midlands.

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A Ride in the Opel GT

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Years before General Motors treated the American public to such branding exercises as “The Buick Opel by Isuzu,” an effort famous just for the sheer scale of summoning so many different brand names at once to sell an Isuzu Gemini, GM’s Buick division marketed a very fun sports coupe that we often forget about when talking about the sports cars of the 1960s. While our best scientists struggle to ascertain just how a Gemini came to be called “The Buick Opel by Isuzu” (a preliminary report was promised by the early summer of 2014) let’s take a look at a car that was unequivocally an Opel by Opel, and a very popular one at that.
Introduced in 1968, the GT essentially broke new ground for Opel. It’s easy to forget now, but for many years post-war Europe was not a booming market for sporty coupes, British cars included. The GT was first presented as a styling exercise in 1965, and was well received at a number of auto shows. Penned by Erhard Schnell at Opel, the GT was designed to be a small fastback, and featured a number of popular design cues of sports cars of the day. The GT was available with a 1.1 liter straight-4 engine making 67bhp, as well as a 1.9 liter which was good for 102bhp. Sharing many parts with the Opel Kadett B, the GT came with a choice of two transmissions, a 4-speed manual and a 3-speed automatic. Owned by Gary Farias, this 1969 Opel GT was been in his stable since 1977, and has just over sixty-four thousand miles on the clock. Gary owns five other Opels, including a 1984 Opel Senator 3.0 CD we drove a couple months ago, and an early Opel Olympia.

V.I.S.I.T. – BMW 745i

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While the Euro-spec W126 S-class is arguably the car we have to thank for not being able to have nice things anymore, one whose gray import numbers prompted M-B USA to push for a ban on private imports, the E23 7-series (fortunately) had a much less drastic effect on our automotive landscape. But that didn’t mean that that proper E23s weren’t brought into the US.

Some of you may recall that we only received the 733i and the 735i in the over here, in addition the L7 which was just plusher version of the 735i. But we never got the range topping 745i, which I have to immediately point out came with the same 3.4 liter inline six. The crucial difference was that while our 735i coughed out 182bhp, the European 745i produced 249bhp with the exact same engine. Respectable figures for a 3.4 liter inline six even today, you have to admit. Combined with a favorable exchange rate, importing a 745i made quite a bit of sense at the time, even given the goofy reflectors they made you glue on.

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Soviet Police Cars in 1:43 Are Cooler, Weirder Than Most Other Diecast Cars

Jay Ramey March 7, 2013 Diecast Delights

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Not all Eastern Bloc police agencies were condemned to cars that hit 100km/h in 22 seconds flat. Some lucky departments got cars that managed to hit that speed in a blistering 19 seconds, and could maintain high speeds for entire minutes at a time, until the benzine ran out and they had to pull over and everyone (passerbys included) had to chip in to buy some 76 octane benzine. And then they continue the high speed pursuit. However, some police departments were more equal than others, so they got a choice of slightly more capable vehicles. What were those vehicles, exactly? How about Mercedes-Benz W108, W116 and BMW E3 saloons, or Tatra 613s. Or even ZiL 119 V8-powered luxury minibuses based on the ZiL 114 limo.

Even though one can’t drive most of those cars, as a lot of them have been driven into the ground by now, you can enjoy them in 1:43 scale. Produced by IXO, IST, DeAgostini, and Adler, these Soviet and Eastern Bloc police cars are intricately detailed and quite affordable. Let’s take a closer look at some of these.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Audi 90 Quattro

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While our best scientists try to figure out where these all went (some theorize Estonia), let’s all try to remember what these were all about. The B4 Audi 80 came out in 1991 and was essentially a heavy facelift of the previous generation model. While this model was called the 80 in Europe, insecure and understandably skittish North American buyers needed a bigger, awesomer number, one they didn’t associate with the dusk of the malaise era or the year Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Showing commendable restraint, Audi christened it as the 90 in North America, as opposed to what could have very well been the 9000, given previous naming practices. But Saab already had dibs on that futuristic and totally boss model number.

Needless to say, we got only the choicest option on our 90s, in the form of autoboxes, AC, and nicer-specced interiors. The 90 came with a range of in-line fours, as well as V6s in top spec. The range topping RS2 Avant we were of course denied, with all of its turbocharged inline five goodness, so there’s little point in rubbing salt in that wound again. The B4s were quite popular in Europe, and are still considered to be stylish budget transportation in the Baltic states. And the design of the 90 has aged well, all things considered, even though they are somewhat boxy viewed through today’s eyes.

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V.I.S.I.T. – Imported From Kenosha

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When you think Wisconsin, you think Renault, right? Okay, so it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that Wisconsin produced more French cars during the decade of the 1980s than any other place in the western hemisphere. You know, to feed the voracious appetite of the upper midwest for compact French machinery during the Reagan 80s. Admittedly, Kenosha: Home of the Renault Alliance doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as it once did, and neither do the Dukakis ’88 bumper stickers that I imagine are still securely affixed to many Alliances. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t good cars, even though some minor issues may have existed in the sales network.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Renault dealers weren’t down with the whole idea of being Renault dealers. An acquaintance who tagged along with his grandmother to test drive one of these fly machines in the 1980s remarked to me that the dealers who sold these weren’t especially enthused about having to sell them. “If you wanna buy one, buy one!” the salesman shrugged and went back to reading the paper. And that was the extent of that particular sales pitch. Persuaded on the spot by the salesman’s erudite demeanor and sophistication, Nana ended up leaving the lot in a swanky new Alliance convertible, perfect for that looong Wisconsin summer, the summer that Wisconsin is famous for all over the US of A.

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V.I.S.I.T. – 1987 Peugeot 505 Liberté

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Remember the Liberté edition of the Peugeot 505? That’s okay, most 505 owners don’t either. The Liberté was a one year only trim level for 1987, to commemorate the centenary of France gifting the Statue of Liberty to America. The Liberté edition of the 505 might sound cool and mysterious, but this was in essence just one step above the base-spec model. For no discernible reason the Liberté featured the old pushrod engine (also dating back to 1887, coincidentally), whereas all the other 4-cylinder 505s in the US were overhead valves. Also, for no apparent reason the front windows on the Liberté were power while the rears were manual. This particular example appeared nice and tidy for a daily driver 505, with only some paint fade and some light to moderate rust to show for its age. But as far as remaining 505s go it was in pretty nice shape, even if the color is very predictable.

Speaking of the 505, an acquaintance of mine is currently in possession of a 505 SW8 Turbo with a cracked engine head. The car itself is otherwise fine mechanically, and in ridiculously good condition inside and out, but Peugeot parts are getting harder and harder to source. Peugeot kept an office in New Jersey till 2009 or so, ostensibly to facilitate finding parts for remaining Peugeots in the states, but parts had been tough to find for a long while before that. Most former dealers no longer even have mechanics on staff who know the first thing about servicing these cars, Peugeot having left the US market back in 1991. So sourcing an original Peugeot engine that doesn’t already come with a cracked head may be a tall order.

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