The history of 1/43 racing transporters

Part of a balanced model racing car collection

by Steve Erlichman

I have a confession to make. As a child I got into buses and trucks before I was into cars. It’s out there. I feel better. The history of 1/43 racing transporters started for me while collecting Corgi and Matchbox cars. They issued the famous Ecurie Ecosse Commer and the green BP 2-level transporters. Model race cars and trucks together! Crazy!

The history of 1/43 racing transportersLater I discovered Norev models. In the late 70s they produced a very cool plastic Saviem transporter with a 2-litre Chevron sports racer that Norev sponsored and driven by Jimmy Miussette. The racer was also available as a diecast. I still have it in my collection; it’s my oldest transporter.

My interest in race car transporters was really ignited at the 6 Hour race at Watkins Glen in 1975. John Buffum’s BMW team had the use of the BMW Mercedes-Benz transporter and support box van from Europe. My longing for models of these would have to wait for over 30 years to be satiated!

Trucks from Russia with love

Fast forward to the late 90s. My bus thing was still smoldering. I discovered an operation in St. Petersburg, Russia that was producing buses and trams in 1/43rd and 1/50th scales in resin. But they also did race car transporters!

I contacted the proprietor, Leonid, to find out about the transporters. This was before he had a website. He sent me photos of the 1959 LeyLand Royal Tiger BRM transporter from the mid-60s. BRM used the transporter in 3 different color schemes. Leonid also offered one of the coolest transporters ever: Briggs Cunningham’s 1954 Fageol Twin Coach furniture van conversion. These truly jumpstarted my transporter collection.

The history of 1/43 racing transporters

A few years earlier, FDS made a foray into transporters with the white 1976 Mercedes Martini Porsche truck and the Fiat 170 tractor trailer for Ferrari from the same year. These were white metal kits, far beyond my building skill at the time. So I ordered them from the ever pleasant Mrs. Pilkington, owner of Wheels located at the Totnes Motor Museum in England. Her builder did a sterling job and these trucks are still in my collection. Although the Mercedes has sagged under its own weight, it looks just like the real thing when the airbags in the suspension go bad. It’s on my bench now for repair. Italian diecast maker Old Cars did some Ferrari transporters, tractor trailers and the famous Bartoletti, as well as the 1966 Rolfo full bodied OM T150.

After a pause, still more racing transporters

In the early 90s Eligor produced diecast F1 transporters with tractors from Iveco, Mercedes, Renault and MAN along with plastic trailers. They modeled them for most of the F1 teams and even produced a Target Chip Ganassi CART team transporter. Additionally, Eligor made a few Porsche racing support truck models. 

Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg Tram Co. kept producing buses, trams and transporters. They made the Brabham team’s 1966 Bedford VAL14 Plaxton six-wheel bus conversion. It’s still one of my favorites. They also did the 1957 Leyland Royal Tiger Vanwall truck and a couple of Bedford OWB bus conversions (such as those for Cliff Allison and Frank Gardner’s teams). St. Pete’s production is often limited to 5-10 pieces so they are quite rare. St. Pete also were the first to produce the big blue 1955 Mercedes-Benz enclosed 3 GP car van that was based on their O3500 bus.

St. Pete are still in business, I checked their website. Prices have almost doubled since I started collecting their pieces. But they are unique and very impressive. Some are available as kits if you are an ambitious builder.

Wonderful creations from Carlo Brianza

The history of 1/43 racing transporters

The history of 1/43 racing transporters would not be complete without a mention of Carlo Brianza. An early adopter of resin handbuilt race transporters, he produced two pre-war versions of Scuderia Ferrari trucks, one from the early 30s and one from the late 30s hauling Alfa Romeo GP cars. He did a post war Alfa Romeo 500 truck as well. These were copied by Exoto in diecast in the early 2000s, but this time with opening rear doors. Brianza also produced both the Ferrari and Maserati Fiat Bartoletti trucks, also copied by Exoto in 1/43rd.

But Brianza’s crowning glory transporter was the Lancia Esatou from 1954. This beautiful Garavini coachbuilt streamlined machine carried Lancia’s sports cars all over Europe and even to Mexico for the Carrera Panamericana. This might be the transporter model that I cherish the most. The truck disappeared when Lancia handed all of its racing equipment over to Ferrari at the end of the 1955 season. So we have only Carlo’s model.

Unfortunately, Brianza’s models do not age well. The glues dry out and his pioneering photoetch and wire trims start to fall off. I’ve had to re-glue plenty of them.

Beyond Carlo

Even though Carlo is no longer with us, his wife Laura is keeping the company going. Along with their traditional line of handbuilt and kit car models, they are still making some transporters. Brianza has recently offered the 1924 Mercedes 24/100/140 specially modified to take the GP cars to the Monza GP. The race car would sit directly behind and along side of the driver who was exposed to the elements. The resin cast maker Autocult outdid the Brianza version by issuing the same transporter but with the 1924 Mercedes GP car on board. Brianza also recently issued a very cool Hispano Suiza H12 modified to carry a Bugatti GP car.

There were some other handbuilt and kit makers jumping onto the transporter bandwagon in the early to late 90s. BV Firenze from Italy offered a pre-war Fiat 621 Orlandi Maserati van towing a covered GP car on a trailer. BV Firenze also did a big 3-car OM Tigre Abarth truck from the mid-60’s that came with a bunch of tires and wheels lined up along the sides. Their output also included an enclosed Fiat Bartoletti circa 1956 for both Ferrari and Maserati in 2-tone grey.

More to come!

Click here for part two of this article that includes a gallery of 1/43 racing transporter model photos

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