The history of handbuilt 1/43 racecars

The U.S. connection, part one

by Steve Erlichman

You may be familiar with many of the handbuilt 1/43 model builders from Europe. The history of handbuilt 1/43 racecars includes one brand born in the United States. The vision of one person, that person had already made a big difference in our collecting habits in the late 70s.

Gene Parrill founded Marque Products in the L.A. suburbs as a mail order operation selling fine model cars, mostly in 1/43 scale. The international collector’s scale, 1/43 is roughly equal in size to model railroad O-Gauge. Toy makers like Dinky, Corgi and Spot-On supplied vehicles appropriately sized for railroad folks.

My grandmother once gave me a light blue Dinky Porsche 356A Coupe. I still have it. Along with about 10 other quite played-with original Dinkys.

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar

Oscar Kovaleski’s Auto World helped us along with the serious model collecting beyond those toys. A yearly pilgrimage was made to Scranton’s Keyser Ave. for a Solido fix. A local sports car accessories shop picked up on that too and I was in there weekly blowing whatever extra cash I had. There was also a local toy store owned by a model car collector who had access to Rio, Mercury, Dugu and other more exotic brands.

But my model car collecting life changed forever at the 1975 United States GP at Watkins Glen. A Frenchman from Chicago named Jacques Grelley was selling the 1974 Porsche 911 Turbo RSR in 1/43 scale. It was the first handbuilt model made by Andre Marie Ruf (AMR) of France. I had seen this car race at The Glen 6 Hour race the previous summer. The model was $45 at the time. That was it. The handbuilt revolution hit me like a bolt of lightning (along with my wallet too!). Never mind what Grelley turned out to be in the years to follow. He started a lot of us on the handbuilt trail. It’s a trail that continues to this day.

Distracted a bit by the resincast revolution from Spark and others.

Back to Gene Parrill

Parrill was quite successful at sourcing 1/43rd scale model cars from around the world, including handbuilts. He was very discerning because he wanted to create the best 1/43rd scale kits and handbuilts. Milestone Models was launched with a 1954 Corvette kit at the same time as another line under the Marque Products brand. Marque Models’ first offerings were the first Porsche, the 356/1 Roadster and the 356/2 Gmund Coupe from LeMans ’52 and a 1937 Tatra 77A of all things. Dale King mastered the kits but Lloyd Asbury perfected them. They were two of the best model makers of the 70’s and 80’s.

history of handbuilt 1/43 racecarsGene then launched Precision Miniatures. He was still working with King and Asbury as well as Jon Thompson. A Porsche RSK Spyder F2 car and the Type 542 America Roadster followed. Next came a 550A Spyder that is considered to be the benchmark casting for the type. The Spyder wheels in these kits were an especially brilliant casting which they later offered separately. Later came a couple of Ferrari 250 Testa Rosas including a pontoon fendered version and the full body 1958 LeMans winner. I still consider these to be the best 1/43rd scale Testa Rosa castings. PM also created benchmark spoked wire wheels for these models which they sold separately.

With Mike Arensdorf offering built-up models too, Precision Miniatures was off and running. But the crowning glory was still to come….

The history of handbuilt 1/43 racecars continues next week with Indycars.

You can see some more Precision Miniatures models here.

More models here.

A world of racing here.

About the author

Steve Erlichman has been collecting model cars for over 60 years. His motto is “collect what you love” and Steve definitely loves it all. Models include Porsches, Ferraris, Bugattis and Mercedes’. Also LeMans Cars, Daytona winners, classics, buses and record cars. There’s an extensive book collection too. Recently retired from a career in the automotive industry, Steve once served as a sales person at Al Holbert’s Porsche dealership. He currently owns a Porsche 911SC that he ordered and then sold to himself. No word on whether he received a commission on it.