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"Die Cast X", October 1, 2012

Glory days

HOT WHEELS ELITE FERRARI 512S “SEBRING 1970”

BY BILL BENNETT

1:18 | $100

Sebring, FL, March 31, 1970: Hollywood couldn’t have staged the events of this day any better, and even the most imaginative screenwriters would have been hard-pressed to develop the plot twists. Nobody needed to. The 1970 running of the 12 Hours of Sebring had it all–Peter Revson, a talented driver who was also the heir to a cosmetics fortune, shared a Porsche 908/02 with a handsome, real-life movie star, Steve McQueen, who possessed a rugged determination to gain respect for his skills behind the wheel, and who showed up that day hobbled by a broken clutch foot. It was the classic David and Goliath scenario — and the part of Goliath, among the field full of cutting-edge machinery from around the world, was a legend in the making; a tough immigrant driver (Mario Andretti) who had fought his way to the top, one virtuoso performance at a time, driving the odds-on favorite Ferrari 512S Spyder that sat on pole after a record-breaking qualifying lap.

The stage was stark; set on the sun-baked service roads, taxiways, and runways of a former U.S. Army airfield, Sebring Regional Airport’s 5.2 mile road course featured some very wide sections and long straights, but had irregular joints in its concrete that hammered away steadily at race cars. The green flag dropped; as the race wore on that day, Andretti and his co-driver Arturo Merzario held the lead, while the unforgiving surface and grueling climate crippled upstarts. It then started claiming the best and brightest of the field, mercilessly breaking top-seeded factory Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s alike. With scarcely two hours left on the clock, Andretti’s race-leading number 19 Spyder (driven at the time by Merzario) joined the casualty list with a failed gearbox bearing. That put Revson, in the 908/02 that had soldiered on through all of the drama, in second, behind the #15 917 of Siffert and Rodriguez. Then, Sebring claimed the Siffert/Rodriguez car, and Revson was suddenly in clear air, followed by another 512S — a coupe — driven by Vaccarella and Giunti. Cut to the pits: Mario Andretti, who by all accounts was ready to pilot his plane home to Pennsylvania, is instead seen huddling with Ferrari team manager Mauro Forghieri; when the second-place Ferrari hauls in for a driver change, instead of Giunti, Andretti jumps into the car — number 21 — and roars off into the night, with 90-odd minutes left to run. Cut back to the track: Mario is at 10/10ths, each lap is faster than his last; on a padded seat, in a car fitted for other drivers (Mario is shorter than both Vaccarella and Giunti) Andretti’s fearlessness and skill — and the immense power of the Ferrari — get him past Revson, and into the lead. Andretti stops for fuel; the 908 regains the lead — but Andretti re-emerges to pass a fatigued Revson yet again. This time, there’s no stopping Mario, and when the 12 hours are over, he’s won by a 23.8-second margin.

By the time the credits rolled that day, scribes and witnesses alike had coined the race the “Greatest Sebring of All Time,” and now, we’ve got a token to remember the contest: a 1:18 model of the winning #21 Ferrari 512S of Mario Andretti, Ignazio Giunti and Nino Vaccarella.

MOLTO BELLO

Hot Wheels Elite has tooled up a sweet little car in this release, and not only has it bumped up the base castings for their 512S, but it has even re-considered the packaging the model comes in. This new screw-and-clamp arrangement is far better than the dreadful wires it used to use, and the set-off nose and tail allow a full-on view of the denuded chassis, engine, and suspension detail, all while the car’s still in the box. Once set loose, the model feels just right. The paint is a rich, smooth Rosso Corsa (racing red) and the contrasting white, black and silver make it very handsome indeed. The gold-painted Cromodora race wheels mounting Firestone Goldline racing tires look right, too. The body is liberally equipped with photo-etched Dzus fasteners and hood latches, and these, as well as the sponsor and event livery, add the correct touch of realism. Although the car rides a bit too high, the lensing and glazing are quite nice, with chrome trim rings and neatly integrated headlight covers included.

The cockpit is well-detailed, with fabric seat harnesses, a well-gauged dash, and more photo-etched pieces for the seat buckles and shifter gate. Cast-in rivet detailing adds a lot to the authentically sparse metallic look of the cabin; the switchgear and such are extremely well done and colorful. To a lesser degree, so is the engine compartment; with the engine cover and nose removed, what you see is a very nice representation of the Lucas-injected five-liter, 550-horse V12. Though simplified for mass manufacturing, and while missing a few wires and hoses, the castings and decorated bits hold enough weight to be convincing without wrenching every nuance out. Up front the details are all there (except for the Group 5-required spare) and in the rear rudimentary suspension and chassis details are on display.

Overall, the model is a satisfying mix of comprehensive detailing and mass-market manufacturing know-how. There are discrepancies, for sure, and if this were a $500 model, they’d be an issue. At this price point, they hardly register, and with the piece’s great finish, more than adequate detailing, and polished look on display, it is well worth its MSRP. The low cost on these pieces has to do with sheer production volume; HWE states on the box that “up to” 5,000 will be made. Given the drama and historical importance of that race, that’s a full house — and an audience well entertained for the cost of this ticket. Highly recommended.

SOURCES

Hot Wheels Elite hotwheels-elite.com

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