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"Die Cast X", October 1, 2012

BACK IN TIME

PRECISION MINIATURES 1956 CHEVROLET BEL AIR 4-DOOR HARDTOP

BY JOE KELLY JR.

1:18 | SECONDARY

California-based Precision Miniatures danced on the ragged edge of the collectible 1:18 hobby for the better part of six years, forsaking meat-and-potatoes subjects in favor of releases aimed at alternate collecting tastes. This included everything from high-end hearses to impeccable gassers, dragsters, and dry-lakes speedsters. The drop-dead beautiful (ouch) hearses came with marvelously macabre felt-lined caskets and chromed metal church trucks. The latter series of Bantams, Willys, Fiats, and a single (and singularly amazing) Corvette were booming with delicate detail and noble materials. In between the dead sled, the historic racers, and even a giant ‘59 Caddy limo, Precision (which had previously been known more for its 1:43 models) also produced a slightly more mainstream image — a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air. But because PM was always just a little left of center, this tri-five Chevy was released not as a sure-bet two-door coupe or convertible, but as a four-door hardtop.

Like the equally quirky 1950 Ford Crestliner that it had released in 2005, the circa-2006 Chevy was a mid-price release at the time, originally ticketing at nearly $60, or at around half that of the drag cars, and a third less than the hearses. The Chevys were also a colorful lot. Sierra Gold and Dune Beige, Matador Red and Dune Beige, and Dusk Plum or Twilight Turquoise over India Ivory were on the menu; so was the eye-grabbing Crocus Yellow and Tuxedo Black combination our sample wears. Beneath those festive hues, the bodies were extraordinary castings with pin-straight shut lines, correctly hinged doors, and, save for the tampo’d “Bel Air” scripts below each rear fender peak, hard trim for everything from the window surrounds to the wonderful side spear that separated the flawless paint. Where there were lenses, they were beautifully etched and placed; where there was chrome, it was show-quality stuff that outdazzled the brightwork on just about any model, even those with far heftier price tags. The grille, in particular — a delicately cast, see-through plastic mesh — looked amazing placed beneath the colorful Chevrolet crest and “V” on the hood, and with the airplane-inspired hood ornament above, it set the stage for the eye to wander — and wonder — at the perfect proportions and nearly flawless display of the replica.

Under their hoods, the Chevrolets had 265 V8s — nothing hi-po; just the motor your dad or granddad might have sprung for. Nicely painted and assembled, but only moderately (and somewhat incorrectly) wired, the engines were decent for the time; more effort went into the cars’ interiors. From the lensed dome light above to the flocked floor below, the cabins were thoroughly detailed and deco’d with authentic-looking Fifties-era two-tone upholstery, which was hot printed onto soft vinyl seats and painted onto the door panels. The chrome-heavy dashes were crisp, as were the stalks for the directionals, and the auto-trans shift lever on the column.

Aside from what could be seen in profile, chassis detailing wasn’t a strong suit on these models, and except for the neat, hollowed-out dual exhaust tips, the inclusion, or lack thereof, of realistic textures and pieces in the area under the cars never seemed to be a concern, because it didn’t impact the car’s wonderful looks on display. The trunk featured a removable spare (actually just another copy of the road wheels used on the model — mounting hole, one-piece wheel cover and all) and in true “Mint” fashion, there was a hand-numbered serial plate affixed to each car’s trunk floor.

The main line releases saw only 1,500 of each color made; if rarity is your thing, look for the “Vicki’s Gifts” variants — Green and Cream with a Continental kit and fender skirts (200 made), or the same color combo, sans skirts and kit (400 built). We can only imagine what these models — and this maker — would have become had the company survived. There’s still hope that Precision Miniatures will come back from hiatus some day, and rejoin the hobby. Until then, keep an eye out. These little bombs are well worth looking for, out there on that ragged edge.

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