Vehicle Modeling

The purpose of this page is to cover topics related to modeling automobiles, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, construction equipment, and other vehicles in S-scale. In addition to bringing life to your model railroad, modules, or dioramas, there is also a larger community of hobbyists who enjoy collecting, modifying, and super-detailing 1:64 automobiles.

There are literally thousands of 1:64 (or close thereto) models available today. Then, add to that the ones that were manufactured in the past several decades that are likely still available on the secondary market.

Scale Accuracy

The only issue the modeler may encounter is the so called "box scale". While a lot of models are labeled as "1:64", not all of them are exactly a 1/64th reduction of the real-world model. Some manufacturers have taken the approach of creating models that fit within a certain physical box size. This makes it more cost-effective for them to have their products manufactured and shipped than if the models were true down-scaled ones. For a lot of the vehicles, this makes the models come out very close to true 1:64, but you will have to use your judgment. It depends on your modeling philosophy, i.e. how much of a stickler are you to having a true 1:64, accurate model, or how close is "good enough"?

There are companies that make models that are extremely accurate to the 1:64 ratio, and you will likely find that reflected in their retail prices.

The slot car hobby comes with powered racing cars. These are sometimes referred to as "HO scale" and sometimes marketed as "1:64". In reality, most of these cars are around 1:76 scale models. When that hobby was first created in Europe, the cars and road systems were developed to be compatible with the British OO-scale (which is 1:76 scale that runs on HO-scale track). Again, one could use these in S-scale layouts, but one would have to evaluate the car's accuracy on a case-by-case basis, usually by inspecting (and perhaps measuring) the model in person in the store before purchase. Buying them online would only be recommended if the seller offers free returns.

There is a handy grid card included in the April 2014 NASG Dispatch for quickly checking to see if a model vehicle is within 1:64 scale.

Die-cast Model Manufacturers

There are a number of model manufacturers that, today, produce reasonably accurate, die-cast, ready-to-run models. We have listed the ones that are actively producing models today, below. If the company itself has a web site, those are provided as links. There were a number of other companies that used to make die-cast models that are now no longer in business (see our Product Gallery section for the full listing). There are lots of die-cast retailers who carry these brands.

  • ACME Trading Co.
  • Auto World
    (founded in 1958 in Scranton, PA)
  • Die Cast Promotions
    (founded in 1996 by Fred Ertl III, grandson of Ertl)
  • Diecast Masters
    (started producing 1:64 models in 2020)
  • Ertl
    (founded in 1945 in Dubuque, Iowa; now owned by Racing Champions - see below)
  • First Gear
    (founded in 1992 in Peosta, Iowa; web site is gone)
  • Greenlight Collectibles
    (founded in 2002 in Indianapolis, Indiana)
  • Johnny Lightning
    (a brand name owned by Round 2 LLC since 2016)
  • M2
    (a brand name, full name is "M2 Machines", owned by Castline, Inc. in Azusa, CA)
  • Maisto
    (founded in 1967 in Hong Kong, headquarted in Fontana, CA, owned by the May Cheong Group)
  • Hot Wheels
    (a brand name owned by Mattel founded in 1966; these are likely to be "box scale" models)
  • Menards
    (their O-scale freight cars come with S-scale buses)
  • NewRay Diecast
    (founded in 1987 in Hong Kong)
  • Norscot Scale Models
    (a promotional-products company headquartered in Mequon, WI)
  • Racing Champions
    (originally founded in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, it is now a brand name owned by Round 2 LLC since 2015)
  • SpecCast Collectibles
    (located in Dyersville, IA)

Plastic Model Manufacturers

These companies produce ready-to-run plastic models.

Model Kit Manufacturers

These companies produce models that will require a bit of work to get them to a finished state.

Other Manufacturers

Hartoy Trucks

We have an article about how to decipher the model, or SKU, numbers used by Hartoy for their trucks.

Roy Meissner, an occasional manufacturer of S-scale trucks, feels that, while nice models, most of the Hartoy bodies are longer than what was often used on those trucks. All Hartoy bodies are 16 feet long. However, his research has shown that 14' or 12' were more common for the time-frame of those trucks. He has cut up many Hartoy trucks and put different bodies on them, including dump, coal, cattle, milk, and van bodies. A few examples are shown here.

Mack with a 9' dump body
copyright © Roy Meissner

Mack with an older-style milk body
copyright © Roy Meissner

GMC with a cattle body
copyright © Roy Meissner

Barry Pazan

Barry Pazan has stopped manufacturing S-scale model trucks. Roy Meissner has indicated that he may purchase Barry's molds.

Tips & Tricks

Decal Removal

Ted Larson reports that removing the decals from an M2 automobile was accomplished by applying non-acetone finger nail polish remover using a small paint brush, followed by using Q-tips to apply 91% isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. There was only minimal impact on the model's paint layer. Be sure to experiment on a non-critical model, first.

Jerry Poniatowski says he has had success using enamel reducer (available at automotive paint supply shops) on Hot Wheels models, and strongly recommends not using lacquer thinner, as that will remove the paint layer. Note that enamel reducer will also remove the painted-on trim, such as the chrome strips, and it will also fog the windshield glass. It should be used outdoors.

Dirty Windshields

Gaylord Gill provided this explanation of how he simulated dirty windshields.
"On my Shell panel truck, I did the effect of a dirty windshield scraped clean by the wipers. I was inspired to do this for two reasons: I wanted to tone down the shininess of the paint, and there were already nice windshield wipers cast into the vehicle. Obviously the tricky part is cutting out masks of the appropriate pattern. In this case I stuck a piece of blue masking tape onto my mat board and selected a length of 1/4" tubing to use as a guide for the arc (you want the diameter of the tubing to be about twice the length of the wipers). I pressed the end of the tubing onto the tape and ran an X-acto blade around to cut out a piece representing most of a full circle. Next, I marked the approximate center of that circle, and cut straight lines along the radii to get two pie-shaped segments of tape that were each a little more than a quarter-circle. Then it is a simple matter to stick the masks onto the windshield, aligning one side of the mask to the wiper. I also wanted to keep the side windows "clean", so I covered each window with tape, used a ball-point pen to burnish the tape tight to the edges of the window-frame, and worked my blade around to cut away the excess. There were small windows in the rear doors that I decided would be "dirty". After shooting the entire vehicle with clear matte spray, and allowing it to dry, I peeled off the masks to reveal the original glazing."

copyright © Gaylord Gill


External Resources

Product Gallery