Small-Scale Production

For the cost of a small saloon you could own a tiny racing car, as Gordon Cruickshank found out.

Remember the moment in Bill Forsyth’s film Local Hero when the fishermen tell a visitor that they can’t afford to eat any of the lobsters they catch by the dozen? That’s the paradox of the fantastically detailed racing car models built by Andy Mathews of Philadelphia, he swears he can’t afford to keep one.

How can this be when he sells them at anything up to US$15,000 each? “Too many man-hours,” he answers wryly, and he may be right. For example, in 1/12th scale the tiny coil springs for the exhaust clamps are less than 1mm in diameter, he winds them himself. A Lotus 49 gearknob measures about 4mm, Andy turns them from wood, drills them for the lever, and machines a rebate to take a photo-reduced badge under perspex. Hour for hour, he thinks he’d be better off as a clerk, but no clerk could raise the admiration his regular clients have for these tiny mechanical jewels.

Now 37, he’s a late convert to motor racing, he was a marketing director when he accidentally caught the last Long Beach Grand Prix while there on business, and was smitten. At first he indulged the new interest with some high-quality Japanese kits, gradually adding more and more detail to each new project, until now the scratchbuilt elements have completely supplanted anything that comes in a box, and the hobby has become a demanding, self-fuelling occupation. Most of his projects, built in runs of 10 or 12, are now pre-sold, though he chooses his subjects and doesn’t take one-off commissions.

His preference is European Grand Prix machinery, but he runs a parallel line in American greats, such as resin-bodied 1/24th GT40 and Cobra at a measly $1495. Not that there are many short-cuts in the smaller scale the Cobra’s air-filter contains a paper element, the knock-offs boast retaining wires, and the 5p-sized steering wheel comprises eight pieces of cherry wood, fixed to nickel-silver rim and spokes with minute brass pins.

But it’s the 1/12th scale stuff which absorbs so much time. Andy showed me a McLaren MP4/6 before he despatched it to one of his regular customers, and I could easily see how it could give the same pleasure as a fine painting to hang on the wall. Much of the componentry is individually machined: some is photo-etched to scale thickness, certain items are cast by a specialist from wooden patterns Andy machines himself, and that goes for tyres too, cast in soft resin. His materials cupboard includes pewter, brass, aluminium, stainless steel, mag alloy, resin, nylon, wood, leather and rubber, while body panels are sprayed in batches with laquers and urethane paints. Specialised elements, such as wiring and the tiny braided hydraulic pipes, he has custom-made in 1000ft lengths, while “carbon-fibre-parts are moulded from impregnated fine cloth. Even the tiny labels on coils and oil-filters are accurate photographic reductions, drawing on the extensive photo-research Mathews does on each car.

He has just finished his most intensive project, 12 examples of Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 in 1967 Dutch GP form. He computes the run meant 36,000 handmade parts, primarily of metal, and several thousand hours work spread over three years. All four corners are height-adjustable, as are the roll-bars so the car can be made to sit perfectly, and the total effect, particularly in photographs, is eerily convincing. You might still bag one at $9500, but from now on. says their creator, common sense suggests that he build fewer and charge more. Indeed, the current run (Williams FW14B) is down to nine.

What’s hard to conceive is the slog of the “mass production.” The Lotus run meant making and inserting 4000 body rivets. assembling 24 cam covers (97 parts on each right-hand one, 89 on the left) took a solid week. This seems less like a relaxing hobby than a gruelling commitment, and at only one or two new subjects a year, Andy’s future list (Tyrrell 002 and a 1/8 all-metal Cosworth engine for ’97, possibly a Ferrari 312B and McLaren M23 after that) may soon inspire its own options trading market, as the full-size Ferrari F40 and Jaguar XJ220 did in the heady boom years. GC (Andy Mathews’s business is called ‘Exotics in Scale: fax number (USA) 0)1 610 664 10281