Model Mania

Along with his passion for earthmoving machines in general, RICHARD CAMPBELL also collects scale models, a popular hobby amongst contractors.

Model_2.jpgThere has been a widespread interest and growth in the production of die cast and plastic model construction equipment in recent years. Where once upon a time they were treated as curiosities with few model companies producing any of note, nowadays there are die cast manufacturers who produce nothing but construction models and have big catalogues of them as well.

Collectors are spoiled for choice and many new models are released every year. There is also a trend where manufacturers are producing models of long discontinued machines and this is a great thing. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia!


Construction machines are produced in several scale sizes with the most popular being 1/50th scale. This scale allows the collector to gather a good cross section of machines without taking up too much display space. Models are also made in 1/160 (N) scale, 1/87 (HO) scale, 1/34 scale (mostly trucks), 1/32 scale and my personal favourites, 1/25 and 1/16 scales.

The first two scales are quite small and often used by railroad enthusiasts while the last two take up considerable space indeed and really require some serious cabinetry to show them off to advantage.


Here is a list, by no means complete, of reputable scale model manufacturers and the scales they specialise in. Be aware that almost all of these manufacturers outsource their production to China to take advantage of the lower labour rates.

  • Athearn: An American manufacturer of high quality plastic scale models, producing in 1/160 and 1/87 scales. Its 1/160 scale Mack trucks have to be seen to be believed.
  • Conrad: A German company (formerly known as Gescha) which are one of the pioneers of quality construction models. It produces mostly 1/50 scale, but also do a few in 1/25. Conrad’s older, out of production items fetch high prices at auction.
  • Ertl: Another long standing producer of models, Ertl USA manufactures in 1/50, 1/64, 1/25 and 1/16 scales. Some of Ertl’s models are quite simplistic but more recent releases are very good.The 1/16 scale ‘precision’ series is magnificent.
  • NZG: A German manufacturer which has been producing quality models almost as long as Conrad. The majority of its models are to 1/50 scale. Beware, old NZG models have become collectors’ items and fetch prices accordingly.
  • Universal Hobbies: A relative newcomer, based in France, which makes some extremely good quality models in 1/50 scale, (mostly of Komatsu machines) and at a very reasonable price.
  • Brami: An Italian die cast producer, quite new to the scene, producing in 1/50 scale. Brami makes some nice track type tractors.
  • Norscot: American-based Norscot currently holds the license to manufacture Caterpillar models, which they do in abundance. It manufactures in 1/87, 1/50 and 1/16 scales. Some of its products are a little indifferent in quality and scale fidelity. Norscot has recently begun a programme of producing models of long obsolete Cat machines and these are of good quality and worth having.
  • Siku: Another German manufacturer which, until recently, concentrated more on producing children’s toys rather than true scale models. However, it has now begun turning out some pretty high class scale models, which are worth investigating. Siku models are reasonably affordable as well – a big plus.
  • Yonezawa-Diapet: A long-standing Japanese manufacturer producing in a variety of scales (some quite odd). Diapet was the first die cast manufacturer to offer realistic metal tracks.
  • Shinsei: Another Japanese die cast manufacturer with a long history of producing commercial vehicles and earthmoving equipment (mostly in odd scales).
  • Spec Cast: An American manufacturer that started out producing farm machinery models, then branched out into earthmoving. It makes very high quality models in 1/50, 1/25 and 1/16 scales. Purchasers will not regret buying a Spec Cast model.
  • CCM: Classic Construction Models started out in the mid 1990s, manufacturing a very limited (and expensive) range of models in brass, to 1/87 scale. It has since branched out into 1/48 scale die casts and these are very collectable pieces, manufactured to a high standard.
  • EMD: An eastern European manufacturer producing limited run 1/50 scale models of older machines, to a high standard, in mixed media (white metal, brass and resin). These are quite expensive but they do offer a lot of machines that are just not available anywhere else. EMD’s Bucyrus-Erie and Garwood towed scraper models are exquisite.
  • Motorart: Another European manufacturer of good quality 1/50 scale models, primarily specialising in 1/50 Volvo machines
  • First Gear: The Rolls-Royce of die cast producers, which manufacture in 1/50, 1/34 and 1/25 scales. Its 1/25 models are absolute masterpieces and worthy of inclusion in a museum. The only thing missing from these gems are the oil leaks and the smell (and I’m sure they’re working on that).
  • Reuhl: Reuhl used to manufacture display models for Caterpillar and John Deere dealerships in the 1950s but then disappeared from the radar. It has recently reincarnated and begun producing in 1/25 scale, its first release being a magnificent John Deere 840 elevating scraper. Reuhl’s older models are true collectors’ items and fetch astronomical prices at auction.
  • Kibri: If kitsets are your thing, German manufacturer Kibri produce a wide range of construction vehicle kitsets to 1/87 scale.
  • Joal: This Spanish die cast producer has a good selection of 1/60 and 1/50 scale models at fairly modest prices and would be a good starting point for the budding collector. While its detail level is not that high, it does produce a couple of stunning large Komatsu wheel loaders.


Die cast collecting can be inexpensive, but be prepared to pay quite a bit for quality models. Some of the so called limited run models are in the hundreds of dollars (or more). The average, good quality, 1/50 die cast model starts at around $80.

Out of production models can be very expensive so if you really have to have that Conrad Cat D9G, be prepared to open your wallet – wide!

Where to find them

New Zealand is not well served when it comes to stores catering for the die cast collector looking for construction models. There is however a specialist shop who also does mail order that I can highly recommend. The Model Barn, located near Thames, has a good website that allows you to choose and compare between a wide range of manufacturers and scales. It is always getting new products and has an attractive, well laid out retail store.

Many machinery dealerships have a range of scale models available for purchase too.

Model_4.jpgInternet options

Trade Me: New Zealand’s premier online auction site has bargains from time to time, but beware of scalpers and inaccurate descriptions of products.

Ebay: You stand a much better chance of getting that special model you’re after (especially out of production items) on ebay than just about anywhere else.

Be prepared to put in some late nights as the time difference between the United States and New Zealand is about 18 hours and most auctions end in the early hours of the morning our time.

You will also need to take into account varying exchange rates and allow for the cost of posting your special find back home. American postal charges have become significant.

You can buy from any of these internet dealers with confidence:


Contractor Vol.32  No.11  December 2008 - January 2009
All articles on this website are copyright to Contrafed Publishing Co. Ltd.