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Product Lab - July 2007

Published: June 14, 2007
Eschenbach brings hobbies into focus
Products: Let's face it: many hobbyists aren't getting any younger. That means vision problems are a serious issue with your customers, leading many of them to give up on pastimes involving small details because they just can't see well enough to do them anymore.

Eschenbach Optik is a leader in the field of devices to help those with vision problems see what they're doing, whether it's watching television or simply writing a letter. A number of the company's products are useful to hobbyists of any age, allowing them to see what they're working on in sharp detail thanks to precision optics.

The company's MaxDetail glasses feature individually adjustable focus for both eyes and come with a zippered case. The Labo- Clip/Labo-Med set comes in a hard case with individual slots for the frame, clip and all lenses. The components in the set are also available separately.

The magnifying lamp is similar in quality to something you might find in a doctor's office. It features 2.8x and 7.1x magnification lenses with dust cover, a fluorescent lamp and a handy grip that clamps to a table and holds it very securely. Brighter and dimmer lamps are available for it, as well as a tabletop base.

Performance: Upon opening the box, you get a sense of the quality of these products. They appear well-designed and constructed, and their packaging befits items at these price points.

The MaxDetail glasses impressed me right off the bat. For starters, they are light, which is important if you're doing detail work for any length of time. The lenses have 2x magnification, and a wheel on each temple adjusts the focus for each eye. The field of focus extends about 16 inches, which is perfect for close-in work without having to have the work too close.

On me, the glasses sat down my nose a bit, leaving me ample space to peer under the glasses when the magnification wasn't needed. I used the provided rubber keepers on each temple to keep the glasses securely on my head. Holes are drilled into the arms so a lanyard can be attached if desired.

Addie Kidd, assistant editor at Bead & Button magazine, also tried the glasses, and said, "The frosted edges [around the magnifying lenses] made them feel larger . . . perhaps more natural." She added that the MaxDetail glasses were effective in place of her eyeglasses.

Even lighter is the Labo-Clip and Labo-Med set. The Labo-Clip attaches to your own eyeglasses; rubberized tips keep the clip in place and won't scratch lenses. The Labo-Med is for those who don't wear glasses, and provides a frame and clip with various magnifying lenses attached.

The nicest feature is the ease with which you can switch between magnification and normal view. I used the frame and clip and they were so light, I practically didn't even know they were there.

While there are seven different magnifications in the set, most of your customers will need only one or two. The clips and magnifiers are available for individual purchase. Bead & Button's Kidd tested these also and noted, "The dual-eye 3x was great!"

The magnifying lamp is a quality piece of work. Aside from the great optics, the arm has twist-friction locks and an articulated head to keep the light and magnification right where you want it, and a very secure mechanism for locking the whole works to the edge of a table. The integral dust cover is a nice touch.
I used the lamp while detailing a model and had no trouble seeing even the most minute details. The optics are exceptional.

The price point of the lamp might cause some sticker shock with your customers. On the other hand, can you put a price on being able to do the things you enjoy?

Marketing: It doesn't matter what your store carries, one of the key facets to any hobby is seeing the work. Whether it's model building, figure detailing, beading, stamp collecting, or even radio control, you have customers who have vision challenges.

These products might make the difference in losing a customer or keeping him or her for several more years.

Additionally, your customers with normal vision who have been working on small items for years will find they can do much better work with the help of magnification. Often, it's like the difference in building a large project with hand tools versus power tools: you can get the same result, but the hand tools take longer and may not be as precise.

One other benefit is that these products appeal to men and women, so it wouldn't hurt to have them in multiple places in your store; for instance, near the models and also near your crafts section.

Another place to display them - especially the MaxDetail glasses - is near the cash register. Put a pair out on display and let your customers try them on while waiting in line. They'll see the difference in their vision.

Reviewed by Hal Miller

Products/Stock Nos./MSRPs:
Eschenbach MaxDetail glasses, 1624-5, $159.80; Labo-Clip/Labo-Med clip-on magnifier set with seven lenses, 1647, $459; double-arm lamp with 2.8x and 7.1x magnification lenses, 2772-204, $929.90.
Maker: Eschenbach Optik of America
Availability: Wm. K. Walthers, Rio Grande

  • Exceptional optical quality

  • Glasses are lightweight

  • You get what you pay for

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    Bachmann 0-4-0 locomotive a pint-sized puller
    Product: Bachmann has released a 1:20.3 version of the utilitarian H.K. Porter 0-4-0 side-tank locomotive, designed for light switching and primarily found in mining, quarrying and industrial use. With its extended boiler, the side-tank version saw heavier-duty use than its saddletank counterpart.

    The model is digital-command-control ready and features an operating headlight, heavy-duty can motor, prototypical cab, hidden gearbox, and metal connecting and main rods. Also included are an engineer figure and fluid for the smoke generator.

    Performance: Unlike Bachmann's recent large-scale geared locomotive offerings, there's not much setup involved with the 0-4-0. It's pretty much ready to go out of the box; all your customer has to do is place the engineer figure and decide what electrical power to run it on. The front of the boiler pops off, revealing a 3-way polarity switch that can be set for National Model Railroad Association Standard, off, and Large Scale. There's also an on-off switch for the smoke generator.

    This is a nicely rendered model of what was, at least out of the factory, a spartan locomotive. In service is where locomotives like this really took on personalities of their own, as crews personalized them and added more equipment here and there.

    Bachmann has added some nice cab detail, like the backhead with oil cans and a water sightglass on it, a steam gauge and piping. On the locomotive is a brass bell that works, a whistle and an exhaust tube on the boiler-mounted dynamo for the light. The knuckle couplers have a positive locking action and snap open at the push of the uncoupling rod.

    The Porter runs relatively quietly, happily puffing away when the smoke generator is turned on. Personally, I would have liked a little more smoke, but it's enough to be visible and certainly not obnoxious.

    Multiple cars are no problem for this pint-sized prime mover. It's fairly heavy for a locomotive of its size, giving it good slow-speed performance. On level track, it pulls like a champ.

    Marketing: This is one of those locomotives that any large-scale model railroader needs. For those that have larger layouts, this locomotive is right at home assembling trains for larger engines, or working lineside industries. It's also good for those who have smaller layouts where space is a concern; as an 0-4-0, it will go just about anywhere and perform well on the tightest-radius curves.

    At the checkout, be sure to suggest rolling stock to accompany the locomotive, as well as detail parts to dress it up.

    Reviewed by Hal Miller

    Product: Narrow-gauge 0-4-0 Side Tank Porter
    Maker: Bachmann
    Scale: 1:20.3
    Stock No.: 82597
    MSRP: $270
    Roadnames: Midwest Quarry & Mining Co.; Colorado Mining Co.; painted black undecorated; painted black undecorated with red-and-white trim

  • Versatile locomotive model

  • Excellent pulling power

  • Will work on tight curves

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    Burn some rubber with CEN's Subaru WRX rally car
    Product: CEN is getting a lot of mileage out of its NX chassis platform, and its newest offering is the 1:10 Subaru WRX WRC (World Rally Championship) rally car.

    The car comes equipped with the standard NX 3.0 power plant, four-wheel braking, full ball bearings and a two-speed automatic transmission. As an RTR package, the WRX also comes with a Skyion DSX AM proportional radio with 10-model memory, dual rate and digital trim.

    Performance: CEN has made a name for itself by producing very rugged vehicles. The Subaru lives up to this reputation, and then some, with minor qualifications.

    Upon taking the Subaru out of the box, the first thing I noticed was that the body, while it looks pretty nice, is rather flimsy, suited more for a touring car than the rough- and-tumble world of off-road racing.

    Second, the bolts for the rear spoiler were loose and needed tightening right away. Customers should check these, and even apply some threadlock, or they might lose the tiny bolts and wing altogether.

    Break-in wasn't a problem. As is usual, the customer's patience at this stage will be rewarded with an engine that runs better and lasts longer than one not broken in properly.

    Aside from a couple of stalls early on, by the fourth tank, the glow plug was worn out, so I replaced the factory plug with an O.S. A3. I was surprised, however, at how quiet the engine ran, even at high speeds.
    After breaking in the engine, I made a number of passes at full throttle on a deserted street. What I found was that the automatic transmission shifted into second gear a bit earlier than I wanted.

    Adjustments to the clutch shoe in the shift clutch unit can be made pretty easily. Just look over the clutch bell behind the engine, insert a 1.5mm hex-head wrench through a hole in the smaller of the two gears and turn the wheels until it lines up with the set screw in the shift clutch unit. Clockwise adjustments, like the ones I made, allow the car to shift into second gear at a higher RPM.

    The Subaru WRX is very responsive. It grabs nicely in the corners, both on pavement and packed dirt, and the disc brake didn't need any adjustments.
    On the other hand, the Subaru's small wheels and collared front shocks aren't suited for the sort of off-road, backyard bashing that some R/C enthusiasts might be looking for. The low ground clearance means that the body gets caught on all but the shortest grass and can get snagged on obstacles, and the Subaru isn't exactly maneuverable during a jump.

    Even so, the Subaru WRX rally car is an exciting drive and extremely tough. After a number of hard, afternoon driving sessions, end-over-end flips and difficult racing against a couple of merciless competitors, the only part that needed replacing was the wire muffler holder.

    Marketing: First, know the sort of driving that your customer wants to do. If he's looking to do huge jumps and put in laps at the local off-road track, suggest another CEN vehicle, like the Matrix Buggy or Truggy RTRs.

    On the other hand, if he's looking for a car that drives well both on pavement and dirt with some mild off-road capabilities, the Subaru WRX will fit the bill nicely.

    CEN makes some of the toughest R/C cars and trucks on the market today. As such, they're very good for beginners and those who like to play rough with their R/C vehicles. These are good selling points for the Subaru WRX, along with any other CEN you have in stock.

    CEN tries to keep the cost of its RTRs low by minimizing its packaging. Instead of flashy pictures, CEN provides a removable face for its boxes that allows customers to see the product inside. When facing your shelves, remove the panel. It's box art of the best kind - the real thing.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Nitro Subaru WRX
    Maker: CEN
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock No.: 9255
    MSRP: $480
    Availability: CEN/Genka Trading Co.

  • Another tough car from CEN

  • Good blend of on- and off-road

  • Easily adjustable to driver

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    ParkZone's Spitfire Mk IIB is an agile fighter
    Product: World War II aircraft are popular for a number of reasons, perhaps the biggest of which is that they just look cool in the air. ParkZone, which already produces a P-51D Mustang (No. PKZ1500) and a Focke-Wulf 190 (No. PKZ1600), has recently added a Spitfire with a 39½" wingspan to its line of WWII foam park flyers.

    The Spitfire comes as a complete package, providing everything needed to fly in one box, including a three-channel radio, batteries, peak charger, and instruction manual.

    The plane is decorated with camouflage finish, includes a pilot figure, and takes about an hour to assemble, which is also about the amount of time it takes to charge the battery.

    Performance: The Spitfire is 95% assembled straight from the box. It has the motor, prop, receiver and elevator servo already mounted in the fuselage. The plane is steered by the ailerons, and accordingly, there is a servo mounted in the wing as well. This servo needs to be plugged into the receiver before the main wing is attached.

    Unfortunately, the label that identifies the servo plug positions on the receiver doesn't line up accurately, so my first attempt had the ailerons servo plugged into the wrong socket. The correct position for the ailerons is next to the elevator socket.

    The main wing bolts to the bottom of the plane with three screws, and this proved to be the most difficult task of the assembly process. Aligning the screw holes was a bit tricky. Customers should use a toothpick or similarly narrow tool to line up one of the forward screws. The rest should then drop right into place.

    The plane comes with a 9-cell, 10.8-volt NiMH battery and peak charger. The plane can be flown using a 3-cell 2100mAh LiPo battery, though you'll need a different charger. A LiPo battery will also require customers to reprogram the radio. The Spitfire's instruction manual outlines how to do this. I flew the plane with the included NiMH battery and got about 12 minutes on my first flight.

    In the air, the Spitfire's 480 electric motor has a lot of power and can really move the foam airframe around in a hurry. In fact, the plane can reach speeds up to 40 mph.

    I'm used to flying slower planes, so this extra speed and power took some getting used to. The first time I launched the plane, it literally bolted to the end of my flying field, so it's something to be aware of. Though the instructions recommend 600-foot-minimum flying area, I'd double that the first time out.

    The radio has A and B settings for different levels of control. Setting A is the more restrictive of the two and is recommended for the first few flights. Once the pilot has more confidence in the airplane's performance, he can switch to the more responsive B setting.

    The Spitfire is a hand-launch plane, without landing gear, and lands right on grass. It's important to remember to shut off the motor before landing to keep from chewing up the prop.

    With the big motor and agile nature of the plane, it will do flight aerobatics easily, despite not having an operational rudder. ParkZone sells a Sonic Combat Module (No. HBZ4020), so that if you have more than one pilot with a ParkZone Warbird, you can simulate aerial combat if both planes are fitted with modules.

    Marketing: This is not an aircraft for beginners, and ParkZone is very careful to point that out. I'm still a fairly green R/C flyer, and though I've been flying 3-channel planes for a while now, I found that the ailerons and the speed made the Spitfire difficult to master on the first flight. However, for the more seasoned pilot looking to move into an electric warbird, the Spitfire is a very good choice.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    Product: Spitfire Mk IIB electric R/C aircraft
    Maker: ParkZone
    Stock No.: PKZ1700
    MSRP: $229.99
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

  • Comes as a complete package

  • Easy to assemble

  • For intermediate pilots

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    Futaba's 6EX FASST a great entry to intermediate radio
    Product: When I got into the hobby more than 20 years ago, there was really only one transmitter selection at the hobby shop: a Futaba 4-channel AM radio.

    While this was the best I could get at the time, having only four channels was a hindrance, and AM interference could be a real hassle.

    Now, just about every transmitter on the market is FM and PCM, so flying a plane is much less of an adventure. However, on a busy weekend during the summer at any of the large clubs across the country, your customers might have to wait their turn to get into the air.

    Enter the Futaba 6EX 2.4GHz, featuring spread-spectrum technology, which is taking the R/C world by storm. A bit late to the party, Futaba has really done its homework. The FASST (Futaba Advanced Spread Spectrum Technology) system works by shifting frequencies every two milliseconds to prevent signal conflicts. That means no more waiting for a specific frequency to open up in order to fly.

    Able to be used with either planes or helicopters, the 6EX is a radio that is easy enough for beginners to use and grow into, and has features that intermediate pilots can take advantage of immediately.

    Performance: Customers who have been flying R/C for a while will notice the receiver's small size right away. Almost as small as some of the ones used in park flyers, it weighs only 10 grams.

    They'll also notice that the receiver has just two short antennas, as opposed to the longer ones used for "traditional" radios. That means no more unsightly wires hanging out of the plane! On a more practical note, the FASST system uses the two antennas to scan incoming data and uses the one that has the best signal reception.

    The flyer links the receiver to the transmitter by pushing a small button on the end of the receiver. A steady green light on the receiver and one on the back of the transmitter mean that both are communicating. If for some reason there is a problem, the lights will shine red, meaning no signal, or blink green, meaning there is no link matched. To resolve such problems, everything should be powered down and the process started again.

    The "Easy Link" system features a unique ID code, which ensures that the receiver only follows commands sent by the linked transmitter. With more than 134 million possible code combinations, there's virtually no chance of a signal conflict.

    If there is a reception problem, it's most likely that the receiver antennas are too close to a speed controller, motor or something metal. Also, the transmitter's antenna, which is about four inches long and hinged, should be kept as close to 90 degrees as possible to provide a good broadcasting area to the aircraft.

    I decided to use the 6EX with my Trick R/C Zagi, a flying wing that uses elevons. Programming it was fairly easy. To view the transmitter's program settings, all the customer has to do is press and hold the mode and select keys simultaneously. Once in the program menu, the mode key is used to scroll through each of the functions.

    Here, models can be named, servos reversed, endpoint adjustments made, dual rates and exponential applied. There are even options for control mixing, flapperons, v-tail and more.

    After a range check, I sent the Zagi off until I could hardly see it. Every time, the signal remained strong. I also used the 6EX's power down function to reduce the signal to the plane, and I never suffered any control degradation.

    Marketing: For the amount of utility that a flyer will get out of this radio, the reliability of FASST, plus the versatility of being able to use it with both planes and helicopters, it's hard to beat the price of the 6EX.

    It's the perfect upgrade for intermediate pilots who want to move from a traditional FM PCM radio to spread spectrum. Rather than selling beginners on the old FM radio, move them right into the 6EX. It will allow them to fly more confidently, as well as grow with them as they advance beyond 3- and 4-channel aircraft.

    Reviewed by Paul Daniel

    Product: 6EX 2.4GHz FASST radio system
    Maker: Futaba
    Stock No.: FUTK6900
    Street price: $219
    Availability: Great Planes Model Distributors

  • Very easy setup

  • Spread-spectrum reliability

  • Good for beginning pilots

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    Secret Projects: Flying Saucer Aircraft full of true-to-life sci-fi
    Product: Science fact can be stranger than science fiction. You've probably heard plenty about UFO sightings near Roswell, N.M., in 1947. But how about Flying Doughnuts, the Pye Wacket, and the Periodically Elevated Electronic Kibitzer?

    These and other strangely named, government-funded flying objects pop up in the pages of this 176-page hardcover book.

    Performance: Secret Projects: Flying Saucer Aircraft includes nine chapters, with titles like "German Wartime Flying Discs" and "Russian Flying Discs: Myth and Reality."

    In 1948, Pentagon officials were convinced Russian flying discs were invading U.S. airspace, so the Americans turned their attention toward advanced aerospace projects, trying to get an edge on the Soviets. The Canadian Defence Research Board (CDRB) did the same, teaming up with Avro Canada to develop a supersonic interceptor capable of meeting the Soviet challenge, and in 1951, Project Y was born.

    In 1954, the Pentagon took control of the project, which then became Project Y2 Silver Bug, a craft that resembled a 29-foot-diameter hubcap that was intended to soar through the sky slicing Soviet bombers in two.

    Secret Projects is packed with photos, illustrations, schematics, statistics and factoids, with a minimum of speculation. In other words, the authors did their homework, noting that as fanciful as some of these projects were, the knowledge gained from them became useful to the development of real-world aircraft like the Harrier jet and Apache helicopter.

    Marketing: This book holds appeal for a number of audiences: sci-fi fans, aviation buffs, and people with a keen interest in Cold War history, so you may want to display this title in the areas of your store where these customers congregate.

    Reviewed by Sue Brettingen

    Product: Secret Projects: Flying Saucer Aircraft by Bill Rose and Tony Buttler
    Maker: Specialty Press
    ISBN: 1-85780-233-0
    MSRP: $44.95

  • Fascinating, futuristic subject

  • Meticulously researched

  • Appeals to many audiences

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    Go off road with Ninco's 1:32 WRC Ford Focus
    Product: Since its debut, the Ford Focus has been a favorite choice of rally car teams and has built a successful track record on the World Rally Championship circuit. Now the Focus joins Ninco's long list of Rally, RAID, and WRC cars, with much improved performance over the firm's previous rally releases such as the Mitsubishi Lancer.

    The Ninco Focus is modeled after the Ford Focus driven by Finnish WRC star Marc Grönholm when he won the 2006 Neste Rally Finland. A version of the car that won the 2006 Wales Rally (also driven by Grönholm) is also available.

    Performance: The overall detail level of the car is excellent. Paint and logo placement of the model match prototype photos, and the interior includes not only driver and navigator figures, but also a rollbar and printed gauges on the dashboard.

    One minor detail that some WRC enthusiasts have noted on a few online slot-car forums is that the Focus' O.Z. wheels, although common in the rally scene, weren't used on this particular car.

    The headlights look very realistic. Upon taking the body off, I was surprised that both the headlights and taillights were nonfunctioning, especially for a car in this price range. It would be great if Ninco eventually released a lighted version.

    Even on standard 1:32 slot car track, this car is a winner. Powered by an NC-5 motor, the Focus is the quietest Ninco car that I've raced. Even though it's supposed to be an off-road car rather than a speed demon, the Focus was able to keep up with my Scalextric Camaro. The Focus held the track well and proved to have good braking capabilities, especially through the hairpin curve on my track at home.

    Marketing: The car's all-wheel drivetrain and Pro-Shock suspension are definite selling points and also provide the opportunity to sell your customers some additional products, such as Ninco's Dune set (No. 10506), Off-Road Curve (No. 10505), or Snow Curve (No. 10507), to take full advantage of the model's off-road

    Reviewed by Dana Kawala

    Product: Rally Ford Focus WRC 2006
    Maker: Ninco
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock Nos.: 50425, Finland; 50439, Wales
    MSRP: $59.98
    Availability: Model Rectifier Corp.

  • Great detail, attractive paint

  • Features all-wheel suspension

  • Smooth, reliable performance

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    Precision is the key to West Coast's 1964 Impala
    Product: Chevrolet was king in the early 1960s, being the world's No. 1 carmaker. Dinah Shore was singing its catchy theme song, "See the USA in your Chevrolet."

    Top of the heap was Chevy's Impala SS, its performance and style leader. That's why it's such a good choice for West Coast Precision Diecast to create in 1:24 scale. The Impala sold like ice cream in summer. In 1964 alone, Chevy sold 153,000 Impala SS models.

    No one has made a nicer 1:24 Impala than West Coast, a company that's putting early 1960s Chevys (and 1959) way atop its die-cast pedestal. This latest release comes in 31 color and style combos.

    Brian Dunning's firm, which makes the models in China, has done meticulous research on the color combinations and uses real automotive paint on its bodies, with 250 models being made in each color.

    West Coast offers both a hardtop and convertible Impala in 15 colors, while a special-edition hardtop is available to anyone who buys all 30 other variations.

    Performance: Our sample was an ember-red convertible with an almond interior, and it was stunning, both in its detail and functionality. More than 350 parts are hand assembled, and Dunning himself hand inspects each model before it's released. In fact, he's the guy who numbers the cars on the highly detailed undercarriage.

    The Impala's dimensions are true to the original; everything opens and closes as on the real car. The hood even uses a real scissors and spring hinge that adds to the realism. Under the hood is the famed orange 409 big-block engine, wired and plumbed, with a chrome air filter with two scoops to feed the dual quad carbs. There's also a full windshield washer bottle under the fender.

    There are stickers on the frame and fan. West Coast includes standard jack use instructions inside the trunk lid, along with a white-walled spare tire and removable lower trunk mat.

    That's just the start. The gas cap filler door opens. Under the car is a working front and rear suspension. The drive shaft turns the rear wheels; the power steering unit is visible up front.

    Inside, the front seats both slide up and back, plus the seatbacks fold forward. Impala's glove box opens, the center console cover folds back, and the sun visors are slightly adjustable. Interior trim and gauges look great, and the wood-look steering wheel with racy two-spoke hub is authentic.

    The exterior has dual side mirrors, chrome window trim and a textured chrome accent molding down the car's side. This one also comes with chrome wheel covers you can snap on. In fact, all West Coast cars come with magnetized hub caps, so you can display the car with or without.

    This convertible also comes with a tan top that easily and snugly fits on the car if you want the top up. You can also take it off and snap on the boot to give it a finished top-down appearance. The car looks great either way!

    Marketing: You're aiming for the Boomers here who have fond memories of Chevrolet at its prime. Plus all these colors and the fact that you can get a '64 hardtop or convertible opens the door to repeat buyers who want this 1960s icon in a variety of colors and styles. Repeat business is good, no?

    At $150, these are upscale, but not as far upscale as, say, CMC or Exoto. Plus, West Coast plans some exciting dioramas that may become a great add-on purchase for 1960s collectors.

    Don't forget to tell your Chevy lovers that West Coast plans to roll out a 1959 El Camino and Sedan Delivery in the fall, along with a couple of new colors for its snazzy 1962 Impalas.

    New colors on its 1961 Impalas also will be coming later this summer in more limited numbers than the current model.

    Reviewed by Mark Savage

    Product: 1964 Chevrolet Impala convertible
    Maker: West Coast Precision Diecast
    Scale: 1:24
    Stock No.: C64IMPER
    MSRP: $150

  • Excellent detail

  • Many working parts

  • Variety of colors and models

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