Model car revival
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco () - March 10, 2008 - 12:00am

The whole afternoon yesterday, Robinson’s Mall in Novaliches reverberated with the high-pitched whine and revving of tiny little car engines. It was a sound not heard in that volume for years. It was the start of the 2008 Tamiya model car races. Since the late 1990’s, model car hobbyists have not had it so good.

“We hope that this will continue to promote Filipinos’ passion for these kinds of races,” says Reynaldo Lico, president of Panasonic Manufacturing Philippines Corporation, main sponsor of the races.

“It’s a great way to have fun and do something worthwhile for the whole family, as well.”

The history of car racing has a somewhat amusing beginning in the United States. During the Prohibition era when imbibing alcohol was illegal, an underground economy of small-time, illegal distillers mushroomed. These moonshiners often made their delivery runs in the middle of the night, in order to escape the authorities. However, since they were carrying heavy liquid loads, they had to soup up their truck engines to outrun the police. This is what probably gave birth to the hilarious “Keystone Kops” caricatures in the short silent films of the 1920’s onward.

Eventually, the moonshiners started hearing stories about each other, and their reputations as fierce drivers grew. Eventually, they organized, and held races on beaches, in abandoned lots and other places away from the eyes of the police. This gave birth to the National Association of Stock Car Auto Races (NASCAR), now the most successful sports business model in the world.

In Europe, the environment was quite different. The first major races were more of endurance races to show off the capabilities of cars made by the large automotive manufacturers. The annual Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race, first held in 1923, is one of the oldest races still in running. It has outlasted other events like the Targa Florio, which ran from 1906 to 1977 and the Mille Miglia, whch is now the inspiration for concept race cars. Unlike American races, these events ran up to twenty-four hours, and involved driver changes. It was more of a team sport than an individual challenge.

Participation and success in these international events in Europe helped build the prestige of car manufacturers Ferrari, BMW, Porsche, Lotus, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. Cars sold were often very similar to the ones that actually raced.

The 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the rise of car racing in Asia, particularly in Japan and the Philippines. Filipino drivers joined international car races with great success, particularly the Macau Grand Prix, a twisting thriller through the city’s streets, held back only by steel fences.

Worldwide battles between Ferrari, Ford, Porsche, Lotus and Alfa Romeo ran on until the 1970’s, with some of the cars getting attention in Hollywood movies and James Bond adventures.

By the mid-1970’s though, fuel and maintenance costs rose sharply, and car racing was seen as a wasteful hobby, and declined.

In a parallel vein, scale-model cars were steadily gaining the fancy of younger car lovers throughout Asia.

The Tamiya Group started in 1946, when Yoshio Tamiya opened a sawmill and lumber business in Shizuoka in 1946. Two years later, he created his first model ship building kit. In 1953, the lumber mill closed down, making model building the company’s main line of business. In the following years, Tamiya ventures into military vehicles, starting with the Battleship Yamato and the Panther tank.

In 1965, the model builder released its first slot car, the Jaguar D type. In 1966, Tamiya venture outside Japan, to the US, Europe and Southeast Asia. Soon, the model car industry starts to boom. By 1976, Yoshio Tamiya is awarded the Fifth Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese government, in recognition of his commitment to the industry.

By the early 1990’s, Tamiya has entered into exclusive contracts to produce model Formula One cars.

Since the 1990’s, the Tamiya scale model car races have maintained a committed core of enthusiasts, which is started to balloon once again.

The 2008 race series, which will be held every three weeks in Robinson’s Malls, is a sign that the hobby of building, customizing and racing your own model cars is on the rise again.

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