With the Lamley Group indulging in “TLV Week” recently, the masters of Japanese scale diecast have enjoyed plenty of exposure and discussion amongst collectors. Before I get onto the latest Tomicarama (which you can pre-order here at Ami Ami or here from Japan Booster) indulge me as I editorialise about my favourite premium diecast brand.
I’m not one to follow hype, which is why I can safely claim it’s pure coincidence that I only recently made my first TLV purchases. I had been like a lot of collectors; reluctant to dive into a model brand which commanded prices regularly in excess of $20 per car, yet repeatedly drawn back to scale replicas apparently made using a shrink ray.
With enough forlorn yearning, though, and nudged by some quality photography by Instagram collectors, I finally dedicated my budget to accommodate Tomica Limited Vintage. (TLV) How does one justify it? Well, you have to hold them in your hand to truly appreciate the old adage – “quality is better than quantity”.
Anyone who has studied Tomica Limited Vintage in any depth will know there is now a legendary narrative surrounding the way they approach diecast models. There is sometimes a little confusion about the Tomica range and its hierarchical structure. Tomica Limited Vintage is, as one soon discovers, quite the departure from standard Tomica – the company’s child-oriented range of toy cars. Sitting between them and TLV are Tomica Limited, which are standard Tomica models with added details. Then there are Tomica Premium models, which would satisfy most collectors with their superior attention to detail.
Finally, there’s Tomica Limited Vintage, which perches itself firmly atop the Tomica ladder, producing the company’s most exhaustively detailed models possible. It is not only the attention to detail that is remarkable, but their commitment to scale accuracy. All TLV models are 1:64, owing in part to the legend that no car will be made unless the design team can wheel the lifesize counterpart into their studio to be measured (no, apparently, they won’t work from blueprints).
To counter any scurrilous claims that I might be shilling for Takara-Tomy, it is also worth noting they are not the only Japanese diecast maker showing the West how it should be done. Kyosho make remarkably detailed models (including fender mirrors) and unlikely contender Konami has made some delightful models – one of my favourites being their Toyota Starlet.
After watching some retro Japanese commercials for the Nissan Cedric, and seeing a video by YouTuber Warm Tires, I could finally resist no more. Within a week I had two TLV models – the Nissan Cedric and the Mitsubishi Galant seen above. Upon showing them to colleagues and friends, I was met with such reactions as “It’s like they used a shrink ray!” and “If you sized it up, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference with the real thing.” I would hate to disagree. All Tomica Limited Vintage cars come packaged in their own box, rather than a blister, adding to their collector quality and reminiscent of the good old “Matchbox” days.
It wasn’t long before I’d ordered my second, then third set from Japan Booster (the combined postage makes it one of the best sites to order them). While TLV focuses primarily on Japanese classics (and Tomica Limited Vintage Neo focusing on newer classics) they’ve also delved into European marques with the likes of Fiat, BMW, Lancia, Volkswagen, and Alfa Romeo. Tomica’s recent acquisition of the Ferrari license has had some collectors excited for the unlikely prospect of a TLV Ferrari, too.
Now, it’s worth noting that TLV does not produce only cars. In a similar fashion to Greenlight’s recent Mechanic’s Corner series (no doubt inspired by the popularity of the following) Tomica Limited Vintage produce what they call “Tomicaramas” (a portmanteau of Tomica and diorama, of course). Sadly, these adult playsets have been on the back burner for a while, so aftermarket prices have been a little out of hand…
But that is all about to end, with the September release of Tomica Limited Vintage. I have no doubt that the old sets – in particular the Bayside Motors Tomicarama – will continue to swell in value as they are displaced by newer models, but the latest release is particularly interesting for to me, and the moment I saw it, I had no hesitation about pre-ordering.
Vava over in Serbia was incredulous about me ordering a plastic diorama kit when I had demonstrated skill in making my own. “I think its always better to create your own diorama. Yes, you spend time and material but you can create whatever you want,” he said.
I agree to an extent, and that is the beneficial side of having the patience the create dioramas, such as my recent “Funabashi Motors” model.
However, followers of the blog will also note how much I adore the vintage BP service station by Matchbox, which I acquired back in 2017. That has a charm that cannot be replicated by any hand-built diorama, because it carries us back to England circa 1963 – nothing can replicate that. It’s a strange and different era. Any attempt would be recognised as a mere imitation. The box even has 10/6 scratched onto it by a shopkeeper’s pencil. “That would have definitely been a Christmas present for anyone lucky enough to get it,” says Lesley, a friend of mine who was around to remember those days.
As soon as I saw the blue and yellow Accelerator 426 Tomicarama, I got the exact same sensations upon seeing it as I did when I saw the BP station by Matchbox. It’s a snapshot of a time and place, and with it being Tomica, it’s a statement of quality – just as Matchbox was a standard of quality back in 1963. Without that benchmark, we might never have seen Hot Wheels, or Tomica, or any of the other 1:64 scale brands that exist today. So I had to have it. But why did the Accelerator 426 diorama entice me so much, while the Bayside Motors diorama hadn’t?
Here’s the promotional poster for the Tomicarama, sourced from HobbySearch:
Since this is at least the third (perhaps fourth) iteration of this exact playset, it’s often easy to assume it’s a simple recolour. But the name “Accelerator 426” seemed far too peculiar for this to be the case, and knowing TLV, I had my suspicions there was a story behind it. With a little digging, I discovered the website of Axel 426. I dumped myself onto street level on Google Maps with the address, and checked it out.
Accelerator 426 is a rather interesting auto dealership comprising a blue and yellow building (uncannily similar to the recreation by TLV) located at a cross-road in a relatively modest part of the Aichi Prefecture, with narrow streets and low urban sprawl. The cars on display are what sets it apart from the surroundings, there being an eccentric mix of classic cars in the two lots occupying opposing sides of the street. Their recent advertisements include, for example, plenty of classic American muscle and hot rod fodder, retro Japanese street cars, and even European thoroughbreds like a Jaguar E-Type and a Mercedes Benz saloon. That will certainly please any collectors who are sticklers for accuracy – here’s a Japanese diorama that won’t clash with the American diecast brands!
With this in mind, it leads me to believe that TLV won’t have only just started this trend. I’m sure that their previous Tomicaramas must have been inspired by real life garages. That’s why I believe that what I said about the BP garage in relation to this model holds true. This Tomicarama will be worth a great deal in the future, just as the others have done – not just monetarily, but as a means of capturing a moment. I have no doubts that Japan will look mostly as it does now within the next hundred years, which is why I might have different views of this playset if I was, in fact, native Japanese. The same couldn’t be said of Britain, though – there have been areas of the country changed beyond recognition. Even BP exists now only in name. But with the Lesney service station, we have a slice of Britain from another time in our hands, much in the same way that owning the Accelerator 426 diorama allows us a slice of Japan we can hold in our hands.
I’ll place it on my coffee table at home, and I’ll know that, just as the BP service station has saturated within it all those memories of 1960s Britain, of a time that is long gone and that will never be replicated – the Tomicarama, with its unique charm and simple design, comes from a place that is far away, unique, and impossible to replicate. And why would you want to anyway? We probably wouldn’t deserve it.