Schabak 1:600 Scale Die-cast Airliners
Schabak were the pioneers of die-cast model aircraft. While it is true to say they did not create the scale or the first moulds (they in fact inherited them from Schuco) it was Schabak that built a huge network of customers (both with airlines and shops) and who are responsible for introducing generations of children and adults to the joys of die-cast model aircraft.
Before 1:200, before 1:400 and even before 1:500 it was 1:600 that ruled the roost and Schabak produced literally thousands of versions of models in this scale between 1982 and 2005. There can't be many aviation enthusiasts over the age of 30 who have never owned a Schabak at some point.
Nowadays Schabak models are seen somewhat as curiosities but in their context they were groundbreaking and despite their widely variable quality they still retain a massive amount of charm in this day of hyper-realistic models.
1982: A Rebirth
Schabak, based in Nuremberg, Germany, was formed in 1966 by Max Haselmann, Gerhard Hertlein, Horst Widmann and Wolfgang Stolpe, initially as a wholesaler of miniatures with a strong relationship with Schuco. Schuco specialised in car models but branched out to make 1:600 scale model aircraft in the 1970s. Schuco was taken over by the British DCM (Dunbee-Combex-Marx) Group in 1976 and they went bankrupt in 1980. The Schuco brand name was acquired by Gama-Mangold and production moved to Furth and consolidated around cars only. This left Schabak with viable demand for model aircraft plus relationships with various airlines and shops, so they tookover production in 1982.
By this point Schabak was run by only two of the original founders, Widmann and Stolpe. Widmann would continue to concentrate on the car lines and it would be Wolfgang Stolpe that would provide the leadership on the airliner side of the business. Initially Schabak acquired only three of the original Schuco moulds - the Boeing 747-100/200 (335 793), McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 (335 792) and Airbus A300 (335 795). Later they also started using the Concorde mould (335 789) but other Schuco moulds such as the 727, 737 and DC-8 were not taken up. Instead Schabak rapidly began to produce its own 1:600 scale moulds.
The success of Schabak's business model enabled a rapid increase in the number of aircraft types being produced and an equally rapid increase in the number of airlines being made. Each airline was assigned its own specific production number, which when combined with the aircraft type produced what may be seen as a unique combination. This is not the case due to the way Schabaks were produced as will be discussed later. For more on the airlines made see:
By 1984 the number of models being produced had ballooned. There were know ten available moulds (Airbus A300 (used also as an A310 at this point), Boeing 727-200, 737-200, 747-100/200, 747-300, 757-200, 767-200, Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and MD-80. The range of airlines had also grown to include some non-European airlines. The product range continued to expand and by 1989 the price list was six pages long, not two as it had been in 1984.
Below: The 1984 pricelist
Schabak found a fertile market producing models directly for the airlines, which used its models for promotional activities or as part of inflight sales. During the 1980s and 1990s it was common to see Schabak models at airport shops but also being sold at major department stores such as Hamleys in London. It was actually the gift of a Swissair A310 purchased at Geneva Airport in the mid-80s that started my collecting. Another growing line of business was for specialist hobby stores servicing the aviation enthusiast market. There was almost no competition in this size and type of model and as Schabaks became more sophisticated they catered more to collectors.
Inflight airline sales were helped with the introduction of three and four plane box sets perfect for onboard sales. Increasingly Schabak also sold its models to retail stores as the models were perfect as gifts for children.
Below: A selection of the airline box-sets from throughout Schabak's history. They also show the changes in model form and quality over the years:
In addition to the airline, retail and enthusiast markets Schabak also produced a small variety of models over the years for non-airline customers. Often these were German firms such as Hamburg Airport, Theospirex and Karstadt but they also included models for companies such as Commodore computers. For more on these non-airline models see:
Every year during the 1980s Schabak produced new moulds, with multiple new additions per annum. From 1987 it had begun to add classic piston props (DC-3s and Convair 440s) as well as regional aircraft (ATR-42, F27 and F28). 1988 and 1989 saw further classic and regional moulds plus new modern jets such as the MD-11 and 747-400. It was quite impressive that Schabak could make such small moulds as the Saab 340, Douglas DC-3 and Embraer 120.
1989 was also the year that Schabak shifted away from the large rolling toy-like gears and towards small black non-rolling gears (although there were several intermediate steps). The new wheels made the models a lot more model-like and realistic.
In the United States Schabak USA, a subsidiary, drove distribution. By the end of the 1980s Schabak had reached its peak. Production would continue strongly into the 1990s but the coming decade would also see Schabak face real competition for the first time and struggle to modernise itself to meet the new demands of the collector market.
Production & Quality
Schabak is famous for producing its models using die-cast injection moulds and hand applied decals. At the time Tampo printing did not exist but even with the advent of Tampo printing in the 1990s Schabak did not change away from decals, at least not right until the end. Only a single airline model was produced under the original Schabak name using Tampo Printing, although the reborn Schuco-Schabak line that came afterwards was 100% Tampo Printed. Several non-airline models did use Tampo printing in the early 2000s.
The combination of metal moulds and decals meant that although Schabak moulds were incredibly sturdy, perfect for children or adults, the models were very prone to suffering damage to the decals. Over time they have also been prone to yellowing but this is very variable and often early models can look pristine, while later models can suffer from yellowing badly. The method of packaging also could have a negative impact on the models finish - see Packaging section.
Schabak is equally famous for its method of production. The company utilised teams of German grandmothers to apply the decals to the models. This and the decals themselves have resulted in Schabaks often gaining a poor reputation. The application of the decals to models can be highly variable and quality control at Schabak was extremely lax.
Some models are near perfect but it is common to find models with decals poorly applied - especially common are the cockpit windows being misplaced. Also there were often application mistakes made. These constant errors has led to the line between an official release and a decal application mistake becoming incredibly blurred.
Generally Schabak production quality improved into the late 90s and early 2000s but it was still variable and must have been a factor in the declining sales of the models in relation to Tampo printed competitors.
Below: The only Tampo printed standard release model made by Schabak prior to its takeover by Schuco was this PR 747-400
Mould & Decal Changes, & The Problem of How Many Model Versions Schabak Made
Schabak commonly and regularly upgraded both its moulds and the design of its decals. Throughout its production history there are several common themes that enable the distinction of moulds and model versions. The most important of these are the design of the undercarriage and the way the windows were represented in the decals. For more information on both of these trends see:
The moulds used were also changed for some types multiple times throughout the company's history. For example there are 4 distinct types of Boeing 747-100/200 mould and that doesn't take into account changes due to the wheel type being used. Most aircraft types produced didn't have quite as many variations, but even some more recent types like the Airbus A320 went through six different mould versions. Needless to say identifying the mould in use can sometimes be very complicated.
Above: Just four of the 15 versions of an Air France 747-100/200. New moulds, wheels, windows and new decals
Unfortunately Schabak did not seemingly make any record of the changes made and this means that even though they may have made a model / aircraft combination, such as an Air France Boeing 747-200, the constant mould and decal changes mean there are many different versions of the same aircraft. In fact, in this one example there are at least 15 different version of the Air France Boeing 747-200 that I know of, all with the same production number - 901/3.
Needless to say collecting Schabaks quickly becomes incredibly complex as not only is there no official list of all the different combinations of mould and decal but the addition of major decal mistakes to the list means what is a 'real' version becomes very grey. For example there was a production run of Air France 747-200s with 747-400 upper windows added by mistake, but what if a model is say lacking the tail decals altogether? Which one of these two errors constitutes a real version? It is up to the collector to judge. In my opinion an accidentally added decal is more important than a missing one so i would consider the first a real version and the second not to be.
Below: Both these Air France and Royal Air Maroc 747-200s have had the decals for a 747-400 applied accidentally. It is unclear how widespread this sort of mistake was but are these 'real' model versions or not?
Schabak models came in a variety of packaging. Most models were sold in card boxes wrapped originally in tissue paper. Later the paper wrapping would be replaced by a plastic bag but the boxed models would never gain plastic inserts (until the Schuco-Schabak age anyway) aside from some Silver Wings releases. This meant that models could often get decal damage from rubbing against the box and many models can be seen to have suffered damage at the nose region especially due to this. Also some models barely fit the standard boxes - especially 747s.
The initial boxes were blue and styled as JetBoxes. The first were generic but gradually they gained an image of the aircraft inside in black and white and then colour. Soon the boxes were uniquely styled for each release and very colourful. Boxes were sized differently depending on the model and in the first decade or so the smallest types such as the DC-3, F27, F28, 737-200 etc came in very small boxes.
Gradually the boxes increased in size and the last generation of boxes were almost twice the size of the originals even for large types like 747s. The last boxes featured photographic elements to them especially at one edge.
The other common method of packaging was as a blister pack with a plastic insert on a card base, which enabled the models to be hung for sale. These card backed packets did contain plastic inserts to somewhat protect the model but ironically you could only access the model by destroying the packaging itself. Unsurprisingly most surviving models come in the proper boxes and not the plastic card backed packaging.
Later both types of packaging were sometimes combined and for example I saw Schabaks on sale at Singapore Changi Airport in 2002 where the card packed packaging was being used with the entire boxed model inside the plastic outer.
The price list for 1988 is the first to show stands for sale, although Schabak models had always come with a small stand hole in their belly. The first stand was a simple wire-stand with a triangular base, measuring 3.5cm x 3,5cm x 7cm. It wasn't until the Silver Wings Models produced in the 1990s that a new stand was created. This was a rather attractive black plastic effort with a circular base. In the later years this stand would begin to be packaged with the models as a free addition but only a relatively small number of models gained the stand before production ceased. Later Schuco-Schabak models came with the stand as standard.
Schabak entered the 1990s at the top of its game. New moulds were still being produced each and every year and with the new smaller black wheels and improved decal production some really nice models could be made. Even so the overall quality of production did not increase and often the more complex decals were harder to apply well.
By 1990 34 aircraft types existed in 1:600 scale. New moulds still covered a range of classic, regional and modern types so for example in 1990 new castings included the Boeing 767-300, Douglas DC-4 and Sud Aviation Caravelle.
Also several of the older moulds were replaced with completely new moulds - most obviously all the 747s and the A310. Soviet types were not ignored with moulds created for the Ilyushin IL-62, IL-86, IL-96 and Tupolev TU-204. Other major new Western types such as the Airbus A330, A340, Boeing 737-800, 777-200/300 and Canadair CRJ-200 also joined the inventory.
It wasn't all good news though as the 90s brought Schabak its first real competition. Herpa began producing its slightly larger 1:500 scale Herpa Wings line and although the early years of this scale saw toy-like models with gear inferior to that of the Schabaks the models were Tampo printed and so of a much higher quality.
Schabak countered with a move itself into 1:500 scale but could not make it work. In the USA the American subsidiary pushed a new line of 1:600 classic US models from 1995 named Silver Wings. These were limited edition releases that came in new open top boxes with plastic inserts and model stands. The series ran from 1995-2001 and appears to have been a modest success. For more on Silver Wings see:
As the 1990s drew to a close however the writing was increasingly on the wall. The new 1:400 and 1:500 scales were going from strength to strength and drawing away the enthusiast market with their high quality printed products.
The End: 2000-2005
Schabak had made no new moulds in 1999 or 2000 and would not do so in 2001 either. Three new moulds appeared in 2002 (Boeing 717, 757-300 and Tupolev Tu-154) but none would get a lot of use and the 757-300 mould was awful in comparison to the 757-200 mould. The September 11 attacks had a major knock-on effect and their impact on the airline business meant a lot less orders for Schabak to fulfil through that avenue. Meanwhile the majority of aviation enthusiasts had been lured away to larger more detailed scales. Far too late did Schabak look to Tampo printing but it is doubtful whether that would have saved the existing business anyway.
Problems in the business were evident in 2003 as several of the announced models never came to fruition, and no new moulds appeared except for a 737-700 (despite an A380 having been announced too). Schabak improved the presentation of its model boxes and made improvements to its decals but the essential issues with its production methods remained.
Below: 2003's new announcements. Of these many were not made including the Emirates A380, Sri-Lankan A330, Air Afrique A330, Libyan A300, Braniff DC-8, Icelandair 757-300, Air India A310, RAM 767-300, Malev 767-300, Kras Air Tu-154, Vuela Mex 717, Buzz 146 and Alaska 737.
The appearance of 1:600 scaled Tampo printed Herpa Magic models in late 2005 must have done Schabak no favours but by this point the die was already cast. The end came for the original Schabak in late 2005, but it was not the end for the Schabak name or 1:600 scale. In January 2006 the reborn Schuco tookover production using many of the old moulds plus some new ones but with Tampo printing also. I will discuss these models separately but they were never able to match the variety and number of Schabak releases.
Below: The prototype A340-600 which would get used by the reborn Schuco-Schabak
Postscript: Decal Cracking
The majority of my Schabak collection has been boxed for its entire life and recently I began going through the over 1700 models again. The majority of them were as they had been when produced, which is quite a feat for decaled models some of which are nearly 40 years old. Nonetheless the later models from the 1990s are prone to decal yellowing, seemingly more than those from earlier. Worse quite a few of the models dating from right at the end of the Schabak production in 2004-2006 have suffered far worse and been effectively destroyed.
Schabak must have changed the decals or glue they were using as many, but not all, models from this period have suffered dreadfully from drying and cracking of the decals. This was a surprise considering they are some of the newest models. Fortunately it seems like a relatively small number of releases are impacted and only from this period. It is somewhat ironic that the older simpler original Schabaks are more resilient than those that were the last. For more details see: