Retro Models: Exclusive Interview
All photos represent early versions of the mould and not necessarily reflect the end product.
Over to Kamran - questions asked by Yesterday's Airlines:
Why did you decide to get involved with making die-cast model aircraft?
I got into die-cast aircraft production by fluke. Until recently, I was a commercial aircraft model collector and there were times I would lose patience in waiting for models on my wish list to be released. I thought about having models on my wish list to be custom made for me, but such models require using decals; and they cannot be tampo-printed (unless one orders a large quantity). I only wanted a customised decaled model if it could be produced to a very high quality.
I saw some impressive decaled models in my local aircraft model shop, Aviation Retail Direct, and I asked Mr Paul Burge, who runs the shop, to see if he can advise me. Although Paul suggested a custom model maker, he also said I should not worry as Inflight 200 can make whatever model I wanted, and that too tampo-printed, as long as I order a minimum quantity. Paul Burge is also a part owner of Inflight 200 models, and he suggested that I contacted his colleague Mr Bob Cass, who is in charge of the Inflight 200 model factory in China. I thought why not have some of my most wanted models produced, keep one or two in my collection and then sell the rest to other collectors. In June 2014, I was personally invited to meet with Bob Cass in China, who took great care of me whilst I was there.
During that same visit to China, I also met with Mr. Andrew Klein of AeroClassics, and he was very hospitable too. Andrew was busy making his own models and so we could not reach a manufacturing deal, so I turned to Bob Cass with whom I concluded a manufacturing arrangement. It was then that I actively got involved in making die-cast aircraft models.
Do you collect die-cast airliners and if so how many and what types are in your collection?
I have been a commercial aviation enthusiast since the age of 3 (yes age three!). I started building aircraft models since I was age 6 when my father started helping me in putting together 1:144 scale and 1:72 scale Airfix plastic models. My father has always been an aviation hobbyist too. It was in 2001 that I came across some Gemini Jets models at a shop in some US airport departure lounge, and I found the detail in 1:400 scale models to be amazingly accurate.
I then started building a 1:400 scale die-cast aircraft collection. Within a few days I became addicted with these models. Such was my addiction that I paid over $300 for a Gemini Jets Braniff Boeing 747 which was a rare Gemini Jets club model at that time. As if collecting 1:400 scale models was not enough, I also became interested in 1:200 scale models when I saw them being displayed at the Aviation Retail Direct shop.
I maintain a spreadsheet on my computer for 1:400 scale and 1:200 scale models in my personal collection. As I am answering your question, my collection shows 352 models in 1:400 scale and 139 models in 1:200 scale. I have most aircraft types ever made in both scales, and these cover most airlines of the past and present. I am biased towards airliners of the past, i.e. retro aircraft, as they bring nice nostalgic memories of my childhood days. Hence the name of my models, Retro Models!
As I understand it Retro Models have already made some 1:200 scale models - which ones?
Yes, a few of them. The first ones were the two PIA DC-10s, Viasa (“Double Viasa”) DC-8-63, Alitalia DC-9-30 and Continental Airlines DC-9-30. These were marketed as Inflight 200 “Retro Models exclusives”.
I then had a Syrian B747SP (in delivery colours) and an Air India B747-200 (in delivery colours too). These were marketed under the Retro Models brand name.
Why did you decide on the Tupolev Tu-104 as your first aircraft in 1:400?
Most aircraft types had already been produced in 1:400 scale but the Tupolev TU-104 had never been done before, so there was a hole in the diecast aircraft market that needed exploiting, and I wanted a few TU-104s in my collection too. I was hesitant in choosing the TU-104 as there are so few liveries that can be done; and with the high cost of producing aircraft moulds, there have to be a reasonable number of liveries to justify such an investment. Anyway, I thought that there might be sufficient demand for the TU-104 in 1:400 scale to go ahead with the production of the mould. Time will tell if the choice was reasonable.
How did you work with Inflight and others to design the mould?
Moulds can vary in accuracy. Some are accurate, whilst some can be a misrepresentation of the actual aircraft that flew. I am well aware that even within reputable manufacturers, there are some models that are produced from somewhat inaccurate moulds. On the other hand, the same manufacturers have excellent moulds that are highly rated by collectors. The Inflight 200 Convair CV-990 mould is one example of an excellent mould.
My priority with the TU-104 mould was to have it designed by the same mould maker that produced the CV-990 mould, and I am glad the same mould maker designed this mould. In having the mould designed, I made sure that various books on the TU-104 and its variants were consulted. I also had tremendous help from three well established diecast aircraft collectors who took their time to thoroughly examine every aspect of the sample mould and to play a large part in ensuring that the final TU-104 mould is as accurate as possible. I was in constant touch with Bob Cass, and we exchanged several emails that were aimed at making the TU-104 mould very accurate.
How long does it take from having an idea for a model to getting it released?
There is no rule of thumb here because some ideas remain ideas and are never materialised. But generally speaking, an idea leads to some market research via the diecast aircraft forums, and then it is conveyed to Bob Cass and his colleagues for their opinions. Once we are in agreement with the feasibility of the model we then have the Inflight artwork designers to prepare the artwork for the model. Several amendments are needed to the artwork to ensure that it is accurate. Then a production slot has to be found. The process on average takes 2-4 months. However, there can be delays for various reasons, and the Chinese new year is one big cause of delays.
Quality is a big issue for many of the manufacturers, how will you make sure that the models being made for Retro Models are in good condition from the factory?
Indeed this is an issue. First it is the quality in accurately representing the real aircraft, and then it is to ensure that the model reaches its distributor in perfect condition. Quality checks before packaging the models is a must, as is proper packaging and the structure of the model boxes. This should take care of the problem of the models reaching their destination in perfect shape. In my opinion, the bigger problem is the first one. I have seen many aircraft models, some of them in very much wanted liveries, been messed up with incorrect fonts on airline titles, spelling errors, etc.
The Chinese are notorious at not understanding English and some errors relate to this problem. Some model collectors are very fussy, and they are able to be nit-picky even on the minor issues that are barely visible to the naked eye. In fact, I happen to be one such collector. All model aircraft windows, titles, etc. must be properly aligned, and everything must be 100% accurate to me for it to be acceptable to me. That is why every time Bob sends me a model artwork, I keep reviewing it a zillion times for any inaccuracies. I also get other people and collectors to check the artwork, so that it is as accurate as possible.
What is your aim for Retro-Models for 2018?
The aim for 2018 and beyond is to cater for the collector such as myself. The diecast aircraft market is somewhat saturated with endless models being produced, but there is always a gap somewhere. There is always a mould or a livery that needs to be done, or which has been done in the past but with inaccuracies. Retro Models aims to fulfil these gaps.
Are you mainly interested in focusing on Soviet made aircraft?
No, not entirely. I have plans for other aircraft moulds that represent aircraft manufacturers from other countries too as long as there is demand for them. Some non-Soviet airliners and moulds representing non-Soviet aircraft have not been done properly in the past, and if demand permits, I may well be interested in producing those already (but inaccurately) done airliners.
When will the Retro Models website be ready?
Sadly, there are only 24 hours in a day. I wish there were more. I already have a domain name for the website, i.e. www.retromodels.net, but due to some other urgent work commitments I haven’t paid much attention to the website. I anticipate some free time late month or in June to dedicate to the website, and it should be ready by then.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Yes, keep on collecting and please do not be afraid of your wife in expanding your collection!
Finally, I wish to thank you for having me answer your questions and to all the collectors who have made model collecting so much fun.
30/5/2018 02:42:08 pm
Great interview. Thanks for doing this.
2/6/2018 06:34:00 am
Great interview, and it is so encouraging that you are looking to fill those gaps. My collection is crying out for such charismatic aircraft as the Tu134, Tu114, and An12.
23/8/2022 09:11:06 am
Now we have a Tu-104 and Panda have made a Tu-134, there is hope for a Tu-114, ILyushin IL-14 and Antonov An-12 in 1/400. Hope Kamran takes up the challenge!
5/6/2018 08:17:45 pm
A fascinating interview. Thanks for posting this. I see a light at the end of the tunnel.
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I'm Richard Stretton, an aviation enthusiast and major collector of 400 scale model aircraft. This blog discusses ongoing events in the world of 400 scale.
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