Minichamps is a die-cast car producer founded as Paul's Model Art GmbH in 1990 in Aachen, (Germany), best known for its 1:43 scale models. The company grew out of the Danhausen trade catalog of miniature vehicles and specially made Danhausen diecast releases during the 1970s.
Danhausen was a trade company established in 1921 which sold a variety of products like bicycles and motorscooters. As time passed it focused more on toys and by 1971 the company was owned by the Grandsons of Emma Danhausen, Hans Peter and Paul Gunter Lang (Danhausen webpage 2009). At this time the Langs moved into selling model cars both over-the-counter and by mail order (Minichamps 2011). The brothers distributed many different marques of mainly 1:43 scale models and began to publish the famous Danhausen World Model Car Book annually from 1971 to 1993, which was the last word in available 1:43 scale models worldwide. The last edition of the catalog in 1993 was 350 pages and listed 15,000 models.
During the mid-1970s, the Langs contracted with several companies, including Tin Wizard, Western Models and AMR (André Marie Ruf) as suppliers of the models they desired. These were almost exclusively white metal and the cars provided were given several different names; one was 'SD Modelle', another 'Metal 43', 'Plumbies' and 'Plumbies Inter' (Metal 87). Yet another was to go on to become the permanent name for the company – Minichamps by Danhausen, at first mainly a range of racing cars (Danhausen webpage 2009). Reportedly, the first model offered to Danhausen by Western Models was a Mercedes-Benz 540K (Minichamps webpage). Though using other companies' miniatures, Danhausen became a model name unto itself and as time passed the brothers tried to cement the relationship as Western Models had supplied Danhausen for about a decade (see Western Models website link). The Langs wanted to buy Western Models, but owner Mike Stephens declined. Eventually they purchased AMR and Danhausen was finally a de facto producer (Ward 2004).
During the 1980s, Danhausen moved into HO scale, producing many white metal models in either kit or fully finished form. These models were called 'Metal 87' and included at least 33 different vehicles (Metal 87 website).
In the late 1980s, the Lang brothers disputed the direction of the company and Hans Peter departed to found his own hobby shop (Meador 2008). From this time on, the Danhausen name was minimized (though you can still find the Danhausen website, similar to that of Minichamps – see website links below) as Paul Gunter and his wife, Romy, took over and formed Paul's Model Art in the late 1990s, which is a name still used alongside the main line of Minichamps (Minichamps webpage). Paul's Model Art started a trend of moving production to China – as labor costs made models too expensive to fabricate in Europe. Generally, diecast models were increasingly made for adult clientele – so the industry was entering a new era when models would not be played with by younger folk, so the question of cars holding their value (that is, with more surviving for longer periods of time) became a central question (Rixon 2005, p. 62).
Some of the earliest cars to carry the Minichamps name were made in the late 1970s and were kits (Smeed 1980, p. 44, 49). One example was the BMW 320 Turbo with 40 parts. The models were not hard to assemble with some advance preparation (Smeed 1980, p. 44).Paul's Model Art
The first Paul's Model Art diecast car made by Minichamps was created in 1990; a 1:43 scale GTC Audi V8 driven by Hans-Joachim Stuck. It was the German Touring Car Champion in 1990. By 1995 Minichamps was manufacturing more than 110 different castings in several hundred different racing liveries and three different scales – and sponsoring real racing cars (Paul's Model Art 2005). The company was officially named Minichamps GmbH in 1996. Minichamps produces die-cast models of Formula One cars and other racing cars, street cars, 1:12 scale motorcycles, trucks & buses, and military vehicles. Cars in 1:43 scale have exceptional detail including items like badges in the center of steering wheels and hubcaps, and separately molded parts for windshield visors, door handles, air vents, headlight lamp lenses, and hood badges (Rixon 2005, p. 63). Again, most models are manufactured in China.Minichamps 1:18 scale McLaren Mercedes MP4-22 Vodafone Formula One race car.
The excellent quality of Minichamps die-cast models has been appreciated by car manufacturers, many of whom, like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, Opel and BMW, have licensed it to produce official promotional replicas. Additionally, model car collectors have sought out some of the company's 1/43 scale models paying very high prices. Possibly the best example is the McLaren F1 GTR West Promotion model made for the West cigarette company which trades for well over US$1000 on eBay. Another rare item was the Michael Schumacher Benetton B195 #17 which was recalled after an error was found: it has been known to fetch over UK £1000.UT Models and lawsuit
Earlier, in collaboration with Kelvin Kwan of Unique Toys (UT Models), Hong Kong, a line of 1:18 scale models also appeared (Minichamps webpage). Kwan had apparently pushed for development of most of the selection for the UT series. A small line of 1:64 models called "MicroChamps" was also introduced in 1994 but discontinued in 1999. It included a series Michael Schumacher McLaren cars. In 2009, a new line of 1:64 models was introduced called "MiniChamps 64".
Related to UT Models, in 2004, a lawsuit in Hong Kong courts was initiated by Paul's Model Art as the plaintiff. UT Models and Gateway Global and Gateway Hong Kong was accused of selling certain models in Germany to which Paul's Model Art claimed to have sole distribution rights. It claimed that UT Models had used Gateway for new offerings to circumvent Paul's Model Art's marketing deal (see Johnson 1998, p. 241 for more on UT Models' relationship with Paul's Model Art). At this time the lawsuit between Paul's Model Art and AUTOArt's parent company (Gateway Global) is still ongoing (See external links for court documents).References