The end of a year is always a time for reflection; a time to look back at what has come to pass in the preceding twelve months and to ponder on what the future holds. And so it is this year, as it was last, that we confront our perceptions, and review, in hard statistical terms, what it was that collectors deemed to be the ‘hits’ of 2008.

There’s nothing complicated about the analysis. It is essentially a report similar to one we run off our system at least once a fortnight. What it measures is orders placed by customers rather than models delivered to them. We’re not suggesting that this is the right or only way to measure sales or popularity. We could have chosen to look at models actually sent to customers. But, in our view, this could lead to some slightly misleading results. After all, a model we despatched to customers this year might have been ordered one, two, or even three years ago. In truth, this could have been popular then, not necessarily now.

So there we have it. This is how we’ve decided to compile our very own Top of the Pops. We’ve also, of course, based our ranking on sales value and not volume. What’s important, we think, is not the numbers sold but the amount of money actually spent by collectors. It’s how much hard-earned cash that is spent which tells us what models are really rated by buyers. In time-worn fashion, we’ll approach the top ten from the bottom upwards. In tenth place is just about the most expensive and ambitious model we’ve ever offered. It’s the 1:18 Bugatti Royale Coupe de Ville from Bauer. What makes this so impressive is that Bauer is a totally new manufacturer. We saw the pre-production prototype in January, but the fact is that we and all our customers are buying in to this model on the basis of good faith. From what we’ve seen, it should be a real beauty. We’ll get it early in 2009; we’ve got our fi ngers crossed. Next in the charts, at ninth, is the beautiful looking 1:18 Ferrari 330 P4 from GMP. Like Bauer’s Bugatti, this is a model we hadn’t received as we went to press, although we were promised it for Christmas.

And like the Bugatti, what is noteworthy about this model is its price. Although originally proposed at £199.99, it was priced at some £249.99 by the time it came to release. It seems to indicate that collectors are becoming more discriminate. They don’t mind paying top dollar for a subject but it has to be something very special. The implication seems to be that many diecast diehards would prefer one model of the quality of a CMC or GMP to three or four pieces from Sunstar, Mattel or Revell, for example. Taking the eighth slot is a car from our fi rst British World Champion for some 12 years. We’ll talk more about the young charger from Stevenage later but in this particular case, the car in question is the ‘First Win’ McLaren from Minichamps in 1:18 scale. This model proved considerably more popular than the ‘First Win’ car from Mattel which came out much earlier. The Mattel car, of course, caused a bit of a fuss when it was released, as it turned out not to be the Canadian car at all. In fact, it was pretty much the Australian car with different packaging.

That was a rather cynical piece of marketing and F1 fans steered a wide berth around it. It proves the point that, ultimately, the consumer really is king. The Mattel model was released fi rst but real collectors are a patient lot and very few weren’t prepared to wait for the superior Minichamps version to come through. In seventh position was a tractor, the latest 1:16 release from Universal Hobbies, the Ford 5000 6X. We’ve often waxed lyrical about the popularity of tractors. It’s a phenomenon that took us by surprise. We never thought our customers would go for farmyard vehicles, but we were wrong. Sixth place also went to a 1:16 tractor; this time the County Super-4 that arrived with us just days before Christmas. Last year, only Hamilton, Schumacher and Rossi appeared to have a pull greater than that of vintage tractors.

In truth, there’s never been a tractor that sold poorly. The only question is going to concern the breadth of subjects that still remain to be modelled. Have all the most popular subjects already been produced? Is it downhill from here? We’ll see, but we hope not! In fifth is the truly exquisite looking 1:18 Aston Martin DBR9 from the 2008 Le Mans race. At times, we don’t understand this business. The politics of licensing in the diecast world can get very confusing, especially when Prodrive is involved! In this instance, the car we received, and the car we sold, was a ‘showcar’, not the car that actually raced. The good news was that we had it even before the Le Mans weekend but, in some ways, it does seem bizarre that nobody has taken the licence for the car that actually raced that weekend. Still, the showcar was pretty close and it certainly looked stunning.

In fourth and third positions were two 1:12 Rossi bikes. In the lower of the two slots was the standard 2008 bike. As ever, any Rossi bike is popular, but this bike probably fell short of our expectations in terms of sales largely, we feel, because it is almost identical to the 2007 bike. You’ve got to be pretty keen to want two very similar looking bikes in your collection but, then again, many Rossi fans are very keen! You’d have to be to wear all that bright yellow Nylon clothing! Somewhat bizarrely, the most popular Rossi bike this year is one that hasn’t yet been officially announced by Minichamps, although we have been told that it will definitely be made. The bike is the ‘football strip’ adorned machine from Catalunya, where Valentino was celebrating Italy’s progress in Euro 2008. The truth is that we took a bit of a punt on this one. We ‘mocked up’ the model on computer and started to advertise it on the Monday after the race. It was an instant success, exactly the kind of bike Rossi collectors wanted to see. We expect to receive the model sometime in 2009.

In second place is a model we’re particularly excited to see in the rankings, as it was very much our idea. Many customers will have already been bored to death about the fact that it was we who fi rst got Minichamps into bikes, and ever since that fi rst Fogarty Ducati, we’ve been active in proposing, photographing, measuring and assisting on a wide range of classic and racing subjects. The model that was the second most popular item of 2008 was the exquisite 1:12 Lawrence of Arabia Brough Superior. We took the idea to Minichamps after we saw the original on display at Beaulieu. We contacted the owner and took about 500 photographs of the bike for reference. On this one, we were very much involved in the approvals. It was a diffi cult machine to get right and twice the engineers had to go back to the drawing board. But the final bike was exquisite and it deserved to be more chuffed to see how well it has been received.

In the top slot is a model that we would have expected to be there, especially after its young driver won the F1 world championship. The boy is clearly a genius behind the wheel. He has achieved so much and at such an early age. Clearly, his victory was an historic one and it should be no surprise that the 1:18 replica of his 2008 McLaren has sold so well. But, and it’s a big but, we are still disappointed at how many Lewis cars we have sold sell well. We simply couldn’t this Christmas. The 1:18 Minichamps McLaren has sold almost twice as many as the next best selling diecast model in 2008 so, unpopular it is not, but we’ve been without a British F1 champion for 12 years and we had expected more. So why is this, we wondered? Why is it that when Damon Hill won, we sold six times as many 1:18 cars as we have done for Lewis this Christmas? And even in Michael Schumacher’s weakest year, we sold twice as many of his cars as we have of Lewis’s. Of course, the state of Formula One is partly to blame. Last night, I was at the Autosport Awards in London, and listening to Martin Brundle talking on stage, you would think that F1 is a sport in the ascendancy. Clearly, it is not. Yes, the UK TV audiences have been good this year but with a British champion, that would be expected. Brundle seemed to think that F1’s spread to new markets was a sign of good health. But, in our view, this is just not the case. It is merely a demonstration of Bernie’s shrewdness in seeking out markets and countries prepared to invest millions for a showcase TV spectacle.

The reality is that F1 is not as popular as it was in Damon’s days. But, at the same time, we cannot help but feel that Lewis has not really enthused the fans. Yes, he’s popular. F1 drivers are celebrities and they will always have a posse of fans chasing them for autographs, but Lewis hasn’t really been adopted by what one might term the ‘real’ F1 fans. There are, we could suggest, a number of reasons for this. Primarily, we think, it’s because the public don’t know who Lewis really is. We like our sporting heroes to be authentic, people we can identify with. Of course, they can be fl awed. In fact, often we like them more if they are, but we need to understand them and know what makes them tick. With Lewis, that’s not easy. He’s a racing driver developed, it would seem, by the central casting agency. Everything he says seems designed as a sound-byte. He says all the right things, but you get the impression that his strings are being pulled, that he’s being controlled to an unattractive degree. After all, what could be worse than those contrived chats he has with Ron on the radio after a victory. “Thanks Ron for a great race strategy”. “Well Lewis, it just goes to show what you can do when you’ve got a great car beneath you”. And so on. It also has to be said that this precociously talented 23 year old seems to be poorly advised in terms of his PR. This is the humble lad from Stevenage who lives in Switzerland. This is the racing driver who loves his fans, but often won’t sign anything because of contractual concerns! This is the hounded young man who needs time away from the limelight but who then turns up on MTV and runs around with a young pop diva on his arm. Even we, who have a great vested interest in seeing Hamilton become a global megastar, have been disappointed by him. In fi fteen years, we can’t remember any F1 driver who has ever refused to sign models and/or prints for us. There’s not a single living F1 World Champion who has not signed gear for GPL. That was until Lewis.

And it’s not about the money. We pay all drivers the same, and we know what we pay them is peanuts given their wealth. But they do it as a way of giving something back to the fans. We don’t know who is making these decisions but there are many people out there who think it is just not acceptable for a champion to refuse to sign merchandise. It just wouldn’t be accepted in NASCAR. Somebody put it to us that his advisors didn’t want people making money out of his signature by selling signed goods on eBay. Well, if that’s the case, it’s pretty small minded. Instead, right now, the closest the fans can get to a signed model is a signed 1:8 car for £3,000; a fi gure that has already come down from an original asking price of £5,000, presumably because nobody felt the original asking price was worth paying. We congratulate Lewis on a great year. It’s fantastic to have a British champion again. But this sport, this country, doesn’t need a champion who seems more interested in celebrity than racing. You only need to look at Jenson Button to see how quickly you can lose your fan base when that happens!