Our Visit to the Minichamps Museum
Shop for Minichamps diecast models here.
Article from Diecast Monthly May 2009 (BR65)
A few years ago, Minichamps built itself a new office and warehouse complex in the middle of Aachen. We decided to combine a meeting there with a look around their famous in-house museum; a visit that Leigh also turned into a short film for his diary. View the Leigh’s Diary vidcast from the Minichamps Museum here.
We have worked closely with Minichamps for almost 15 years and in all that time our admiration has never waivered. Yes, there are times when it seems that the wait for a new model to be released is never going to come to an end. And, yes, sometimes there are tiny mistakes on the detailing of some pieces, but despite the occasional frustration and hiccup, it is still against Minichamps that every other diecast marque is measured.
Some diecast producers make more detailed models than Minichamps; some make less detailed ones. Some companies make more expensive models; some companies make pieces that are less expensive. But Minichamps is always the yardstick. Yet, what is most impressive, in our opinion, is that, despite the enormous scope of Minichamps’ range, the company’s standards simply never seem to slip. Last year, for example, we estimate we saw no less than 363 new 1:43s from Minichamps, 57 1:18s, and 29 new 1:12 bikes. And that’s before we get into figures, mini helmets and so on.
There’s no getting away from it; Minichamps is a class act. And so we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that the company’s H.Q. isn’t a shed on a backwater industrial estate in the middle of nowhere. Minichamps’ complex in downtown Aachen wasn’t purchased from a property developer. It would even be wrong to suggest that it was built for them. No, the key word here is design. This building wasn’t constructed. It was designed. From the bottom up!
The complex is a triumph of form over function, for assuredly the space could have been used more effectively. It is a delightful exercise in excess, although extravagance is not the message it conveys. Rather, it makes a statement about the way Minichamps goes about its business. This is a company that doesn’t follow the crowd. This is a confident company that does things in style. And what a great style it is.
With design cues that are borrowed from the world of aviation in the 1930s, you half expect a Junkers JU52 to be parked up in the yard, ready to whisk the company’s senior personnel off to their next appointment. Clad in corrugated steel, it’s a look that is certainly familiar, as it shares elements with some of Germany’s leading airports. It’s a look that is both retro and bang up to date at the same time.
But it’s the integrated museum that really gives us a clue as to how Minichamps views itself. The museum charts the company’s history from its very early days when it produced white metal models under various brand names for other companies. Walking around the museum, we see cabinets which show some of Minichamps’ very first releases under its own brand name. Dotted throughout the various rooms are display units dedicated to specific collections: rally cars, road cars, bikes, trucks and so on. Right down the middle of the main exhibition area, there’s a fascinating display that takes visitors through the entire diecast production process; from early drawings, to the production of the resin; from the metal tooling to the final decoration.
It’s amazing how much goes into every single model; and that’s reinforced by a video that shows how the models are finally put together in the Chinese factories. There’s perhaps a perception that, with tampo-printing and automated production techniques, metal, rubber and plastic go into one end of a machine and a finished replica comes out of the end. But the Minichamps film is a real eye-opener. These models really are hand-made by model-makers of great experience and skill, and with the most amazing eye for detail.
The most striking area of the museum, however, is probably the Formula One wall with almost every 1:18 F1 model Minichamps has ever produced displayed in individual cases.
If you’re a diecast fan, it’s a great place to spend a few hours; upstairs and down, it’s decked out with both static and revolving cabinets that are filled to the gunnels with models of every description. But impressed as we are with all the cars, bikes and trucks we see, it is still the museum itself that impresses us most. Every cabinet, every case, every wall and decorative feature reminds us that we are in the presence of a rather special company. And, of course, we are.
In the fifties and sixties, diecast was a way of producing inexpensive toys for car mad kids; kids like me, in fact. But it was Minichamps who elevated diecast to an art-form, taking rather crude, child-like models and turning them into highly detailed collectibles. Looking back, it seems like such an obvious thing to do, but it took insight, energy and a fierce determination to change perceptions and to turn kids’ toys into highly coveted ‘objects’ for adults. It is this realisation that gives meaning to this incredibly over the top shrine to the German company’s products.
The fact is that Minichamps invented the modern concept of diecast as we’ve come to know it. Minichamps is ‘diecast’ and in this exquisite museum which, by the way, was designed by Mrs Lang, wife of company founder, Paul Lang, we see not only the history of the Minichamps brand, but of the diecast world itself.
For diecast collectors, this place really is Mecca, and once in their life, every diecast disciple needs to make a pilgrimage to glimpse the homeplace of their obsession. Minichamps is so much more than another brand of diecast and this museum perhaps goes some way towards securing the company’s place in diecast history. So next time you’re in Germany and passing south on the Autobahn past Aachen, give some thought to taking a diversion for a couple of hours. Just one word of warning, though. Don’t turn up without checking first. The official opening hours are on Friday only and, even then, we suspect there are exceptions. So phone ahead first. If you make it, you won’t be disappointed.
Shop for Minichamps diecast models here.