MINICARS: A history of Japan’s insanely detailed subscription model kits

DiAgostini Toyota 2000GT subscription model 03

We recently showed you the ultimate Hakosuka Skyline model, a 1:8 scale wonder with 400-plus pieces that will require $1500 and two years to complete. Available only by subscription, the model is fed to you week by week, piece by piece, like body parts from a sadistic kidnapper counting down to a ransom. The Hako might be the latest, but it’s not the first of these kits. This is the history of the subscription model. 

The origins of such kits began with publishing houses such as DelPrado, Hachette, DeAgostini and Eaglemoss, which sell and market collectable magazine-book hybrids called mooks. To attract customers, they’d include a model car or similar collectible depending on the series (dog figurines, retro toy reissues, etc) to go with the mook.

Nissan Skyline KPGC10 GT-R Hakosuka subscription model engine sound

They’d be issued in a monthly series, such as DelPrado’s back in the 1990s about Nissan race cars that included a 1:43 Calsonic Skyline or BRE Datsun 510. If you completed the series each month’s mook or pamphlet would combine to form a larger book, and peripheral items like a binder or book sleeves would be sold to house the accumulated literature. Naturally, a display case would also be available to hold the accumulated collectibles as well. Since the core of the item was the book itself, these were not sold through toy shops but in bookstores and at newsstands.

DiAgostini Toyota 2000GT subscription model 02

As time went on, the concept broadened to creating models that would enhance the books. From simpler 4-parters to complete sets buyable in one shot to more elaborate and involved models like the Skyline, it was all in an effort to sell more product and enhance the collecting experience.

In 2011 the concept snowballed into superb, high-quality models with the DeAgostini Toyota 2000GT. Such a model would be prohibitively expensive to buy all at once, but spread over the amount of time it takes a zygote to develop object permanence, it makes the endeavor more affordable and gives those who aren’t model building-inclined a slower pace to try their hand at a large project.

Eaglemoss Nissan Skyline GTR R35 subscription model

A month or so later, a 1:8 scale R35 Nissan GT-R by Eaglemoss came out, measuring nearly two feet long. Both have been completed now, and although the R35 is no longer available, the 2000GT can be purchased as a complete set for ¥108,144 ($872).

Of course, 1:8 scale models are nothing new. In their day the Italian Pocher kits were very elaborate, with working engine internals, transmissions, suspension, roll-up windows, individually-wired wheels, and seats you had to upholster with leather yourself. Created in the 60s and, well, being Italian made for a finicky and difficult build experience.

The Japanese kits are designed with top levels of fit and finish, and are designed to be very straightforward to build. Features such as lighting and suspension add to the realism as well.

In 2014, Eaglemoss began a subscription plan for an S30 Nissan Fairlady Z, a 240Z-L to be precise. The subscription is currently in week 75, with the accompanying piece being a left-side window.

Around the same time, Eaglemoss, with the R35 complete, began a new plan for those still obsessed with the latest GT-R: a 1:5 scale model of the heart of Godzilla, the VG38DETT engine.

Both the Fairlady Z and the GT-R motor are ongoing, but now is your chance to start from the beginning with Hachette’s KPGC10 Skyline GT-R. What’s more, this latest example has been revealed to by produced by the model experts at Kyosho.

In fact, all of these models were co-developed by the heavy hitters in Japan’s diecast industry, but in the past their names had not been mentioned. The Hakosuka is the first being touted as being developed by Kyosho, which is a very big deal.

Nissan Skyline KPGC10 GT-R Hakosuka subscription model interior

It’s not too late to subscribe to the Fairlady Z, as back issues are still available. Sadly, the 2000GT, S30 and Hakosuka are sold in Japan only, but there are others available outside of the US, including a Honda McLaren MP4/4 and a Lamborghini Countach LP500S, which is a JDM Walter Wolf Edition.

As a bonus for being a loyal subscriber, the companies will make available items such as keychains, DVDs, and the aforementioned display cases.

Let’s not forget, though, that the volumes of literature are what started it all in the first place. As such, there is also an available binder so you can your 100 weeks’ worth of printed matter into an encyclopedia on the car you just built. Some of these items cost extra, but why turn back now?

DiAgostini Toyota 2000GT subscription model 04

By the end of your two-year slog, the model, its accompanying accessories and collected volumes will result in perhaps the most complete experience one can have with the car next to actual ownership. For some, it’s probably better.

Photos courtesy of DeAgostini, Hatchette, and Eaglemoss.


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9 Responses to MINICARS: A history of Japan’s insanely detailed subscription model kits

  1. Tim says:

    Can these super-complex models (or subscriptions) be purchased by your average American? If so, where? I’m looking for something a little more complex than the Master Grade gundam kits, and rather than moving up to the Perfect Grade kits, I think it’d be nice to try something a little closer associated with my other hobby.

  2. Ben Hsu says:

    Very informative article, Ricky. Thanks for sharing. These are amazing but I realized long ago I can’t collect everything I find amazing… sadly enough!

  3. Sedanlover says:

    You know what would be great?!
    If they did this subscription idea with that Toyota Camatte! Holy shit, I just blew my own mind.

  4. ed7_owner says:

    no lie its so hard to find the ef hatch civics. why honda?

  5. I built models as a kid into my young adult years , Fujimi being the top level of difficulty. Also like others, my fascination with these hi level functioning pieces is impossible to satisfy because in order to build them you need space to build different assemblies……I’ve been collecting diecasts which were already built , and did all the things I love in miniatures better than I could have ever built ,and as a result I have no room left for building or anything else !!

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