The Undersides Of Those Toy Cars Sold At CVS And Walgreens Are Accurate But In The Strangest Ways


I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everybody who is at least somewhat interested in cars is very aware that at almost every major chain drugstore in America, you can find a surprisingly large selection of interesting and even unexpected 1/32 scale die-cast cars. We at the Autopian will be investigating these in more detail soon, but for now I’d like to take a moment and turn a few of these cars over to see just how much attention was paid to their undersides. Because this is important — now more than ever. Let’s get to it.

The cars I picked to inspect are ones that I can talk about with some authority (Volkswagen Beetle and Bus) and one our own David Tracy can speak to authoritatively: A Jeep Wrangler JL. Let’s start with that staple of the drugstore die-cast car displays, the Volkswagen Beetle:

These show up in a wide variety of colors, and there are a few different models of Beetle — some more cartoony, and some, like this one, a bit more accurate. They’re often covered with decals or in two-tone paint, like the one in my hand there.

The underside of the Beetle provides some interesting information. They call it a “Classical” Beetle, which brings to mind swelling scores from Beethoven or perhaps some toga-clad ancient Romans tooling around in their marble VWs, but I think they just mean “classic.”

They also specify it as a ’67, which they get generally right, but only if we’re using Euro-spec Beetles as a guide. In America, this would need more upright sealed-beam headlights and bumper overriders and tacked-on reverse lamps, but if we accept that it’s a Euro-market car, I think it’s close enough. Whoever made this toy got the one-year-only engine lid correct, at least.

As for the detailing on the bottom, it’s actually very interesting, because while it’s wildly inaccurate, whoever designed it was very clearly looking at some correct sources, they just kind of mixed things up. Here’s what I mean:

Up top there is a picture of the bottom of a Beetle, from one of VW’s own ads. And it’s clear that whoever made this used a similar source, because there are strangely accurate parts, like the backbone frame “wishbone” that cradles the transaxle, which itself is rendered quite well in the drugstore car – except that it’s flipped 180° and is now at the wrong end of the car (the front of the toy car is on the left), trying to drive the wrong wheels.

The stamped rectangle reinforcing rib pattern of the floorpans are replicated as well, at least in part, and in sorta the right places in the middle, kind of, and an attempt to show the twin exhaust pipes at the rear is present as well, even if those pipes don’t connect to a muffler or even an engine, unless the actual spring-loaded mechanism under the sticker counts. And if it does, that transaxle is still in the wrong place.

It’s such a strange mix of accuracy and inaccuracy! Let’s see how the toymaker did with this other drugstore car MVP, the Microbus, which is usually covered in hippy-lite decals:

It’s missing any sort of indicators, which drives me a tiny bit mad, but that’s not why we’re here. Let’s flip it over (note: the front is on the left)

This Bus had no detailing at the rear, other than the rectangular hump of the spring-loaded motor, but the front had some interesting molding. It has a similar issue as the Beetle: clearly, some attention was paid, but there are also some huge inaccuracies.

Most glaringly, that is clearly a Type I air-cooled engine underside I see there, complete with mufflers and heat exchangers, but it’s at the wrong end of the Bus! And behind it I think is supposed to be the transaxle, just highly stylized here.

I guess we also have some of those frame rails in there, too. Again, though, it’s like the designer glanced at some VW underside pictures and just chopped out some bits and stuck them wherever.

Next we have this Jeep Wrangler JL, and for this one I’ll hand off to David:

[Hi, it’s David here. First, allow me to give a little bit of credit to whoever designed the underside of this car, because I’m about to eviscerate them, and a bit of praise as an appetizer seems merciful.

Looking at the Jeep JL Wrangler’s underbody, you’ll see that the model got the rear muffler almost exactly right. Kudos! Also, the general shape of the front and rear frame rails seems right, too. Plus, you can see the rear four-link suspension is right (two upper control arms, two lower), and you can see that up front, there are some control arms facing forward off the inboard side of the frame, just ahead of the crossmember (which itself is in roughly the right location). Also, I have to applaud whoever chose to have the front differential offset to the driver’s side; that’s exactly right.

But damn near everything else about this model is horrendous. I mean, is that a front driveshaft made out of exhaust tubing and flowing into some kind of muffler or catalytic converter? Seriously, why would a driveshaft not be straight; do you realize how horribly that would shake? Oh wait, it wouldn’t, because it’s not attached to a freaking transfer case — it’s hooked to a damn muffler!

Seriously, what the hell? What’s even more bizarre is that there’s a second, entirely different exhaust pipe that comes out of the transmission (?) sitting on that crossmember; how does that make any sense?

Worse, you know that rear suspension that I applauded for being the right four-link type? Look at how it’s attached to literally nothing at the front. How’s that even going to work? Those suspension arms are supposed to be bolted to the frame; but instead, on the model, they’re just floating inboard!

There’s no gas tank, there are no non-exhaust driveshafts, there’s no transfer case, there are no steering parts — this model is a disgrace, and anyone who buys it for their children, just know this: You’re not helping them learn how cars work.

In fact, if you find your kid walking into a car parts store and telling the clerk their vehicle has a “V-4 engine,” just know that it was your fault. (If they own a Ford Taunus or Saab Sonett, then that’s different and you should actually be proud). -DT]

Okay, I’m back. Honestly, these designers really didn’t have to do anything at all on the underside of these, or they could have used a generic one, so I’m sort of impressed that these have any individuality at all. That said, I feel like if they put in the bit of effort they seem to have, then they should have just gone that little bit further, and just tried to give a little more of a shit. They were so close, in many ways, after all!

These are just the ones we could do easily off the top of our heads; we’ll do some research and do more of these in the future, so stay tuned!

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50 Responses

  1. My favorite toy as a little kid was one of those pharmacy store VW Beetles. It was one of the ones you pull back, then it drives forward. It was green with little flowers all over it. I think the flowers concerned my folks, and although I did turn out gay I don’t think it’s the flowers that did it. Anyway, I still have it today. The hood is held on with tape, and the tread on the little rubber tires is actually gone, I played with it so much as a kid. There’s still tape residue on it from where I used to stick pieces of tape with “53” on it, like Herbie. I have a whole, relatively battered, collection of those Beetles in a box somewhere, but I had to display my favorite. And yes, I now own an actual Beetle.

  2. When I was a kid I knew what the undersides of cars looked like from my Hot Wheels and other toys so when I crawled under the family Impala wagon to look at everything (I was little enough to fit) I didn’t expect any surprises. It was different though, lots more things. Most notable was there were places around the engine that I could see right up to the bottom of the hood. Seemed wrong somehow.

    I imagine the die makers of the shown toys asked how they should make the bottoms look, not otherwise having scans or whatever, and were told to just put some “stuff” there so they did.

  3. As a mostly poor proletariat I sure do appreciate this place.
    The “car news” I get here and the opinions from the peanut gallery warm my cockles. As an automobile nerd on the lowest tax bracket I thank you for your absurd yet informative content.
    So many other (most) car enthusiast websites cater to people with money and empty stalls in their expansive garage. This site is different. It’s all inclusive, entertaining and informative.
    From shitbox showdown to nitpicking the underside of toy pharmacy car replicas, this is the automotive journalism this class divided world needs. It’s the greatest thing since “The Tappet Brothers”
    Thank you.

    1. Agreed. I found this article to be much more interesting than the new Acura EV that I can’t afford or the latest F1 race that I could never attend (the first two articles on that other car site).

      You bet that next time I’m at CVS, I’m going to check out the die cast model cars. And I’ll probably buy a couple.

  4. You guys can drop the italics when the editors note is half the article, just make a mention when you hand it back off.
    Especially in an article like this where it was always intended to have David write half of it.

  5. Related: Am I the only one who’s been frustrated by supply chain issues making mainline Hot Wheels harder to come by over the last few years?

    I was excited to learn about its new Ford GT40 Mk4 casting, but bummed I couldn’t find one anywhere…

      1. Here in Portugal many gas stations have amazing stuff in the Hot Wheels display stand, but they’re the equivalent of $3.22 (quite a bit more than what they cost in supermarkets but you don’t usually find interesting stuff in supermarket shelfs). That means I only really buy Hot Wheels when there’s something irresistible at a gas station or the oddball interesting car at the supermarket.

    1. I collect 1/64 models and do some custom works also, and I’m from the EU – it’s impossible to find any newer Hot Wheels cars in grocery stores or supermarkets (not talking about speciality diecast/collector shops), not to mention STH (yeah, we don’t get that at all). And when they finally do appear, they usually cost like 3-4 USD for a mainline…

    2. That’s been the main theme of Mattel products ( both Hot Wheels and Matchbox) products coming from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. It’s clearing up somewhat now, but yeah, its been a headache.

  6. My best friend of 25 years has always referred to old cars as “classical”. Up until a few years ago, he was the only person I’d ever heard referring to a ’49 Ford as a “classical car”.

  7. I must say I’ve always noted how some had details underbodies, but never actually looked at them at detail…which I guess is a good thing. Besides, wrong scale for me anyways, for some odd reason I became obsessed with 1/43rd scale and have a decent collection, but they are not near as easy to find as 1/32nd or 1/64th. But now I want to pull them out and look at their undercarriage…I need something better to do!

  8. “…a Ford Taunus or Saab Sonnet…”

    Again so soon? Well, fine:

    The one-N Sonett,
    He’s a Swede.
    The two-N sonnet,
    Verse you read.
    And I would bet
    An Easter bonnet
    There ain’t no
    Two-N, two-T sonnett.

    (Apologies to Ogden Nash.)

  9. “They call it a “Classical” Beetle, which brings to mind swelling scores from Beethoven or perhaps some toga-clad ancient Romans tooling around in their marble VWs, but I think they just mean “classic.””

    Obviously, you need to paint some trompe-l’œil f-holes on it.

  10. Your post helped me work out something that had puzzled me. I recently bought 2 Ford GT’s and a (second, different color) Lamborghini Miura at CVS which are sitting under my monitor. I noticed that both the 2005 Ford GT and the Miura had a significantly higher roofline than the 2017 Ford GT. I checked the specs on the actual cars and saw that shouldn’t have been the case.

    Until your post I hadn’t realized that the scale was listed on the bottom. After peeling off the labels it turns out the Miura is 1/34th scale, the 2005 Ford GT is 1/36th scale, while the 2017 is 1/38th.

  11. I was more of a Matchbox car kid, back from when the little models were made in the UK, and they resembled real, ordinary cars. Many had little doors and hoods that opened, revealing a somewhat accurate interior or engine. Some even had front wheels that turned. Even though my age was in the single digits, I appreciated the realism of Matchbox cars. At the time, Hot Wheels cars seemed like cartoony parodies of funny cars, with blower-equipped engines rising a scale 5′ above the hood.

    How about comparing classic Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars to the real deal?

    1. Of late, Matchbox has a “Superfast” line with vehicles that have opening doors, hoods (“bonnets?”), detailed engines, etc.

      What’s interesting to me is how Matchbox still specializes in the realist side of things, even to the extreme of choosing kinda mundane, unexciting vehicles to produce. I mean, what little kid is excited about a Subaru Forester?

      Hot Wheels on the other hand still does the cartoony thing, BUT also chooses some incredible deep cut real-life stuff to produce. My Hot Wheels Ford Mustang II concept car is one of my favorites b/c who outside of people here even know this thing exists?

  12. I’ve been collecting for around 48 years, mostly 1/64-scale, and what you are seeing is typical Kinsmart. They make some of the best and unexpected 1/32-scale diecast (see that Mercedes X-Class pickup, for example), but yeah, they mixed that setup really bad. They kind of forgot the early VWs are not front-engined vehicles. They’re using a modified generic baseplate here.

    I’m at a loss of words for the Jeep.

  13. My 3 year old loves these larger spring-powered cars. We have both the Beetle (2 of them) and the Wrangler. I shared the same puzzlement when looking at the exhaust and driveshaft details under the Wrangler. We also have a Beetle that has the small rear window like the early cars, but a modernish interior from some unknown car. Overall, though, they are fun, but I am not using them to point out accurate details to my son. That is what the big illustrated history of the Beetle book I read to him at bedtime is for.

    1. Some kind of setup like a stick vac’s (non-powered) beater brush or a FlowBee hair cutter would almost maybe kind of work. Or run REALLY high compression and see if you can’t get some kind of locomotive-like pneumatic actuator to drive the axle…

  14. I get your frustration. If they’re going to put in the effort,at least put in the extra 1% to get it right!

    I wonder if they cut and paste some shapes from others model’s undersides to save time?

  15. I just spent the last hour examining the undercarriage of my toy cars for accuracy (mine are 1/24 scale, so I guess they are closer to models than toys). The Beetle closely matches the undercarriage photograph shown above, and the 6th generation F150 closely matches my 1/1 scale truck. However, the Huracan has minimal undercarriage detail, and the details included appear inaccurate (based on the few photographs I could find; surprisingly, I don’t have a real Huracan available for comparison). All three models are made by the same company. I find it strange that two are exceptionally accurate, but the other isn’t even close. My Chiron from the same company appears accurate, so rarity of the vehicle doesn’t appear to account for the difference. Huh.

  16. The most baffling drug store 1/43 I have is a first gen Toyota RAV4 cabriolet, but it has an open hood and what appears to be a longitudinal V8 in it. Why they even bothered to make it open, I don’t know, unless they hoped to inspire engine swap lunacy (respectable goal, that).

    1. Is it also right-hand drive? One turned up our house that one of our kids must have snatched from another kid at the the playground. It is slowly getting destroyed by their tiny hands but I too was amazed that this even existed.

  17. I sincerely appreciate an article on cheap toy cars on an automotive blog! I grab a couple Hot Wheels every so often at the grocery store, my son gets most of them but when I find those good ones with the lights and badges painted on, well those end up on a shelf in my garage!

  18. I… have about 34,000 Matchbox, about 400 1/24s, 300 1/18s and 200 1/36s.

    In all matter of type:
    Flat Nose Semis
    Race Cars / Sports cars
    Regular cars of every type from every OEM…

    The worst offenders are the 1/24s with the Wreckers being completely aggregious.
    Ive got 3 MB 300SLs from 54 – 57, all completely alike. But 1 is the most detailed… the other two are lesser detailed. Tire depth, undercarriage details missing…

    My 90T Trailer… (who I call my boy) for all Automotive Purposes.. once received a new Challenger, within 3 days.. it was wrecked. Tires were broken off of it. SO I sent my working 1/24 40T Wrecker to drag it up the hill and over about 8mo… I pulled the whole thing apart and completely rebuilt it:

    *I redid the interior (after cutting it out) and cutting off the roof. I added a roll cage, shifter and correct pedals.

    *I added a functional wide body kit (not just flares) that extends from front to back wrapping around the entire body. I built a Wing and Nose Cone (Superbird) along with the straps and or wiring that extend from the inside of the WING to the body itself. I also built a set of dual front lights, that sit inside front light buckets, inside a perfectly nose cone that can sit up.

    *I built the Wedge Motor with intake, exhaust manifolds, oil pan, with transmission WITH TORQUE CONVERTER and driveshaft. Funny story… I had everything built, glued, attached and assembled. Then in my sleep, I remembered.. FUCK, I forgot the transmission with Torque Converter. SO, I had to slowly and carefully.. pull everything out to build the transmission with torque converter… enlarge the tunnel.. and slowly slip it all back into place.

    Then I made sure the hood (will fit around the motor) and trunk can come up and down.

    Did it all with bass wood and my two hands over about 8mo. It probably took me longer.. cause I had to add layers of material then sand it for the right thickness so it would work properly.

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