Model cars are suffering a fate that is not well known about except by avid modelers. They are in danger of passing into obscurity once more. As the price of fuel has risen so have the production costs for polystyrene models. Many people do not realize the petroleum costs associated with manufacturing plastics but they are there. With higher and higher gas prices no one has noticed the disappearance of the model car boxes from the shelves of the major retail stores. It is a quiet demise that will be much lamented only in certain circles.
So, how did this epidemic start? When model cars were first made back in the twenties they started out as heavy, die cast things that usually did not have many moving parts. Mostly produced for the banking industry for new clients they soon became much sought after by a new breed of collector, the model car collector. During World War II metal became hard to come by so many manufacturers began producing wooden models for consumers. Though still collectible they did not have the durability of the die cast models. They did have one advantage, they could be easy assembled by the home modeler. Soon after the polystyrene model made its debut.
Polystyrene has been around since its discovery in 1839 but its commercial application did not follow until the 1930's. Polystyrene is made from styrene which is a man made liquid hydrocarbon that is made from petroleum. The properties of polystyrene keep it solid when it is room temperature. When it is heated to a certain point it will readily melt and flow and once it cools off it returns to a solid state once more. This aspect of polystyrene made it perfect for the model building industry. Manufacturers were now able to produce cheap model car kits at a fairly rapid pace. At the time fuel demand was so low that the cost of petroleum was not an issue.
These models continued to grow in popularity for several different reasons. With the low manufacturing cost consumers were able to save a good deal of money buying these plastic models. They were also very easy to assemble and could be highly modified with a bit of work and ingenuity. Model building clubs began to grow worldwide. Many countries saw people come together with a common hobby and begin to reach out to others in other countries who shared their love of model building. Soon, however petroleum costs began to rise.
While they have admittedly been rising for quite some time, the cost has been slow to outstrip the relatively cheap process of producing the polystyrene. Now however, with gas prices at a worldwide all time high, the end of cheap model building through the use of plastic may be near. With the cost of much sought after rare model car kits skyrocketing some manufacturers have turned to the use of resin to recreate the kit at a much lower price. Resin, while it can be pretty durable, has issues with the manufacturing process from time to time.
When it is cooling resin can set up air bubbles that will have to be filled by model builders. It can also turn out a bit more fragile than polystyrene as well. Excessive flash can set up that will have to be trimmed off and some parts may turn out a bit thicker than it was meant to. The cost currently overrides the issues however but in the long run will most probably exceed the typical consumer budget as well. Now that the end of cheap plastics is in sight what will the future of model car building be? Will it enjoy another resurrection as it has in the past with a new material taking the place of the old or will it slowly fade away?