Peek Into The Workshop Where Some Of The World’s Coolest Model Cars Are Made
Photography by Will Broadhead
Making models—putting the world in our hands, or on our desks—is something of a longstanding obsession of our species. Ancient Chinese indulged in the art of Penjing, creating miniature versions of the natural wonders which they saw around them, to the point where our society still obsesses over scaled-down Bonsai trees today. Everywhere you look you’ll find a hobbyist garage full of model trains, villages, aircrafts, and of course, cars.
For many of us, that first hook into the automotive world was secured through playing with Matchbox toys, but whilst these rough diecast specimens scratched an itch across the carpet race tracks of childhood, at the other end of the spectrum there are some true masterpieces in miniature. At the forefront of which is the Amalgam Collection.
“This is like the worlds greatest Airfix kit!” I exclaim to my guide, and founder of Amalgam, Sandy Copeman. As soon as the words left my lips, I knew that it was a sentence I had really meant to think to myself, rather than bleat out loud. The long drawn out “Hmmm…” from Sandy confirmed what I already knew and I began furiously back-pedaling to rectify my rather obvious faux pas.
My comment was of course well intentioned, but as we looked at a board that contained all of the component pieces used in construction of one of Amalgam’s scale reproductions I realized it was far from the mark; while at first glance it might resemble the parts one might find on the sprue of the aforementioned self-build kits to be bought at hobby shops, that is where the similarities end. These are no off-the-shelf kits. The models made here are absolute works of art.
As we walk and talk Sandy tells me that the Amalgam Collection was formed in 1985, initially building architectural models and then getting a break designing models of cars for Formula 1 teams, most notably Ferrari in the mid 1990s. To work with a group as passionate about racing cars as the Scuderia is one thing, but to time it just as the team was about to embark upon such a period of dominance is the kind of luck that can propel a niche business to a place where its ambitions can finally be realized. Architecture aside, Sandy has always been a petrolhead, and he keeps a special place in his heart for the exploits of Jim Clark, a fact that is obvious to anyone who asks the age-old question: “What kind of stuff are you into?”
Since the Ferrari contract and the reign of Schumacher, Amalgam have worked with a number of F1 teams, and now count drivers and team managers as personal customers of the brand as well. But why is there so much reverence for a piece from Amalgam? To Sandy—with his early love of motorsport and motorcycles providing an inbuilt sympathy to building and supplying exactly what the customer wants—clearly one of the key components necessary to stand out amongst the competition is the connection to the individual customer rather than shipping thousands of the same kit to the stores around the world.
All that accuracy and detail are but half of the battle—the end product has to survive the scaling down process in a way that still allows the client to retain an emotional attachment to the object. Especially important considering these models could be the closest many of us will ever get to owning some of these incredible cars.
It’s a vibe and a feeling that I can identify with as I explore the intricacies of some of the larger 1:8 scale products that are being photographed at the company’s HQ in an unassuming commercial building in Bristol. I am enthralled as I pour over the details of a Mercedes 300SL for instance. The Gullwing is a vehicle that will give many of us goose-bumps, but I am fascinated with this one in a way that I might not be if it were the real thing sat before me as I operate the model’s realistic door catch (that functions just as the original one would) and explore the complexities of the cabin. I enjoy a similar experience as I cast my eyes over two F1 cars that are being constructed for a driver, the differences in design from one season to the next jump out at me in a way that might not be so obvious if I had the real things in front of me, I drink in the details of this glorious new perspective of the world and marvel at just how much can actually be revealed when you don’t need to walk around the car to take it all in.
But how does a model make it from concept to finished form? In the case of newer cars, the team here work from original CAD drawings from the manufacturer, and classics are formulated from digital scans of the model in question, as well as through taking measurements by hand and working from thousands of photographs. The designers must then scale these drawings down and work out how to bring the details to life in miniature, particularly challenging are the older cars with many externally engineered features, or the difficulty in modeling machines that use a great many exotic materials; designing these so that they look realistic when made essentially from plastic presents its own test.
The final car design is then broken up into components and constructed in much the same way as their real counterparts would be. Of course, that is the brief version and the process is much more in depth than that, with an estimated two to three thousand hours in the initial development and then a further two to three hundred hours to build, assemble, and fine tune each of the component parts.
Using a combination of CAD, 3D printing, and plenty of hand building and design, the creation of just one of these cars is an intense labor of love, and it shows in the finished product. From the smallest 1:18 scale models, right up to the life size show cars that Amalgam creates, the level of finish is sublime and engaging in such a way that I spend more time looking and absorbing in the moment than I do taking photographs.
I leave the workshop enthralled, obsessed even. With a strong relationship already forged with Maranello as well as other top clients, and a seemingly endless supply of subjects and inspiration to draw from, I look forward to seeing what comes next from the artisans at Amalgam.