We’ve been having a pretty fun discussion over in the Scale Modelers Critique Group over the past few days about the relation (or not) of price and quality. Driven to an extent by Revell’s 1/32 P-51 and how it compares to Tamiya’s far pricier kit.
Price is a Dumb Metric
I’ve been on record, many times, with the opinion that price should not be a factor in considering how well one kit will go together versus another.
In the broader retail world there absolutely is a correlation between price and quality, sure. A nice pair of jeans will generally last a lot longer than a cheap pair from Old Navy or something. A nicer cordless drill will use a better battery and a motor made out of higher quality materials than some bargain unit you buy after stomping a few heads on Black Friday.
But in modeling the correlation becomes a lot looser. Because there are so many factors impacting price. You have the number and complexity of parts, which directly impacts tooling costs. You have regional pricing differences that often see the cost of, say, a Revell and a Hasegawa kit of the same subject flip-flop in price depending on where you buy them.
You have brand power – where a Tamiya or Wingnut Wings or whoever can charge more because of the strength of their reputation.
You also have age. Older kits are cheaper. Generally. Not always.
And in some instances, you have market pressure. Usually somewhere like eBay. But market pressure can also be a factor of subject, of the existence of competition, of the availability of a kit, and other factors.
But at the end of the day, the cost to tool parts that fit, or parts that are shape-accurate, is negligible over ones that don’t and aren’t.
You want evidence that price is a shitty metric? Look at the 1/32 109s from Revell, Hasegawa, and Trumpeter. As kits, they’re all more or less equal. Each succeeds in some areas where the others disappoint, and each disappoints in other areas, with amazingly little overlap.
The Tedious Car Analogy
The real inspiration for this post, though, isn’t exactly the whole price/quality debate, but one small part of it. And that’s this analogy:
“You shouldn’t expect a [insert luxury car brand] for a [insert economy car brand} price”
It’s a bad analogy. And I wanted to break it down. And since it’s TL;DR for the format of a Facebook comment, hey, blog post!
What Really Separates Luxury Cars?
The reason that luxury cars cost more than mainstream or economy cars is almost entirely in the luxury aspect. It’s fancier seats wrapped in fancier materials. It’s nicer cabins and more amenities. It’s thicker glass and insulation that deadens sound and vibration. Sometimes – if we’re talking about performance luxury – it may extend to larger brakes or fancier suspension or a more complicated engine.
And for the most part…that’s it. An Audi is a Volkswagen in nice clothes. An Acura is a dudded up Honda. Same for Lexus:Toyota, Cadillac:Chevy, Infiniti:Nissan and you get the idea.
Here Comes the Fallacy!
Here’s the problem with the analogy.
A car’s job is to car. Through some means – usually by burning petrochemicals to create small, contained explosions – it harnesses energy. This energy is transferred to a transmission, and by driveshaft to one or two axles, and ultimately to the wheels. The wheels turn, and the car goes. There are brakes to stop them from turning. And complicated linkage (usually) connected ultimately to a steering wheel. The driver and passengers travel in comfort inside of a contained area that is typically climate controlled and, these days, doesn’t leak when it rains.
This is the basic function of every car, from the cheapest shitbox to whatever the fuck Bugatti is putting on the road.
Now let’s look at model kits. A model’s job is to go from a collection of pieces – usually polystyrene plastic arranged on a frame (sprue) – to a miniature representation of the real thing. It’s two reasons for existing are to 1) fit together and 2) look reasonably like the thing it is representing. Everything else – just like a fucking heated steering wheel – is icing on the cake. Because we need more metaphors.
Even the Cheapest Car…
Let’s say I go out and buy the cheapest new car I can find – which I believe is the Nissan Versa at around $13,000. Nobody is going to confuse it with a Jaguar or a Mercedes. It’s not going to have a heated steering wheel. Hell, it probably won’t even have power seats. It won’t be as fast or as flashy. It would probably lose in a slalom.
I fully fucking expect that Nissan Versa to car. I expect the engine to fire up when I turn the ignition. I expect the doors to close (and not leak!). I expect it to go when I put it in gear, and to take me where I need to go in a reliable fashion.
See Where I’m Going Yet?
Imagine this scenario. You buy a Nissan Versa. You go to drive to work and the door won’t stay shut, so you roll the window down and zip tie that fucker to the B pillar. Along the way, you realize that someone fucked up the wiring, so when you hit the brakes, instead of the brake lights lighting, the high beams flash. You can turn the wheel twice as far to the left as the right. And when you turn it right to full lock, the tire hits the fender. You try to take extra care when turning, but the passenger side mirror is thick and cloudy and you can’t see shit in it.
Would you then get out, shrug and say “well, I shouldn’t expect a Mercedes for Nissan Versa money”?
FUCK NO YOU WOULD NOT.
If you posted about your experience, would it be reasonable for someone else to reply “this guy in Germany drove his Versa to work so you can’t say it’s a shitty car”.
FUCK NO IT WOULD NOT.
But this shit passes for reasonable discourse in the modeling world every single day.
What Should We Expect (Demand?) From a Kit…Regardless of Price?
I get it, kind of. Revell’s pricing, at least with their new tool 1/32 kits, seems to defy certain laws of economics. I can’t imagine any other company releasing a 1/32 P-51 for anything less than, oh, $70. But they do. Or they have. And not just with the P-51. You’ve also got their Ju 88, He 111, Bf 109Gs, Fw 190, Ar 196 and Spitfire in recent years. It remains to be seen if the trend will continue under the new ownership, but at least as of this writing, the pricing seems very lowball for new tooled kits.
With a price that makes no damn sense, it’s certainly tempting to take sloppiness in stride. Especially because the modeling community as a whole seems to have very low standards – unless it has to do with some minute accuracy niggle.
Now…at $30, I certainly do not expect Tamiya levels of detail and engineering showmanship out of Revell’s Mustang. I expect a lower parts count and fewer posable or exposable details. I expect the overall detail level to be lower, and things like cockpit and gearbay and blast tube details to be more accurate-ish than accurate. I expect the decals and instructions to both be a bit…wanting.
And…I don’t expect the kind of engineering and fit that makes you sit back at your bench in amazement. Just like I wouldn’t expect a Nissan Versa to bring a big, shit-eating grin to my face bombing down some twisty country road the way a Jaguar XE would. But I do expect a dull, competent, workmanlike fit. Similar, in point of fact, to what Revell mostly pulled off with their Bf 109G-6.
I don’t have Revell’s P-51, and so I can’t speak directly to its fit or lack thereof. Nor do I plan on buying the current boxing. If other variants are forthcoming, however – like a later D with the filleted tail or a P-51B/C, I will certainly pick one up and give it a go. As much as I love Tamiya’s big uberkits, I would certainly appreciate a more simplified option as well. If it fits.