Automobile classics don´t need much of an introduction to the real vehicle … and are usually replicated by more than one model manufacturer. All the more surprising, until recently the Minichamps remained the only decent 1:18 model of the Mercedes 300SL coupe that became such an icon as what you may regard as one of the first supercars through its “gullwing” doors. In October 2022 Norev in their meticulous effort to scale down Mercedes´ entire history into 1:18 released their version, which was applauded to be capturing the vehicle’s overall shape better than Minichamps have. You might wonder what the Schuco, following on Norev´s heels, has to offer and how it compares.
Now, owning the Minichamps, I skipped on the Norev and waited for the Schuco which promised to be even better. Schuco´s unique selling point undoubtedly is the struts mechanism on those iconic “gullwing” doors. As the pictures reveal, this feature is quite impressive, albeit somewhat crudely executed. On Schuco´s own 1:12 version (not only) this is so much nicer and more delicate. You might put it down to the smaller scale, but we know that state-of-the-art manufacturing could manage better than this even on this smaller scale – admittedly at literally more of a cost than what this retails for.
The overall shape of the Schuco is better than the Minichamps, which was the major complaint collectors have about the Minichamps. My side-by-side photos (Minichamps with the more forward bullet point wing mirror and amber turn signals) reveal how the Schuco´s bonnet accurately does not descend as much as the Minichamps´, does not have the pot-bellied side skirts, and the more rounded boot-lid and roof-line, while the Minichamps is too flat as in the front. Hub caps too are more protruding rounded on the Schuco, surrounded by Dunlop-branded tires with little valves on the rims (as common on models today) that the Minichamps does not have/did not have at the time.
At the front end, the Schuco has the finer perforated mesh in the grille, but the cruder execution of the Mercedes star emblem is its crossbar across that grille. The Mercedes badge on the Minichamps´ hood is smaller and made from photoetched material that lends the star a shine, while the Schuco is a simple decal lacking that lustre. Indicator lenses on the Minichamps are amber and more pointedly protruding outward than their white counterparts on the Schuco show amber bulbs hidden behind them and are mounted on black rings that are a little thick for my liking. The chrome surrounds on the Schuco are thicker rings than on the Minichamps and the lights (lenses, reflectors, bulbs) are not quite as good as the Minichamps´. Very much the same is true for the rear lights, with both manufacturers showing mounting pins. Another unique selling point of the Schuco is the two reflectors mounted downwards from the bumpers on either side, the red being printed on the shiny chrome. The exhaust pipe is better on the Minichamps.
Underneath the trunk lid is no luggage space. Raising the lid only gives access to the fuel fillers (that are straight on the Minichamps and a slight angle at the Schuco) and the spare wheel and car jack (plus a hammer in the Schuco).
One of Schuco´s strong points is Schuco´s windows. The Minichamps were duly criticized for omitting the chrome frames, leaving only thick black rubber seals. The Norev has fixed that, but too much on the chrome side, Schuco striking the better balance between chrome and black. Another finer detail is the window hinges on the triangular part of the door windows. While the Minichamps are mere silver print-ons, the Schuco has silvered actual 3d-mouldings. With the door handles and lock this is reversed: The Minichamps has separate chrome parts, and the Schuco only chromed moulded-in bits. The side vents have been subject to much discussion too, particularly that the Minichamp´s venting does not open into the engine bay. The chrome bars of the vents are much finer on the Minichamps, while the Schuco does have a real hole through the fenders: You can look in … and out on the other side, raising justified doubts about what may be under the bonnet.
The Schuco has OEM stickers and coloured lids, but the Minichamps has more depth … a lot more depth – quite literally, that is why you can look through the Schuco´s engine bay: There is nothing underneath a rather flat plate, while the Minichamps has more detail, more materials. Just take note of the transparent green liquid container.
That is not the only inside disappointment. If we move on to the interior, we find the railing around the luggage area behind the seats that is so lamentably absent from the Minichamps´ interior (and the optional radio and speakers that a machine like this does not need). But there is no carpeting, the seats haven´t got the same depth, and the dashboard looks so much cheaper and plasticky than the Minichamps. In more detail, in contrast to Minichamps, Schuco has missed the release switch on the steering wheel that folds the wheel on the real car for easier entry across those wide sills. Schuco has missed the 300SL script on the passenger side too. If you are prepared to forgive all that, the major omission is the grab handles on the doors to pull them close when seated inside. This is extremely negligent, inexplicable, and inexcusable, particularly as Schuco´s own 1:12 300SL has them. What is the point of uniquely replicating the door struts when on display with the doors ajar, a model displays such interior deficiencies?
So, now here we are with two (or if you count in the Norev, three) models of the Mercedes 300SL “Gullwing”. None is the perfect model that would result from combining the stronger points of each. The Minichamps owners will nod in satisfaction, probably having bought it a decade ago for prices the same as the Norev and Schuco now. I have to admit that I contemplated returning the Schuco. But it does have its strong points over the Minichamos as I tried to show above, earning it the increasingly rare display space in my collection. Would I replace my Minichamps 300 SL with a Schuco (or Norev)? No, never, despite running out of space! It simply is the superior detail and built quality, somewhat justifying its higher price. The inconvenient truth is that for anyone wanting to buy their first or only 300SL Gullwing, this is a tough decision. Each is a bit of a compromise. And that´s rather sad. It really depends on how you weigh the criteria: If you want the better overall exterior shape and better value for money, it´s the Schuco (or Norev). If you like the blue interior with chequered seat pattern better than the usual red, take a Schuco over the Norev. If you champion built quality and detail, particularly under the skin, it´s still the Minichamps. If you follow Mercedes´ slogan “the best or nothing”, looking for perfection, it´s nothing for now, I´m afraid. Collecting is a lifetime hobby requiring patience … a lot of patience.