Off the scale

off the scale

A car as genuinely iconic as the Ferrari 250 GTO deserves the very best model interpretation. To coincide with the GTO’s 50th anniversary, world-leading model manufacturer Amalgam has produced a strictly limited run of scale versions celebrating key GTOs in their finest hour

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

We like to think we’re reproducing other people’s art

Sergio Scaglietti was a great artist and artisan. We like to think we’re reproducing other people’s art, but, I’d say, we’re really more like concert pianists than composers.’ Sandy Copeman, the Managing Director of Amalgam Fine Model Cars, laughs a little self-consciously as he makes this analogy.

Partly because it sounds rather grand, but also because he’s humble about the work his company does. Yet, cast your eye over the images of the 250 GTOs on these pages and you’d be hard pushed to tell these 1:8 scale models from the real thing. The level of detail, particularly in the interior and engine bay, is breathtaking. Scaglietti, the great Modenese fabricator, would surely approve.

Set up in 1985, Amalgam has its roots in the world of architecture, which relies heavily on accurate models as grand construction projects are envisioned. Clients included the likes of Norman Foster, and the company’s portfolio expanded from there into product prototyping, notably working on some of the preliminary models of Dyson’s revolutionary Cyclone vacuum cleaner. Their highly technical, almost forensic, approach made them the perfect partner for Formula One, and by 2000 Amalgam had created around 250 1:8 scale F1 models for various teams.

Ferrari, in particular, seemed to recognise a kindred spirit, and since 2004’s F430 Amalgam has created lavishly detailed replicas of every new Ferrari. Indeed, its best-selling model is the 458 Italia, with 199 sold and lots of bespoke versions besides. Generally, though, Amalgam’s stunning creations are produced in strictly limited numbers, as is the case with the GTOs here: having identified 32 series 1 chassis, just five models of each will be created, in the livery they wore while contesting their most significant races. The cost: £5,750 each. Clearly that puts these items into a pretty rarefied area, but given the gargantuan effort that goes into them, they still offer value for money in a very real and extremely tactile sense.

‘We make models in very small numbers,’ says Copeman. ‘Our total monthly output is around 100 models, usually produced in batches of just five or 10. Our clients understand that we are only going to make a certain number, which gives them an intrinsic value. The physical size of the models does not necessitate high quality in itself, but the larger scale gives us enormous scope for detailing to a very high level. We do take that opportunity, and put large quantities of man hours and highly skilled work into fine detailing.’

Amalgam was recently commissioned by Ralph Lauren to create scale replicas of his remarkable collection – many of which the public were able to enjoy during 2011’s L’art de l’automobile exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris – which saw a team of experts visit Lauren’s private museum. Once there, they digitally scanned every part of the cars they were reproducing, down to the tiniest component, a process that is accurate to one-tenth of a millimetre over the vehicle’s length.

‘We use a system called GOM,’ says Copeman.

‘A projector projects a detailed patterned light across the surface of the car, after which we look at the image that’s been created using stereoscopic cameras. It captures the car’s shape without touching it. It costs several thousand pounds to scan digitally each car, and we find and scan the best and most original examples, which means lots of research and travel. The result is that the models are true representations of the original car, and there is no guesswork. But it’s expensive and it takes time to gather the data.’

Copeman admits that they’ve used the scans from Lauren’s GTO as the master template for this latest run of models – ‘I hope he doesn’t mind!’ – but they’ve had to repeat the process on other cars: given the fabulously hand-crafted nature of Scaglietti’s original work, every GTO is different and has its own idiosyncrasies.
The next part of the process involves creating a set of master components for each model, which combines modern digital techniques and traditional engineering and artisanal skills. ‘You do need to have an intelligent approach,’

Copeman says, ‘and our experts, who are all world-class specialists in their fields, apply exacting levels of judgment.’ He agrees that there are parallels with the worlds of high-end jewellery and watchmaking, where a craftsman might toil for a year to construct a Tourbillon.

Our goal is to represent the original finishes in the most convincing and natural way

Once the master component set has been determined, a silicon rubber mould is created for each part, which are then cast in resin. The automotive industry uses a similar process to manufacture low-run prototype parts, and this is one area in which Amalgam’s approach differs markedly from the industry mainstream. In mass production, where the models are die-cast or injection-moulded, there’s obviously a huge investment in tooling, and the economies of scale drive down the cost of each part. Steel tools can stamp and press many thousands of components, with credible results and repeatability, whereas the rubber moulds used by Amalgam are only good for around 20 pieces, before a new one has to be created. ‘We pay meticulous attention to re-creating finishes and materials,’ Copeman says. ‘Not just on the paintwork, but also, for example, the wood-rimmed steering wheels the 1950s and 1960s classic cars used to have. We turn these rims from wood, but the grain is too coarse at the scale, so we overprint the wood with a fine grain pattern before lacquering. Many of the smaller parts are machined from aluminium or cast from pewter. Our goal is to represent the original finishes in the most convincing and natural way.’

Each of the GTO models will take Amalgam 3,000 hours to originate. The wire wheels, to take another example, are assembled from 140 individually machined aluminium components, the separate spokes and nipples mirroring the originals precisely. When all the constituent parts have been sanded and polished, a dedicated team of model-makers will spend up to 300 hours assembling the finished article.

It’s certainly a labour of love

Happily, Amalgam is an old-fashioned family business, and Copeman works alongside his son Leo, tirelessly upholding and maintaining old-fashioned skills and craftsmanship while advancing their art by employing the latest digital technology. A perfect fit with Ferrari, then. ‘It’s certainly a labour of love,’ Copeman laughs. ‘But there’s definitely something very compelling about miniaturising things.’

Published on The Official Ferrari Magazine issue 19, December 2012

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