Big BMWs in Small Scale

These days, I cruise around in a Bavaria, BMW’s not-quite-full-size, near-luxury ’70s autobahn cruiser, but I have a confession to make: this is not the BMW I always aspired to. As a kid—starting around age 12 and reaching a fever pitch as I neared driving age, until an interloping Chevy caught my eye—I was obsessed with BMW’s slightly larger, decidedly cushier late-’70s (and early ’80s) autobahn cruiser, the first-generation 7-series.

Known to BMW snobs by its internal development code, E23, the ur-7 was available in the U.S. market initially as a 733i and later as a 735i, both with sweet inline-six power; sweeter still were the shorter-bumpered European models, made in such exotic and forbidden flavors as poverty spec (carburetors! window cranks!) and, most tantalizingly, executive bomber in the form of the turbocharged 745i, then one of the fastest production sedans in the world.

Time has not been so kind as to grant me my 745i dreams in 1:1 scale, but, thanks to the European toymakers of the ’70s and ’80s and their dedication to making models of just about every new car available on the continent, I do have three miniature examples of the E23, each in a different scale.

Largest of these, at 1:45 scale, is this model by Germany’s Gama. It wears no trunklid badge—and the baseplate lists power output (in kW and PS!) and top speed for all three models available at the launch of the range in 1977, the 728, 730, and 733i, without specifying which one the model represents—but the black plastic engine under the hood is identifiable as the fuel-injected powerplant of the 733i. There is also no date on the model; interestingly, however, the dashboard is a reasonable facsimile of the one found in the contemporaneous E12 5-series, not that of the E23, which leads me to conclude that this model was made very early in the 7’s production run, perhaps even before Gama’s designers had a chance to see the interior of the real thing.

Next, moving down the scale ladder to 1:60, is this period-appropriate green 733i from Majorette of France. Oddly, this casting was added to Majorette’s line in 1979, by which time the 733i designation had been replaced by the more accurate 732i (the six displaced 3.2 litres, not 3.3) in all markets except for the U.S. Nevertheless, this is a nicely detailed piece, cleverly using alternating elevations to re-create the checkerboard pattern of the BMW roundel on the hood and trunklid. The sunroof, too, is a nice touch, although the interior, aside from an accurately shaped steering wheel hub (and you’ll notice that mine is missing the rim), is pretty generic, and the lack of any indication of the wraparound front turn signals is peculiar.

Although this was an eBay purchase when I was a teen, I did have a number of Majorette cars as a kid. They always had nice details—usually at least one opening feature, too—and a different variety of cars represented than Hot Wheels or Matchbox. Majorette has been pretty much absent from the U.S. for probably close to 25 years now, but the company is mounting a comeback this year, and I know I’ll be looking out for their new line.

Finally, we arrive at the 745i in 1:87 (or HO) scale, ideally sized for model train layouts. This one was produced by Herpa of Germany from 1982 to 1986, and while it lacks any opening features—understandable at its tiny size—its plastic body affords it arguably the finest level of detail of the three. Only the Herpa model puts the signature BMW kidney grilles into a body-color surround, as on the real thing, and even at less than two inches long overall, the Herpa manages to have the best reproduction of the E23’s dashboard.

Plus, it’s the only turbo of the three—that’s gotta count for something.


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