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The Good Life

Gas-Powered Miniature Racers

Miniature race cars that run on gas.
By Ralph Gardner Jr. | From CBS Sunday Morning, May/June 2020
Gas-Powered Miniature Racers
Photo/Nicholas Brawer Gallery

A Ferrari that travels 150 mph may not sound like that big a deal. But the Ferrari in question, a MovoSprint 52, is a mere 12 inches long. It’s a coveted collectable, a beautifully finished scale model of one of the most successful grand prix racecars of all time. And it comes with an internal combustion engine. One just like it was presented to Enzo Ferrari at the 1953 Italian Grand Prix.

Called “tether cars,” they’re model racecars, many of them made in the 1940s and 1950s. They traveled at such high speeds—and still can if you don’t mind risking the paint job—that they had to be tethered to a pole and raced on specially made tracks.

“These are the thoroughbreds that had a racing career and now they’re looking for a quiet pasture on your bookshelf,” says Nicholas Brawer, a high-end Manhattan dealer who specializes in the miniature vehicles. His collection, among them beautiful Bugattis and Maseratis, as well as models patterned after hot rods that raced on the lake beds of the Mohave Desert in the years after World War II, sell for between $1,500 and $9,500 each. And they come with extensive histories—between 10 and 40 pages of documentation.

With pistons, glow-plugs and gas tanks these are very serious toys. One Canadian magnate decorated his million-dollar man cave with dozens of them. Another collector placed his curvaceous cherry red MovoSprint 52 Ferrari on a pedestal between his Warhol and Lichtenstein. They also represent a serious collectible market: “I had a dealer who bought one for $9,500 and flipped it the following week in Hong Kong for $22,000,” Brawer says.

While the cars are conceivably still raceable—the American Miniature Racing Car Association has meets throughout the year at tether tracks in New York, Indiana and California, employing more modern miniatures—Brawer dons gloves to handle a Cameron Rodzy 1953 Roadster with a red flame paint job. “These are for people who are interested in contemporary art,” he says.

Visit nicholasbrawer.com

Collecting

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