Wheeling and dealing in rare, miniature cars

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Wheeling and dealing in rare, miniature cars

Interested in the latest Enzo Ferrari F60 in crimson red? How about the silver Aston Martin Vanquish driven by James Bond or the Jaguar XKR Roadster driven by Zao, the evil North Korean, in "Die Another Day"?

You can own your dream car -- not one, but several -- if you start collecting at ReplicaKorea Myeongdong. Yu Young-min, the owner of the shop, began amassing model cars when he was in his teens. He opened his store last August. "A 1996 Ferrari F35 Spyder costs 170 million won ($145,000)," he says. "But Miniature cars made in Germany cost, well, a lot less."

His regular clients tend to be older salarymen. "Kids nowadays have many hobbies," he says, "but the so-called 386 generation [Koreans in their mid- to late 30s] didn't have many hobbies when they were young. So they belatedly took this up and became serious collectors."

Collectors who look for finely crafted detail can make a profit from rare models. When the German model car maker UT stopped doing business a couple of years ago the prices of its old products skyrocketed. Mr. Yu bought a UT Ferrari F355 in 2000 for 38,000 won. Now it's worth more than 300,000 won, and the value keeps rising.

Since the launch last December of the miniature version of the upscale German sedan Maybach, its price (149,000 won) has already doubled.

Most cars are modeled after famous brands, and the real cars and models are often developed simultaneously. While Western collectors prefer smaller 1/43 or 1/18 size models, Koreans like 1/8 size because they come with many "options." Collectors look for exquisitely detailed engines, doors and sunroofs that open and close and wheels that move.

While a fancy chrome-plated BMW Z-8 (85,000 won) from an early James Bond movie still sells like hotcakes, a Hyundai Tuscany can't get a bidder. Mr. Yu opens the hood. Inside there's a messy glob of who-knows-what. Quickly tucking it away, he asks, "See? Who wants this cruddy model for 25,000 won?"

by Ines Cho
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