The following is an article written By Paul Gover, Chief Reporter for Carsguide. It offers a little insight into the story of Biante Model Cars.
Peter Brock built an unbeatable record of nine wins at Mount Panorama driving everything from a 1972 Torana XU-1 to a 1987 Group A Commodore V8 SS.
Yet there are any number of ordinary Australians with a collection to match, or even trump, the Bradman of Bathurst. The difference is that Brock earned his successes in full-scale race cars and everyone else is only able to live their dreams through scale replicas of his Bathurst winners.
In many cases, those cars – and similar winners driven by Allan Moffat and Dick Johnson and other touring car legends – roll out of a box stamped with the Biante name and perfectly illustrate the difference between boy toys and a genuine scale model.
"It's not until you pick one up, and see the levels of fine detail and the number of parts, that you realise that you are holding something far more than a toy," says Williams Hall, currently the General Manager of Biante. "On average, there are around 200 individual parts that make up one of our 1:18 scale-model cars. With each piece often needed to be painted several different colours before assembly, not to mention the myriad of tampo prints and decals required to accurately replicate the livery of a racing car, they are much more than toys."
Biante was born as the baby of Trevor Young, a former builder, developer and car dealer who decided to do something about improving his model car business in the early 1990s. He was a visionary who set the template for an operation that has often topped the full-scale production totals of Ford and Holden in Australia and once built 194,000 model cars in a single year.
The Biante story begins in Perth as Trevor, who passed away in 2006, shifts gears to accelerate Triking Model Cars out of the doldrums. He is looking for something beyond the existing bland old model cars representing Australia's automotive and motorsport history and is already importing Minichamps cars from Singapore.
"Business was very good, but Trevor always thought things could be better," his widow Bev recalls. "He thought the existing model wholesalers could operate a little more efficiently, so he headed off to his favourite haunt – Hong Kong – to see what he could find up there. He found a company doing a line of 'coin bank' money box trucks which he decided should have Australian company liveries on them, because the current availability of Matchbox stock carried mostly British company names."
His timing could not have been better.
The Chinese model makers were looking for new opportunities, Kyosho was doing the landmark Nissan GT-R replica that would change the business, and Trevor had the passion and energy to drive things forward in Australia.
"The manufacturer of these coin banks made other diecast models and was just doing the initial run for a Japanese company and asked Trevor if he would like to be the Australian agent," says Bev. "He said yes, came home and said to me that a container of model cars was on the high seas headed to Fremantle and, as residential real estate was a little quiet with high interest rates, I might like to 'See what you can do with these'. "After several months of contacting other model stores all over Australia, we were making sales as well as big numbers through our own store. We then continued to add other leading brands of diecast to our range."
Trevor quickly got things moving with Dongguan, a train ride from Hong Kong into China, and also went on a shopping spree to America, England, China and Japan and returned with deals to distribute three high-quality brands including Minichamps. But the big breakthrough came thanks to the most iconic of all Australian cars, the Ford Falcon GT-HO Phase III.
Trevor had always wanted a scale replica of the car and decided it would be the best way to get going with his new Chinese supplier, as well as satisfying customers who were asking for something Australian. "Most manufacturers said that our market was too small to warrant doing what they considered to be too-small production runs. Then one, who had built a huge plant then lost his major customer, looked to his worldwide agents to do some 'regional programs'," Bev says. That company was Universal Toys, soon to become AUTOart.
"We did an initial run of 6000, all with numbered certificates, of the Track Red colour and thought that would be a few months supply. We even purchased another warehouse to store them in, but they were all sold within 36 hours, so they never got to the second warehouse."
So Biante was up and running, complete with a new name that was locked and loaded in double-quick time. "We needed a shipping mark for the model shipments so quickly came up with Biante, which is just B&T – Bev and Trevor," Bev says.
One of the people who was captivated by the Biante dream factory was a youngster called Richard Poole, who has since left but played a significant role in the business. "I bought my first 1:18 scale car after going for a ride with Chas Kelly in his Ferrari F40 in Tasmania. It was Christmas 1992 and I must have been 14. We came back to Perth and I bought a Burago F40 from Trevor, who ended up as my boss at Biante," he remembers. "Nine years later I was working for him. That's a bit of a spin-out."
Poole has a clear picture of the early workings at Biante, as well as the rapid rise in popularity of scale model replicas. He says the step-change in the business came when prices went over $100 for the first time.
"The first-ever 1:18 scale model that retailed for over $100 was the Kyosho Nissan Skyline R32. It was the Calsonic blue racecar," he says. "You could probably say that Burago had $30-40 cars, and they were good but not like the Skyline. They had actually invented 1:18 scale because that was the size of car that would fit the box they had."
He also knows all about Trevor Young's Phase III. "It was one of the first models in the world, if not the first, of a four-door sedan with four opening doors. All the rest had sealed rear doors. It was world class. There were better around but they were much higher dollars," he says. "The first Holden was the LJ Torana XU-1. Off the back of that they did Brock's '72 race winner, in a run of 12,000."
He remembers the impact of the Phase 3 and also the dedication it fired in committed collectors. "Track Red was the first one and then they did Allan Moffat's 1971 Bathurst winner. In the gap they did a white one as well.
"But, to give the shops something to display, Trevor had a number of white ones produced for shop display. Some of them were using the red XY shell, with a driver's mirror and no passenger mirror, and some used left-over shells from the Moffat car. The twin-mirror XYs were worth thousands. There were about 900 shop cars and only about 130 had the twin mirrors."
The range and production runs skyrocketed as eager fans snapped up scale replicas of their favourite Aussie road cars, historic racers, and the latest V8 Supercar winners and contenders. The quality was always improving and the models became more and more detailed. "We are car enthusiasts and Trevor was a model collector himself. This drove our search for the highest detail and quality," says Bev. "Translating our desire for perfection to the manufacturers of the models. Near enough was not good enough."
Poole helped power the company from March 2001 through to January 2009, starting on the Biante website and rising to General Manager. He recalls that 12,000 cars was the biggest run, for a range of race replicas and also the original Walkinshaw Group A Commodore SS, with Dick Johnson cars selling in the 8000 range and road cars typically running 6000 to 8000.
Poole says one thing unique to Australia is the dominance of 1:18 scale over the 1:43 replics that dominate in Europe. And the later arrival of 1:64 models of the V8 Supercar racers. "I think 1:18 was definitely bigger here in Australia because people have bigger houses. But there is such a wider variety in 43rds," he says.
Biante was now a big company with a big influence, with collector clubs and even sponsorship of the blossoming race series for historic muscle cars. Peter Brock became very close to Trevor, carrying Biante signs on all his competition cars, while Trevor’s collection of road cars grew to include two XC Cobra Falcon Coupes, a low-mileage A9X Torana, an L34 Torana, an E49 Charger and an HSV Clubsport R8 as his daily driver.
But everything changed when the boss became ill and then passed away. Bev continued for a while but eventually sold the company. She has kept many of the rarest Biante models, including some of the earliest ones, and says Trevor is still honoured. "His legacy is the pleasure which is so frequently expressed by the many dedicated collectors. None of this would have been possible without his vision," she says.
Things did not run completely smoothly after Trevor's death, with over-production of some models, problems with manufacturers in China, and changes in the company's structure and management. After a major shift in company management and vision at the end of 2011, Biante continues to do well and according to now GM, William Hall, Trevor is still missed.
"Trev was certainly a very passionate man about his model cars, and he was very entrepreneurial. He had the foresight to see a hole in the market for quality model cars with an Australian flavour, and put a team together that could bring that to the Australian collectors like never before.
"I think there was a period there after his untimely death where his leadership and natural understanding of the market we work in was certainly missed, but I think now more than ever we embody the values that Trev wanted in his business."
But things have changed.
"In the past I think we saw a lot of interest in more-modern road and race cars, but over time we have seen a shift back towards the cars that made the car industry in Australia what it is today," says Hall. “We see more interest in 'old school’ Falcons from the Ford side, and Toranas and Monaros if your allegiance is with The General. That said, the market is still strong for current cars with historical significance, like a Bathurst winner."
So what is the future of model cars in Australia? "It's very hard to say. There is a lot of talk about different ways of producing models, moving away from the traditional alloy materials that models have traditionally been produced in.
"Models from Europe in particular have been moving to resin, and now even full plastic models. We remain committed to the traditional diecast at this stage for the majority of our models in at least the short to medium term."
So, to wrap things up, what is the future for Biante? And what car should be modelled next?
"I think there are a few cars that still need to be reproduced that have a great significance to Australians and Australian collectors," says Hall.
"Some of the great names in Australian Touring Car racing are yet to be fully explored – names like Perkins, Beechey and the Geoghegan brothers. "There are still a few cars driven by Peter Brock and Allan Moffat that I would like to see in collections around the country. And then there are a few of the more internationally significant cars like Allan Jones' Williams FW07 that he took to the 1980 Formula One world championship and, of course, almost all of the cars driven by Sir Jack Brabham.
"If I had to pick one, it would probably be one of Sir Jack's cars – the BT19 from 1966. Maybe one day."