Minicraft 1/20 Toyota Sports Van (1971 LiteAce Wagon) OOB

The box says it all... literally!  There's a lot of writing on the box of the Toyota Sports Van - but it's really awsome in a weird way, just like the van itself!

The box says it all… literally! There’s a lot of writing on the box of the Toyota Sports Van – but it’s really awsome in a weird way, just like the van itself!

Sometimes, when cultures clash, the result is something that is a combination of the best of both worlds. Sometimes, though, what comes out the other end is more of a cultural train wreck; something so ridiculous that you can’t turn away. This review is about one of the latter examples.

The Minicraft Toyota Sports van, in 1/20 scale, is a testament to just how weird things can get. I mean, I like weird, I LOVE this, but it is really kind of disturbing at the same time.  Imagine trying to apply the Vanner ideals of the Sundance Express to a tiny Japanese van. How would it look? Well, it would look like this kit. It would look like it shrank in the wash. It would look like the cultural equivalent to a “suitcase nuke”.  In short, it would look like a cross between a hippy and a weeble-wobble.

The Minicraft Sports Van is based on a 1971 Toyota LiteAce Super. The LiteAce has a proud history in Japan, although its success here, in North America, hasn’t been as great. (Remember those weird Toyota vans in the ‘80s? Yeah…) However, it does make sense that in California, where it’s easiest to get things from Japan, that the LiteAce could, and does, have more of a following.

This LiteAce is no grocery getter, though. This oddity really does have all the great Vanner traditions jammed into one very, very compact, and subsequently sensory-overloading package. This is what happens when California Vanner Spirit meets Japanese traffic and taxation regulations. The excesses Vanning scene have always been extreme; nothing drives that home more that this little guy. It’s almost as if it’s a joke that took itself too seriously!

The Box:

The first thing you see is the box, and I don’t know how it looked back in the day, but today it bellows “RETRO-AWESOMENESS” as loud as anything I’ve ever seen. There’s a great piece of art showing the van in all its customized glory, blazing across the box. You can’t even take in all of what’s going on the first time you see it, because the box, and the van, are just so busy! There are flames, and chrome, and mags, and antennas… it’s breath-stealing.

Because the kit is 1/20, it’s also a big box. There’s lots of room to show you the awesomeness that waits inside. There are cutaway views to show you that your LiteAce has a TV, CB aerial, extra bench seats, California Mirrors and so much more. The font is simple; its job is to kick you in the face, and it does it. The van and the font are a powerful 1-2 punch; you cannot recover, and you cannot resist getting the van. YOU WILL BUY THIS VAN if you see the box. It is a guarantee.

Crammed with vannin' goodness, the LiteAce is like a charicature of the entire van scene. I guess it proves good things come in small packages!

Crammed with vannin’ goodness, the LiteAce is like a charicature of the entire van scene. I guess it proves good things come in small packages!

This is the other side of the box. Look at that Nissan Vannette beside the Toyota. I seriously need to collect all of these things!

This is the other side of the box. Look at that Nissan Vannette beside the Toyota. I seriously need to collect all of these things!

The Kit and Instructions:

Inside the box, things are less extreme, but no less awesome. The van comes moulded in blue, and there are some black pieces, some off-white pieces and lots of glass. There’s also a monstrous chrome rack, four nice rubber tires and a huge sheet of decals. This kit was clearly made for export; despite being made in Japan, everything, including the instructions, is in English. However, there’s no mistaking the Japanese influence on the quality of packing. Even after God-knows-how-many years, everything has been kept as good as the day it was made because almost every rack is separately packed. Most startling is the decal sheet. I’ve got newer kits whose sheets are in worse shape. The decals are PERFECT! They are shrink wrapped in their own bag, without tissue paper. There’s no yellowing at all. It’s a bloody miracle.  I can hardly wait to use them!

Here's what's in the box. It looks about the size of the typical 1/24 van kits you normally see, but remember it's 1/20! Check out those decals at the top right; you'd never guess they were anything but brand new!

Here’s what’s in the box. It looks about the size of the typical 1/24 van kits you normally see, but remember it’s 1/20! Check out those decals at the top right; you’d never guess they were anything but brand new!

Unfortunately, the quality of the kit is not as good as that of its packing. You can tell it’s an old kit. There are some moulding issues around the front windscreen, and heavy pour stubs on the drip rails, too. The plastic has swirls in it and some of the detail is soft. There’s some flash on the chrome parts, which means they’ll have to be stripped and sanded before re-chroming. Thank goodness for Alclad!

Because the kit is a curbsider, there’s not much in the way of mechanical detail. Of course, you could argue the same of the real thing; whereas North American vans had monster V8s pushing them around, the Toyota LiteAce had an 1166cc (1.2 Litre) grinding out 77 hp and 69 lb.ft of torque.  So, you’re not missing much by not having an engine to build. There’s a rudimentary transmission and differential, and the lower engine pan ides a notched steering rack; like many Tamiya cars, once you position the wheels, they’ll actually stay where you put them!

The chrome rack is extensive, but there are large gates on all the pieces, so it is definitely a case of having to cut, sand and rechrome. However, this will help in the long run, I think, since then you can clean the pieces up and ensure a better fit.

The instructions are very clear, and are entirely English. There’s a lot of detail given on what to do when, and both textual and graphical representation of the steps. They seem like solid, easy-to-follow instructions that are very clear on what goes where. Since I’m sure almost none of us have any experience with 1971 LiteAces, this is likely a good thing.

Here's a shot of the instruction booklet. There's no colour, but the instructions are clear and well-drawn. Lots of English descriptions, too!

Here’s a shot of the instruction booklet. There’s no colour, but the instructions are clear and well-drawn. Lots of English descriptions, too!

There’s a lot going on in this little van. There’s a TV, a rear side-facing bench seat, a rear “desk” and overhead storage, opening rear hatch and side door, opening roof vent, spoiler, porthole windows. It does come with a surfboard, and there is a decal for it, to colour-key it to the van, thereby completing the Californication process. BOFFO, DUDE!

Conclusions:

This kit will likely not be an easy build. Its age and relative lack of advanced features, not to mention the large amount of cleanup that seems to be required on the pieces will likely make it a longer-term project. However, I am very, very certain it will ROCK THE WORLD when done. It cannot help but.

This is not a kit for beginners. It’s not a kit for the faint of heart, and it’s not a kit for the uninspired. This is a tough old rock that can be polished into a real gem, though. If you ever see one, and you want something to blow your mind and clear out the cobwebs of AMS (Advanced Modeller Syndrome – a sort of hyperdetailers coma wherein modelling is overtaken by obsessive compulsive attention to pointless detail, thereby killing the fun of the hobby), this is the kit to do it.

If you ever seen one and don’t want it, send it to me. I’ll give it a good home.

Just like the Tamiya Honda Today, the LiteAce is TINY! Here you can see the LiteAce in blue, between a 1/20 Renault 16 and the body of a 1980 Trans Am. The entire van doesn't even make it to the front of the T/A's front fender!

Just like the Tamiya Honda Today, the LiteAce is TINY! Here you can see the LiteAce in blue, between a 1/20 Renault 16 and the body of a 1980 Trans Am. The entire van doesn’t even make it to the front of the T/A’s front fender!

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