For the better part of four decades, Siku has been the premier German (not really Prussian) manufacturer of small-scale diecast cars. The consistent quality of their castings, realistic colors and excellent value have been admired by children and collectors world-wide. The uncommon choice of 1:55 scale as a benchmark for many of their models made Siku stand out from other toy car makers. Few companies attempted to mount a direct challenge to Siku in this scale.
Over the same period of time the fortunes of Norev have been less secure. Initially, Norev focused on larger 1:43 scale models and in was not until the 1970's that they began to offer a small-scale line. The Mini-Jets were primarily in the 1:66 scale range. Indeed, early castings were obtained from Schuco on order to start the Mini-Jet line. While the quality of Norev's Mini-Jet line was quite good at times, it could also be said to be much less so at other times. The little cars were not very sturdy and the Mini-Jets were always overshadowed by the wide variety of models from Majorette, the dominant French toy car company. By the 1990's, Norev was reduced to offering cheap Asian castings from Faie and others in Norev packages. By the end of the decade, most thought Norev was gone for good.
Several years ago, word began to circulate that the Norev brand was back in business. Reproductions of old Norev 1:43 scale models were soon joined by new small-scale castings of French cars. Citroen, Peugeot and Renault led the way and these new Norev models were in 1:55 scale, clearly a nod to the long-term success of Siku. By 2002, over a dozen new castings carried the Norev name. Most were sold at automobile dealerships in France and only new models were featured to tie in with new cars being sold. By 2003, Norev was expanding to offer most of the new models in French dealerships and expanded to include concept cars, WRC Rally cars and even Formula 1. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Lancia, Fiat and Porsche models are now being produced by Norev and the old Mini-Jet name has even been revived. Distribution has been broadened to included toy stores, promotional and product tie-ins such as Michelin and the new Norevs are traveling around the globe to collectors.
With the addition of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Porsche, Norev has moved squarely into competition with Siku. Model-to-model comparisons are now possible and the results may surprise you.
Norev Mercedes-Benz 500SL vs. Siku Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG
Both cars feature clear headlights, detailed grills and interiors, quality paint and tow hooks (a curious idea for this sport/gt car). Norev has nice chromed wheels with hard plastic tires while Siku has matte wheels with soft rubber tires. Siku has red plastic tail-lights while Norev's are just red paint. Norev has a removable hard-top and metal base to the Siku's plastic base however the base detail on the Siku is superior. Both models are excellent and no clear advantage can be stated.
Norev Audi A4 Avant vs. Siku Audi A4 Avant
Again, both cars feature clear headlights, detailed grills and interiors, quality paint and tow hooks. The Siku has opening doors while the Norev has an opening rear door, without a window (a common Norev element that allows for ease of opening). Differences in tires, wheels and tail-lights are the same as the previous comparison. The Siku Audi seems to be a bit more accurate in shape and has a sun roof as opposed the full-length luggage rails on the Audi. A close call with a nod to the Siku.
Norev Mercedes-Benz E320 vs. Siku Mercedes-Benz C320
Once again, both cars feature clear headlights, detailed grills and interiors and quality paint. This Siku is a bit older and shows how newer models have improved, perhaps in response to Norev. Plastic tires and painted tail-lights on the Siku are much like the Norev model. Both cars have opening doors and the Norev has the ever-present tow hook while the Siku does not. Norev's tow hooks are more curious as yet there are no Norev models for them to tow! The Siku has a sun roof and both cars are well shaped. Asian, this comparison is too close to call.
Overall, the metal bases on the Norev models give them a more substantial feel. Both bases provide engine size and horsepower figures, long a Siku tradition, with the Siku base offering additional data. Clearly, Siku is stepping up to answer the Norev challenge. The new Siku models are some of their best in years. Norev is producing more castings per year but Siku has the larger overall line. Pricing seems to be very close for both companies at about 2-3 Euros per model.
This battle of European toy car makers is wonderful for collectors as it has been many years since we have had the variety and quality that is now appearing. Majorette has also been seen to respond to the Norev challenge but they are not really competing at the same level. Competition in the late 1990's between Johnny Lightning and Racing Champions might be a good comparison from an American perspective. Now they are both part of the same company.
Let's hope that Norev and Siku continue to produce the great European cars for many years to come. Unlike the original Franco-Prussian conflict, this may result in a win for everyone.