One of the most common questions I get is regarding the difference between 1:64 and 1:87 scales. Someone asked me to show the difference visually. That’s easy enough to do.
The difference between 1:64 and 1:87 visually
In model railroading, 1:87 is HO scale and 1:64 is S scale. 1:87 is the most popular model railroad scale, but 1:64 is very popular for diecast vehicles. Yet for model railroading, 1:64 scale is fairly niche, about the fourth or fifth most popular scale. It’s very likely there’s a vehicle available in 1:64 that an HO scale railroader would want. And it’s very likely there are buildings and other scenic details available in 1:87 that a 1:64 hobbyist would want.
The difference between the two is nearly 20 percent. 1:64 is about 20 percent larger. You’ll probably notice it. But it may be close enough to work with.
As you can see from the image to the right, the difference between a 1:87 and 1:64 model of a Toyota Camry is noticeable. The key to mixing scales, if you’re going to mix them, is to not place the 1:64 model next to something that would scream that the model is too large.
Mixing scales tends to work better with buildings than with vehicles. All 2006 Toyota Camrys are 189.2 inches long. And most people have a pretty good idea how long and how tall a midsize passenger car is. There’s more variance in buildings. A building that’s 20% too big or too small still works. I can walk a block and find houses that are about 20 percent smaller than mine. I can walk a couple of blocks in the other direction and find houses about 20 percent bigger than mine too. The difference between 1:64 and 1:87 visually is less apparent with buildings–if indeed it matters at all..
The doors are the factor most likely to betray a building’s true size. A typical door is about 7 feet tall. So an HO scale building on an S scale layout probably will look like its door is too small. That’s easy enough to fix though. Take out the door, cut the opening about a quarter-inch taller, then make a new door to fix the opening. Now it just looks like a narrow door.
HO scale is the most popular scale and has the greatest selection of products available. But there’s always something not available. Model railroading is about repurposing. The best model railroads borrow practices, techniques, and supplies from other hobbies.
Also, products marketed as 1:64 aren’t necessarily always 1:64. While a Hot Wheels or Matchbox passenger car likely is close to 1:64, a large pickup truck sized to fit in the same package will be pretty close to 1:87. A Ford F-150 Supercab should be about 2.87 inches long in HO scale.
So if you’re an HO scaler and there’s a certain vehicle that catches your eye, look up the dimensions of that vehicle. It’s not hard to find the length of any given vehicle in inches. Divide that by 87. If the result is close to 3 inches, you’ve found something that’s close to HO scale, regardless of what scale is marked on the package. Those frequently are just approximations anyway. The difference between 1:64 and 1:87 visually doesn’t matter if the manufacturer played fast and loose enough with the designation–and that happens more often than you may think.