The history of Hong Kong based toy car companies is one full of complex twists. The connections between these companies is often confusing and somewhat mysterious. One of the more interesting stories comes from the 1970's and involves the toy cars produced by Playart and Yat Ming.
We can credit Mattel's Hot Wheels brand for the explosion of small-scale toy car makers in Hong Kong. The overnight success of Hot Wheels convinced Hong Kong businessman that there was a potential gold mine in little die-cast cars. One of the first companies from Hong Kong to follow Hot Wheels to market was Playart. In the late 1960's (no clear date has been established)they began to offer a line of small-scale die-cast vehicles that were well-made, realistic and offered a wide variety of models. Playart offered these models as their own brand but also produced them for re-packaged branding by a variety of chain stores like Woolworths and Sears. Playart offered a variety of unique models, not seen from other toy car makers and the brand was a commercial success. More on the Playart story can be found in an earlier 'Tales of Toy Cars' article.
In 1970, Wai Ming Lam established the Yat Ming Industrial Factory Ltd. in Hong Kong. According the Diecast Motor Vehicles (2002), "Yat in Chinese means 'best' or number one'. The Ming portion came from the founder's middle name." The earliest models began with number 1001. There is substantial overlap between the model choices offered by Playart and the earliest models to come from Yat Ming. For many years, collectors have wondered how this might have happened. More on the Yat Ming story can be found in an earlier 'Tales of Toy Cars' article.
What follows are thirteen examples of connections between models by Playart and Yat Ming. Some simply share the same subject matter or are different models from the same marque. Others are essentially copies where Yat Ming clearly used the Playart casting for direct inspiration. None are exact copies or models from the same casting.
VW Beetle - Yat Ming #1009, Playart #7124
Toyota 2000GT - Yat Ming #1006, Playart #7122
Lamborghini Miura - Yat Ming # 1001, Playart #7108
Ferrari BB512 - Yat Ming #1025, Playart #7219
Ford Station Wagon - Yat Ming #1015, Playart #7172
Porsche 910 Carrera - Yat Ming #1020, Playart #7102
BMW 2800 - Yat Ming #1017, BMW 2002 - Playart #7135
Mercedes-Benz 350SL - Yat Ming #1011, Playart #7154
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - Yat Ming #1002, Playart #7136
Jaguar E-type 2+2 - Yat Ming #1010, Playart #7123
Lamborghini Marzel - Yat Ming #1004, Playart #7125
Porsche 911 Targa Yat Ming #1016, Playart #7144
Citroen CX2200 - Yat Ming #1063, Playart #7197
There are other 'overlap models' between Yat Ming and Playart but these 13 demonstrate how closely Yat Ming followed Playart in model selection. Some like the Jaguar, Citroen and Lamborghini Marzel models are almost twins. Even more curious, some Playart packaging carried 1000 series numbers, identical to those used for the Yat Ming models. This is the case with all 13 models shown here. While the BMW models shared the same number, they are of two different cars, the 2800 and 2002.
No satisfactory explanation may ever be given for why this overlap occurred. In a conversation with Yat Ming representatives years ago, I asked about this curious overlap and they declined to confirm or refute any possible Yat Ming-Playart connection. While both Playart and Yat Ming were know to use the models of other companies as 'inspiration' for their own castings, Yat Ming did this far more often than Playart. Tomica models were a favorite source of Yat Ming 'inspiration' with some being almost exact copies.
The most likely story is that in their rush to produce models for the hot die-cast market in 1970, Yat Ming selected those closest to hand in Hong Kong to be re-created as their own castings. Playart was the easy choice and had already proved a market success. It is perhaps ironic that Playart survived only into the late 1980's while Yat Ming is still with us today. At the same time, many Playart models have become favorites of collectors with some selling for over $100 while early Yat Ming models are still bargain choices that can be found for a few dollars.
Tags: Tales of Toy Cars