This article was initially published in July 2004 by Craig Mueller.
4 known wheel types
Mercury was one of Italy's best-known diecast manufacturers. The company was founded in Torino in 1932 and ended business in 1980. They are remembered primarily for their 1/43rd scale models, but the focus of this article will be on their late 1960's - 1/66th scale line known by the name "Speedy".
The Speedy models competed with the other well-known Italian series of 1/66th scale cars known as "Penny" from the company Politoys. The Penny line consists mainly of Formula 1 Gran Prix racers and street cars, whereas the Speedys seemed to have their focus more on LeMans racers with few F1's, street, and concept cars. Both brands shared, I believe, 4 common models, which were the Ferrari P4, the Dino Pininfarina, the OSI Silver Fox, and the Lamborghini Marzal Bertone. A feature, unique to the Speedys was their rubber tires.
A - various Speedy packaging
B - Porsche Carrera 6 #801
C - Chaparral 2f #802
D - Ferrari 330 P4 #803
E - Ford GT40 #804
F - Lamborghini Marzal #805
G - Ferrari 250LM #806
H - Osi Silver Fox #807
I - Alfa Romeo 33 #808
J - Dino Pininfarina #810
K - Ferrari P5 #815
L - Sigma GP Car #816
M - Lotus Europa #817
N - Mercedes-Benz C111 #818
O - Fiat Van #870
P - Fiat Ambulance #872
Q - Fiat Van #872
R - Fiat Van #873
S - GP Monte Carlo #1202
T - GP Zeltweg #1203
U - GP Hockenheim #1204
V - GP Zandvoort #1205
W - Porsche 917
X - Porsche 917 base
Y - Speedy Catalog
Z - Speedy Catalog
ZA - Chaparral variations
ZB - Speedy Velox models
ZC - Speedy Velox
ZD - Speedy/Marklin model
ZG - Speedy Track Set
ZF - re-packaged Speedy models
ZH - Speed Track Set
ZI - Mercury Micro Series
Speedys came packaged in red or light blue cardboard window boxes, clear plastic boxes, 2-packs, 5-car sets, and even as key chains in blister cards (Figures A). The earlier and most common package is the red window box.
The original Speedy series made use of an 800 numbering system ranging from 801-818 (Figures B-N). Of these, 5 models are not pictured, and they are; #809 Alfa Romeo Montreal Bertone, #811 Lamborghini Miura Bertone, #812 Matra Jet 5, #813 Ford Mustang, and #814 Lola T 70 GT. It is not known if these 5 models were ever produced. Models 811, 812, and 814 can be seen in the Speedy catalog (Figure Y), but 809 and 813 were omitted, making it more certain that these models may never have been made. Also, this catalog appears to be prior to the production of models 816-818. The catalog shows the Speedy 5-pack set as being #890 (Figure Y).
Interestingly, I discovered a Speedy Porsche 917 (Figures W & X), which has no mention on any list in any catalog, box or book. Strangely the base makes no mention of a series number like the others. Also, it has the same rubber tires as the 800 series, but a unique hub, very similar, but slightly different from the Fiat van wheels. This model is a complete mystery.
Later added to the Speedy 800 series were at least 4 Fiat vans numbered 870-873 (Figures O-R). They are less common and bring a higher price. Lastly for the 800 series, Dr Force lists #850 Covered Wagon, and #851 Stagecoach as being part of the "Speedy" series.
Figure ZA shows some of the variations that appeared between similar models in different packaging. The red box Chaparral has a red base, decal numbers, a brown interior, and a tall spoiler. Whereas, the clear "Elf" box Chaparral has a silver metal base, a smaller sticker number, a black interior, and a shortened spoiler. I believe this spoiler was cut to accommodate the shallower Elf packaging.
Mercury, just like most of the other major companies during the advent of Mattel's Hot Wheels, appeared to have felt the need to adapt to stay afloat. This brought about a plastic "Superfast" type of wheel with thin axles to accommodate track and compete in this new market. This updated Speedy release was called "Speedy Velox". I believe the word "Velox" has to do with being fast, referring to the new wheel type. These new Speedys came out in 2 different numbering systems and packaging types (Figure ZB). These are much more rare and difficult to obtain in the United States than the 800 series and they seem to only show up in auction from foreign countries such as Italy and Germany. Therefore, I believe these "fast wheel" versions were never imported to the USA, unlike their earlier red box counterparts.
First of the Speedy Velox, were the 900 series of cars released in the light blue window box (Figure ZB). They are the same models, in different colors, with the same ending numbers as the 800 series, just switched to 900's. The box lists 901-904, 906, 908, 910, and 915, which can be matched up to the pictured 800 series models for name reference. For whatever reason, they seemed to have reduced their selection. Interestingly, I have one of these models which has an 800 number on the base, as opposed to the standard 900 number, implying an error or transitional period. Figure ZC shows a case box that originally housed the miniature boxes.
Secondly, there came to be a series of at least 5 F1 cars with a 1200 numbering system and the same "Superfast" wheels as the 900 series. They came in a plastic window box with clear top and blue bottom (Figure ZB). The series ranged from 1201-1205. These F1 cars appear to be all the same cast in different colors, and, like the Chaparrals, came with both red and white spoilers (Figures SV). Not pictured is #1201 Jarama (color unknown)
The 900 series Speedys at some point were tied into the Marklin Company (Figure ZD). The Package states "Mercury Import Marklin". Dr Force mentions that Mercury had been the Italian importer of Marklin cars before WWII, and this package is evidence that the 2 companies had an additional connection decades later.
The image at the top of this story shows the 4 known wheel types. The top wheel is the original rubber version of the 800 series and the bottom is the standard "Superfast" style of the 900 and 1200 series. The second from the top is the unique mystery Porsche 917 wheel. The Fiat van wheels are very slightly different from the Porsche wheel. Lastly, the second from bottom wheel is another mystery. I found one model (#808 Alfa Romeo 33) with this plastic "Superfast" wheel with the unique cross pattern hub. It may have been a brief transitional period wheel to get their models "track ready" prior to the official release of the 900 series.
Speedy Models, of the 800 series, were also distributed by other companies, using the individual company's own name and packaging. 2 Examples are "Micro Mites" by World Toy House and "Majorette Mini Cars" by Physio-Chem (Figure ZF). These companies were both out the USA and distributed cars from England, France, and Italy from companies such as Lonestar, Budgie, Majorette, and Mercury.
A truly unusual discovery, that I know little about, is the Speedy track set pictured in Figures ZG & ZH. It clearly contains Speedy boxed cars. I believe it is a track were regular diecast cars are pulled along the track by a tab attached to their underside. Examples of this type of track set include Kenner's Supersport, Eldon Collect-A-Car Raceway, Chad Valley Super Motorway, and possibly a regular wheel Matchbox version (unsure on the Matchbox).
Lastly pictured (Figure ZI), are some samples of the 1/66th scale Mercury "Micro Series" which were not actually part of the "Speedy" line. They are newer and cheaper with plastic bases and smoked windows. Dr Force mentions 10 models in all, which happen to also use the 800 series designation. They consist of; #801 Fiat Campagnola, #802 Fiat Tank Truck, #803 Fiat Open Truck, #804 Caravan Trailer, #806 Fiat 127, #807 Fiat 131 Rally, #809 Fiat Cement Truck, #810 Fiat Farm Tractor, #811 Lancia Stratos Rally, and #812 Porsche 935 Turbo.
Articles such as this one represent what is known, up to this point, and I am sure there is plenty more to be discovered about Speedys. These models take me back to my childhood days of watching Speed Racer episodes. Many of the Speedy models, such as the Ferrari 250 Le Mans, are actually featured in episodes as Speed's competition. Speedys may not have had jeweled headlights or opening parts like their competitors, but they definitely captured a piece of racing history in a well made diecast car.
Classic Miniature Vehicles Made in Italy by Dr. Edward Force, Schiffer Publishing 1992
Tales of the Toy Car Article "Speedy By Mercury" by Doug Breithaupt, Mac Ragan, Mark Foster, and David Cook
Diecast Motor Vehicles by Kimmo Sahakangas, Dave Weber, and Mark Foster
Ebay: photos of 3 Fiat vans, 2 F1 Racers, 900 Series Case Box, Marklin Box, and Track Set