The Hardy Boys’ Rolls-Royce: Corgi’s Most Obscure (& Far Out!) Character Toy

Posted by: Baskingshark in Member Blogs

In The Great Book of Corgi, Marcel Van Cleemput lists the Corgi Classics 9041 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost among his top twenty models. He also takes a dim view of the fact that, just four years after its 1966 introduction, the painstakingly-engineered model was, as he puts it, "soullessly sacrificed to The Hardy Boys."

 

Re-issued in "an awful combination of so-called Psychedelic colours," he explains, the Rolls now provided transport for a five-piece rock group consisting of Frank and Joe Hardy, "Chubby" Morton, Wanda Kay Breckenridge and Pete Jones, figures of whom (complete with instruments) now came with the car, clipped to a green plastic platform which snapped onto the roof.

 

Given that the whole point of character toys is to cash in on the success of the character and that, as such, the origins of most of Corgi's character cars are instantly identifiable (think silver Aston-Martin DB5, white Volvo P1800 and The Yellow Submarine), so wildly unsuccessful were the toy Hardy Rolls and the cartoon series it came from that if ever you mention "The Hardy Boys Rolls-Royce" to anyone, the usual response is "I didn't know they had one." Relatively few people know they had a rock band either, so here's the story of the band and the car...

 

The Corgi Rolls came in a standard window box. The figures were slotted into the green base and were encased in their own protective plastic blister.

 

The Hardy Boys, brothers Frank and Joe, were genetically engineered in 1927 by Edward Stratemeyer, founder of The Stratemeyer Syndicate. Contrary to what you might expect from the name, Edward and his Syndicate weren't remotely Bond villain-esque and had no interest in world domination. The only thing they were out to dominate was the children's book market. And by the time Edward came up with Hardys, he'd been pretty successful at doing just that.

 

The first publishing house to exclusively produce children's books, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was founded in 1898. Looking around at what was on offer to kids, Stratemeyer could only find religious texts and dull cautionary tales and figured that youthful readers might respond better to stories about characters their own age - or a little older - accomplishing feats of derring-do in adult-like ways they could only dream about doing themselves. Proving himself to be way ahead of his time, he also reasoned that if the books could be written around characters who were appealing enough to the audience, they could be spun out into whole series and that if he had a rota of ghostwriters producing books production-line style (all of whom used the same pen name), then whole enterprise could be very profitable.

 

He was right. By the 1920s, Stratemeyer book series like The Rover Boys, The Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift made him the most successful children's book publisher in the US. And its success would reach new heights with the creation of the Hardys, who would go on to become his longest-lived characters by far.

 

A hard-to-find mint unboxed example with all the figures and their base, showing how the base clips into the car's roof. This model has had additional gold detailing applied to the running board.

 

The teenage offspring of Fenton Hardy, a world-famous former NYPD detective turned private eye, Frank and Joe Hardy are 18 and 17 respectively (or 16 and 15, depending on which version of which book you're reading, since many of the books have been revised several times and their ages altered in the process.) They live in the fictional town of Bayport, likely somewhere in New York or New Jersey, with their father and near-invisible mother Laura. Laura generally materialises only when the boys and/or their friends require feeding and is paid so little attention that her name changed to Mildred in one book without anybody noticing. Latterly, the family is joined on a permanent basis by their spinster Aunt Gertrude Hardy who is most frequently described as "peppery" but who generally comes across as more "psychotic". All the books were written under the pen name Franklin W. Dixon.

 

In true Stratemeyer style, the Hardys were meticulously designed to maximise appeal to their youthful, mostly-male readership and to be the kind of fine upstanding young men that no parent could possibly object to junior reading about. As such, they somehow manage to find enough hours in the day to go off on the sort of sleuthing adventures the reader could only dream about while at the same time being polite, clever, tough, virtuous, getting good grades and being star players on virtually every sports team at their school. Luckily, they have their dad's resources to fall back on in their investigations - not getting arrested for poking your underage nose in where it doesn't belong is far easier to accomplish when every police officer who might otherwise stand in your way just says "Oh way, you're Fenton's boys... do whatever you like" or words to that effect. Also, it's far quicker to get to other parts of the country when you can fly your dad's plane there. In spite of, you know, still being in high school.

 

The Hardy Rolls with a mint and boxed example of the original issue standard car.

Not that their audience cared in the least about stuff like credibility gaps.  Hugely successful from the get-go, the Hardys swiftly eclipsed all Stratemeyer's other characters put together. Together with Nancy Drew, the girl detective created in the wake of their success to similarly appeal to female readers, they're the only Stratemeyer characters still in print today, having appeared in a total of 190 books in their original series, which was succeeded by several more spinoff series, plus graphic novels, PC games, iPhone applications - and TV series.

The first attempt at bringing the Hardys to TV came in 1956 via Walt Disney who produced The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure as a Mickey Mouse Club serial. This was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Ghost Farm one year later, although in both cases, the characters were aged down to 12 or 13 in order to cast Disney contract players Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk in the lead roles. Then, in 1966, a deal was signed with NBC to produce a pilot episode for a proposed weekly Hardy series. This time round, the characters were the same ages as in the books. Future soap star Rick Gates and Tim Matheson played the leads, while a very young Teri Garr and Jan-Michael Vincent (a long time before Airwolf) also appeared. The pilot aired just once in 1967 and although many of the hardcore Hardy fans who've seen it consider it the most faithful adaptation of the books, it wasn't successful enough to make it to a series.

Clearly, though, this lack of televisual success didn't put anyone off from trying again two years later when animation studio Filmation came knocking with a decidedly different idea about how the boys might make it big on TV.

 

 

 

Formed in 1962 in Reseda, California, Filmation Associates was an animation studio which first came to notice in 1966 when approached by CBS to produce a Superman cartoon, which it followed up with numerous series about other DC Comics characters. And then, in 1968, Filmation made The Archie Show and hit the bigtime.

By the late sixties, the sort of concerned parents who'd been happy to buy their kids Edward Stratemeyer's nice wholesome books were extremely worried about the sort of stuff that their kids were watching on TV, especialy the stuff that was being made to target them directly - the highly popular Saturday morning cartoons, for example.

However popular they were, parental opinion decreed that shows like Jonny Quest, Space Ghost and The Herculoids were FAR too violent. And they may have had a point, given the regularity with which the 10-year-old hero of Jonny Quest (who, coincidentally, had been voiced by Tim Matheson) got to shoot people. As a result, pressure groups like Action for Children's Television (ACT) successfully lobbied the networks to cancel many of their most popular cartoon series. Which left Fred Silverman, head honcho of children's programming for CBS, needing to find something new to replace them with that was inoffensive enough to mollify angry parents, but would still entertain the kids.

 

 

Based on the highly-successful comic book series about the innocuous adventures of hapless teenage everyman Archie Andrews and his high school friends, The Archie Show was the result and and it was a huge success. But even more successful than the cartoon itself was the music it featured. Running for a half-hour, an Archie episode would generally contain two main stories separated by a quick one-off gag and a "music video" featuring a song played by Archie's unimaginatively-named animated garage band, The Archies.

Playing music arranged by Don Kirschner, the impresario responsible for highly-successful pre-fab TV pop group The Monkees, The Archies became the most successful fictional band in history. Between 1968 and 1971, they released numerous bubblegum pop albums and singles, their undoubted highpoint being the 1969 single, Sugar, Sugar. Beating out tracks by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan, Sugar, Sugar become the best selling single of 1969, horrifying serious music fans everywhere and making a fortune in the process.

 

 

With The Archie Show and The Archies such a huge success, Filmation took stock and decided that in putting the show together, they'd made only one mistake. Even though there were five members of The Archies (six, if you count the dog...) all the singing voices had been provided by just two singers, Ron Dante and Toni Wine. The fact that there were only two of them - and they looked nothing like the characters meant that a real-life version of The Archies could never go on tour and as such, missed out on making even more money from live gigs.

But Filmation reasoned that this could be pretty easily fixed. After all, they'd made Archie into a music superstar, so if they found a similar character - or characters - to base a new cartoon series around, and added similar music, there was no reason that they couldn't do the same thing again. This time, though, they'd put together a real-life band who did look like the characters to take full advantage of the marketing possibilities.

 

 

The first Archie comics had appeared in 1941, so by the time The Archie Show came into being, Archie had had over 20 years of popularity in print, ensuring a ready-made audience for the cartoon. Given that the Hardy books had been around for twice as long, they must have seemed to Filmation to be the perfect fit for a follow up. Plus, unlike Archie, they solved mysteries, which added a whole new angle - one that had never before been used for a cartoon show.

Lightning, Filmation figured, could not possibly fail to strike twice. They were wrong.

Besides adding the rock band element, it was decided that the animated Hardys' friends needed a shake-up. Their longtime literary cohort Chet Morton (who exists in the books to provide support, comic relief and make the Hardys look even better by being shorter, fatter, slower to catch on and generally more inept at everything) became "Chubby" Morton, out-and-out bumbling comedy fat guy. An all-male group was unthinkable for marketing purposes, so, eschewing the few girls who appeared in the books, Filmation invented Wanda Kay Breckenridge, a mini-skirted, go-go dancing, tambourine-banging, singing ditz who excelled at getting captured by the bad guys and needing to be rescued. And last, but not least, in the interests of racial diversity, highly topical in 1969, a black character named Pete Jones was added to finish off the group, making history as the first regular black character on a Saturday morning cartoon series.

The next step in Filmation's master plan was to find five musicians to play the "real life" Hardys. Reed Kailing, who had had minor success in the mid-sixties with a group called The Destinations, was hired to be Frank, while session musicians Jeff Taylor and Norbert Soltysiak became Joe and "Chubby" respectively. Bob Crowder, a drummer who had played with Fontella Bass, The Shirelles and others, signed on to be Pete and singer and former Playboy Club Bunny Deven English became Wanda Kay. (Her stint at the Chicago Playboy Club was strangely omitted from the family-friendly press material for some reason...)

And of course, the group needed some transport to get between gigs. That was where the Rolls-Royce came in.

In preparation for what they fully expected to be their next big smash-hit, Filmation prepped lots of merchandise for the show. This included a boardgame, a fanclub kit, some terrifyingly hideous Halloween costumes, viewmaster reels, a comic book and the Corgi Rolls-Royce.

Quite whose idea it was for the Hardys to have a vintage Rolls seems to have been lost in the mists of time. The Great Book of Corgi tells us that the request for a tie-in model car came from the US - so presumably from Filmation themselves. It also says that the original artwork for the show had the Hardys getting around in a mini-bus, which was accordingly altered into the vintage Rolls, so perhaps it was Corgi's idea to avoid having to invest in new tooling - a wise choice, given the eventual lack of success enjoyed by both the show and the model.

 

Various scenes showing both the outside and interior of the car as it appeared in the cartoon.

In the cartoon, the Rolls is finished in yellow, with contrasting orange running boards, but the Corgi model spices the colour scheme up a little further. The plastic body is cast in red, with the separate roof and window trim in bright yellow. The metal bonnet is painted yellow, while the chassis and mudguards are blue.

Besides the colours - and having brass-coloured fittings where the original version has chrome - this model differs from the original Classics series Rolls only in the wheels (solid discs as opposed to the original's spokes) and in having a ladder moulding added to the back which clips over the roof-rack and is riveted to the baseplate. This appears on the car in the cartoon too, and was presumably installed to give easier access to the roof rack. In the series, the roof rack is always full of luggage that presumably contains the band's instruments, although this was not replicated on the model, in spite of being present in the conceptual artwork for it shown in The Great Book of Corgi. The same artwork shows the model towing a speedboat on a trailer, but this idea wasn't carried forward as the model has no tow bar. Presumably, the ladder would also allow everyone to climb up onto the roof to use the car as a stage, which would tie-in with the clip-on platform that carried the figures. Because of this feature, the roof-mounted spare tyre that was carried by the original model was omitted this time round.

Numbered 805, the Rolls was a sales disaster for Corgi. Just 40,000 were sold in the two years it remained in the range, giving it the lowest sales figures of ANY Mettoy-era Corgi character toy, including the almost-equally-obscure World of Wooster Bentley.

The cartoon was equally disastrous for Filmation.

Some forty-odd years after it came out, the animated Hardy Boys is most notable for the fact that, in spite of being based on a hugely successful book series, scoring numerous "firsts" for a TV show of its type and being part of a period in animation that has been written about and obsessed over by TV historians and Gen-X pop culture fanatics for years, almost nobody remembers it or ever makes reference to it. In fact, even with the entire internet at my disposal, I have yet to be able to find definitive information about how many episodes were actually produced (35 seems the most likely number).

And the show was definitely something of a trailblazer. As well as scoring its racial first and being the first cartoon on the air to revolve around mystery-solving musician characters, it was also the first animated series to have an episode plot revolve around drug-smuggling and to have a character use the word "dope" (quite something in 1969). Plus, it was also the first Filmation show to end with "public service announcements" from the characters, a feature the company widely adopted thereafter. These short additional sequences would feature Frank, Joe, Pete and the others exhorting the audience to keep to the straight and narrow by not doing things like smoking or taking drugs, while making sure to always be polite, help old ladies across the street and wear seatbelts (this last was somewhat hypocritical on part of the characters, since they never used them when in the Rolls, which didn't appear to have any!)

The series has never been officially released on video or DVD, although a few episodes were used on cartoon compilation tapes in the 80s and others have sneaked out on bootleg DVDs here and there. At the time of writing, however, one complete episode (and some of the music) is up on YouTube. And one viewing reveals exactly why the series was so unsuccessful.

To start with, even for a dedicated pop-culture fiend like myself, it is headache-inducingly groovy. None of the scenes are longer than about 10 seconds and almost every transition is accomplished with the aid of an animated psychedelic pink-and-green wipe. All the characters talk incessantly in the swingingest hepcat slang and once an episode the mystery-solving proceedings grind to a halt so one of the band's songs can be performed Archies-style against an accompanying "music video". These feature the band rocking out (and Wanda Kay go-go dancing), frequently in flickering silhouette against blindingly multi-coloured backdrops of spiralling op-art or pulsating paisley. Even in 1969, the show was probably dated about six weeks after it came out.

 

http://youtu.be/erQss-3NlfI



The Hardys perform "Hello, Girl" in highly psychedelic fashion in this clip from one of the episodes. This was the song that had been the biggest hit for band member Reed Kailing's former group The Destinations. As performed by The Hardys, it is something of a rarity, as it only appeared in the show and on the 8-track cassette of the first album, not on the vinyl LP.

The show also successfully managed to alienate large numbers of the book Hardys' fanbase from the get go. For one thing, there was the drastic image change the heroes underwent. In their new roles as rock musicians, the formerly clean-cut Hardys embraced mod fashions with a vengeance. Out went the crewcuts, sensible slacks, button-down shirts and sweaters they'd always appeared with on the book covers. In came collar-length hair and sideburns, flared trousers, Nehru jackets, waistcoats, love beads and Cuban-heeled boots. Worse than that, however, was the fact that for some reason the producers decided to commit sacrilege by reversing the brothers' ages and personalities, so Joe became the level-headed older one with the leadership skills (at least I assume he's meant to be older, he's certainly taller) and Frank became the younger, more impetuous one.

 

Groovy: Cartoon Hardys

 

 

Not Groovy: Book Hardys


It could, of course, be argued that the older longtime fans of the books weren't the show's primary audience and that it was aimed at the kids who watched The Archie Show. However, in their attempt to emulate Archie's success, Filmation shot themselves in the foot by sticking far too closely to the format they'd established for the earlier series, even though it patently didn't work for the Hardys' mystery stories.


The two-story-per-episode format had worked for Archie because his stories were far simpler affairs which didn't have to set up, investigate and solve a mystery within the space of barely 10 minutes. Plus Archie's weekly "music video" was presented separately from the stories - and it would have been far easier to integrate a musical performance into an Archie story even if that wasn't the case.


In deciding to have two weekly stories per Hardy Boys episode, Filmation gave their writers too little time to let the stories unfold on even the most basic level. All the mysteries investigated by the cartoon Hardys had their roots in the books - some borrowed story elements, while others just shared titles - but all are far too rushed, veer wildly in tone from serious to slapstick and the writing is often just plain idiotic, especially when it comes to shoe-horning in the weekly song. In one episode, when the band realise the studio they're recording in has just been broken into by burglars, they decide that they've got time to lay down their track first before going off to see what the burglars are up to. The overall effect is very surreal.

 

Filmation's notorious cheapskate-ness didn't help either. Whenever the show does get one of its rare mentions in an article, someone usually notes that the animation was very bargain-basement - but it's nowhere near as bad as the voice acting. Some Archie fans had been less than happy with the high-pitched voices their favourite characters had been given. But with just three people hired to voice ALL the Hardy characters, even on the rare occasions when they don't all sound the same, the voices here are even worse - especially the horrifically squeaky tones given to Chubby.

 

It should be said that the singers hired to be the "real" band did do a much better job with the music, although at the time of the series release, all three singles released by the group flopped. Two albums, Here Come the Hardys (a title shared with the cartoon's theme song) and Wheels were also released. Both were equally unsuccessful, in spite of a big publicity push and public appearances by the band at country fairs and similar events across the US. Nowadays, the music is by far the most widely written about aspect of the show, having been talkked about and offered for download on several music blogs. Here Come the Hardys is also now available for download via iTunes. Wheels in particular, which has a more country-music feel to it than its predecessor, has been given note for melding this with the bubblegum pop sound in an unusual and successful way. All the music is certainly far too good for the cartoon!

 

The real-life band and their cartoon counterparts appear in this ad taken out by RCA in a 1969 issue of Billboard Magazine to advertise the Hardys' first single "Love and Let Love" .

 

If all this wasn't enough to ensure the series' rapid demise, it got the timing wrong too. The first episode premiered on Saturday, September 6, 1969. One week exactly before the launch of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? which, of course became the kids' hit of the season and went on to become a pop culture phenomenon.

 

Produced by Filmation's longtime competitor, Hanna-Barbera, Scooby Doo's meddling kids had originally been planned as a band themselves, but this aspect had been dropped in favour of developing the canine character of Scooby Doo. (Ironically, the 1967 live-action Hardy Boys pilot had given the Hardys a pet great dane who was used for comic relief.) With its mixture of spooky thrills (always revealed as faked, of course), wacky comedy and a more coherent one-story-per-episode, Scooby Doo wiped the floor with the Hardys ratings-wise. To add insult to injury, one year later, Hanna-Barbera would come out with Josie and the Pussycats, the show that's widely (and incorrectly) thought to be the first cartoon to mix mysteries and musicians. Admittedly, Josie & co did manage to pull the combination off more successfully - for one thing, unlike the Hardys, the Pussycats never stopped in their tracks to perform their weekly song in its entirety. Instead it would be played over a wacky chase sequence where the Pussycats were pursued by that week's villain and/or his/her henchpersons, in a convention that's still being spoofed by series like Comedy Central's Drawn Together over 30 years later.

 

The animated Hardys were gone from TV screens by 1971, and the Corgi Rolls disappeared from toy shop shelves at the same time. With such low production numbers, it's not an easy model to find, especially in the UK. Less than 10,000 were made for the UK market, but unusually, when it does show up, it's often in mint-and-boxed condition. This may be because the cartoon was never shown here, kids didn't know what the model was and a result, lots of them were probably left on toy shop shelves and wound up being sold on to modern-day toy dealers as old shop stock. Mint and boxed, the model is usually priced at swapmeets and online at between £250 and £300. Unboxed models have frequently lost the figures and detachable base, and those that have been played with often have damage to the fragile roof-rack moulding. This seems to break even more easily than that of the silver Classics series Rolls - possibly the yellow plastic is more brittle. The slightly playworn example shown in the pictures is missing the little curly flourishes at the front of the roof rack the radiator mascot. Colour-wise, to my eyes anyway, it actually looks pretty attractive in its bright colours - just as good as  Corgi's other flower power models, the rare "Mostest" Mini Cooper and Pop-Art Ford Mustang Stock Car.

 

In 1977, the Hardys finally succeeded in cracking television. A live-action series starring future Baywatch lifeguard Parker Stevenson and teen heart-throb Shaun Cassidy was a hit for three seasons and even spawned a now-hard-to-find Revell model kit, "The Hardy Boys' Van," among its spin-off merchandise. Another series was made in 1995 in Montreal with Canadian actors Colin F. Gray and Paul Popowich in the leads, but was less successful.

 

The Revell Hardy Boys' Van tie-in with the more-successful 1977 series.

 

Passing reference was made to the Hardys having a band in one of the books published in 1971, although this was quickly dropped and never mentioned again, but they never drove a Rolls on the printed page. In the earliest books they have motorcycles, then switch to a yellow convertible of unspecified make, which is followed by a couple of vans (although it is specified at one point that Aunt Gertrude has a VW Beetle!) However, a vintage Rolls-Royce does appear in a rival book series, The Three Investigators and as that series began publication in 1964, it's possible that the Hardy cartoon series borrwed the idea from there.

Widely considered to be somewhat more realistic than the Hardy books, and benefitting from rather better fleshed-out characters and an evocative and authentic California setting, The Three Investigators scored a coup by getting Alfred Hitchcock to brand the books with his name and to "appear" in them as mentor to the three teenage investigators, Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews. Unlike the Hardys, the investigators were too young to drive, being 14-ish throughout the series.

Early on in the books, however, they use their detective skills to win a competition run by a limo rental agency that provides them with a year's unlimited use of a British chauffeur named Worthington and a gold-plated (!) vintage Rolls-Royce (presumably a Phantom of some variety.) After the year is up, a grateful (and wealthy) client arranges for them to have ongoing use of the Rolls whenever needed and it continues to appear throughout the series.

Maybe a tie-in model of that would have sold better!

 

You can find the Hardy Boys' Rolls Royce on ToyPedia here.

Tags: Vehicles, Corgi

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