Tags » Tales of Toy Cars


by TalesofToyCars

By David Cook, Images by Doug Breithaupt

The Formula One World Championship began from the ashes of postwar European reconstruction in 1950. Under world motorsport authority, (the FIA), it has continued without pause since then, and appears stronger than ever today. Now heavily commercialized, the series has evolved from five or six selected European races to the globetrotting circus of sixteen events currently.

Of course, many small-scale models of world champions exist but surprisingly the list is far from complete. Our collection begins with the first championship-winning car with the engine behind the driver, the Cooper-Climax T51 & T53 cars that Jack Brabham used to win in 1959 & 1960. The model pictured here undergoing an engine change is by Best Box. Green paint to complement the racing stripes would be more correct. These important cars won the last two years of the 2.5 liter formula with engines by Coventry Climax, a fire pump manufacturer who adapted itís designs for British racers.

story and photos by Brian Willoughby

Witnessing the phenomenal success of Lesney's Matchbox Series and two upstart rivals introduced by Mettoy  andMattel, Mecanno decided in the late 1960s that it was time for it too to join the ranks of companies offering a line of small scale, highly detailed, diecast model cars. A few years earlier, Dinky had halfheartedly attempted to market Matchbox clones under the name Dinky Dublo. Unfortunately, the high quality models failed to gain any measurable market share and, in the end, the range was left to die a very quiet and unlamented death. Yet with several viable competitors readily eroding Dinky's once dominant position in 1:43 scale diecasts, Mecanno was eager to exploit market segments in which it was still under represented. To cash in on the profitable small scale market, Mecanno decided to re-enter the field by unveiling one of the worst product lines in its long and hitherto respected history: the Mini Dinky range of 1:65 scale models.

The Mini Dinkies were unique in several aspects. Unlike other Dinky models produced by the English branch of the company, they were not produced in the old Liverpool factory located on Binns Road; rather, to maximize profits, the majority of Mini Dinkies were manufactured in Hong Kong. Subjects selected to be modeled frequently seemed to be bizarre choices and ranged from a huge Cadillac Coupe de Ville to a diminutive M.G.B., along with several other cars that had already been modeled by other manufacturers. In spite of the sometimes questionable vehicle selections, the detail cut into the dies was outstanding and the models were very accurate depictions of the full-scale cars. Nothing less would have been expected from Dinky, yet unfortunately, one of the major differences distinguishing them from their larger siblings was their quality of construction. Mini Dinkies were, from the start, of inferior quality to their larger British (and French) made counterparts and this represented a most unexpected departure from the extremely high quality toys for which Mecanno was so long known and revered.


Have you ever tried to figure out who produced what and when in small-scale diecast cars? It is not easy to track all the different manufacturers over the years. The chart below is an attempt to provide the basic production span for 1:64 scale manufacturers over the past 50 years. It identifies 30 of the major and minor producers, and shows the decades in which they produced small-scale diecast cars.

Many of these manufacturers also produced other diecast scales over the years. The chart only attempt to show the span of their 1:64 scale production. Some manufacturers may be missing or the dates may not be correct. Please leave a message in the guest book if you have corrections or additions.

What's good for General Motors... is also good for Matchbox. GM is famous for producing the same car under different names. Matchbox, now under the ownership of Mattel, is following that example with two models of a the same SUV. As the Isuzu Rodeo, this SUB is sold in the US and Asia. In the UK, it is known as a Vauxhall Frontera. Both Isuzu and Vauxhall are controlled by GM. Of course you can't buy a Vauxhall in the US and Matchbox follows by only offering the Rodeo to US buyers. The Frontera is offered by Matchbox in a variety of international markets, including Canada, where this example was purchased. The Rodeo comes with wild rally graphics, not inappropriate as Isuzu is active in world rallying. The Frontera is offered in handsome silver without any graphics. The Frontera is number 55 while the Rodeo is number 56. On the base of both vehicles, the appropriate name is hot stamped and not part of the actual casting. Otherwise, the castings are identical. Are there other examples of diecast badge engineering? The '70's Ford/Mercury Capri might have been offered that way but all my examples are labeled as 'Ford' products. Matchbox could have also offered the 1983 Ford Sierra XR4 under the Merkur label to US markets but did not. Norev produced a dead-ringer for the AMC Alliance of the 1980's but it was only offered as a Renault 9. Matchbox has offered Vauxhall/Opel sister cars in the past but both names have been cast on the base plate. The first was the 1985 Vauxhall Astra GTE/Opel Kadett GSi. The second was the 1989 Opel Vectra/Vauxhall Cavalier. I am not aware if different packaging was used for different countries. If this 'Rodeo-Frontera' dual diecast packaging concept has happened before, I cannot think of an example. Help me out if you can, via the Guest book.

By Brian Willoughby

1947 was an odd year for the rebirth of any small automobile company in England; in the troubled postwar economy, even some of Britain's oldest and most established car companies were struggling to survive. Bankrupt and in receivership, a tiny Buckinghamshire sports car producer named Aston Martin caught the eye of wealthy industrialist David Brown and largely based on his love of fast cars and Aston's past competition and engineering prowess, he purchased the little company and added it to his manufacturing empire. Better known for mass-producing gears and agricultural tractors, the Huddersfield-based David Brown Group bought another defunct automobile company one year later and, combined, the resulting new division became Aston Martin Lagonda Ltd. For the 25 years he owned Aston Martin Lagonda, Sir David Brown was responsible for the company's resurrection and many triumphs due to his intimate involvement in its direction, operation and participation in competition. The cars that bore the initials of their benefactor represent the lasting essence of what was Aston Martin's golden age.

Although there was such a thing as the DB1, the first Aston Martin to be fully realized under the auspices of David Brown was the DB2. Fitted with a W. O. Bentley designed six-cylinder engine acquired through his purchase of the Lagonda works and constantly improved throughout its long production life, the DB2 and the variants which evolved from it epitomized the concept of a "gentleman's express" to a degree never equaled by its rather staid and home-grown competitors.
As one of Britain's crowning automotive stars, Lesney opted to add a very accurate model of the DB2 to its 1-75 lineup and over the years offered in only two colors (which were both very true to the prototype) and a few different wheel variations. As is appropriate for its subject, this model set a precedent for accuracy in miniature Aston Martins which has happily been upheld by most other manufacturers.

Citroen is better represented in 1:18 scale than many larger automotive manufacturers. This is largely due to the combined efforts of Solido and Majorette, both French diecast producers. Five Citroen cars have been done to date in large-scale diecast. Each represents in it's own way, a milestone in the history of Citroen.

The original version of the 15CV was first produced in the 1930's. It survived with many variations but few visual changes for over 20 years. The Maisto example is complete with opening doors, hood and trunk. It is available in gray or black, appropriate to the actual cars. This advanced car for it's day was the first in a long line of front wheel drive Citroens. Considering how few pre-war cars are represented in 1:18 scale, Maisto is to be commended for offering this excellent example.

In 1955, Citroen introduced the DS model and continued to add to their laurels for innovation and engineering excellence. While the styling was uniquely Citroen, the advantage in aerodynamics was clearly visible. In addition to front-wheel drive, Citroen now offered four-wheel independent, active, hydro-pneumatic suspension. Four-wheel disc brakes also became a DS standard and the DS body style lasted into the mid 1970's. Solido offers several versions of the DS. The one pictured here is the DS19 Presidential used by French heads-of-state. Like many Solido 1:18 scale models, it lacks engine detail but does offer three suspension levels via a lever on the underside. The DS is shown at the lowest level.