The majority of classic car enthusiasts around the globe have grown up with die-cast toy model cars. Being a youngster one created fantasy worlds in which the CAR played a big role. Most of these childhood cars were played with until they were broken or totally paint-less, cars with working suspension were the favourites of many. The oldest die-cast models in scales around 1:35* and 1:43*, made of Zamak, were manufactured in France and Great-Britain in the second half of the 1930s. In this blog-post I will focus on the British makes and especially on Corgi Toys. Early 1:35* British scale models were made at the Brooklands Motor Course in Weybridge. These ‘True to Scale’ model racing cars were sold under the name SCAMOLD from 1939 until about 1948. Scamold manufactured scale model racing cars and they took measurements from race cars in the paddock at Brooklands! The firm only produced 3 models until the outbreak of WW2: the ERA, the Maserati and the Alta. These models featured independently sprung wheels and they were optionally available with clock-work engines. Nowadays, these models are very rare.
The 1:43* scale model cars were mainly made as accessories to O-gauge model railways. Dinky Toys of England was a pioneer firm which grew to be the market leader in the 1950s. Another legendary firm was Lesney who produced the Matchbox model cars. Lesney started after WW2 and the first models were so tiny that they literally fitted in a ‘match-box’. In the 1960s and 1970s Matchbox became the market leader in the 1:75 model scale category.
“With the introduction of the Goldfinger James Bond Aston Martin DB5 in 1965 Corgi Toys set themselves apart from all the competition.”
In the year 1956 the long standing firm of Mettoy Playcraft (Est. 1933, manufacturer of sheet-metal toys) decided to enter the competition with Dinky Toys. They launched the make named Corgi Toys. Trying to beat a market leader like Dinky Toys in their own game with 1:43* die cast models takes a lot of guts, stamina and… inventivity. Corgi Toys where marketed as ‘The Ones With Windows!’, Dinky Toys models were still made without windows. The scheme worked and Corgi Toys were getting a ‘fan-base’ rapidly. Their next innovations in the early 1960s were spring suspension on all their models. All Dinky Toys could do was follow the examples set by Corgi Toys. At Mettoy they had a team of very creative product developers and engineers. They kept improving on the Corgi Toys models and added detachable hoods, opening doors and lids, and other gadgets to their models. With the introduction of the Goldfinger James Bond Aston Martin DB5 (number 261) in 1965 Corgi Toys set themselves apart from all the competition. This superbly engineered 1:43* scale model featured all the WORKING gadgets from the ‘real’ James Bond car: Spring-powered extendable machine guns at the front, actuated by pushing a tiny button, a spring-powered opening roof-hatch thru which the ‘baddy’ was ejected, and last but not least the armoured steel bullet screen on the boot, also spring actuated by pushing on the exhaust… Never had the world seen a 1:43* scale model with so many advanced working ‘action’ components!
In my opinion the golden years of Corgi Toys were the 1960s. Many stunning models were introduced in this period. In these years Corgi Toys featured the beautiful ‘spun hubs’ wheels and wire spoke wheels. Corgi Toys die-cast models of this period show a magical balance between true to scale reality, fine detail, beautiful finish and robustness for being a toy car. Today top quality model cars of Dinky Toys, Matchbox and Corgi Toys are true collectors items. Some ultra rare models fetching € 10.000+ at auctions. The vintage model car trade resembles the world of the ‘REAL SIZE’ classic and collector cars… With a few differences: model cars don’t need service in a garage and they don’t need petrol. You can have a large collection… on a book-shelf instead of a large barn. The biggest difference: A restored vintage model car is worth nothing to collectors. Only original and excellent to superb (MINT) models are of interest, preferrably complete with a crisp and fresh original box.
You can cherish only ONE of your favourite classic cars, or start a collection! See high quality offerings at Classentials!
*The actual scales varied. 1:35 could also be 1:32. The 1:43 scale was anything between 1:43 and 1:55. Corgi Toys scaled up to 1:43 through the years.