Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: diecast

  • Die-cast Commercial Vehicles by Paul Brent Adams

    Die-cast toys first appeared a little over a century ago. The first vehicles to be produced were cars, but commercial vehicles soon followed. A fleet of trucks, delivery vans, tankers, service vehicles, and mobile shops. Many of these carried the names and logos of real companies, making them some of the most colourful of all die-cast models. Often a single van or truck casting was produced in several versions, each carrying a different company name or livery.

    The British firm of Lledo produced several horse-drawn vehicles in the 1980s and 1990s. This small horse-drawn delivery van was part of a set devoted to Ringtons Tea – the rest of the models were motor vehicles. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Real commercial vehicles seldom receive an annual facelift the way cars do. This means that model trucks and vans do not date as rapidly as model cars, and a successful model can stay in production for long periods, with an occasional change of finish. The large, flat sides of trucks and vans giving plenty of space for colourful liveries. Some were even produced to special order for the companies concerned, as part of various promotions, hence the fact they are called promotionals. Commercial vehicle models soon became a staple of many die-cast ranges.

    While vans and pick-up trucks are often the same size as a normal car, most heavy commercials are much larger. To produce models that are not too large or expensive, manufacturers often make their commercials to a smaller scale than their model cars. Several firms also produced a range of larger and more expensive models, which allowed the heavies to be closer in scale to the cars, although most were still a little smaller. Among the leading British die-cast companies there were the Dinky Supertoys, Corgi Majors, and the Matchbox Major Pack and King Size ranges. At the opposite end of the size range, several lines of small scale models were produced as model railway accessories, such as the Hornby Dublo range, intended to complement Hornby OO model railways; or the Lilliput series, made by Britains, who were best known for their extensive range of toy soldiers. In more recent years, several lines have been devoted exclusively to Big Rigs, comprising a tractor unit and semi-trailer. With these models a limited number of different tractor units can be combined with various types of trailer, to produce a fleet of different models. Open vehicles can also be given an assortment of loads, allowing for even more variety.

    The Models of Yesteryear series by Matchbox was devoted to veteran and vintage vehicles, including this American-built Walker electric van. According to the back of the box, Harrods department store in London had a fleet of 60 for local delivery work in the 1920s. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    As collecting die-casts became an established adult hobby, models began to be produced aimed directly at collectors. With adults, size and price were less of a factor than they were with toys aimed at children. Many of these ‘adult’ models being highly detailed, delicate, and expensive. I still prefer the various toy ranges by companies such as Matchbox. They may lack a few of the refinements of the adult collectable, but they were designed to be played with, and there is an element of fun about them that is lacking in adult models. This is why most of the models in my collection are toys. Plus, they were the types of models I once played with.

    Modern toys are also much more affordable than adult collectables. Although vintage toys in pristine condition can be extremely expensive, as few have survived without a few paint chips, and other signs of use. If you are prepared to accept the odd imperfection, and the lack of a box, even vintage models become more affordable – which explains why most of my older models do have a few chips and scratches, some were even part of my own childhood collection.

     

     

    A pair of steam powered lorries, or wagons, from the Models of Yesteryear series. Launched in 1956, the models grew larger over the years – as these two demonstrate. The 1922 Foden being far larger than the early Sentinel. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    After discovering plastic kits in the 1970s, my die-cast toys spent a couple of decades in a box, usually under the bed, until I again began collecting die-casts in the 1990s. My collection comprises a mix of subjects, including a fair number of commercial vehicles. There are horse-drawn vehicles, a few of which survived on British roads into the 1960s; electric vehicles, used mostly for local delivery work, or inside factories and warehouses; steam power, which had been used on roads since the early nineteenth century, and lasted into the 1930s for heavy haulage; and the usual range of motor vehicles. Everything from motorcycles with a sidebox for goods and tools, to the largest lorry or tanker. There have been several ranges devoted to veteran and vintage models, and to vehicles from the early post-war years – the 1950s and 1960s. Buses and racing cars do not usually count as commercial vehicles, but these often carry advertising for various companies, products, and services, so they can be added to a collection, providing even more colour and variety. There are also a few oddballs that do not fit neatly into one of the usual categories, but these can be among the most interesting models of all. Due to the vast range of models available, most collectors specialise to some extent. Some collect only certain types of model – three-wheelers or delivery vans; a specific period, such as a favourite decade; a particular scale; or a favourite brand, such as Matchbox or Dinky. It is even possible to build a collection around a major company or product type – I tend to have a little of everything.

    One of the more modern types in the Lledo range was the Morris LD150 van from the 1950s. This example carrying colourful period-style advertising for Gibbs SR toothpaste. (Die-cast Commercial Vehicles, Amberley Publishng)

    Apart from the real vehicles, it is also possible to see the way models have developed over the years. Early die-casts were almost always all-metal, except perhaps for rubber tyres or wheels. From the 1950s onwards plastic parts have been used – plastic allowed models to be given clear windows. Today, most models are a combination of metal and plastic. During the 1950s and 1960s companies offered models with more detail, and more working features, in their efforts to increase sales. From the 1970s toys had fewer working features as manufacturers sought to cut costs. Many of the older companies either disappeared, or changed hands, but there are always new companies appearing, keeping the fleets of die-cast commercial vehicles rolling.

    Paul Brent Adams's new book Die-cast Commercial Vehicles is available for purchase now.

  • Die-cast Aircraft by Paul Brent Adams

    German aircraft of the First World War often carried very elaborate personal markings, such as those on this Model Power Fokker D.VII fighter. The artwork is different on each side of the fuselage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    My interest in aviation began in the early 1970s with the 'Biggles' books by Captain W.E. Johns, himself a pilot in the First World War. I soon began building kits of the various aircraft mentioned in the stories. Then came my first efforts at writing, mostly about model aircraft. Once I began collecting diecasts in the 1990s, a few diecast aeroplanes also joined my miniature air fleet.

    People who collect real aircraft have a problem (other than the cost of real aeroplanes) which model enthusiasts do not have to worry about: even a small fighter plane is not going to fit into a normal-sized house. Model aircraft, being much smaller, are far more practical.

    This RAF Hawker Tempest of the Second World War is a partwork model. The code letters on the fuselage side identify the squadron flying the aircraft. The model has a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Model aircraft generally come in two forms: build-it-yourself kits; or complete models, in a variety of materials, including die-cast metal. Die-casts have been made for over a hundred years. Initially, they were mainly all-metal, but since the 1950s plastic has often been used for the smaller details. Plastic is in no way an inferior material to metal: it has allowed models to be given clear canopies and windows, previously these had often been depicted with silver paint.

    Most of the companies making die-cast models have concentrated on road vehicles, but several have also had extensive model aircraft ranges. Early models were all made as toys for children, but in recent years more highly detailed, and therefore expensive, models aimed at adult collectors have been produced by several specialist firms. There have also been several ranges of partwork models, which offer high quality models at very reasonable prices, along with a magazine giving background information on the real aircraft. Models aimed at collectors tend to be made to a limited number of well established scales; while toys are often made to fit inside a standard-sized box, so the scales can vary considerably.

    Corgi Showcase model of a Hawk jet trainer belonging to the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team. The canopy is black, and there is no interior detail. All Showcase models come with a display stand, but no undercarriage. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    There are two ways to look at these models. Aviation enthusiasts are likely to collect examples that show the history and development of the aircraft the models are based on. Others might be more interested in the design of the toys themselves, and the ingenuity of the toy makers. Each company tended to have its own style of model making, which developed over the years.

    Among the British companies, Dinky issued their first aircraft models in 1934, with their last new releases appearing in 1975. In the years just after the Second World War, there were a number of small companies producing die-casts, including aircraft, but most would eventually disappear, unable to compete with the quality of Dinky. Corgi produced a model of the supersonic Concorde in 1969, and a few helicopters in the 1970s, but did not get serious about aircraft models until 1998 when the Aviation Archive series was launched. Matchbox began producing the Skybusters line in 1973, and these are still being produced today. More recently Oxford Diecast have made a growing range of aircraft models. Most European countries have had at least one or two makers of die-casts, and many of these have also produced model aircraft; as have various American firms. There are now a number of companies in the Far East making aircraft. This means that there is a vast range of both new and vintage models to be collected.

    The Douglas DC-3 airliner of the 1930s, from the Corgi Showcase range. All the windows are printed. Larger versions of the DC-3 and its military counterparts are included in the Aviation Archive series. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the easiest ranges to find today are the Matchbox Skybusters, and the Corgi Showcase line. Neither series is expensive, and is a good starting point for a collection. As the models are fairly small, they do not take up a lot of space. These two lines also show the difference between toys, made to be played with; and models, which are intended more for display. Current releases can be found in toy and model shops, while older models can be picked up at collectors' fairs. Unlike the internet, fairs give you a chance to actually examine the models before buying.

    Dating from the 1970s, the Skybusters range comprised a mix of military and civil aircraft, from the Second World War onwards. There were also a few fantasy designs, and these now dominate the range, but a number of more realistic models are still available. The Skybusters are intended as toys, and scales vary. All have a fixed undercarriage, usually with rather over-sized wheels. Propeller driven aircraft and helicopters have revolving propellers or rotors, but there are usually no other working features. The models can be a little chunky, as they need to be sturdy, but every aircraft is recognizable. The colour schemes range from reasonably accurate, to completely fictitious.

    The Matchbox Skybusters series includes both civil and military aircraft. The twin-engined Cessna 402 is on a 1970s style card, while the General Dynamics F-16A fighter is on a 1980s card. (Author's collection, Die-Cast Aircraft, Amberley Publishing)

    The Corgi Showcase series includes both vehicles and aircraft, made to a variety of scales. All the aircraft have a display stand, but no undercarriage (unless the real aircraft had a fixed undercarriage). There are no working features, other than the usual revolving propellers and rotors. Canopies and windows are often painted blue, black, or silver, just like in the old days before clear plastic. Colours and markings are highly accurate, and detailed. These are much finer models than the Matchbox Skybusters, but are more delicate. They are display models rather than toys to be played with. Showcase models are smaller than their Aviation Archive counterparts - some aircraft types are available in both ranges so collectors have a choice.

    Over the years both Skybusters and Showcase models have been issued in boxes, usually with a clear plastic window so you can see the contents; or in clear plastic blisters glued to a backing card. Some of the models have also been released in sets.

    Paul Brent Adams' new book Die-cast Aircraft is available for purchase now.

2 Item(s)