Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Models & Model-Making

  • 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.

  • Jurassic Park Collectibles by Kristof Thijs

    Jurassic Park Electronic Command Compound. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Twenty-five years ago Jurassic Park was released in movie theatres. It was an adventure 65 million years in the making that shattered box office records. Its groundbreaking special effects laid the foundation for effects still used today.

    Many companies seized the opportunity to get their names attached to the Jurassic Park franchise. The JP license quickly swept around the world, filling store shelves with toys, apparel, games and much more with the iconic Tyrannosaurus Rex logo.

    I've been collecting Jurassic Park merchandise since the movie was released in 1993. I was eleven years old and already had a fascination for dinosaurs. So the first JP toys I got where still to play with. I quickly outgrew that phase, but I couldn't stop getting more items. Eventually I kept them in their packaging because it looked cooler and started putting them on shelves in one of the rooms at my parents' place. I called it my museum where I showcased my Jurassic Park items, dinosaur models and fossils I found at the local quarry.

    In honour of the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park, and the anniversary of the start of my collection, I'd like to highlight one item from every Jurassic Park line that was released between 1993 en 2015.

    The Command Compound was one of Kenner's last big toy sets. It was inspired by the visitor centre that can be seen in the film. It came with the iconic Jurassic Park gate that could be 'crashed' open by one of the toy vehicles. Inside there was a talking computer with more then a hundred different phrases.

     

    The Lost World: Jurassic Park Bull T-Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1997 Kenner picked up the JP license again for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While they designed plenty of new figures and dinosaurs, they also reused some of the old 1993 molds. The Bull T-Rex was originally planned for 1993 but the series II toy line, but was eventually scrapped. It came with an escape pod holding a scared action figure. The pod could be shoved down the throat of the Rex and then retrieved through an opening in its stomach.

     

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park: Chaos Effect Velociraptoryx. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Universal Studios was toying around with the idea for a cartoon called Chaos Effect. It would have featured hybrid dinosaurs roaming freely on Isla Sorna. The cartoon was never produced, but Kenner went ahead with the toy line, although plenty of announced toys were never produced. Most of the hybrids that got released were simple repaints from 1993 and 1997, but a handful were brand new sculpts. The Velocirapteryx was one of them. It was a sleek toy with bold colours and featured a shrieking sound effect. The hybrid was a combination between a Velociraptor and an Archaeopteryx.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park III Animatronic Spinosaurus. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    Hasbro ditched the Kenner brand in 2001 for the release of the Jurassic Park III toys. All sculpts were brand new and no longer were designed with action figure / dinosaur scale in mind. The biggest dinosaur, and probably most ambitious, was the Animatronic Spinosaurus. By pushing buttons that were hidden under the soft skin, the Spino's head would move like a real animatronic. The system that controls the movement was not designed with durability in mind. It breaks very easy and therefore it's really hard to find one today that's in mind condition.

     

     

     

     

    Jurassic Park Dino Showdown Allosaurus Assault. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In between films Hasbro tried to fill the gaps by releasing repaints of their existing dinosaur models. They were often exclusives for a specific store chain in the United States like Toys "R" Us or Target. After many repaints of the same dinosaurs over and over again, Hasbro surprised fans by putting out two models that were not only brand new sculpts, they were also quite revolutionary in the portrayal of dinosaurs. Something that the Jurassic Park franchise is not known for. Two Dino Showdown sets were released: Pachyrhinosaurus Clash and Allosaurus Assault. Each came with a GI Joe action figure from Hasbro's forgotten vault.

     

     

     

    Jurassic Wolrd Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. (Jurassic Park Collectibles, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2015 Hasbro once again went back the drawing board for their Jurassic World toy line. Although the film was a massive hit, the toys sadly were not. Many complaint about the quality of the toys. They broke easily and the paint jobs were often sloppy. Initially no action figures were released, except for generic miniature army guys that came with vehicles sets. One of the sets even came with a card board figure. Hasbro tried to make things right with their Dino Hybrid line that reused (parts) of the existing dinosaurs they released in 2015. Their best effort was the Dino Hybrid Indominus Rex. Although it looked like the large Indominus Rex from the year before, it was in fact a new sculpt with menacing colours and electronic sound effects.

    Not long after the release of the Dino Hybrid toy line, it was announced that Hasbro lost the Jurassic World license to competitor Mattel. Their toys are now slowly filling up stores, sometimes even sharing shelves with unsold Hasbro Jurassic World toys. With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom coming out soon, I can't wait to see what else Mattel and Universal Studios have in store. I have to fill up that "museum" after all…

    Kristof Thijs' new book Jurassic Park Collectibles is available for purchase now.

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