13 December 2022
Unravelling some of the ideas that surround the world of the diecast.
Did they – or didn’t they? It’s a question that collectors, sooner or later, will ask themselves when it comes to certain models within their chosen field of collecting. Was it ever issued? Was it just a catalogue model? Was it ever faked?
All collectors enjoy the hunt for the next acquisition and of course, all have in mind a Holy Grail that one day, just maybe, they will finally possess. But what if that Holy Grail turns out to be an enamel mug? A little knowledge can go a long way here…
What follows is something of an eclectic listing, embracing the most popular of diecast manufacturers, namely Corgi, Dinky, Husky, Matchbox and Mattel. However, views and comments expressed herein must not be taken as gospel – after all, unheard-of models and odd variations are emerging from the woodwork with every passing year. With that caveat in mind, let’s get started.
Some diecasts were literally made in penny numbers; they are often well documented and so acquisition is likely to involve a long game of patience.
Take the Dinky Austin A40 Omnisport van. This surfaced relatively recently and was sold at auction by Wallis and Wallis in 2009 for a staggering £6,400. Made back in the 1950s for a shop in El Salvador, it was unique because Dinky never received a follow-up order. Helpfully, copies, with realistic logos, are available in the marketplace at a fraction of the realised auction price. (If you think about this for a moment, in this instance a replica is not really much different from the original. After all, it was a stock model in a particular shade of blue with decals affixed. A replica today could be argued to be the same, since the production process would be identical).
Another fabled model is that of the Mattel Hot Wheels Rear Loader Beach Bomb campervan. According to reports, the initial batch of Beach Bombs (just 16?) were too thin for use with the track’s Supercharger fitment, and were inclined to topple over at speed on the track curves; this necessitated a degree of remodelling. (Yes, gentle reader, people actually played with their toys back in the 1960s). Two of these Beach Bombs were finished in the very girly colour of Hot Pink (which was never a good seller for Hot Wheels. In consequence, half a century on, there are fewer models about in this shade). These Bombs are not identical, though, for the bases are different. Apparently the famous one cost its current owner around US$70,000. That’s the bad news - but there’s good news, too. The last I heard, this pink creation was up for sale to any interested party for a cool US$150,000, making it the most expensive Hot Wheels model ever – bar none. Whether it’s that desirable, I’ll leave to you to ponder; at least it’s prettier than a share certificate.
Less prosaic were the Dinky motorcyclists, who came in a range of varieties, including civilian, military, police and roadside assistance. There are a couple of police versions, again paint being the differentiator. Uncatalogued, to my knowledge at least, is the set of half a dozen motorcyclists in a display box. Depicted here in all its glory, this set would be a great accompaniment to the military model sets that were similarly packaged. Hard to find? You bet – maybe a handful have been sighted to date, if that. And don’t talk about price: when it comes to this sort of production run, the sky can be the limit.
Speaking of the few and far between, let’s not omit another from the same stable, the humble Dinky Triumph Herald, reference 189. For a while at least, in Triumph showrooms, buyers of a new Herald were given a model miniature in red. This makes it, in retrospect, one of the most expensive models ever and it would have been limited in production, since it was tied to the purchase of the real thing. You’d have had to be a real obsessive to have secured that one!
Dinky’s Lunar Rover was ushered in with a proclamation to the effect that it had been cathodically coated with a paint containing Tioxide. This didn’t mean much to collectors, I’m sure, but the metallic blue model was interesting enough, with its four wheel steering. But a turquoise one? Yes indeed – and here’s the picture to prove it. I haven’t a clue how many others are roving the moon in this rather unorthodox non-NASA paint scheme, nor do I know the side effects of Tioxide paint on small children who might have sucked it at the time.
The ones that got away
There are more models that never made it than at first you might think. Here, though, is just a selection; after all, this kind of subject can be revisited.
For example, Matchbox decided to manufacture the Pontiac GTO in both tin-top and convertible versions. Both of these came to nothing although again resin models were made. At least two convertibles are about to my knowledge and all these were the work of George Turner, who later joined Lledo as a model maker. Likewise, Matchbox’s MB 136 Nissan Cedric seems to have been taken off the assembly line.
Back to Husky Toys: the company listed a Porsche Carrera 6 in its catalogue and even endowed it with a reference number: 41. However, this lime green bolide never saw the light of day for reasons that I do not know. Happily for us collectors, though, it did pop up in the Corgi Juniors range under the same reference number but, sadly, was finished in a rather dull white colour.
Dinky, too, had some grand ideas that came to naught. I suppose that when you look back on these things, it was inevitable that somewhere along the (production) line things would come unstuck. The most famous example is the Triumph Dolomite in the pre-war Series 38: that was pictured in catalogues but was never produced. Likewise 40c, the Jowett Javelin: it reached the drawing board but never got any further.
To end this section on a slightly surreal note, within the last 12 months I’ve come across a resin model of the Adams Brothers Probe. This was made by Matchbox and as far as I know, is a one-off. In fact, the model seems to be on the earliest Probe, the 15, about which the general public know very little: only a couple of these ultra-low, roof-entry, futuristic styling exercises were ever made, although another company would later produce the Centaur, a virtual copy of the Adams car, again with a Hillman Imp engine for power. Corgi, though, brought out the later version of the Probe, the 16 (and Auto Pilen either stole the moulds or simply pirated the UK product). The Matchbox model thus remains a tantalising reminder of what might have been…