02 November 2011
Much has been made of the 50th anniversary of the Jaguar E-Type. This year, however, is the 60th anniversary of a more humble E-Type, the Vauxhall E-Type. John Harrison takes an in-depth look at the variety of models that have been made of this car. ...
I am sure this is a scenario that would have been repeated in many families during the 1950s – the eagerly awaited purchase of a first car. In my family, the young son who was mad on cars (that was me, in case you hadn’t worked it out!) particularly looked forward to it.
Nowadays, a first car would be something like a Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Corsa or Renault Clio, but can you imagine someone having a 6-cylinder vehicle as their first car? This, however, is what my father did and, although I once asked him why he had bought this car, he could not give me an explanation. I had two sisters, so something like a Morris Minor, Ford Anglia or Standard 8 would not have fitted the bill. Nevertheless, an E-Type 6-cylinder Vauxhall Velox would not have been an obvious choice for a first car either.
Anyway, in 1958 my father purchased such a car, an early 1954 model. We only kept it for three years before he traded it in for what was then one of the new FB Victors. Like many Vauxhalls of that era, it was rusting badly and my father was worried that it wouldn’t pass its 7-year test when they were introduced. It obviously did as we saw it about three years later but by then the sills had virtually disappeared! A lasting memory of this car for me is when I leant against it one day and the trim adjacent to the rear light fell off – the build quality of Vauxhall’s bodies in those days was just not very good!
After WWII, from 1948 to 1951 Vauxhall manufactured the L-Type Wyvern and Velox, which were based on its pre-war cars. In 1951, however, these were replaced by a new range, the E-Type. These used bulbous styling which, like many cars of that period, was influenced by American styles. Bench seating was provided for six passengers.
Until 1952, the cars used the engines carried over from the L-Types: 1442cc 4-cylinder for the Wyvern and 2275cc 6-cylinder for the Velox. The new ones were introduced in 1952: 1507cc for the Wyvern and 2262cc for the Velox (cylinder numbers were unchanged).
A notable feature of the early cars was a bonnet that could be hinged on both sides or could be completely removed to facilitate engine access, but this feature had been dropped by the time my father’s left the production line.
In 1954, the model was restyled, the obvious feature being a new grille. Also in 1954, a new top-of-the-range model, the Cresta, which featured superior equipment and two-tone paint, was introduced.
Further minor facelifts occurred. In 1955, the chrome stripe down the side of the car was taken along its full length. Then, in 1956, the grille was again changed to one with horizontal rather than vertical lines and the Cresta acquired a distinctive chrome side flash.
The Wyvern was discontinued in March 1957 when it was replaced by the F-Type Victor. The Velox and Cresta were discontinued in October 1957 when they were replaced by the PA Velox and Cresta. Incidentally, the E-Type was the last Vauxhall to have the traditional flutes, a long-time ‘trademark’ of the company, along the car bonnet. The ‘FA’ Victor had flutes along the sides of the front wings, but after the ‘FA’ flutes were quietly dropped.
The E-Type proved to be a popular range and now, as it celebrates its 60th anniversary, it is a good time to review the models that have been produced, both old and new, and which are made from a variety of materials including plastic, diecast and white metal.
All the big British manufacturers – Corgi, Dinky, Matchbox and Tri-ang – produced models of the E-Type so I will describe the contemporary models of the pre-1954 version, then those of the post-1954 version and, finally, modern models. For all these I will start with the smallest and move up the scale to the larger ones.
MPC (United States)
MPC, or the Multiple Products Company of New York City – not to be confused with the later Model Products Corporation that subsequently made 1/24 scale plastic kits or Marx Plastics Company, a part of the Marx Toy Company – made two sets of 50 ‘Cars of the Nations’ or ‘Cars of the World’, one in 1954 and the other in 1961. A further range of classic cars as well as other models including aeroplanes, ships, military vehicles and a lot more besides were also produced.
The cars are basic one-piece plastic models, so basic that they do not have features normally found in models such as ‘glazing’, an interior, a base or revolving wheels. Both ranges include several British cars. Among these, in the 1954 range, was a Vauxhall E-Type. The models normally came in red, blue, green or yellow, in varying shades, but other colours reported were black, silver, gold, white, pink, grey, tan and orange.
It is not known whether the Vauxhall has been made in any of these less common colours. MPC’s cars were frequently sold in cellophane packs, usually of 40 or 100 assorted cars. If you want to find out more about MPC’s products, the website http://www.87thscale.info/mpc.htm has a helpful write-up and list. Incidentally, despite the website name, I would describe the scale of the Vauxhall as 1/87 ‘ish’ rather than precisely 1/87.
The Velox model is a rather crude representation, but this is perhaps not surprising as this was intended to be a very cheap toy. The grille is not roughly oval as the prototype is but rather of a ‘stepped’ design – it might have been designed this way to facilitate getting the model out of the mould. You might not be too sure it was a Vauxhall if MPC had not helpfully written ‘VAUXHALL’ on the bootlid – MPC models normally featured the car manufacturer’s name on the bootlid.
Tri-ang Minic (Britain) - Pictured above
Tri-ang Minic models had ‘Tri-ang’ and ‘MADE IN ENGLAND’ on its bootlids. These are plastic models similar to the MPC examples but not quite as basic, having a Minic motor inside – two of my four examples still work (a tribute to British engineering!) – and revolving rubber wheels.
They came in four colours: red, blue, green and orange, the orange ones seeming to be the rarest. It seems that on some models the grille and headlights are picked out with silver paint.
They were of similar size to the Matchbox Cresta, which we shall come to later. Like the MPC models, the Tri-ang ones were, of course, intended to be toys and it is not surprising that they are not accurate depictions. Having a thwacking great flywheel in the middle of the car’s interior hardly facilitates achieving a realistic appearance, of course! Presumably for the same reason as applied to the MPC, the grille is not the oval of the original but again ‘stepped’.
In the 1950s, Weetabix included cut-out models of vehicles on the back of its cereal packets for its young consumers to make up. One of these was a 1951 to 1954 version of the E-Type. I have only ever seen one of these models and my recollection is that it was green, but this memory is hazy.
Needless to say, this model is not very accurate. It was slightly smaller than 1/43 – the Weetabix models had to be produced on the ‘fit-the-box’ basis, of course. If anybody can tell me more about this or, better still, send me a photocopy of the back of a packet so I could make a model up, I would be really pleased to hear from them.
These were effectively scaled-up versions of the Tri-ang Minic Vauxhalls, again plastic models with friction motors. The scale is approximately 1/43. They were available in red or blue.
Larger scale does not necessarily make for better models. The proportions are not good, but again these were only intended to be toys. The grille is more prototypical than those of the models we have previously encountered, but still crude. The grille, headlights, front bumper and flutes on the bonnet are all picked out in silver – the flutes are not identifiable on the smaller scale MPC and Tri-ang Minic models. The bumpers are far too big and reminiscent of a late 1970s Volvo.
Micro Models (Australia/New Zealand)
Here we encounter our first diecast model. The scale is 1/36 as the baseplate testifies. The models were made by Goodwood (Australia) Productions Pty Ltd, from 1952.
The Micro Models’ range encompassed the cars that could be seen on the streets in Australia at this time. Not surprisingly, the range included many Holdens, but it also featured some British vehicles including a Standard Vanguard estate, a Humber Super Snipe, an MGA and a Ferguson tractor. The E-Type Vauxhall was subsequently followed by a PA Cresta model. The E-Type model, described on its base as a ‘Vauxhall Sedan’, was produced in red, metallic blue, metallic green and black.
The model is similar to a 1950’s Dinky, i.e. diecast body, riveted base and no windows, though the wheels are more realistic than on a contemporary Dinky. It does not seem to capture the lines of the real car very well – it is almost a ‘stretched limo’ E-Type.
As with the MPC and Tri-ang models, the grille is what I would call ‘stepped’, which it should not be. The rearmost door shutline is missing so the model appears to be of a two-door car, though no such cars were made!
The Micro Models’ moulds subsequently went to New Zealand. Some sources say that Goodwood manufactured them until 1961 whereas others say Goodwood only made them up to 1958 and Lincoln Industries made them in New Zealand under licence until the early 1960s. The moulds were later passed between various manufacturers (see http://fefcholden.org.au/forum/index.php?topic=850.0 for more details) and one manufacturer used them to produce plastic rather than diecast models.
In 1994, the moulds passed to Micro Models Ltd of Christchurch, who produced white metal copies of the originals. The models had ‘Micro Reproduction’ on their base instead of ‘MICRO MODELS’ and are, of course, heavier.
The wheels were bright silver whereas those on the Australian originals were a dull grey. Also, the door handles were picked out in silver, in addition to the bumpers, grille, flutes, front lights, rear light surrounds and front and rear badges. Four door handles were picked out despite the model being ostensibly of a two-door car judging by the shutlines. You could have this model in any colour you like, provided it was black!
This is not a model one chooses for its accuracy, but rather for its glorious period charm. It is a tinplate model, approximately 11cm long. Discounting the wheels and axles and the crude seats inside, on the basic version there are three tinplate components tabbed together: the base, which also forms the bumpers and grille; the main body of the car; and the window surrounds and roof (with a pressed-in indentation to simulate a sunroof).
The model was clearly a product of post-war shortages as careful inspection of the interiors often reveals they are made from the likes of Oxo or Horlicks tins. Mine has ‘with’ written inside the ‘body’ section and ‘ELL’, no doubt indicating the use of a Shell oilcan on the roof lining.
The nature of the model, with its tabbed tinplate construction, means it would be virtually impossible to produce an accurate replica of the real car. The base, unusually for this era, incorporates a simulated engine block, driveshaft and differential and arguably this is the most accurately modelled aspect of the car.
The model came in two versions: a basic example in single colours and a two-tone friction drive. The single colours were red, blue and green with the two-tone versions in two of those three colours. There is one variation of the model: some have numberplates and some do not.
The numberplates are the only clue we have to the manufacturer of the car. The Vauxhall’s is IXL 1952. It is presumed that IXL is the manufacturer’s name and 1952 the year the model was introduced.
The most common IXL model is its Sunbeam-Talbot and one guesses this is because it was the first model to come out so was in production longer. Nobody seems to know where the IXL company was based, but its models were sold in Woolworths’ stores.
Victory (Britain) - Pictured top right
The Victory Company produced high quality 1/18 scale plastic models that were powered by a battery-operated motor worked by a switch on one side of the base of the car allowing it to go forwards or backwards.
The company produced models that were sold through car dealership networks alongside its full-sized equivalents. The Velox was the product of such an arrangement with Vauxhall Motors.
This model was the second in the range following on from a Morris Minor. It was introduced in 1952 in two shades of green, bright and dull. The numberplate on it was VV 1972. In 1954 it was revamped, the most obvious external changes being a different numberplate, VAU 64.
Other changes included slightly different rear-end styling with separate rear lights, the provision of a ‘chrome’ flash (actually, like the other ‘chrome’ on the model, tinplate) and a ‘chrome’ trim above the rear numberplate.
This version was produced in three shades of blue (light, mid and dark), ivory, red, grey and black. The choice of numberplates for the two versions is interesting: clearly ‘VV’ and ‘VAU’ stand for ‘Vauxhall Velox’ and ‘Vauxhall’, respectively, 64 was the horsepower of the car but I cannot deduce any significance for 1972.
Victory models were expensive toys in their day and of a high quality. Given they were intended to be toys, they were excellent models. The shape of the car seems to be well captured and it has ‘chrome’ features, such as bumpers, grille and flutes. The models have ‘windows’ (ahead of Corgi, of course) and an interior with seats and steering wheel.
This trim is vulnerable to damage and the windows are a rather fragile cellophane-type plastic. The models are inclined to warp, thus finding one in perfect condition is almost impossible, but these are really nice models to own. If you want to find out more about Victory toys I would recommend www.madmalc.screaming.net/victoryindex.htm – I will readily admit to finding this website very helpful in penning this part of my article.
Matchbox (Britain) - Pictured above
We now move onto models of the post-1954 version of the E-Type. Most readers will be familiar with the Matchbox model of the Cresta (No 22) as it is fairly common. The Cresta was the first saloon car Matchbox modelled. The reason why this was chosen is that Jack Odell had a Cresta at the time and the colours used were those of his car.
The colours were maroon and white, but sometimes the maroon was more red and the white was more cream. For the time, producing a two-tone diecast model was quite innovative. The models were initially sprayed white, then the lower part of the body was sprayed red using a mask to protect the upper parts of the car. Finally, the grille, headlights and bumpers were picked out by hand in silver, though towards the end of production the rear bumpers were not picked out.
The two-tone paint scheme made the model expensive to produce as the masking process resulted in a high scrappage rate. The model was produced from 1956 to 1958, when it was replaced by the new-style Cresta, No 22b.
There were two changes to the casting on the car. The first was a change to the width of the bracings to the rear axle inside the model.
A bracing was put into the baseplate in the centre of the front axle to support it. This can be seen by looking under the car to see if there is a projection in the centre of the front axle. The axles originally had flat heads but later they were changed to domed ones. Initially, the bases were painted matt black but during production they were changed to gloss. As was normal for Matchbox models of this period, the model did not offer the features of windows or interior. It did, however, have a tow hook to facilitate towing the next model to be introduced in the range, No 23 the Berkeley Cavalier Caravan.
Unknown make – Matchbox copy (Hong Kong)
These are scaled-up copies of the Matchbox Cresta, around 1/50 scale. The model not only came in a rough equivalent of Matchbox’s maroon and white, a lightish red and cream, but also blue and cream and a dark, almost gold, yellow and cream. Other colours may exist.
Trim, bumpers, grille, headlights, the flashes on the top of the front wings, rear lights and the rear numberplate and light above were all picked out in silver, but not the flutes. The base features an emblem comprising a ‘W’ in a circle with wings either side, together with ‘MADE IN HONG KONG’ and ‘NO 101’. In terms of features, not even the tow hook, which the Matchbox Cresta had, is provided.
Corgi (Britain) and Dinky (Britain)
These two models demand to be considered together as they are of a very similar scale. The Dinky is in 1/45 scale and the Corgi is slightly smaller, so presumably 1/46. The Corgi model is of the 1955 Velox whereas the Dinky is the 1956 version of the Cresta with a ‘chrome’ stripe along the length of the car.
The Dinky Cresta (No 164) had a two-tone finish and the stripe marked the boundary between the two colours, beige and maroon or grey and green. The Corgi Velox (No 203) was available in cream, red, yellow and two-tone yellow and red as an ordinary model, or orange and red – the orange version being rarer – as a mechanical version (No 203M). The Corgi model, of course, had windows whereas the Dinky one did not.
The Corgi car had the option of a mechanical version with a friction motor. The mechanical version was less common as it had a shorter production run which resulted in lower sales figures, figures that were also affected by a higher purchase price.
The ‘normal’ Corgi ran from 1956 to 1961 whereas the mechanical version was discontinued in 1959. Corgi found its flirtation with the mechanical option wasn’t very successful which is why these models were dropped. The mechanical versions were much more expensive, 4/- (20p) compared with 2/9 (14p) for the ordinary models, and the friction motors in the mechanical versions were not very reliable – though the one in my example remarkably still works after all these years!
The Dinky version when first offered was priced at 2/11 (141⁄2p) incidentally. Though I would consider the Dinky to be the better model – it has much crisper details, such as chrome, and captures the original car’s shape better – I suspect the Corgi model would have been the winner in the toy shops at the time as it was slightly cheaper in basic form and offered the bonus feature of windows.
Welsotoys was a brand name Wells-Brimtoy introduced for a variety of products in the 1950s. This model bears comparison with the Victory Velox as it is a similar good quality large-scale model, though actually slightly smaller – 8in long compared with the Victory’s 10in.
It is a model of the 1957 version of the Cresta with a chrome-edged flash down the side usually in a contrasting colour. There are two versions of the car, one is a blue-grey version with a friction-powered motor, the flash is also blue-grey on this model, the other is red with a white flash and ‘remote-controlled’.
Remote control nowadays means radio-operated but, in the 1950s, things were not as sophisticated and remote control meant that the car had a handset connected by a wire. Thus, the ‘driver’ had to stay within a couple of feet of the car at all times. The handset controlled the movement of the car and the steering.
Surprisingly, though it was the more expensive version, the red and white version seems to be the commoner one these days. I wonder whether this is because the more expensive models were better looked after? The model is made of plastic with the ‘chrome’ features, such as the flutes and flash, made of tabbed silver tin. There is a lithographed tinplate interior.
Rod Parker (Britain) and Oxford Diecast (China) - Pictured above
We now move on from contemporary toys to modern models. Like the Dinky and Corgi models, these two are best considered together as they are both OO scale (well, actually there are three as the Rod Parker model comes in pre and post-1954 versions).
The Rod Parker models are white metal kits comprising three parts: the car body; the base, which includes rudimentary seats and non-revolving wheels; and a vacuum-formed window ‘bubble’. The kits fit together fairly easily, so do not need a degree in engineering to assemble!
Before assembling them you are supposed to paint them, but I am too lazy to do this and they do look reasonably presentable unpainted. The models cost £9.25 each including UK postage and packing and are available from Rod Parker at 19 Oaklands, Malvern Wells, WR14 4JE.
In contrast, the Oxford Diecast model comes ready-made and, like most of the OO scale models now produced, provides excellent detail for such a small scale. This is a model of the pre-1954 version of the Wyvern. It has been produced in black, green, metallic chrome grey and blue. The black model has a red interior just like Dad’s, except my father’s did not have whitewall tyres.
Mark Models (Britain)
To my great embarrassment, I have been unable to find my Mark Model E-Type when preparing this article. Mark Models produced a range of models of mainly, if not entirely, British cars finished in pewter and mounted on a wooden plinth. I would estimate they are around 1/50 scale.
The Mark Models E-Type came in at least two versions: an ordinary one comprising the model on the plinth and a special one to mark the 50th anniversary of the car in 2001 with a shield mounted alongside.
Though coachbuilders Martin Walter and Grosvenor did make estate car versions of the later E-type Vauxhalls (these have not as far as I am aware been modelled), there were no factory variations of the four-door saloon. In Australia, however, two different models were made – a convertible, called the Vauxhall Vagabond, and a Ute or pick-up.
The Australian company Devonworth has produced 1/43 models of these two cars. I am grateful to Mike Eden for lending me the models of these and the two white metal models described next.
Both models are diecast, but include a major plastic part, the simulated fabric hood on the Vagabond and a removable cover to the load area on the Ute. Both have very prominent chrome, which makes the vehicles’ styling look even more American than they are in reality.
Lansdowne and Pathfinder (Britain)
These are 1/43 scale white metal models. The Pathfinder model is of the pre-1954 version of the car and the Lansdowne model is of the 1956/57 version of the Cresta. Neither model is currently available.
The Pathfinder model came in white or red. The Lansdowne model was produced in metallic green with a cream flash and white with a blue flash.
The Pathfinder model incorporates a period accessory, a sun visor above the windscreen. These were not unusual on 1950s cars. I dread to think what they did for fuel consumption, but with petrol costing 5/- (25p) a gallon obviously some motorists did not care.
Both these models were expensive, but they are, of course, excellent quality. Details such as chrome trim are well reproduced on both, so well that they look like ‘showroom fresh’ cars.
In my view, the Pathfinder model captures the shape of the original car slightly better but, if you want ‘flash’, the extra chrome on the Lansdowne Cresta makes for a more impressive model.
I hope you have found this trip down memory lane interesting and continue to enjoy collecting these E-Types as much as I have. Here’s to the next 60 years!