Collecting myths and legends - Part 2

19 December 2022
Unravelling some of the ideas that surround the world of the diecast.
Collecting myths and legends - Part 2 Images

Without a shadow of a doubt, the major cause of diecast model variations is that of colour. Sometimes it’s a question of shade (a new batch of paint wasn’t quite the same as the previous one); sometimes it’s a case of a different colour for a different market; and sometimes (more interesting still for the collector), it’s that famous Friday Afternoon Job, where if a certain colour (or sometimes a part) wasn’t immediately to hand, then an alternative was utilised.

So where do we start? The Corgi Man from U.N.C.L.E. Thrushbuster Oldsmobile isn’t a rare sight on the swapmeet circuit, and this dark metallic blue model, with the oft-missing Waverly ring, is a good addition to any collection. But did you know there was a white version, too? This was made for the US market, so isn’t often sighted over here. Quite why Corgi decided to paint it white is beyond me: it does nothing for the car at all. How rare is it? Well, I have to admit that I’ve never seen one in 25 years of perusing stalls – yet they are around. It’s not scarce across the Pond but you’ll pay handsomely to acquire one – maybe up to four times the price of the blue version.

Years and years ago, when first I started swapmeet reporting, the Corgi The Avengers Gift Set 40 was not uncommon at events. Indeed, today you’ll sight one or two at any sizeable show, proof positive that this set must have been made in its thousands. Three decades back, though, it was all about red Bentleys. However, there were also stories of green Bentleys but these were rarely seen. Why on earth Corgi produced Steed’s Bentley in red is another baffling question: maybe it had an erroneous delivery of paint that day. After all, it was green in the ABC series (although most viewers would have watched it in monochrome, of course). Similarly, Emma’s Elan was issued in unexciting white and not the correct pastel blue – yet Corgi’s open-topped racing Elan was produced in light blue! Anyhow, tales freely circulated about the World of Wooster Bentley being substituted for the red car to hike up the set’s value. Actually, this would have taxed the unscrupulous, for Wooster’s Bentley had different coloured mudguards and interior, as well as wire wheels of another hue. Today, both varieties co-exist and despite what the price guides say, I don’t think there’s much difference in relative values, even if the red is much more common. If you’re a fan of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson (and who isn’t?), then you’ll know that there was more to the talented pair than Thunderbirds. For example, Captain Scarlet achieved no small degree of success (although in this particular writer’s book, nothing eclipsed the Tracy brothers). The Dinky Spectrum Patrol Car is extremely well known: usually red, occasionally gold, it’s a perennial favourite. Over the years there have been rumours of metallic silver and metallic blue versions but until images appear, rumours they remain. However, a yellow resin prototype is known – and there are at least two in circulation. And it’s a complete model, as can be seen from the photograph here.

Finally, back to John Steed and his role in The New Avengers. Whilst bob-cropped Purdey was treated to a rather downmarket TR7 (not a patch on a Lotus, I think you’ll agree), Steed was equipped with a mid-blue 5.3-litre Jaguar XJ12 coupe. Dinky got the Triumph past its MOT all right but faltered with the Hong Kong made Jaguar.

So, how many were made? And have you ever seen one? Well, such models do turn up at auction but most tend to be converted items, so are not original. (Ignore any Code 3 rubric: this term has been, and continues to be, greatly abused. Code 3 should only refer to the manufacturing company promotionals and the like). Added to that, there’s at least one enterprising company making boxes for this particular car (which should include a fly-off bad guy). The car never went on general sale so in theory, at least, there’s nothing around but pre-production examples. Oh, and a tantalising twin car gift set shown in the catalogue: no-one I know has seen this duo, so were they merely reps’ samples?

Content continues after advertisements

But the real thing does crop up – and prices for this Coventry cat have been as high as £5,000, although clearly this depends on the interested parties on the day of the auction. One contact of mine believes that more and more examples of this model are seeing the light of day – and he reckons that 300 could be a good starting point.

Finally, a word about the miscreants. Hands up if you have an example of the Matchbox VW 1600 Beetle in Herbie colours, with the “53” decal?

Despite this model being listed in price guides, the general consensus is that Lesney never made it. Yes, there is the 15d reference Beetle from 1968 in white bearing a “137” decal – but that’s as close as you’ll get to ‘The Love Bug’ that was popularised by Disney. The story that Matchbox didn’t want to pay royalties to Disney may explain the differing decal, but who really knows 50 plus years on?

That hasn’t stopped examples of the Herbie car appearing on the collecting scene, though. Some, possibly all, are (allegedly) the work of a US model shop, which was keen to plug the obvious gap in the range and forge a link with the famous film. So we’re looking here at a modified toy again. Do they have a value? If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Lesney aficionado, you’ll probably want an example – but bear in mind that it’s not a factory issue.