Collector's story: Tri-ang's large scale tin toys

18 September 2009
imports_CCGB_redroutemasterwithglas_84958.gif Red Routemaster with Glasgow and Birmingham variations.
David Bowers turns the clock back half a century to the heyday of pressed steel lorries and buses from Tri-ang. ...

As the largest toy company in the world, Tri-ang had become proficient in the manufacture of toys from pressed steel in the 1930s. So it followed that in 1948 the first of the post-war pressed steel lorries would be the long-bonnetted Bedfords in a pre-war design in breakdown lorry, tipper and Shell tanker form.

It was closely followed in 1950 by the new 200 Series, a range that will be known to most toy collectors. The models resembled pre-war Fordsons with their square cab and sloping roof, and came in Shell tanker, tipper, lorry-mounted crane and the popular poster van featuring six colourful posters advertising the Tri-ang range. Some of these vans would be fitted with a unique system of rear-mounted steering.

By the mid 1950s, production had really taken off, with the introduction of the Diesel series of lorries, the smaller Junior Diesels, the ‘W’ series American-style trucks plus no fewer than 12 different sizes of crane and four tractors.

This successful period also spawned the Tri-ang Routemaster double decker bus. Launched at Christmas in 1956, the red Routemaster was one of the most popular toys from the range. It was in the catalogue for at least 10 years along with its single deck Greenline counterpart. At nearly two feet long it was Tri-ang’s showpiece! Other bus variations include a red single decker, and for an extra 9 shillings and 6p (47.5p), in 1962, Tri-ang would let you have the Routemaster in Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester liveries, to special order.

The mid 1950s Diesel Series lorries in rigid and articulated form really got the ball rolling, and were replaced in 1959 by the Thames Trader Series using the same chassis and working Scammel coupling gear for the artics.

Both Series came in a variety of colours, collectors could have had the ubiquitous tipper, ‘Express Delivery’ van, Shell tanker, a working diesel concrete mixer, fire engine with extending ladder, farm truck with pigs, milk churn lorry and breakdown truck with toolbox full of tools! Articulated variations on the truck, van, tanker and an impressive low loader with working excavator load would soon follow. Additionally, the Thames Trader would go on to include a car transporter, Pickfords van with Spot-On furniture load and an impressive 30” US army rocket launcher. Some models were even fitted with electric lights.

By the mid to late 1950s, the 200 Series was replaced with the snappily titled 300 Series. These trucks featured a more up-to-date cab resembling the contemporary Guy Warrior and at first included a van with paper posters (later transfers), a tipper, a canteen van complete with plastic tea urn and cake stand, a horse box with horses, and 400 Series ride-on models with steering wheels on the roof. These were quickly joined by an enormous two-foot long circus van containing plastic animals, and a matching 6-wheeled delivery van with a globe transfer to the sides depicting all the countries worldwide in which Tri-ang Toys were sold (and in some cases produced). It was to be this series of trucks which would go through to the late 1960s in more ‘modern’ guise with paper stickers, windscreen wipers and mirror accessories, metallic paint, plastic wheels etc, and were later known as the Regal Roadster Series from about 1966.

As a child in the 1950s and early 1960s these enormous colourful commercial vehicles fascinated me. Because of their size they would often be displayed in the larger toyshops of the period at high level, and were well out of pocket money range. The bus, for example, was around £3 10s 0d (£3.50), although I was fortunate enough to be given one for Christmas in 1956.

When my adult toy collecting took off in the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before I amassed a comprehensive collection of these hard-to-find Tri-ang lorries and buses, with which, incidentally, I appeared on Channel 4’s Collectors Lot TV Series, in 1999.

Now, after 25 years, my collection of over 50, many boxed and ex-shop stock, are to be sold at auction. The sale will include all the above lorry and bus variations, together with New Zealand and South African produced models. They will be sold by Vectis Auctions on 20th October. For details ring 01642 750616 or visit

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