Expert opinion: Thunderbirds collectables

21 August 2009
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Vintage toy expert Jim Stevenson casts a collector's eye over some of the FAB Thunderbird collectables of yesteryear. ...
Expert opinion: Thunderbirds collectables Images

During the Swinging Sixties ‘Fab’ was THE most iconic word of the era. Whether describing the clothes, the hair styles, the music or the mop-haired masses, ‘Fab’ is, and always will be, associated with that era. So it’s fitting that Fab, or F.A.B., should also be linked with THE most iconic kid’s TV series from the 1960s too – Thunderbirds! This groovy acronym (which doesn’t stand for anything apart from just being ‘fab’) is synonymous with Gerry Anderson’s best-loved brainchild. It was International Rescue’s radio acknowledgement (simply saying ‘Roger’ wasn’t an option) and it was also the name of Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce, FAB 1, which leads us conveniently into our first item.

FAB 1This is Dinky’s iconic FAB 1, No 100. This super model is as popular today as it was when it was first released back in 1967. A few of the ‘optional extras’ featured in this model include a missile firing front radiator and four smaller missiles which can be fired from the rear end of the vehicle. A clear sliding roof reveals figures of Lady Penelope and her ex-con chauffeur Parker. The model is presented with a great box and diorama sporting some fantastic artwork. If you’re looking to buy a mint version sure the box, diorama and the plastic bag with the missiles are in pristine condition.

Dealer prices for the standard pink version in mint-boxed condition can be as much as £400-£600. However, the model shown here is of the rarer florescent pink example, which can sell for £1000 plus.

Looking FAB
Penelope Play SuitIf young girls wanted to look FAB in the 1960s then this next item was definitely on their wish list. It’s the Lady Penelope playsuit by Decker of London. The vinyl outfit is straight out of the classic 1960s styling book, and would have been a great favourite with young girls of the time, especially with that fantastic artwork on the box. Expect to pay around £200–£400 for a mint example today.

J Rosenthal Toys (JR21) produced a classic range of plastic craft based on the series in the 1960s. Here we have the battery-operated amphibious Thunderbird 4, which was actually designed to operate on water as well as on the ground. I have never tried it in water myself and as a mint example can cost as much as £300–£400 from a dealer I don’t think I am going to either. I still think this is a great-looking toy, even after 44 years. Many collectors agree and it still sells consistently well.

Thunderbird 3From the same JR21 series comes this friction drive Thunderbird 3. The toy itself doesn’t do much; it only drives forward. However, it is always popular and has become increasingly difficult to locate in mint condition together with a mint box. Prime examples can sell for £150–£250.

Rocket Firing Space Gun Another well-known British toy company that hopped on the Thunderbirds bandwagon was Lone Star, which is responsible for this next item; the Thunderbirds Rocket Firing Space Gun. The rockets in question are actually sucker tipped darts, but that doesn’t distract from the fact that this is a great-looking rarity, which is getting increasingly difficult to track down, especially in mint packaged condition. If you can find a mint, carded example, expect to pay £350–£600.

Action Figures Our next two items come from the Fairylite toy company. These rare 12” action figures, which were released in 1966, represented ground-breaking production values in that period. Prior to the release of these dolls it was the puppet company Pelham that made toy replicas of the heroes of Gerry Anderson’s earlier puppet shows, such as Supercar and Fireball XL5. Who knows, maybe it was the imminent release of Palitoy’s new Action Man (which was to win Toy of the Year in 1966) that influenced the decision to make a posable action figure, rather than the somewhat dated puppet format. The fact the name on the box states ‘Action Thunderbirds’ seems to support that theory.

Fairylite released 10 dolls in the series: Virgil, Scott, John, Alan, Gordon, and Jeff Tracy, along with Brains, Lady Penelope, Parker and Tin Tin, the female electronics expert. Here we have Jeff Tracy, the head of International Rescue and Brains, the genius inventor behind the Thunderbirds. Although they were groundbreaking dolls at the time by today’s standards they are pretty crude. Even so, the demand for them is as strong as ever and values for examples in mint, boxed condition range from £250–£500 each.

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Around the same time Sunshine Vinyl produced a range of glove puppets based on the Thunderbirds characters. Included in the range was the Scott Tracy example, various members of International Rescue and their arch nemesis The Hood. Once again these are extremely hard to find, particularly boxed like the one shown here. In fact, I have only ever come across two boxed examples in nearly 25 years of working in the business. Consequently they are valued at around £800–£1,000 each in mint boxed condition.

Construction Kit Next up we have a series of construction kits produced by the Lincoln International Company. Here we have Thunderbirds 1 to 4 along with Lady Penelope’s FAB 1. Each kit comes with a selection of pre-coloured moulded plastic pieces that snap together to make a complete vehicle and an electronic motor to make them trundle along.

Granted, they are not the most exciting of toys but the excellent boxes more than make up for the contents. As you can see they do display well. Values are dependant upon the contents being unused, complete, including all the relevant paperwork, and with a mint box. A value of £250–£300 apiece from a dealer would be about right.

Stencil Set The colourful box art of this next item shows just why Thunderbirds toys are so much in demand. This is a simple stencil set made by the Berwick Toy Co. The contents feature a selection of Thunderbirds themed brown paper stencils, a paint palette and a colour chart to help you paint your favourite Thunderbird ships. However, it’s the box lid featuring Virgil, Scott and Brains in the laboratory that is the real attraction. Finding one of these sets in unused, complete condition is very hard. Such examples can sell for £250 or more.

Bubblegum cards pack Finally, we have a rare a counter display box for Somportex Bubblegum Cards from 1966. An example of this is very hard to find, particularly in clean, mint condition. I know £300 has been paid out for one of these boxes in the past.