08 October 2020
Never lost for things to talk about, Rick Wilson delves into his model stash to share his favourites.
Back in the 1970s, Formula 1 cars varied quite a bit in how they looked, especially compared to how similar all the cars appear to be today. Some of my all time favourite designs raced in the 1976 season – Tyrrell 007, Brabham BT44B and Ferrari 312T2 – but the one that really caught my attention and admiration first raced some years earlier: Colin Chapman’s wedge-shaped Lotus 72. It raced in several liveries, both as a works entry and in the hands of privateers, but none seem to be remembered as fondly more than the fabulous John Player Special cars with their sexy black and gold colours. Corgi Toys rose to the challenge to tempt the carpet racing drivers.
The story of this model actually begins with the introduction of model No 154, the ‘John Player Special’ Lotus, in March 1973. Modelled in 1/36 scale along with several other top Formula 1 cars of the time, Corgi produced an accurate toy replica in correct JPS cigarette livery, something that would be unheard of today. The range was a masterstroke as it appealed to all ages given the popularity of the cars on the Grand Prix racing circuits around the world. Sales of this model in particular were staggering (more than two million over a six year run) and sufficiently so to begin with that Corgi took the brave step of literally thinking big and doubling the size of the model to 1/18 scale, adding the feature of removable wheels using an included wheel brace, as No 190.
But this could have been a very different story as a licensing disagreement threatened to throw a spanner in the works before the release of the smaller model. This was settled after Marcel van Cleemput personally travelled to Jarama, just outside Madrid, to meet Lotus boss Colin Chapman, leading to a meeting soon afterwards that smoothed things out, allowing production to go ahead.
The larger model that we are focusing on here really was a new venture for Corgi, but the company was confident enough to feature just this model on the cover of the 1974 catalogue. Released in April 1974, the model was produced for three years and sales nearly reached 350,000 during that time. The larger size allowed for slightly finer detail and made for impressive desktop presence for any Formula 1 fan of the era. There are still a good number to be found in excellent condition, although finding one with the wheelbrace and spare wheel nuts is a harder task. Even so, expect to pay around £50-£85 for a good boxed example like this, definitely towards the upper end with the accessories.