06 October 2011
Eric Bryan puts the spotlight on Mebetoys’ Lancia Fulvia, a highly detailed model of the Italian car that was introduced in 1965. ...
Though Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky dominated my childhood pantheon of diecast models, I was lucky enough to also have some Tekno, Solido and a few pieces from other brands which were less well-known in America at the time. A one-off in my diecast fleet was a Mebetoys Lancia Fulvia Coupé. It was Italian-made in 1/43 scale, and fully-featured.
I had the silver edition with a butterscotch or tobacco interior. The doors opened, the seats folded forward, the boot lid opened to reveal a piece of luggage moulded into the floor of the boot, and it had spring suspension riding on metal hubs and rubber tyres. The bonnet lid also opened to reveal a chromed plastic engine, with the added touch of some red plastic wiring and cooling fan. The model also had a silver or chromed gear shift lever on the floor, and four jewelled headlamps of a golden hue.
The attention to detail on this little car continued with chromed metal bumpers fore and aft, an Italian numberplate affixed to the rear, hand-painted red taillights and front side marker lights. And, most stylishly and charmingly, the make and model of the car were cast into the right rear of the body.
The base of the car was black metal, into which was cast the model and make, the Mebetoys model number of A-11, ‘SCALA 1/43’, ‘MADE IN ITALY’ and ‘MEBETOYS’. There was a little bit of detail cast here, in the form of an exhaust and muffler system. But, what always captured my imagination on the model was the Mebetoys’ logo, which was also cast into the base – it looked like a watching eye. There was something about it that suggested to me the Lancia was a spy car of some kind, making me think of it in the spirit of the Corgi Bond DB5.
I don’t remember how or where I acquired my Mebetoys Lancia, but it was one of the earliest models in the Mebetoys range. It was first shown in the 1966 catalogue brochures which were included with Mebetoys’ models, and it was shown in the line-up in the 1967 catalogue. In both publications, the car was depicted in a white finish. In the brochure, the price was listed as Lire 750, and in the later catalogue as Lire 700.
This Lancia Fulvia was also one of the earliest, if not the first, in the Mebetoys series to feature the complete set of opening bonnet, doors and boot lid, and to be fitted with jewelled headlamps. Into the 1970s, the jewelled lights were deleted and replaced with lights that were cast into the body. The metal hubs and rubber tyres were substituted for plastic wheels. The A-11 last appeared in the 1973 Mebetoys catalogue.
The Mebetoys Fulvia Coupé was produced in several colours. Besides silver, it could be found in red, light green, light blue, gold, metallic red, metallic blue, metallic light green and blue-grey. The interior colour variations were white and red.
For dating a Mebetoys Fulvia Coupé, a simple rule of thumb is that the earlier models had the black baseplate, and later ones a silver baseplate. On the earliest cars, the base had a single screw at the front. In the next phase, the vehicles still had black bases, but with two screws – one at the front and one at the back. The later models with the silver bases always had two screws. To accommodate the rear screw, the piece of moulded luggage in the boot was enlarged.
Another dating clue will be found in the wheels. The hubs of the first models had five indentations or simulated holes, the next series of models had six, and the last series had 10.
If you open the bonnet there are more dating clues in the engine compartment. The first models had both the red plastic cooling fan and leads or cables. The next series retained the red plastic wiring but omitted the fan. The last series had neither detail.
If you’re lucky enough to find a Mebetoys Fulvia Coupé with its original box, there are dating indicators here as well. The first boxes were white with brown flowering symbols, the Mebetoys’ eye logo outlined in black, and with a photographic picture of a white Lancia. The centre of the eyeball was punched out, perhaps so that the colour of the model inside could be seen.
The next series of boxes were of a kind of marbleised white, again with a brown flowering symbol and the Mebetoys’ eye outlined in red. This box showed an illustration of the model in red, with all hinged surfaces opened, the centre of the eye was not punched out, and one side of the box had a cellophane window.
The last version of Mebetoys’ packaging came when Mattel purchased it in 1970. These models were fastened to an orange or yellow plastic base, and housed in a clear plastic cover.
One box variation was the red box on a yellow, instead of marble-white, background, which was used for some of the Fulvia rally models.
Going back to the dating of the wheels, the five-holed variety corresponded to the white box, the six-holed hubs go with either the white or red box, and the 10-holed version were sold in the red boxes and later in the clear plastic cases.
PICTURED Mebetoys Lancia Fulvias in three versions with later style boxes. (Photo by Vectis Auctions)
Mebetoys also made several rally versions of the A-11. The Lancia Fulvia HF Rallye, model A-32, was first shown in the 1969 catalogue. It was issued in red, with number 39 labels attached to the doors, ‘HF’ (‘High Fidelity’) labels affixed to the body just ahead of the doors, and a Rallye Monte Carlo label on the front of the bonnet. It was made through 1974.
In 1975, a new rally version was produced. Mebetoys changed the paintwork to maroon, the car was renumbered as number 35, racing stripes were added down the centre of the top of the car and ‘LANCIA’ was printed in bold white lettering on the front of the bonnet.
Both of these rally versions were, at the bottom of it, the same Fulvia as the A-11 coupé. They even retained the same base plate for both rally cars, with the model number still cast as A-11.
Another rally version of the Fulvia appeared in 1974, the Lancia HF Marlboro, A-73. This model was part of Mebetoys’ Series Europa. Again retaining the original A-11 base, this car was a light metallic red, carried the number nine on its doors and had ‘LANCIA-ITALIA’ and various Marlboro markings on the body and bonnet.
Yet another rally variation of the Lancia Fulvia made its debut in the 1976 catalogue. This was the Lancia Fulvia HF Alitalia, A-91. This car was issued in a shade of bluish-green with a black bonnet. It had numerous racing insignia labels affixed to the body, including the number six on each door and a Rallye Monte Carlo badge on the bonnet. It had single-piece high-speed plastic wheels, which replaced the earlier style of Mebetoys wheels. The A-11 base plate was still used for the A-91.
And, as proof-positive that the rally versions were all really the A-11 coupé in disguise, just open the boot lid of any of them, and you’ll see the same luggage moulded there – though you could mentally convert this into an emergency tool kit on the rally editions!
The full-size Lancia Fulvia
The Lancia Fulvia Coupé was introduced in 1965 at the Turin Motor Show. Designed by Lancia’s Piero Castagnero, it had a twin overhead cam, tilted V4 engine of either 1216 or 1231cc, with an output of 80hp. It had disc brakes all the way around, front-wheel drive, a four-speed gearbox, and sat 2+2. It was considered a modern design in the 1960s, with an original sticker price of about £1,548.
For the 1216cc engine, the Fulvia’s top speed is listed as 100mph, with a 0-50 performance of 10.7 seconds, and a 36mpg (imperial) fuel economy. This first series of Fulvia Coupés was made until 1969.
The competition and rally version of the Fulvia also debuted in 1965, with the Coupé HF. This car carried a retuned 1216cc engine with an output of 88hp and a top speed of 100mph. The material of all the opening surfaces – boot lid, doors, and bonnet – was changed to aluminium to lighten the car, and the rear and side windows were switched to Plexiglas or Perspex. It was manufactured until 1967.
The next edition was the Rallye. This car had a 1298cc engine creating an output of 87hp and could do 105mph. It was produced from 1967 to 1969. This was followed by the 1.3 HF, with a 1298cc engine producing 101hp and a maximum speed of 109mph. It was made from 1968 to 1969.
The Rallye 1.6 HF followed, with a 1584cc engine producing 115hp and a top end speed of 112mph. It was produced from 1969 to 1973. The Rallye S came next, again with a 1298cc engine, with an output of 90hp and a top speed of 108mph. This car was manufactured from 1970 to 1974.
The Lancia Fulvia’s rallying record is legendary, with 31 international rally podium finishes from 1966 to 1974. The car’s most famous racing triumph came in 1972, when it won the Monte Carlo Rally, manned by driver Sandro Munari and co-driver Mario Manucci. Munari took the European Rally Championship in the following year.
Some of the Lancia Fulvia’s rally records are:
• 1965: Rallye dei Fiori, Italy; Leo Cella, 1st place
• 1966: RAC Rally; Ove Andersson, 7th place
• 1966: Monte Carlo Rally; Leo Cella, 5th place
• 1967: Geneva Rally; Sandro Munari, 2nd place
• 1967: Tour de Corse, Corsica; Sandro Munari, 1st place
• 1968: San Remo Rally, Italy; Pat Moss, 2nd place
• 1968: Austrian Alpine Rally; Hannu Mikkola, 2nd place
• 1969: RAC Rally; Harry Källström and Gunnar Haggbom, 1st place
• 1969: San Remo Rally, Italy; Harry Källström, 1st place
• 1969: Spanish Rally; Harry Källström,1st place
• 1969: European Rally Championship; Harry Källström, 1st place
• 1969: Italian Rally Championship; Sandro Munari, 1st place
• 1970: RAC Rally; Harry Källström and Gunnar Haggbom, 1st place
• 1972: Monte Carlo Rally; Sandro Munari, 1st place
• 1973: European Rally Championship; Sandro Munari, 1st place
Politoys’ Lancia Fulvia Coupé
Mebetoys experienced some direct competition from another Italian diecast maker, Politoys. In fact, in the Politoys M series, there was almost a twin to Mebetoys’ A-11. Also premiering in 1966, Politoys produced its own Lancia Fulvia Coupé, No 520.
Not only was it also made to 1/43 scale but, like the Mebetoys Fulvia, the bonnet, doors and boot opened, it had four jewelled headlamps (though silvery rather than gold), painted tail lights, an Italian numberplate on the rear and a tan or tobacco interior.
The similarities continued even down to the chromed gearshift lever, folding seats and the piece of luggage moulded into the boot! The Politoys Fulvia came with a set of decals so you could convert the model to the HF version and, like the Mebetoys’ Lancia, had metal hubs fitted with rubber tyres, and spring suspension.
Even the baseplate of the Politoys Fulvia is close, with a similar kind of exhaust system detail, ‘MADE IN ITALY SCALA 1/43’ and so on. It was available in metallic red, metallic light blue, and metallic light green.
But, Politoys took one step Mebetoys didn’t – on some models, a fuzzy red interior was installed that simulated velvet. Politoys’ cars with this feature are now somewhat rare examples.
More competition on the 1/43 scale front came from Turin-based Mercury Toys, with its own Lancia Fulvia Coupé, No 27. This model may have beaten the Mebetoys and Politoys Fulvias to the shelves, as the release date is given as 1965.
Again, this model is similarly featured to the Mebetoys model, with opening bonnet, doors and boot, jewelled headlamps, rubber tyres, suspension, and hand-painted taillights – though without the hinged folding seats.
The Mercury Fulvias also had an Italian numberplate affixed to the rear, though the label is notorious for being missing on surviving examples.
Like Mebetoys’ models, Mercury vehicles were produced in a multitude of paint colours in which its vehicles could be had. It reportedly changed its paint schemes often, and the Fulvia is known to exist in at least silver, white, metallic light blue and dark green. The interior is usually red, but white is sometimes seen.
Keeping to the 1/43 scale, a more recent diecast model of the Lancia Fulvia Coupé is by Minichamps. It modelled the 1970 1.6 HF version in red or white. These recent models are loaded with detail, including Lancia imprinting on the wheel centres, attractive make and model lettering on the back, realistic lighting and intricate interior work.
The only mechanical flaw of my Mebetoys Fulvia was that the bonnet never shut quite all the way – it always rode slightly high. But, as far as the solidity and overall detail of the model is concerned, I think it was comparable to Dinky Toys of the same years. Dinky, though, would have had the car’s engine cast in metal, rather than being chromed plastic.
You may be wondering how the Mebetoys Fulvia compares to the Politoys and Mercury models – which is the best out of this Italian triumvirate? I don’t know; I never owned either of the latter.
Going by photographs alone, the Politoys’ model looks very close indeed to the Mebetoys, with the Mercury perhaps trailing the other two slightly in terms of detail.
Looking over what’s for sale and in completed auctions regarding the Mebetoys A-11, I found a range of values:
• Blue-grey, mint in red box, £57
• Metallic green, mint in red box, asking £79
• Gold, mint in red box, asking £100
• Gold, mint in white box, asking £137
• Metallic blue, mint in red box, £100
• Red, later model with 10-holed hubs, fair, no box, £10.52
• A group of three, metallic blue, metallic blue-grey (both excellent) and silver (good), all with 10-holed hubs and no boxes, sold for £90
For the rally versions I found:
• A-32 Monte Carlo No 39, first issue, mint in red and yellow box, asking £125
• A-32 Monte Carlo No 39, mint in red and yellow box, asking £100
• A-32 Rally No 35, mint in Mebetoys-Mattel plastic case, asking £67
• A-73 Marlboro, mint in Mebetoys-Mattel plastic case, asking £62
Recently, the Mebetoys Fulvia Coupé has become quite scarce on eBay, as has the Politoys version of the car. The Mercury model of this Lancia seems to be slightly less rare than the other two. Vectis Auctions shows much more activity with Mebetoys’ Lancia Fulvias, though they are usually found in lots rather than singly.
Keeping its relative scarcity in mind, if you think you have an interest in this little Italian car with the legendary rally pedigree, it’s worth keeping an eye out for its 1/43 scale cousin from one of the classic Italian diecast vehicle makers, Mebetoys.
This article, 'With love from Italy' was first published in Diecast Collector's November issue. To see which issues of Diecast Collector are available to buy online, click here.
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