04 February 2019
Examining the history of some of Britain’s great toy makers - Airfix
Meccano Constructor Outfits: Best of British
Meccano Constructor outfits must have been wonderful toys to receive for Christmas way back in the 1930s for those boys who were lucky enough to receive them. They were bright and colourful and used many parts that were not available in the normal Meccano range.
During the 1920s Britain entered what was to become a golden era of transport, where speed was king and numerous attempts at speed and endurance records on land and sea prevailed. Fast Racing cars, Ocean Liners, Aeroplanes and Seaplanes were the things that boys were getting excited about as the1930s dawned. It was inevitable, therefore, that the design team at Hornby would soon tap into this market. By the late 1920s Meccano sets were beginning to change in an attempt to reflect this bright new age. Dunlop Motor tyres had been added to the Meccano range in 1927 and a set of 24 different ship’s funnels assisted the building of more realistic ships. The new modern colour scheme of red and green was briefly introduced before blue and gold became the norm. The 1930s was an exciting time to be a Meccano modeller and an exciting new range of constructor toys were about to be born.
The first Meccano Constructor Outfits were actually Aeroplanes which first entered the toy shops of Britain in 1931. By 1933 there were six different outfits available in the Aeroplane constructor range, the first two being the 00 priced at 3/3d and the 0 priced at 4/6d. The larger Number One and Number Two sets were priced at 7/11d and 13/6d respectively. 1933 saw the release of the Number One Special Outfit along with the biggest Aeroplane outfit of the range, the Special Series Number Two Outfit which was priced at a hefty 22/6d.
As there was no particular scale to the aeroplane outfits modellers’ could build a myriad of different aircraft with the larger outfits. The two smaller sets, however, were not compatible with the bigger outfits. This was also the case with the Meccano Constructor Car outfits which first appeared in August 1932.
The first Motor Car Constructor Outfit sat perfectly alongside the aeroplanes. The age of the fast streamline saloon cars and sports tourers had developed strongly in the 1920s and Meccano was well aware of the great interest in motor cars being shown by the number of modellers entering them in the various model building competitions organised by clubs in line with initiatives through Meccano Magazine. It was clear, however, that the standard Meccano parts, whilst adequate for constructing the chassis of a vehicle, it did not offer sufficient body parts that would allow sleek, modern motor cars to be built. There was a gap in the market which was soon filled by the Constructor Cars.
Unlike the aeroplanes the first Constructor Cars could be ordered pre-built from the Meccano factory in one of four variations from parts contained in the first set. They were 1-(1) Sports Tourer with hood; 1-(2) Salon Coupe; 1-(3) Road Racer; 1-(4) Sports Tourer. The three different colour schemes to choose from were cream and green with a red crackle lacquer seat giving it the look of real leather; Red and cream with a blue seat and Blue and cream with a red seat. The cars had Ackermann type steering gear with worm and nut activating the mechanism from the steering wheel. The front wheels were mounted on stub axles pivoted to the sides of the chassis frame of the model. The cars had die-cast wheels along with smart chromium-plated lamps, radiators and bumpers.
The cars were powered by a strong clockwork motor driving the rear wheels which, according to Meccano Magazine, when fully wound could move the vehicle 150ft at a scale speed of 100m.p.h. The internal expanding brake mechanism was controlled by a lever on the right hand side of the dashboard which needed to be activated to allow the motor to be wound up and to act as a brake when the car was stationary. Next came the No.1 Constructor Car outfits which cost 13/6d, a fair sum of money back in the early 1930s. In order to allow different cars to be constructed optional interchangable body parts came with the outfits. These included two types of radiator grille, two rear body sections and options for short or long wheelbase motor cars. This allowed popular road cars of the day to be copied including the ‘baby’ MG Midget, Riley, Fraser Nash or Aston Martin type racers and roadsters… dream toys for lucky boys!
The No.2 Motor Car Constructor Outfits were larger in scale than the No.1 cars and were priced accordingly at 25 shillings. They were available in four different colour combinations with smart white rubber tyres, a die-cast driver and extra body parts which were obtainable from the Meccano factory by special request. These included orange or yellow body sections and wheels along with orange or green wings.
Smart tinplate garages were also made available for the Constructor Cars at a price of £5/6d and lighting sets enabling electric lighting of the No.2 cars were offered at the price of £2/6d.
By 1938 some catalogues show that the price of both the smaller No.1 and larger No.2 Motor Car Constructor Sets had been reduced to 9/6d and 18/9d respectively. This may have been an attempt to boost sales as the clouds of war were now beginning to hang over Britain.
Interestingly in 1933 Meccano also produced a non-constructor Two-Seater Sports Car which required no assembly and was simply a clockwork toy car. It was finished in red, blue or cream and sold for 6/6d. These are now hard to find in good condition.
Production of both the Constructor Cars and Aeroplanes came to an end during World War Two when the Meccano factory was turned over to war work and they never re-appeared after the war. This was sad as they were great toys but for whatever reason not deemed worthy of further production. Fears might have been that by the late 1940s they were beginning to look a bit dated.
Prices for Meccano Constructor Cars have risen dramatically over the past few years with complete fully original boxed outfits making large four figure sums. Unboxed examples usually sell for several hundred pounds depending on condition. Many spares are available for the collector or restorer both at toy fairs and on the internet.