14 September 2022
Looking for an affordable collecting theme? We have a potential answer...
Let’s be totally honest with ourselves, right from the outset. If you’re a collector of miniature vehicles of any sort, then it’s helpful to have certain factors in place before you set out – or in popular parlance, have your ducks lined up.
Firstly, if there’s a reference book relating to the chosen field, then that is a huge asset. There’s nothing worse than ambling along, not really knowing what’s out there and in what quantity. Secondly, it’s really helpful to know that the range you intend to hunt out is a finite one and not open ended. Take Matchbox toys for example: whilst you can simply collect the first series of 1-75, within that number there exist many variations. Spread your net more widely and you start running into pre-production models – for the most part undocumented and, in the main, enough to have you talking seriously to your bank manager. Thirdly, colour: if you can establish a set palette, then you know what to look for. That said, even with modern manufacturers, paint batches can vary and a standard green finish might turn up in a paler hue, for instance. You have been warned...
With the Tri-ang Minix range, though, all the above boxes are ticked, rendering their collection that much simpler.
Back to the sixties
If memory serves (and it still does, for the most part), Minix 1/76 scale vehicles were rarely encountered within the junior school environment. There was good reason for this: lightweight, small and quite fragile, they were ill-equipped for the rough and tumble of the playground, where the diecast ruled supreme.
Tri-ang’s range was actually launched in 1965 and to be fair, there was little else around in terms of plastic competitors, save the miniature vehicles of Danish giant LEGO. These latter, in 1/87 scale, were initially made in cellulose acetate, but after 1963 plastic was adopted. It is interesting to note the similarity in wheels between the two manufacturers, incidentally.
What’s great about the Minix range is its finite quality (altogether just 17 vehicles were manufactured, if one includes the caravan) and the palette used to portray (in the main) British motor cars of the decade was equally set. There are three shades of green; white, red, blue, lemon, orange, dark blue, black and maroon were also used. If you are a completist (heaven help us), then you’ll need to know that not all cars were available in all the colours. Some, predictably, are very hard to find – but then that’s the fun of collecting, right?
As many readers will be aware, the Minix range was seen by Tri-ang as a useful accessory to its huge railway empire. Everyone (well, every male) had a railway set back in the 1960s and needless to say, once a set was purchased, then came the task of making the layout more realistic. For realism, read roads and buildings - and vehicles. Dinky’s diecast Dublo range was rather long in the tooth by the 1960s, so using its plastic expertise, Tri-ang neatly filled the gap. The cross-over was reinforced by some of the rolling stock that Tri-ang manufactured; this included everything from a single Minix car strapped on to a basic open truck to a double car transporter set that contained a veritable fleet of Minix miniatures. Helpfully, there is no mystery surrounding the contents of these railway trucks: it seems that Minix cars were selected at random to fill the requirement.
The actual Minix range, which gasped its last in the late 1970s, had by then undergone a change or two. In the early days the models all ran on silver coloured wheels and tyres and sported chromed bumpers and baseplates. One suspects that the accountants waded into the toy arena around 1972, for the later production dispensed with the cost of chroming, leaving cars with grey baseplates and bumpers and with black wheel/tyre combinations.
Personally, l’ve never seen a real car with silver tyres, so the change to black works well; sadly, the lack of chrome is a real negative, and doesn’t do the models any favours at all. But then, they were toys after all...
Packaging and purchasing
Minix vehicles, being small, benefitted from high profile packaging as a consequence. Whilst our old friend Matchbox was happy to hide its range within the confines of card, Tri-ang opted for a little window box wrapped with cellophane. Not only did this make the toys stand out, it also allowed the browser to see the various colours, something important in the purchase process. A stack of such boxes also made for a colourful sight, giving the little toys great window presence, in my opinion.
All the range was sold in single units but double packs were also available: these might have contained two cars or perhaps a car and a caravan, for certain models were fitted with tow hooks. Interestingly, it is believed that not all the vehicles were retailed in twin packs. The joker in the pack (no pun intended) was the AEC-Strachan single decker bus/coach, which was modelled in 1/135 scale. One presumes it was all down to packaging size and that Tri-ang didn’t want the cost (or complexity) of tooling up for a bigger window box.
Today, it’s quite surprising that many of the range regularly turn up in their original window boxes, some opened, some not. Equally, there’s a healthy rate of survival for what is, in essence, a very delicate toy. Always check that tow hooks are present when called for; and make sure that pressure hasn’t been applied to the roof of a vehicle, which can result in poor wheel alignment or breakage. Bear in mind, too, that quality control wasn’t the same half a century ago, so gaps between bodywork and bumpers or poorly fitting glazing may well be encountered.
The good news is that these miniatures are not going to break the bank: common coloured cars, loose, sell for a few pounds each whilst an unopened, boxed example can be had for under £30. There are exceptions, naturally: the Vauxhall Cresta had a short run and is hard to locate while the sole gesture to overseas manufacture in the shape of the Nash Rambler is also quite elusive. And, if you happen to stumble across a pink model, just make sure it hasn’t been out in the sun!