27 February 2012
Paul Lumsdon puts the spotlight on Corgi AA32802, the Australian Mosquito, which was due for release in 2001. ...
I think it is fair to say that the world of collecting needs occasional rumours and myths. It helps to stimulate the passion and excitement behind the search for an elusive but valuable rarity – it is human nature that hunting down the ‘holy grail’ is the ultimate thrill.
Think of the vintage car where there is still rumoured to be a unique one-off super-charged version hidden in a barn somewhere in Ireland. Or how about the First Edition of a book whose entire print run had to be destroyed when a serious libel suit was threatened by someone named in its pages, but a very small quantity happened to already be delivered to the dealers.
The toy industry has certainly had its fair share of such rumours and myths. Only recently I heard from a friend who some years ago had been thrilled to find a ‘rare’ Airfix Rotodyne kit around the same time as the mould was rumoured to be lost and Airfix would never make it again. He saw one for sale in ModelZone last week...
Then there was the case of the Lledo Days Gone Mack canvas-back truck in Coca-Cola livery. The production run was made and distribution had started when Coca-Cola refused permission for the models to be sold. It is rumoured they were all re-called to be destroyed but just one or two dealers refused to return all the models and the survivors became hugely sought after and changed hands for hundreds of pounds each. I joined Lledo shortly after this happened and can confirm this was 100% true!
The case of Corgi’s AA32802 is very similar in many ways. But, was it fact or was it fiction, reality or myth? These are the questions asked by many collectors over the past decade or more. Let’s take a look at the story behind the release of Corgi’s famous ‘Aussie Mossie’.
After a slow-ish start in 1998, Corgi’s Aviation Archive team had discovered that military aircraft rather than civil prop-liners were the key to the success of what was fast becoming a new diecast collecting craze.
Early in 2001 Corgi announced the exciting news of the release of a 1/72 scale Mosquito model during the second half of the year. The model was to be produced in two variants, the B MkIV bomber and the FB MkVI fighter-bomber. The first release was to be a bomber variant but the second was to be FB MkVI, serial MM403, coded SB/V.
This was one of the aircraft of 464 Sqn Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) that successfully took part in Operation ‘Jericho’, the daring raid to attack Amiens prison where the occupying Germans were about to execute over 100 members of the French Resistance.
Piloted by Flt Lt Tom McPhee, with navigator Flt Lt Geoffrey Atkins, MM403 was one of five aircraft of the unit that breached the walls of the main Amiens prison building and destroyed the guards quarters, allowing some 255 prisoners in total to make their escape. MM403 then returned safely and successfully to base at RAF Hunsdon.
Although as Corgi’s Marketing Manager at the time I was closely involved in the development of the early Aviation Archive releases, by 2001 I had moved onto other areas of the diecast portfolio and Product Manager Robert Hinchcliffe was responsible for researching and developing this range.
To the best of my knowledge the new 1/72 scale Mosquito had been well received and this release was going to be a popular addition as it commemorated such a heroic raid. Imagine my surprise then when I heard shortly after release that they were changing hands for up to £450 each on eBay (and alledgedly up to £500 privately).
I was even more shocked when I heard the reason: a warehouse fire had apparently destroyed all but around 500 of the limited edition release of 5,900, making this a super-rare Aviation Archive release.
Now I have to say that this was a warehouse fire that no-one had mentioned to me. Interestingly, no-one had mentioned it to Robert either, nor to Corgi Sales Director Colin Summerbell.
In preparing this article I spoke to both. Both remembered the release well and here are the comments they made:
Robert: “I can categorically confirm that there was no fire that I was aware of – as far as I am concerned it was a complete myth put around by someone in the trade to help bolster sales.”
Colin: “I recall that the model was very well received, and if I remember rightly may have been oversold and allocated (allocation is where retailers only get a percentage of their full order delivered to them because the order book exceeds the stated limited edition run). That might have made them more sought after but there was certainly no fire in the UK warehouse, and we certainly weren’t supplied with any less than we had ordered.”
So where and why did this rumour start? I’m afraid we may well never know the true answer to that. However, we can speculate and one popular theory is that when a model is in short supply very often a retailer, with a full order book but insufficient models, will have to disappoint a proportion of his customers. It is possible that in this case, to placate a disappointed customer, the retailer made up a story about a fire damaging some of the stock. A few ‘Chinese whispers’ later and the rumour of a disastrous blaze taking most of the stock is in full flow.
Another popular theory revolves around a very obvious (in hindsight) error on the model. The black and white identification stripes should only ever have appeared on the underside of the wings. The Corgi model had them on the top surfaces as well. It is possible that someone decided, in order to move what was clearly an inaccurate model, it would be useful to create a scarcity rumour.
As to who might have started it, I have heard tales of an un-named dealer who may have created the story for his eBay listings, and it carried on from there.
What is known for sure is that just about every cataloguing of this model I have seen makes reference to the alleged fire but always with an element of doubt. It is as if no-one really believes it happened but no-one is prepared to completely discount it.
The really strange fact about this model is that there really doesn’t appear to be a massive shortage! They appear regularly on eBay, so often in fact that the price has now come down considerably. The last one I saw sold for just over £80. I also find it amazing that just about all the Aviation Archive enthusiasts I know have at least one example in their collections – strange for a model in such short supply!
I think it is time we put this one to bed once and for all. The ‘Aussie Mossie’ was never shot down in flames, neither in reality by the Luftwaffe*, nor in model form by a warehouse fire. It’s a great story, and several people have clearly profited by it, but I’m sorry to say it just isn’t true. If there had been a fire and the model was in serious short supply Corgi would have formally notified the trade. I’m afraid this tale is pure myth!
*The real aircraft MM403 was in fact lost on 18th January 1945 when on a mission to attack enemy targets in the Ardennes it suffered an engine failure and crashed. The pilot was killed but the navigator baled out at 600 feet and survived.