04 February 2019
Examining the history of some of Britain’s great toy makers - Tri-ang Minic
Tri-ang Minic: Best of British
My introduction to Tri-ang Minic toys came courtesy of a very generous uncle who passed down his cherished toy box to me as a child, sometime in the early 1960s when he became more interested in motorcycles and pop music. I remember finding these little clockwork models he’d had as a child in the 1940s quite fascinating but also somewhat old fashioned with their long bonnets and running boards. By the 1960s cars and lorries were changing in style and so were toys. Diecast and plastic vehicles were attracting the attention of children the most so to be suddenly introduced to these little tinplate wonders was a bit strange. They did, however, have plenty of play value and I particularly liked the breakdown truck with its rear jib which looked good towing the little taxi to the garage. Eventually all my toys were passed down to my nephew by which time space toys were the in-thing so whatever happened to the Minic’s I will never know.
The Tri-ang Minic range of small clockwork powered tinplate vehicles was first registered in January 1935 and advertised five months later in the June of Meccano Magazine. The name ‘Minic’ was thought to have been derived from the vehicles two main features being… ‘MINI Clockwork.’
The plan by Lines Brothers was to produce a new range of metal toys that bridged the gap between expensive large tinplate toys and the newly emerging modelled miniatures developed by Meccano for use on its gauge 0 Hornby railway layouts.
The first Minic series consisted of fourteen models the first of which was a Ford Saloon with running boards and a tiny Shell petrol can (known as the £100 Ford). This was a very pleasing little model which was soon followed by a Ford light van with a “Minic Transport” transfer on the side. Tri-ang stuck with the trusted tab and slot method of construction and powered each model with a powerful clockwork motor that, according to the Lines Brothers Publicity Department, ‘will run anywhere – even on carpet’. Out of the initial series the majority of models were motor cars. The two Fords were followed by two limousines, one a cabriolet, and these were followed by a Town Coupe and an Open Touring Car. The former were all loosely based on Vauxhall cars of the day. Tri-ang were clever in using common parts to construct this early range of limousines with minimal amount of new pressings required to alter the appearance of each vehicle.
A big change came with the launch of the Streamlined saloon which was a complete departure from the earlier little Ford’s and limousines. This car was much more modern looking with the sleek lines of the Art Deco style which was at the height of its popularity and it made the others look rather old fashioned. A little later this same car was released as an open top sports car in smart pale blue or red colour options. A streamlined caravan was also made available for this and all of the cars to tow.
The first Minic commercial vehicle was a tipping lorry which was released in 1938 with plated running boards and, like the Ford car and van, a small Shell petrol can on the nearside running board close to the motor keyhole. The rear tipping body had a hinged tailgate and the long bonneted cab became the template for a whole range of future commercials. These included various delivery vans and the aforementioned breakdown truck which had the added bonus of containing two clockwork motors – one to power the vehicle and another to power the crane winch winding mechanism. The same cab pressing was cleverly adapted to create an articulated mechanical horse and pantechnicon once again sporting the Tri-ang “Minic Transport Express Service” livery by now common to the range. Rare variations to this were released with the liveries of the pre-nationalised railway companies and the Carter Patterson parcel delivery company with whom Tri-ang appeared to have forged very close links.
The lorries were followed by a completely new departure in the shape of a crawler tractor, which had its own trailer. Just prior the outbreak of World War Two a very scarce Searchlight lorry was released with a mounted battery powered searchlight. Other army models were to follow including a six wheeled army lorry and an extremely rare Barrage Balloon lorry and trailer. There was also an American Army jeep which is a much easier model for the collector to find.
In 1937 two models of single and double-deck London Transport buses were released in the Minic range. Prior to the war Tri-ang concentrated its public transport releases on London Greenline and standard red and green liveries with Ovaltine advertisements on the sides. Post-war the adverts were more broadly based with much more variation. Aside from the motor buses my personal favourite was a model of a London electric trolleybus which is extremely rare but well worth the effort of finding.
Around 1939 a very pleasing little streamlined fire engine was added to the Minic range sporting battery powered headlights and detachable ladder. This was also issued after the war along with a forward control ambulance.
Minic clockwork motors were very clever in the way that they could be individualy geared to suit each vehicle. This allowed the slower vehicles to move at a more realistic speed and the faster ones, like the sports cars and racing cars, to whizz across the kitchen floor at a great pace.
In a similar manner to Dinky Toys the pre-war Minic vehicles sported smart white rubber tyres. Buses had a grey roof and detailed interiors such as wooden seating although it is never possible to be absolutely certain that a model is of pre-war construction as old parts were used up at the factory after the war until they ran out.
With the Lines Brothers factory at Merton being turned over to war duties during World War Two production of the Minic range came to an end but it resumed again after the war with many of the old favourites once again being made. Post war models now sported black tyres and the imagination of the development team at Tri-ang let rip with an amazing array of new innovative creations. These included imaginative use of the articulated mechanical horse tractor to hitch up to such collectors’ delights as the Watney’s Red Barrel trailer, Minic Dairies tanker and a smart cable drum trailer all of which are now extremely hard to find in good condition. There was also a Shell articulated petrol tanker, log trailer and brewery trailer.
During the early 1950s the long bonneted cabs of the commercial vehicles were superseded by a more modern looking forward control pressing, resulting in the vans, lorries and articulated tractor units all losing their bonnets. Plastic parts became more widespread and indeed, whole body castings could now be moulded completely in plastic. Classic 1950s Minics included the iconic Morris Minor and Morris Light Van and the hugely popular Austin A40. A new farm tractor was released along with a plastic dumper truck as the Minic range tried to compete in the rapidly changing toy markets of the early 1960s.
Tri-ang produced several different Minic Service Stations and a number of extremely rare Minic Presentation Sets for the collector to look out for and even produced a Minic Construction Set although these seldom turn up on the market fully complete.
With or without their original boxes these endearing little models are hard to resist and offer great investment potential if you can find them in excellent condition. Collecting Tri-ang Minic vehicles can quite easily become a hobby in its own right as there are so many different models and variations of them to look out for.