Special report: When is a Corgi not a Corgi?

02 March 2011
imports_CCGB_img-2184x_31599.jpg Special report: When is a Corgi not a Corgi?
Roger Wynn takes a look at the well-known CWS Drinks Van. ...
Special report: When is a Corgi not a Corgi? Images

Go to any toyfair and you could catch sight of one of these little red drinks vans. At a large fair it’s almost a certainty. A small denomination note will be required for something recognisable, higher double figures for very presentable, but if it’s with its box and leaflet, perhaps best to back off! We are, of course, looking at the very well-known CWS Drinks Van, so very similar to Corgi’s No 455, but not truly a Corgi.

Dinky Toys had a Commer in its range from 1948, the bonneted Superpoise, and the very year that Commer introduced its full forward control QX range. The easily recognisable new cab style found its way onto the Bantam soon after. Manufactured under the Karrier brand, part of the same Rootes organisation since 1929. When Corgi started in 1956 they wisely went into Commer and Karrier with gusto.

Karrier in particular had built up an enviable reputation in supplying the municipal vehicle market, evidenced by its catalogues and show stands. Perhaps this is why the Co-operative Wholesale Society used them, and we have to assume they did. Why, because it would look like they probably paid out some money to at least help tool-up for the red diecast drinks lorry that carries its slogan, and only ever its slogan. Almost every avid vintage Corgi collector knows of its existence, but finding hard evidence of its gestation has proved difficult.

Unfortunately, the National Co-operative archive could not really add to the story, except that it is possible they “were given away with CWS products”. Can any readers, help please – how were they distributed, and at what cost, if any? The flimsy box does not point to a mail redemption.

It has also not been possible to put an exact date on their first appearance. The general assumption is that they were just pre-Corgi, but by just how much? A lot were made, hence the opening sentence, because they went through four wheel types. One of them was pure Corgi, so production for CWS must have reached 1956 at a guess, and maybe beyond.

It was the realisation of the wheel variations, and loan of a small fleet, that prompted these notes. Which wheels came first is a bit of a guess, but probably either unpainted diecast, or one-piece black plastic wheel and tyre with tinplate hub. Then there are two types of aluminium wheel, one being smooth but not actually flat, exactly as the first ever Corgis. Could the other, flat with a pronounced raised hub be, in effect, an earlier Corgi proposal not proceeded with on cost grounds?

Until somebody finds a late production example wrongly assembled, all the CWS models have a black base. These are marked with the Mettoy name and trademark – very small, but it’s there.

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Corgi’s ‘Karrier Bantam Two Tonner’ was hot on the heels of its 5-ton Commer (the QX), the very first of its heavy commercials. Strangely, no reference is ever made to the Bantam being a drinks truck, and it was always unliveried. A very bright blue contrasted with the interior, itself the reverse of the baseplate which now carries its maker’s name very prominently.

(pictured) Corgi and Mettoy undersides, only the central area differs.

Following on from the first Co-op, opened in Rochdale in 1844, came a nationwide movement of local societies. From all this evolved the Co-operative Wholesale Society, exclusively to supply the retail societies. After WWII a determined effort was made to create a standard image for all to use, and a red livery was suggested for the vehicles. Some societies joined in, others definitely did not, but the CWS had to, of course.

At the risk of repetition, did the CWS actually run this precise vehicle, in this livery, slogan and all? That the vehicle itself is for real is without doubt. One took pride of place at the corner of the Karrier stand at the 1950 Commercial Vehicle Show. It is correct, or perhaps I should say the miniature is correct, especially the special rear body. Note the cut-outs near the lower edge, and the flare outwards showing up nicely on the lower rear corner.

A neat touch is the ‘CWS 300’ front number plate. It looks to have been omitted on the Corgi issue by using a small insert in the mould to fill the number plate cavity. Both castings seem otherwise to be identical, and pretty good at that. All in all, nice one Corgi, or was it Mettoy?

*Diecast Collector is a monthly magazine which focuses on all types of diecast models from Dinky Toys to Oxford Diecast