The Mettoy company was founded by German emigree Philip Ullmann in 1933 who set up a business in Stimpson Avenue, Northampton, England. Ullmann had twenty one years experience running his own toy company called Tipp in Germany, and he was soon joined by South African born German, Arthur Katz who had worked for him there. In the 1940s and 1950s Mettoy produced a range of die-cast model vehicles which, although crude, proved to be popular and Ullmann and Katz realised that a wider range of toy cars could not only be profitable, but could also break the stranglehold that Meccano's range of Dinky Toys had over the market.
A factory was built in Swansea to manufacture the new range of toys providing up to six thousand jobs in an area of high unemployment following the scaling down of local coal mining operations. The name 'Corgi Toys' was chosen by Philip Ullmann in honour of the new location and was taken from the Welsh breed of dog, the Corgi, also popular with Her Majesty the Queen. It was also snappy and easily remembered, and echoed the name of their great rival, and the famous Corgi dog logo was chosen to brand the new range. Corgi Toys' initial sales gimmick was to include plastic glazing which lent the models a greater authenticity, and they rapidly became known as 'the ones with windows'.
The 1956 releases concentrated on British vehicles which would have been familiar to youngsters at that time. The first six models to be issued were all saloon cars, Ford Consul (200/200M), Austin A50 Cambridge (201/201M), Morris Cowley (202/202M), Vauxhall Velox (203/203M), Rover 90 (204/204M), Riley Pathfinder (205/205M) and Hillman Husky (206/206M), and these were followed by two sports cars; Austin Healey 100 (300) and Triumph TR2 (301).
Initially, all models were issued in free-rolling form, or with friction drive motors, with the notable exception of the heavy commercials which would have been too bulky, and the sports cars whose low slung bodies would not be able to accommodate the motors. The Mechanical versions, as they were known, were indicated by an 'M' suffix in the model number and were available in different colour schemes. They were issued with tougher die-cast bases to support the extra weight of the motor, and in far fewer numbers. They did not sell particularly well, partly due to a significantly higher purchase price, and were phased out by 1960 - the final Mechanical model being the Ford Thunderbird (214M), and today are considered more collectable because of their relative rarity. The die-cast baseplates were expanded across the range to replace the original tin plate at the same time.
Models were issued on a monthly basis and the range grew quickly to include vehicles of all types. Gradually the models became more sophisticated with the addition of such features as 'Glideamatic' spring suspension and a detailed interior on the Renault Floride (222) in October 1959, and the early fibre-optic 'Trans-o-Lite' illuminating lights system first seen on the Superior Ambulance on Cadillac Chassis (437) in October 1962. The early type of interior which was known as 'vac-formed', was produced by pressing a thin sheet of acetate over a mould by means of a vacuum, and lasted for three years until being replaced by the crisper, more detailed injection-moulded type first seen in the Thames 'Airborne' caravan (420) in February 1962.
The Corgi design team came up with the first model with an opening feature in February 1960, the Aston Martin DB4 (218) which had an opening bonnet. Steerable front wheels, jewelled headlights and rear lights and an opening boot complete with spare wheel were added on the Bentley Continental Sports Saloon (224) in April 1961, and by October 1963 with the release of the Ghia L6.4 (241) new levels of authenticity were reached. This model featured a number of 'firsts' with not only an opening bonnet, but also opening doors and boot, and a crisply detailed interior complete with a rear view mirror, folding front seats, and a model Corgi dog sitting on the rear parcel shelf. The Ghia sold for 8 shillings and sixpence, and even at this relatively high price around 1.7 million were sold before being withdrawn in 1969. Ironically, only six examples of the real car were completed.
The company diversified into the adult collector market in 1964 and released a range of highly detailed models of vintage cars called 'Corgi Classics'. Although generally superior to Matchbox's 'Models of Yesteryear', they were comparatively expensive and met with mixed success. The first releases were a 1927 Bentley (9001), an open 1915 Model T Ford (9011) and a version with the hood raised (9013), a 1910 Daimler 38 (9021) and a 1911 Renault 12/16 (9031). Two years later a 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost (9041) was added to the range. A Model T Ford van in Lyons Tea livery (9014) appeared in the 1967 Corgi catalogue but was never released. Corgi Classics were dropped by 1969, although the name was later revived in the late 1980s.
Following the success of the Dinky Supertoys range of die-cast trucks, Corgi decided to launch a range of heavy commercial vehicles in October 1957 with the release of the Carrimore Car Transporter (1101) featuring a Bedford tractor unit with full glazing in keeping with the rest of the Corgi range, and the company's first gift set including the Carrimore Car Transporter and four saloon cars (GS1) in time for the Christmas market in December 1957. Early models in the new Majors range were issued in sturdy two piece boxes featuring the blue and yellow colour scheme that had recently been adopted across the entire Corgi range, later models in the 1960s using clear fronted packaging in line with the rest of the Corgi Toys range.
The Carrimore Low Loader (1100) was the next release in April 1958 which was a low loader trailer attached to the Bedford cab and was followed by the similar Machinery Carrier low loader (1104) in September 1958. In November 1958 the Euclid TC12 Bulldozer (1102) was issued. A large earth mover which was being widely used in the construction of the M1, the UK's first motorway, the Euclid factory was only two miles from Corgi headquarters which allowed easy access to all the data required to produce a very accurate model. April 1959 saw the release of the Bedford Fuel Tanker in the attractive red livery of 'Mobilgas' (1110) and this model was revamped in pale blue and white as the Bedford Milk Tanker (1129) in May 1962, and both were later re-isssued with a more modern Bedford TK cab.
The Massey Ferguson combine harvester (1111) was released in August 1959 and the following year provided some unusual and diverse additions to the Majors range with the Midland Red Motor Express Coach (1120) issued in March 1960, a high speed coach for the new motorway age and a miniature version of the pioneering SRN 1 hovercraft (1119) in June. The Chipperfields Circus Crane Truck (1121), the first of the highly successful and much sought after range of Chipperfields circus vehicles was issued in October 1960 swiftly followed by the Circus Animal Cage Trailer (1123) in January 1961. These two model were later packaged together to make the Chipperfields Circus Set (GS23). The Chipperfields Circus Horse Transporter (1130) was released in October 1962. This model was fitted with a new Bedford TK cab, and was re-issued in June 1976 as the Racehorse Transporter (1105). In November 1962 the new Bedford TK cab unit was also fitted to the Carrimore Car Transporter (1105).
The Ecurie Ecosse Racing Transporter (1126) issued in October 1961 was a high speed racing car transporter custom built for the Scottish racing team Ecurie Ecosse, with room for three cars and an on-board workshop. The Corgi model featured fully operational ramps, a sliding door revealing the workshop complete with a miniature lathe, operational steering, and was finished in an authentic dark blue. Another construction site model was released in May 1963. The Priestman Cub Shovel had a complex arrangement of cotton threads to operate the bucket at the end of its interlocking crane booms, and was paired with the earlier Machinery Carrier fitted with the latest Bedford TK tractor as Gift Set 27 in August. The Simon Snorkel Aerial Rescue Truck (1127) was issued in September 1964. This model fire engine was based on a Bedford TK chassis and featured an extendable centre-hinged arm with rescue cradle complete with fire fighter figure holding a die-cast water cannon which could be manoeuvred by means of a rotating base and wheels and gears. The model stayed in the range until being updated with a more modern Dennis cab (1126) in June 1977.
A new cab unit was introduced in September 1965. The Ford H Cab and Detachable Trailer (1137) was a modern American truck produced by Corgi to appeal to the lucrative US market and featured a forward tilting cab revealing a highly detailed engine, realistic moveable door mirrors and die-cast metal air horns and side ladders. The large box trailer featured sliding side doors, opening rear doors and was finished in the blue and silver 'Express Services' livery. The leap in quality of this model proved that the Majors range had entered a new era, and it continued to sell well until 1972. The new Ford cab was used again in April 1966 with a new version of the Carrimore Car Transporter (1138) which had been re-designed to carry up to six Corgi cars, and which also featured in Gift Set 41 along with six cars (of which three were different versions of the Mini). This gift set was initially only available by mail order but was finally issued in time for Christmas in December 1967.
The Holmes Wrecker Recovery Vehicle (1142) issued in May 1967 was also based on the Ford H Series tractor unit, and featured twin boom die-cast recovery cranes with hooks attached to cotton lines that could be extended by winding a pair of spare wheels attached to the sides of the vehicle, and also included were two model mechanics previously seen with the 'Express Services' truck. The American La France Aerial Rescue Truck (1143) was added to the Majors range in October 1968 and was a highly detailed model of a large articulated fire engine popular in the United States of America. It featured an extendible ladder on a rotating base complete with plastic ladder extensions and model firemen and has recently been re-issued by the modern Corgi company in a number of authentic liveries.
Two more models in the Chipperfields circus range were issued next. The Chipperfields Circus Menagerie Transporter (1139) which was also released in October 1968 featured the new Scammell Handyman cab. The flatbed articulated trailer carried a load of three plastic 'cages' with models of lions, bears and tigers. The Chipperfields Circus Crane and Cage (1144) issued in April 1969 again featured the Scammell tractor unit but modified using the Holmes Wrecker platform and a large crane mounted to the rear and carrying a plastic animal cage. The Carrimore Car Transporter Mark IV using the Scammel cab was also released in April 1969 and a gift set (GS48) featuring the new transporter and six cars soon followed. By October 1970 the Carrimore Car Transporter Mark V (1146) had grown to three decks and Gift Set 20 again featured the transporter complete with six Corgi cars. It is interesting to note that some of the colour schemes applied to cars in the Car Transporter Gift Sets were unique to these sets, and today are particularly collectable. The Scammell Handyman Ferrymasters Truck (1147) issued in December 1969, proved to be the last new application for the Scammell cab and was finished in the authentic yellow and white livery of the Ferrymasters truck fleet.
The Majors range continued into the 1970s but along with the Corgi Toys range suffered somewhat from the constraints on development budgets that the company was forced to make. The Mercedes Benz Unimog and snowplough (1150) was released in February 1971 and another American cab unit was introduced in October 1971. The new Mack was coupled with a fuel tanker in the livery of 'Esso' (1152) in October 1971 and a Transcontinental trailer (1100) in November 1971, and fitted with an updated version of the Prietman Cub Shovel now converted to become a crane in October 1972 as the Mack Priestman Crane Truck (1154).
A new Berliet cab was introduced in May 1974 as the Crane Fruehauf Discharge Dumper (1102), a large articulated aggregate carrier for use on construction sites, and the new cab was also used as the Berliet Wrecker Truck (1144) in March 1975 updating the aforementioned Holmes Wrecker, which had been in the range since 1967. The Pathfinder Airport Crash Truck (1103) released in September 1974 had won the Design Council Engineering Award for it's manufacturer Chubb, and the Corgi miniature included an internal water tank allowing water to be squirted through die-cast water cannons by pumping a rubber bulb. Another new cab was introduced in April 1976. The Ford Transcontinental was designed for long range treks across the European continent and was first issued coupled to the fuel tanker previously seen with the earlier Mack cab, also in 'Esso' livery (1157) or 'Gulf' livery (1160), and later in February 1982 in the livery of 'Guinness' (1169). A new Car Transporter (1159) was issued in November 1976 using the new Ford Transcontinental cab, and two more construction site orientated vehicles were issued, the JCB Crawler Loader (1110) in June 1976 and the Volvo BM Concrete Mixer (1156) in January 1977. The Dolphinarium (1164) was issued in April 1980 and featured the Berliet cab and a flatbed trailer which carried a large plastic water tank. Once the tank was filled a plunger attached to a jet nozzle within in the tank could be pumped forcing two model dolphins attached to a plastic guide to jump out of the water and through the air.
Throughout the company's history, Corgi Toys have been closely associated with modelling Grand Prix and Formula 1 racing cars. The first issued was the Vanwall Grand Prix car (150) issued in July 1957. Finished in green and carrying racing number 3, it was a scale model of the actual car driven by Stirling Moss. This was followed in December 1958 by a BRM Grand Prix car (106) also with green paintwork, and both cars featured in the Racing Car Set (GS5) from 1958, along with the Lotus X1 Le Mans racing car (151) from July 1958. The Vanwall, however, had been re-coloured red.
The Proteus-Campbell Bluebird Record Car (153) was issued in September 1960 and was modelled on the vehicle with which Donald Campbell was to set a new Land Speed Record on July 17th 1964. The Corgi design team were given exclusive access to the real car in order to produce their scale model, right down to being sent paint samples to enable them to create an exact colour match. An example of the model was presented to Donald Campbell by young members of the Corgi Club. Racing Transporter Set (GS16) was released in October 1961 featuring the Ecurie Ecosse transporter along with three racing cars; the Vanwall, the BRM and the Lotus XI.
In 1963 the Ferrari Tipo 156 'sharknose' F1 car (154) was released finished in Italian racing red, and was also featured in a Land Rover and Ferrari F1 car set (GS17) that same year. It was followed in December 1964 by the Lotus-Climax F1 car (155) in an authentic British Racing Green as driven by Jim Clark, and in 1967 by the Cooper-Maserati F1 car (156) painted blue. The Lotus-Climax and the Cooper-Maserati were re-engineered in 1969 to include steerable front wheels operated by moving the driver from side to side, and a high level rear wing in the style of real Formula 1 cars of the time. They were re-coloured orange in the case of the Lotus-Climax (158) and yellow in the case of the Cooper-Maserati (159). A Lotus Racing Car set (GS37) was issued in August 1966 containing the Lotus-Climax F1 car, two Lotus Elans and a Volkswagen breakdown tow truck. Another exotic Ferrari was issued in February 1965, this time a sports racer Ferrari Berlinetta (314) which competed at the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hour race, and in May 1967 another successful sports racer the Porsche Carrera 6 (330) was released.
In 1972 Corgi worked with the newly formed Grand Prix Association to produce a series of Formula 1 racing cars. The first was the Yardley McLaren M19A (151) driven by New Zealander Denny Hulme which was closely followed by the Brooke Bond Oxo Surtees TS9B driven by John Surtees (150), later issued in the livery of Italian sponsors 'Pagnossin' (153). The following year saw the release of the Ferrari 312 (152) and the John Player Special Lotus 72 (154) of World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, and in 1974 the Shadow F1 car was issued in both UOP livery (155) driven by Jackie Oliver, and as Graham Hill's Embassy Shadow (156). Multiple World Champion Jackie Stewart's Elf Tyrell F1 car (158) was also released along with the STP Patrick Eagle (159) driven to victory in the 1973 Indianapolis 500 by Gordon Johncock. The final two models in the series were the Hesketh 308 F1 car (190) driven by Englishman James Hunt issued in 1976, and the six wheeled Tyrell Project 34 driven by South African Jody Scheckter issued in Elf livery (161) and First National City Travellers Checks livery (162) which was released in 1977. Two Formula 1 cars were also issued in the larger 1/18 scale, the John Player Special Lotus 72 (190) in 1974 and the Marlboro McLaren (191) in 1975.
Models following other themes were also released over the years. In January 1964 Corgi updated the existing Citroën DS Safari to become a promotional vehicle for the 1964 Winter Olympics (475), complete with a skier figure, four model skis and two model ski poles. Painted white and with a decal of the Olympic rings logo on the bonnet, this model then reverted to a 'Corgi Ski Club' version the following year. It was revamped again in November 1967 for the 1968 Winter Olympics (499), this time painted white with a blue roof, and with a model toboggan on the roof rack along with a figure of a tobogganist and a pair of skis and poles, and a stylish 'Grenoble Olympiade 1968' decal on the bonnet. The final version introduced in 1970 was an Alpine Rescue vehicle (510), painted white with a red roof and which came complete with figures of a St Bernard dog and rescuer, and today is the rarest of the versions.
The Monte Carlo Rally, a road race around the snow covered mountains near Monaco held annually in January, provided a rich source of model cars between 1964 and 1967. By following the rally closely, Corgi Toys were able to issue a model of the winning car shortly after the end of the event. Often there was not even enough time to produce a unique box for the new model, which had to make do with a hastily produced sticker applied to a standard issue box for a similar model. The 1964 winner Paddy Hopkirk's Mini Cooper S (317) released in February 1964 featured jewelled headlights and a rally lamp on the roof, and was finished in the BMC team colours of red with a white roof with authentic Monte Carlo Rally transfers. Three Monte Carlo Rally cars were issued in 1965, the winning Mini Cooper S of Timo Makinnen (321) in February, finished in the same red with a white roof, and two jewelled rally lamps, and in April a Rover 2000 (322) in maroon with a white roof with two jewelled rally lamps in the grill and a Citroën DS (323) with four small jewelled rally lamps and finished in pale blue with a white roof complete with roof aerial. All three of these models were available in the Monte Carlo Gift Set (GS38) also issued in April 1965; a highly prized set for today's collector. Another Mini Cooper S in Monte Carlo Rally finish was issued the January of following year complete with two jewelled rally lamps in the grille and the signatures of the driver Timo Makinnen and his co-driver Paul Easter printed on the roof. The model number 321 was carried over from the 1965 car. A Hillman Imp was also issued as a Monte Carlo Rally car (328), finished in blue with a white flash along the sides and two jewelled rally lamps, and was driven by an all female team of Rosemary Smith and Valerie Domleo in the 1966 event.
1967 was the final year that Corgi issued Monte Carlo Rally cars, and the famous Mini Cooper S (339) appeared yet again in March, this time with four jewelled rally lamps in the grill, a sump guard and two spare wheels on a roof rack borrowed from the 'Surfing' Mini Traveller (485) from 1965. The 1967 Monte Carlo Rally Mini Cooper S stayed in the Corgi range until 1972, spanning two different castings. Another Mini Cooper S (333) was released in February 1967 carrying the same red and white paintwork, but as campaigned in the 1967 RAC/Sun rally by Tony Fall and Mike Wood, along with another Rover 2000 (322) from the same event and finished in white with a matt black bonnet. The final Monte Carlo Rally car was the Sunbeam Imp (340) issued in March 1967, which featured four jewelled rally lamps and was finished in blue with a white flash and front panel. In December 1965 a Volkswagen 1200 Beetle was issued in East African Safari finish (256). This model featured an opening boot and engine cover and steerable front wheels operated by a spare tyre on the roof of the car. The colourful packaging was completed with the inclusion of a model of a charging rhino. Three years later Corgi issued the winning Hillman Hunter from the 1968 London to Sydney Marathon (302), complete with Take Off Wheels, roof mounted tool box and a plastic kangaroo guard across the front of the car. This time the packaging included a model kangaroo and details of the event, and in 1972 the Ford Capri 3-Litre rally car (303) driven by the late Roger Clark was released.
In the early 1970s Corgi Toys issued a range of dragsters in response not only to the increased following of this form of motorsport in the UK, focussed on the Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire, but also the attention brought to these vehicles by Mattel's Hot Wheels. The first to be released was the 'Quartermaster' Dragster (162) in April 1971, closely followed by the 'Commuter' Dragster (161) in June. Both were models of real vehicles, and were of the 'rail' dragster variety. The first 'Funny Car' dragster was the Santa Pod 'Gloworm' Dragster (163) issued in July 1971, and which was based on the existing Ford Capri 3 litre. Modifications allowed the body to be hinged from the rear, and by pressing a button secreted in the front bumper the entire body rose, by means of a spring, to reveal a roll cage and driver within and a detailed V8 engine. The next release, however, was a figment of the Corgi design team's imagination. The 'Organ Grinder' Mustang Funny Car (166), which was issued in October 1971, was purely an update of the Ford Mustang (320) first seen in 1965, complete with huge rear wheels and headers resembling organ pipes fitted to the V8 engine. In December 1971 the Ison Brothers 'Wild Honey' Dragster (164) was released which was a fully customised 'gasser' based on a 1930's Austin Seven saloon. The Adams Brothers 'Dragstar' (165) released in February 1972 was a four engined machine produced in conjunction with designers the Adams Brothers, and the earlier 'Quartermaster' Dragster was updated in October 1972 as the John Woolfe Radio Luxembourg 208 Dragster (170) which was being driven by British drag racer Dennis Priddle at the time. Swedish drag racer Arnold Sundquist had built a car powered by a jet engine from a Starfighter plane which he brought to both the Corgi offices in Northampton and Swansea to allow the company's design team access to the car. The resulting model Starfighter Jet Car (169) was released in February 1973.
More big selling film and television tie-in models were released over the next few years, each with special features to entertain children, and in 1966 Mettoy scooped two of the most prestigious awards; 'The Queen’s Award To Industry' and the 'National Association Of Toy Retailers’ Highest Standards Award'. 1966 also saw the release of another British television tie-in, a two car set from 'The Avengers' (GS40) which featured figures of the stars of the show 'John Steed' and 'Emma Peel' and their respective cars; the 1927 Bentley from the Corgi Classics range and a white Lotus Elan. Later in August 1966 The Man from U.N.C.L.E. 'Thrushbuster' car (266) was issued. This was a revitalised Oldsmobile Super 88 casting dating back to 1961, but now with models of the stars of the television series 'Napoleon Solo' and 'Illya Kuryakin' firing guns out of the windows at the baddies they were pursuing. The Christmas market was again dominated by a Corgi toy car; this time the 'Batmobile' (267) released in October 1966, a George Barris customised 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car from the American television series 'Batman', which featured rocket launchers, pulsating 'flames' from the jet engine exhaust, a chain cutting device and models of 'Batman' and the boy-wonder 'Robin' sitting in the car. The Batmobile went on to sell over five million examples in its lengthy life, staying in the range until the 1980s.
The June of the following year GS3 was issued consisting of 'The Batmobile' towing a 'Batboat' on a trailer, and another James Bond car soon followed - the Toyota 2000 GT (336) issued in October 1967 from the film 'You Only Live Twice', which fired rockets from the boot. Also issued in November was the 'Daktari' gift set (GS7) which featured a Land Rover painted in the camouflage style of the Wamaru Nature Reserve with a model tiger draped across the bonnet, along with figures of 'Dr Marsh Tracy', his daughter 'Paula', 'Clarence' the cross-eyed lion and 'Judy' the chimp; the human and animal stars of the US television series 'Daktari'. The previously issued 1927 Bentley was updated for a second time to tie in with the British television series 'The World of Wooster' (9004) which starred Ian Carmichael, and featured figures of 'Bertie Wooster' and his butler 'Jeeves' at the wheel.
The final film and television related model for 1967 was issued in November. The crime fighting car 'Black Beauty' (268) - a George Barris customised 1966 Imperial Le Baron, included an operational satellite launcher inside the boot and a rocket fired from behind the grill, and was featured in the American television series 'The Green Hornet'. Although the TV series was not screened in the UK until years later the model proved to be very popular and it went on to sell over two million examples. Later in June 1970 the 1912 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost from the Corgi Classics range was reissued, but updated with psychedelic paintwork and featuring figures of the group from 'The Hardy Boys', another American television series not shown in the UK. This time the model failed to sell, making it extremely rare today.
November 1968 saw the release of 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' (266) from the successful film that had been in cinemas throughout the summer, and which featured plastic wings that popped out from the car's side skirts when the hand brake was pushed and detailed miniatures of the car's inventor 'Caracticus Potts', 'Truly Scrumptious' and the children 'Jeremy' and 'Gemima'. The 'Monkeemobile' (277) issued in December was a Dean Jeffries customized 1966 Pontiac GTO taken from the popular American television series 'The Monkees' which featured miniature models of the band sitting in the car.
The film and television related models continued to be issued in February 1969 with the Yellow Submarine (803) from the animated Beatles film of the same name. This model featured two hatches that lifted at the touch of buttons on the side of the craft to allow models of John, Paul, George and Ringo to pop into view. The 'Yellow Submarine' commands very high prices today amongst both die-cast collectors and Beatles related collectors too. Corgi Toys also introduced the 'Corgi Comics' range this year - a range of 'character' toys aimed at younger children. Noddy's car (801) featured figures from the Enid Blyton children's novels of 'Noddy', 'Big-Ears' and 'Golly' sitting in the rumble seat, though the model was later reissued with 'Teddy' sitting in the rumble seat, perhaps in response to the fact that gollywogs had become less acceptable. It was issued again in the 1970s with just 'Noddy' at the wheel. Also released in December 1969 as part of the 'Corgi Comics' range was 'Popeye's Paddlewagon' (802) a half car - half boat featuring 'Popeye', 'Olive Oil' and 'Swea'pea' from the 'Popeye' cartoon series, and 'Basil Brush's' car (808) featuring a model of the famous glove puppet fox from the popular British television series 'The Basil Brush Show' driving a colourful version of the 1911 Renault also from the Corgi Classics range of models of vintage cars.
Also issued at the same time was a range of toys from Serge Danot's animated television series 'The Magic Roundabout'. These included the 'Magic Roundabout' Carousel (H852), 'Mr Mac Henry's' trike (H859), the 'Magic Roundabout' train (H851) and 'Dougal's' car (807), a modified Citroën DS featuring models of 'Dougal' the dog, 'Dylan' the rabbit and 'Brian' the snail. Individual figures of all the characters were available, as was a 'Magic Roundabout' Playground set (H853) that included all the models in the 'Magic Roundabout' series as well as a large 'magic garden' base that featured trees and train tracks. The models in the series were all able to run on these tracks, and would move around the 'Magic Garden' at the turn of a large plastic handle. This set is now one of the most valuable and rare of all Corgi Toys products.
As the decade progressed some of the film and television related models became less authentic and more a product of the imagination of the Corgi design team. In 1973 'Dick Dastardly's' Car (809) was issued featuring models of the characters 'Dick Dastardly' and his sidekick 'Muttley' from the popular children's television programme 'Wacky Races'. However, this Corgi offering was little more than an updated racing buggy, and was a far cry from the famous '00-zero' car that 'Dick Dastardly' drove in the cartoon series. The same model was updated in 1978 as 'The Penguinmobile' (259). A 'Batbike' was released in 1978 featuring a figure of 'Batman' sitting astride a modified motorbike which fired two rockets, along with a series of vehicles that were issued as the result of obtaining the Marvel comic license. These included a 'Spidervan' (436); a suitably decorated Chevrolet van, which had also been issued the previous year as a tie-in with the American television series 'Charlie's Angels' (434), a 'Daily Planet' helicopter (929), a 'Spiderbuggy' (261); a Jeep CJ5 with a model of 'Spiderman's' arch enemy 'The Green Goblin' trapped in a web styled plastic bag dangling from a crane fitted at the back of the vehicle, a 'Spidercopter' (928) and a 'Spiderbike' (266). A similar treatment was also given to other Marvel characters including a 'Captain America' Jetmobile (263), a 'Captain Marvel' Porsche 917/10 Can-Am racer (262) and an 'Incredible Hulk' Mazda pick-up (264) which featured a caged model of the 'Hulk' on the flatbed of the truck. A 'Superman' gift set (GS21) was also released featuring a 'Supermobile', the 'Daily Planet' helicopter and a Buick Century police car, as well as a 'Spiderman' gift set (GS23) consisting of the 'Spiderbuggy', the 'Spidercopter' and the 'Spidervan'. These later film and television related releases were not models of authentic vehicles as were the earlier issues from the 1960s, but merely existing models updated to take advantage of recently acquired licensing deals.
Later in 1980 the 'Buck Rogers' Starfighter (647) from the film 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century' was released, though the planned 'Dan Dare' Spacecar was never released. A series of models featuring characters from Jim Henson's 'The Muppet Show' were also issued in 1980. These included 'Kermit's' car (2030), 'Fozzy Bear's truck (2031), 'Miss Piggy's' Sports Coupe (2032) and 'Animal's Percussionmobile' (2033).
By the mid 1970s some of the most popular series on British television were American police dramas, and Corgi decided to model several of the vehicles featured in these shows. In 1976 the Buick Century (296) from the series 'Kojak' was issued, along with a miniature of 'Detective Kojak', and a year later the Ford Gran Torino from 'Starsky & Hutch' was released also with figures of David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson. In 1980 a silver Ford Capri 3.0 S (342) was issued as a tie-in with the popular British television crime drama 'The Professionals' featuring models of 'Bodie', 'Doyle' and 'Cowley', as well as a 1956 Ford Thunderbird (348) from 'Vegas'.
To complement Corgi Toys film and TV related models they were issued in packaging with period artwork, making examples with the original packaging and complete with all accessories such as rockets, satellites, and umbrellas in the case of The Avengers set, both highly desirable and valuable. Corgi Classics Ltd have reissued many of the more popular of these film and television related models in recent years, allowing collectors to own examples without the having to pay the high prices that the original currently attract. However, some of the re-issued models are beginning to gain in value.
The first emergency vehicles produced by Corgi Toys were issued as part of the launch range in July 1956, and were based on the Bedford Utilicon. It was issued in red as a 'Fire Dept' vehicle (405M) and in green as an 'Army Fire Service' vehicle (405), both with a tin plate ladder attached to the roof of the vehicle. These were followed in June 1958 by the company's first police vehicle; a Riley Pathfinder patrol car (209), finished in black and with a die cast police sign fitted to the roof complete with siren and bell. In January 1959 a Jaguar 2.4 Fire Chief car (213) was added to the range, finished in red and with a nylon aerial, crest transfers on the front doors and the same cast sign as the Pathfinder but modified to read 'Fire Chief'. The first American emergency vehicle to be produced by Corgi Toys was the Chevrolet Impala State Patrol car (223) introduced in December 1959. It was painted black and featured a nylon aerial and 'State Patrol' stickers on the vehicle's front doors. An updated version finished in black and white was issued in 1965.
By 1959 the M1, the UK's first motorway, had opened to the public and this prompted the introduction of a new breed of powerful police vehicle able to carry a large payload. The Ford Zodiac Motorway Patrol Car (419) was introduced in August 1960 and was finished in white with a plastic aerial fitted to the front wing, a blue light attached to the roof, a 'Police' decal on the bonnet and a vac-formed interior detailing rescue equipment in the luggage compartment and in June 1962 the Oldsmobile Super 88 County Sheriff car (237) was added to the range. Painted black and white it featured a red light fitted to the roof and 'County Sheriff' stickers on the doors. This model became the company's first million seller. The Superior Ambulance on Cadillac Chassis (437) introduced in October 1962 was from the latest generation of models and featured red and white paintwork, a working battery operated flashing light on the roof and four trans-o-lite fibre optic lights in each corner of the roof that flashed in unison with the main bulb. This model was re-issued in blue and white in 1966. In January 1963 the existing Chevrolet Impala was introduced as a Fire Chief car (439), painted red with a light on the roof, crests decals on the doors and a 'Fire Chief' transfer on the bonnet, and was also updated with a red and white finish in 1966. In June 1963 the Commer Police Van (464) was released, painted blue with a battery operated flashing light on the roof, barred side windows and 'County Police' transfers along the sides, and this model was also updated in 1967. An ambulance version (463) painted white was issued in February 1964.
In October 1964 a Police Dog Handler Mini van (450) was introduced painted dark blue with 'Police' in white letters on the sides, a nylon aerial fitted to the front wing and came with models of the police dog handler and police Alsatian dog. The Volkswagen European Police Car (492) issued in May 1966 was finished in the green and white of the German police force, and carried 'Polizei' transfers on the doors. It also featured steerable front wheels operated by the blue metal 'light' on the roof and two policemen sitting inside the vehicle, not to mention opening boot and rear engine cover. Another rear engined police car was introduced in May 1968, the Sunbeam Imp 'Panda' car (506). It was painted black and white initially but this colour scheme was changed to authentic 'Panda' car colours shortly afterwards.
By 1970 Corgi Toys were fitting their models with Whizzwheels in response to the current market trends. In June 1970 a Porsche 911 Targa 'Polizei' car (509) was released, based on a real German police vehicle. It was painted red and white and was fitted with a blue light on an extension next to the door and a die-cast loud hailer on the engine cover. The Fire Bug (395) appeared in December 1971, and based around a GP Beach Buggy fitted with fire fighting equipment. British police vehicles were well represented with the Police 'Vigilant' Range Rover (461) released in January 1972 and the Ford Cortina Police Car (402) released in August of the same year. Both models were finished in the contemporary white with red/blue side stripes, which would have been familiar to many motorists at the time. The Range Rover came complete with a model policeman and emergency road signs.
The remaining years that the company was in existence saw police cars based on such subjects as a Porsche 924 (430), a Renault 5 (428), a Mercedes 240D 'Polizei' (412) and a Buick Century (416) which had previously seen service as 'Kojak's' car. There was also a Metropolitan Police Land Rover and Horse box (GS44) complete with a model Police horse and rider, which was also available in RCMP finish (GS45). Ambulances were issued based on the Range Rover 'Vigilant' (482), a Mercedes Benz 'Bonna' (406) and a Chevrolet Superior Ambulance (405). There appears, however, to have been a lack of fire fighting machinery released in this time. A couple of models from this era do warrant attention; the Riot Police Truck (422) released in September 1977 was a squat armoured military vehicle painted white and red with twin water cannons fitted to the rear, and perhaps reflected the times in which it was conceived, and the Jaguar XJ12 Coupe which was released in December 1975 finished in the white and pale blue livery of the Coastguard (414), complete with die-cast light and twin foghorns on the roof. The model was updated as a police vehicle (429) in February 1978.
The first light commercial modelled by Corgi Toys was the Bedford CA van in 'Daily Express' livery (403) and in 'KLG Plugs' livery (403M) which was part of the July 1956 range that launched the brand. The CA van was later released in the yellow and black livery of AA Services in May 1957 (408), in the black and silver livery of the Evening Standard (421) in June 1960 and in the yellow and blue livery of Corgi Toys (422) in October 1960. The first large commercial vehicles in the Corgi Toys range were the Commer Dropside lorry (452) and the Commer Refrigerated van finished the livery of Walls Ice Cream (453). The same large van body was used on the ERF 88G chassis to become the Moorhouses Van (459) in March 1958. Painted red and yellow it featured paper stickers on the sides advertising Moorhouses Lemon Cheese and Raspberry jam.
The Karrier Bantam Lucozade Van (411) was introduced in August 1958 and featured a sliding plastic door, yellow paintwork and adverts for Lucozade energy drink on the side. This model was updated in May 1962 to become the Dairy Produce Van (435) now painted pale blue and white and with a 'Drive Safely on Milk' advert on the side. A Volkswagen van (433) was introduced in December 1962 finished in two tone red and white along with the Volkswagen Kombi (434), a mini van version with windows which was finished in green and white paintwork. A rare promotional version of the van was produced for the Dutch department store Vroom & Dreesman. In February 1963 the basic Volkswagen van was updated with Trans-o-lite headlamps as the Volkswagen Toblerone van (441). It was painted pale blue and finished with transfers along the sides advertising Toblerone chocolate bars. In March 1964 a Volkswagen Pick Up (432) was introduced to the range which came complete with a plastic canopy, and in December 1966 the pick up was converted to become the Volkswagen Breakdown Truck (490).
In 1963 Corgi introduced the Commer Constructor Set (GS 24), which consisted of two Commer FC van chassis units and four different rear bodies - an ambulance, milk float, panel van and pick-up. It proved very popular and remained in production until 1968. These models were also available separately as part of the normal Corgi range. A newly-tooled Commer 2500 mini bus body was used for the Samuelson Mobile Camera Van (479) issued in December 1967 which included a detailed model of a Panavision film camera and cameraman on a metal plinth that could be either attached to the vehicle's roofrack or to the front of the van for tracking shots. This model was also issued as the Commer Holiday Camp Special bus (508) in August 1968.
The 'Mister Softee' Ice Cream Van (428) was introduced in March 1962 and was based on a Commer 1 ton van and which featured a plastic knob on the underside that allowed the ice cream salesman inside to be rotated. It also featured a sliding side window. In 1965 a Thames 'Walls' Ice Cream Van (1447) was introduced. This was a smaller vehicle based on the Thames 5 cwt van which was a commercial version of the Ford Anglia and the bodywork featured a pointed roof design and a sliding side window. The model also came with a sheet of stickers which could be applied and also included were models of an ice cream seller and small boy. An alternative version (474) with musical chimes operated by a handle protuding from the back of the model was introduced a year later, but without the plastic figures. A Karrier Bantam based Mobile Butchers Shop (413) was released in October 1960 and was later updated to become a Chipperfield Circus Booking Office (426) in January 1962 and with the addition of an opening side hatch, a detailed kitchen interior and revolving chef it was re-issued in March 1965 as Joe's Diner Mobile Canteen (471). An export model to be sold in Belgium featured 'Patates Frites' stickers on the side in place of the usual 'Joe's Diner'.
Corgi Toys produced a sizeable range of military vehicles during the 1950s and early 1960s, and in such uncertain times they proved very popular. The Thunderbird Guided Missile and Trailer (350) was issued in May 1958 followed by the Bloodhound Guided Missile and Launch Pad (1108) in October 1958. In June 1959 the Corporal Guided Missile on Launch Pad was issued, which was later featured coupled to a mobile transporter as Corporel Erector Vehicle and Missile (1113) released in October 1959. RAF vehicles included RAF Land Rover (351) issued in May 1958, which was included in Gift Set 4 along with the Bloodhound Guided Missile, and Standard Vanguard RAF Staff Car (352) which was issued in October 1958. The Decca Mobile Airfield Radar Van (1106) released in January 1959 featured a revolving radar scanner which turned by means of a ridged wheel, and the Bedford Military Ambulance (414) was issued in January 1961.
In January 1965, in response to a request from the company's American agent, a range of vehicles was produced in the matt green with white star livery of the US Army. These included Commer Military Ambulance (354), Commer Military Police Van (355), Volkswagen Military Personnel Carrier (356), Land Rover Weapons Carrier (357), Oldsmobile HQ Staff Car (358), Army Field Kitchen (359), International Troop Transporter (1113), Bedford Army Fuel Tanker (1134) and Heavy Equipment Transporter (1135). All were updates of existing models from both the standard Corgi range and the Corgi Majors range, and sold disappointingly leading to their withdrawal in under a year. This line did not feature in Corgi catalogues.
There were no further military vehicles produced until the 1970s. A range of tanks were introduced in November 1973 with Tiger Tank Mk I (900) and Centurian Tank Mk III (901) and was added to in September 1974 with the releases of M60 A1 Tank (902), SU 100 Tank Destroyer (905) and Saladin Armoured Car (906). The Centurian Mk III tank was also included as part of Centurian Tank and Transporter (GS 10) along with a Mack articulated transporter truck. The Bell AH 1G Army Helicopter (920) was issued in March 1975, the German Semi-Track Rocket Launcher (907) in July 1975 and the Sikorsky Skycrane US Army Helicopter (923) in September 1975. Military Gift Set (GS17) included the Bell Helicopter, Tiger Tank and Saladin Armoured Car. Finally, in October 1976 the AMX Recovery Truck (908) and Quad Gun Tractor and Field Gun (909) were issued.
By the late sixties the toy car market had changed with the arrival from the U.S. of Mattel's Hot Wheels range and their associated track sets. Sales of Corgi Toys began to fall away and matters were not helped by a disastrous fire at the Swansea factory in March 1969 which destroyed a warehouse full of models awaiting delivery. Even one of the company's cleverest innovations the Golden Jack 'Take-Off-Wheel' system which first appeared in March 1968 couldn't halt the slide. The realistically detailed die-cast wheels fitted to these models were attached to the axle by means of a 'Golden Jack', which when folded downwards both released the wheel and supported the model. Only seven models were produced between 1968 and 1970 with this feature.
The Mini Marcos GT850 (341) was a small lightweight coupe based on the Austin/Morris Mini and fitted with a highly tuned Mini engine. The Rover 2000 TC (275) was a new casting despite Corgi having previously issued a model of the Rover 2000, and was fitted with a clear roof panel as featured on a Rover 2000 displayed on the Triplex stand at the 1965 Earls Court Motor Show, and a spare wheel holder attached to the boot lid which was a popular period extra. The Oldsmobile Toronado (276) was an updated version of the 1967 issue of the same model, but the Chevrolet Camaro SS350 (338) was a new model of one of the latest breed of 'pony cars' from America. The previously mentioned 1968 London to Sydney Marathon winning Hillman Hunter rally car (302) was issued in 1969 complete with a model kangaroo, but the Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray (300) fitted with detachable roof panels and the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Mulliner Park Ward Coupe (273) which followed in 1970 proved to be the last of this short-lived line.
Low friction wheels known as 'Whizzwheels' were introduced in 1969 to keep up with the competition. The first incarnation known to collectors as 'Red Spots' featured rubber tyres and brass hubs with low friction red nylon centres, which though attractive and effective, were expensive to produce and were soon replaced by plastic wheels. Sales remained fairly static for the next five years, but by the late seventies the models had become less innovatory and sales slumped continually into the 1980s.
There were many reasons for the decline of Corgi Toys, and indeed the entire toy car industry; not least the changes in tastes of youngsters, the spiralling cost of developing new features that would capture the imagination, and the emergence of computer games consoles. Increasing costs and decreasing sales revenue meant that there was not the funds available to develop the ingenious toys of the past, and the models now sold in their thousands rather than in the millions that they achieved during the range's heyday. The end finally came in 1983, when Corgi Toys were forced to call in the Receiver after years of staving off the inevitable, ironically just three years after the demise of their greatest rival Dinky Toys. An era had passed into history.
The Corgi story does not end in 1983 however as a management buy-out saw the company re-formed as Corgi Toys Limited in March 1984. This company continued to produce toy cars and trucks but in smaller numbers than before. The workforce grew but the high costs of running the factory at the Fforestfach site became difficult. Competition was now wholly in the form of products which were being manufactured overseas leading to management moving some of the moulds to China and setting up a joint venture company with a Hong Kong company called Flying Dragon. At the same time it took on contract work producing non toy items. In 1989 the management sold the brand to Mattel and the factory was retained under the name of Microlink Industries Ltd. 1995 saw the end of ownership by Mattel with another management buyout resulting in the birth of a new company Corgi Classics Limited. This name has managed to establish itself as the market leader in the adult die-cast collectable market. For today's collectors, however, the original Mettoy owned Corgi Toys brand has left a vast legacy of models for collectors to track down at toy fairs, at auctions and on the internet.
'The Great Book of Corgi' by Marcel Van Cleemput, who headed the Corgi design team from 1956 to 1983, is the definitive work on the subject and features hundreds of full colour photographs from the author's collection. ISBN-10: 1872727190, ISBN-13: 978-1872727196.