Of all brands of die-cast models and model Minis, one stands out as the best known, and certainly one of the most enduring; Corgi.
The Corgi story began in Northhampton, UK, in 1932 with the Mettoy company formed by Phillip Ullman, a toy maker and immigrant from Germany.
Mettoy made tinplate toys and in 1956 they introduced “Corgi Toys”, a range of small, cheap, die-cast toy vehicles.
For Corgi to be successful they needed more than just a catchy name. By including clear plastic windows in their models and launching with the slogan “the ones with windows”, Corgi Toys had instant appeal, selling over 1.3 million models in their first year.
Their main rival, the long-established Dinky Toys, which had no plastic windows, found their virtual monopoly vanish overnight. Corgi Toys was here to stay.
Although they were sold as cheap children’s toys, in order to capture the imaginations of the children who saved their pocket money to buy one, the playability of each model was of great importance.
Corgi was the innovator in the industry, first to introduce most of the features we now take for granted; windows, an interior, rubber tyres, suspension and ‘steering’.
Corgi Toys were made in a range of scales, loosely based on 1:43, but each model’s size was determined by how it looked compared to other models in the range. Most were deliberately widened because, due to the high viewing angle when being played with, toy cars in the correct proportions often looked long and skinny.
The first model Mini
The first model Mini, world-wide, was the Corgi Toys 226 Morris Mini Minor in light blue, available for sale throughout the Corgi UK re-seller network from 1 February 1960, just over five months after the launch of the full-size Mini.
To make the model, Corgi designers took exhaustive measurements and photographs of a full size Mini, producing highly detailed drawings. From these, a mahogany ‘master’ was hand carved, and prototypes made in different sizes before the design was finalised. Then, the master mould makers in Germany hand carved the steel moulds. Only once the body design was finalised could the vacuum formed interior and window moulds be created, to ensure a perfect fit. The whole process took Corgi around 12 months.
The fact Corgi was able to release their model Mini so early shows that in only a few years it had truly established itself as the market leader. BMC provided Corgi designers with access to the Mini well before it was released, even before the first production Minis started rolling off the factory floor.
This strategy was incredibly successful. Both Dinky Toys and Spot-On had Mini sedans scheduled for release in their 1960 catalogues. However, following Corgi’s 226, they postponed their model Mini sedans for several years. During its nine years of production the 226 sold over 1,667,000 making it the fifth most popular Corgi Toys model ever made!
It was also one of the very few models to be made for almost a decade, with the typical life span of most die-cast toys only two to three years.
In its eighth year of production, the 226 was given a revised casting plus a new dark metallic maroon colour scheme.
This new casting – with more defined doors and improved accuracy for the bonnet and boot lines – became the basis for most of the model Mini sedans from late 1967.
Once the basic casting development had been done, it was a natural move for Corgi to release new models in the Mini range quickly and cheaply, by making minor changes to the tooling – showing badge engineering was as successful for Corgi as it was for BMC.
The most obvious examples are the 225 Austin Se7en in red and (very rare) Primrose Yellow, and the very first Mini Cooper model, the 227 from 1962, which had 24 possible variations.
This provided an enormous range of play-ability for children in the 1960s, and an equally enormous task ahead for dedicated collectors of today!
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 27 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>47</plumshop> <plumshop>48</plumshop>