Frank Hornby started his business Meccano in 1901, opening the famous factory at Binns Rd in Liverpool in 1914. Shortly after World War 1 he began to manufacture model trains under his own name. In 1931 the company introduced a range of die-cast 1:43 scale accessories for the Hornby train sets, called Modelled Miniatures, including station staff and passengers. In 1933 the first Modelled Miniatures die cast vehicles were released, renamed the following year to Dinky Toys.
By 1956 over 400 models were being, produced by Dinky Toys, yet with the launch of Corgi Toys that year (“the ones with windows”) Dinky was faced with its first real competition. We should point out here that most die-cast model cars, from even the earliest, had open window apertures. It was Corgi that introduced clear plastic windows within the frames.
In 1958 Dinky also introduced ‘windows’, soon followed by many more features as the battle to win the pocket money of children worldwide became increasingly tough.
By the time they released their first models of the Mini features such as windows, interiors, steering wheels, suspension, treaded rubber tyres and ‘steering’ were standard.
Like Corgi, Dinky worked closely with car-makers such as BMC and had access to plans and cars before their public release, in order to get models on the market quickly. However, the Meccano factory also boasted an in-house toolmaking department at its Binns Rd factory.
Some Dinky Toys even came with realistic registration plate stickers applied. These mimicked real UK registrations, and designated when the model was built. This allows a collector to verify the approximate age of their model, allowing for the inaccuracies of mass production in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Twins Were A Hit!
After being beaten to the release of the first model Mini by Corgi, Dinky focused on making a first of their own and in May 1961 released simultaneously the first models of BMC’s ‘Morris Mini Traveller’ (No. 197) in cream & the ‘Austin Seven Countryman’ (199) in pale blue – both with red interior and painted ‘wood trim’. The “twins” were a huge hit, with a production run spanning 11 years.
In 1966 the 197 was also available in Almond Green with a yellow interior, after which both the cream 197 and the blue 199 could occasionally be found with a yellow interior. The 199 came in several shades of light blue throughout its life, from smoke grey blue to bright sky blue. In 1970 in an attempt to revive sales the 197 was released in fluorescent lime green and the 199 in fluorescent orange (often described as pink).
Some of the more unusual variations to find are the factory ‘errors’; the 197 Morris Mini Traveller with the body casting from the 199 Austin and vice versa. In the Dinky factory if one body casting temporarily ran out it was unofficially accepted to cover the shortfall with the other body casting. Interestingly, while some collectors seek variations such as these, others won’t collect them.
Austin Mini Van
Dinky’s next model Mini, released in July 1964, was the ‘AA Patrol Van’ (274), a new casting (larger than the 197 & 199) of the Austin Mini Van with opening rear doors and roof sign. Initially painted in all over yellow with a dark blue interior, the 274 was made for the next nine years, eventually revised to have a white roof and new AA Logos.
Corgi Toys didn’t release their first Mini Van (the 448 police van) until October the same year, and the Spot-On Mini Van from 1962 didn’t have opening rear doors!
The ‘Mini Election Van’ (492) based on the 274 casting was released in October 1964. Complete with placards announcing “VOTE for SOMEBODY”, an election candidate, microphones, amplifier and roof-mounted loudspeakers, the 492 was timed to coincide with the UK General Election. The election van theme was a strange choice for a child’s toy and was an instant flop, withdrawn by early 1965 and never making it into a catalogue.
With the fragility of the accessories and the small production numbers, the 492 is hard to find in presentable condition and highly sought after by collectors today.
In November 1965 Dinky released the ‘RAC Patrol Van’ (273), presented in the dark blue and white livery of the RAC patrols, with a red interior. The 273 was produced for five years, after which the remaining red interiors were used up in the 274. Of course there are examples of both with each other’s interior.
Joseph Mason Paints commissioned a special run of 650 Austin Mini Vans in their signature maroon as part of a sales promotion during Christmas 1969 for the “coach finishing trade”. Of course, with so very few made they were hard to obtain even when new, consequently the Joseph Mason Paints van is one of the most sought after model Minis from any manufacturer.
Mini Mini Mokin’
Introduced in May 1966, the ‘Austin Mini-Moke’ (342) was the first die-cast toy Moke made by any manufacturer. The 342 came in various metallic green shades, from aqua to dark green, with hood colours from dark grey or light brown to almost white. The 342 was one of the cheapest toy cars in Dinky’s range and proved very popular.
Only a few months later, Dinky released what was to become their longest selling model Mini; the ‘Austin Para-Moke’ (601). The Para-Moke came complete with a detachable assault platform and camouflaged (610mm diameter) parachute that actually worked! This gave an incredible amount of play value, enough so for Dinky to keep the 601 in production for 12 years.
It seems remarkable, then, that Corgi never produced a Moke.
The third Moke released (1968) was the 106 ‘Prisoner Mini Moke’. Based on the Mokes used as taxis in the cult British TV show ‘The Prisoner’, the 106 was white with gold trim and a red and white striped canopy. This is now one of the hardest Dinky Mokes to find in good condition, and therefore one of the most sought after.
The final Dinky Moke was ‘Tiny’s Mini Moke’ (350), from the children’s TV puppet show “The Enchanted House”, in 1971. In orange with yellow and white striped canopy, the 350 included a figurine of ‘Tiny’ with a hole in the canopy to stick his head through. In production for just over a year, this is now the rarest Dinky Moke.
Dinky Mokes all had a removable canopy, rear mounted spare wheel and lift up bonnet revealing a ‘detailed’ engine.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 28 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>50</plumshop> <plumshop>51</plumshop>