Spot-On Toys was the last of the “big three” British model car companies, and made its mark with models that were true to scale with each other.
As the last English toy maker to enter the diecast toy market in the 1950’s, Tri-ang Toys needed to ensure their new range of diecast vehicles stood out from the competition. Their strategy was evident in the name - Spot-On Models - a complete range of highly realistic diecast vehicles, roadways and accessories all in a constant - ‘spot on’ - 1:42 scale.
This strategy was bold, yet simple in concept, while providing a high level of play value that added realism and collectability. To put this into perspective, models from Dinky and Corgi, the two manufacturers that dominated the industry in the late ’50s and ’60s, used a ‘sliding scale’ for their models to minimise production costs.
In their ranges, a large vehicle may have been only 1:60 to 1:80 in scale. So when comparing a ‘Corgi’ Routemaster bus (112mm long) to a Corgi Mini (72mm long), the result was hardly realistic. With a scale of 1:42, the Spot-On Routemaster bus is a huge 198mm long and the resulting comparison with a Spot-On Mini at 73mm is impressive, and truly realistic.
Tri-ang Toys launched the Spot-On range in 1959, 40 years after the Lines Brothers Company was formed by William, Arthur and Walter Lines following their return to London after serving in the First World War. The Lines brothers soon introduced the brand name Tri-ang Toys (short for ‘triangle’, as three ‘lines’ make a triangle) and were regarded as the largest toy manufacturer in the world from the 1920s to the 1950s – encompassing several dozen factories and businesses throughout the UK and around the world. The Spot-On range was manufactured in Tri-ang’s Northern Ireland factory on Castlereagh Road in Belfast.
Minis: Spot-On style
Although illustrated in its first and second edition catalogues (published in late 1959 and 1960) as both the ‘210 Morris Mini Minor’ and ‘211 Austin ‘Baby’ Seven’, it wasn’t until late 1961 that Spot-On released its first model Mini - the “211 Austin 7” – available in time for Christmas. The Morris version was never released.
The 1:42 scale gave the 211 a length of 73mm, a mere 1mm longer than it’s Corgi Counterpart (the Corgi 226 Morris Mini Minor). However the Spot-On Mini was also 1mm taller and, true to its name, was close to a real Mini’s correct proportions.
In addition, the 211 featured number plates, a heavy-duty, realistic injection moulded plastic interior, windows, independent suspension, steering wheel and chrome-plated Austin grille, bumpers and headlights. Consequently the Spot-On 211 Austin 7 is still considered to be one of the best mass-produced toy models of the Mini, even now, 50 years after it was first released.
A veritable rainbow
Most Spot-On toys were available in at least four, and often up to a dozen or more, colours. While the 211 was sadly the only Mini saloon released by Spot-On, during it’s five years of availability it was released in at least 18 distinct colours – unusual even for Spot-On.
Since no factory records remain (more on that shortly) it is possible that even more colours are still to be found. Colours that we do know the 211 was available in include; light red, dark red, light green, mid green, dark green, light blue, mid blue, dark blue, turquoise, aqua, light grey, dark grey, light beige, dark beige, mustard, yellow, white and pink.
The 211 also had several interior colours; the common colour was cream, while white and red were much less common. A light blue interior is also known to exist, although extremely rare. These interior colours could be found in any of the different coloured 211 saloons, so the collector certainly has a lot of potential variations to find!
Such variety makes it a near impossible task today for the collector who wants an example of each.
The first model Mini Vans
In 1962 Spot-On released the very first diecast toys of the Mini Van; the 210/1 Morris Mini Van, in red Royal Mail livery, and the 210/2 Morris Mini Van, in dark olive green Post Office Telephones livery. These received the 210 model designation from the unreleased Morris Mini Minor.
Readers may recall the Dinky 197 and 199 from May 1961, but these were the Morris Traveller and Austin Countryman respectively. Dinky’s Mini Van models didn’t appear until July 1964, while Corgi’s first Mini Van was released in October 1964.
Spot-On’s Mini Vans had painted grilles, bumpers and headlights rather than the more usual chromed items. These two vans were some of the cheapest vehicles in the Spot-On range and were very popular, which means that although only in production for three years they are the easiest Spot-On model Minis to be found today.
Spot-On set the trend for years to come, and there has been a plethora of Mini Vans produced since, from numerous companies, sporting these two famous liveries.
The interior colours for the 210 vans were very similar to the 211 saloon, with cream, white and red examples found in both the Royal Mail Mini Van and the Post Office Telephones Mini Van.
Although listed in the 1961 catalogue, the plain 210 Morris Mini Van was never made. A 210 Mini Van was produced, though, as a promotional toy for Wilson Boilers in Glasgow, Scotland, with “Multipac Boilers” decals on a light blue Mini Van. This is the earliest promotional toy Mini Van known.
The Dinky Connection
In 1964, Tri-ang Toys purchased Meccano, which included Dinky Toys and therefore owned two ranges of diecast toy vehicles. Many people, wrongly, believe that Tri-ang chose this point to discontinue the less successful Spot-On range.
However, Spot-On continued relatively unaffected, releasing many new models from 1964 until 1966 and changing to window-style boxes in 1966.
If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 29 of The Mini Experience.