Ian McDermott catches up with the model spares market, and is amazed at the quantity of parts available
The first ever mention of producing replacement parts for obsolete die-cast toys featured in Cecil Gibson’s seminal book, Dinky Toys 1934-64. By the late 1970s and early 80s any spares available were mainly for early Dinky Toys, Tootsietoys and Taylor and Barrett, and back then nobody could have predicted it becoming a mainstream hobby. It was also not a given that because old toys were increasing in value collectors would restore play worn examples.
In other areas of collecting such as antiques, mass-produced items in comparable condition were barely considered collectable. However restoring toys became a major pasttime which has given rise to a booming and international trade in spares ranging from tyres for Dinky Toys to lithographed tinplate drivers for Bing limousines.
The last spares review I did for MC was nearly 10 years ago and a lot has happened since. For a long time there were only a few manufacturers of spares whereas now there is an increasing number of entrepreneurial individuals. With the UK’s history of die-cast manufacturing it has led the way with replacement parts in this field. We’ll be looking at what new items have come on stream and the impact of new technology on the hobby.
Tyres and treads
It’s been some time since the only tyres available were the small black ones for Dinky Toy cars. Spare tyres now include Meccano Constructor Car tyres, Chad Valley wee kin Series hollow flange Tyres, tracks for Matchbox tanks and crawlers and, not a moment too soon, tyres for all the Tri-ang Spot-on range.
Continental makers such as CIJ, Tekno and others are getting long-overdue tyres. There are even the coloured tyres of the type used to shod early pre-war Dinky pieces. The internet has really opened up the market. For the first time it’s possible to buy spares from around the world at the touch of a button. Recently I came across some new tyres for pre-war French Dinky with the name ‘Dunlop’ cast onto their sidewalls – a rare part if ever there was one.
America always seems to lead the way in rubber tyres and companies such as The Classic Tin Toy Company do a mind-boggling selection of tyres and wheels for makes such as Hubley, Manoil, Barclay and Kingsbury.
Ten years ago I bemoaned the fact that there were too many repro tyres – white ones in particular made from a stark white plastic looking material. Unfortunately this still seems to be the case in the UK and the cost of manufacture could have something to do with this. Once again the internet will provide an alternative if only real rubber will do.
A decade ago reproduction windows made from vac-formed bubbles were a relatively new and welcome innovation. For so long damaged glazing rendered many an otherwise sound project scrap. Since then demand has made injection moulding cost effective and one can only wonder at the quality and breath of what’s on offer.
So where do I begin? There’s the twin blue tinted screen unit for Corgi’s Batmobile and the clear canopy for Dinky’s FAB 1. Windscreens for Spot-On’s much-prized British sports cars and window units for real rarities such as their Wadhams Ambulance. Just in case anybody thought they weren’t worth the effort of restoring, there are an increasing number of window units available for the early Matchbox 1-75 range, and all in their correct tinted colours too. Great stuff!
It is not just mainstream items either: what about the hardtop for the CIJ Facel Vega? I bet a restorer wouldn’t pass one of those up knowing the hard top was available. For Quiralu’s delectable Messerschmitt bubble car there’s the fragile bubble canopy. If anything due to the nature of the material these window units are even harder to distinguish than the white metal spares. No wonder the restoration market is flourishing.
Colour copies used to be the standard for reproduction boxes but the rise in home computers and new software packages has transformed all that. A decade ago there were only a few key players but fierce competition has pushed standards up, with the result that in some instances the reproduction boxes actually look better than the originals.
This rise in suppliers has made some manufacturers increasingly ambitious, seeing it as a challenge as to who can reproduce the scarcest box. Toy Tent produces boxes (amongst other things) for 50s and 60s Japanese tinplate cars and space toys for which original boxes are invariably scarce. Some of the artwork on the boxes is superb and can really compliment an unboxed item. Although a repro box may do little to increase the value of a model it undoubtedly makes them more attractive.
Collectors of smaller or more obscure manufacturers can now find boxes for their rare models. Wells Brimtoy, Triang Minic and Budgie are all available. How about boxes for the Classic 50s’ Crescent racing cars or Victory’s plastic models?
Where repro boxes really score is the reproduction gift set boxes. Original gift sets by their nature are scarce and expensive but many of the contents were available loose so can be found fairly easily. These repro boxes also make colourful and interesting display pieces in the display cabinet. Take a look at the respective repro boxes for the Corgi and Dinky car transporters and you’ll see what I mean.
For a long time the only way of replacing plastic parts on models was either the resin or painted white metal route, neither of which was satisfactory. As mentioned previously it is now cost effective to produce injection-moulded parts. From the complete lighting unit for the Spot–On Ford Zodiac to the headlamps for Corgi’s Lotus eleven there is not much one cannot get.
Some items that were long-awaited, such as the ladders for the Minic Fire Engine, are now thankfully available. These plastic parts look particularly authentic on a small scale. For the Matchbox 1-75 range there are all the plastic regular wheel types, and for the TV Rental van for example you can get the ladder, aerial and TV set all on the sprue. These small pieces were of course always the first ones to go up the Hoover!
These parts have been a Godsend for TV-related collectors whose models invariably utilise numerous plastic parts. Rocket shells, Thunderbird 4 for the Dinky model and all the figures for Corgi’s Daktari set, etc – you could nearly build a Corgi Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the amount of parts available.
For tinplate collectors there are a range of steering wheels for the likes of Bandai, Gama and Marusan. There are hubcaps for the same, albeit at a price, as it’s the quality you are paying for.
Ironically the only area that seems slightly neglected is plastic models themselves. There is little or nothing available for either Tri-ang’s electric range or for Victory models. It is likely this will change in future like many other areas.
Paint has been a subject of contention for many restorers in recent years. The formulation of enamel paints seems to change on a regular basis and the phasing out of cellulose has made life a little bit harder. Acrylics however can be just as good as cellulose once mastered. Aside from the automotive market the current range of digitally matched paints for old toys is very good. The formulation produces a high gloss finish that is not to everyone’s taste but can be easily flattened off using a cutting compound.
The range of colours available is very impressive. Collectors may complain the colours are not exact without considering that a sizable amount of lead and other chemicals attributed to the hues available years ago, so as such these paints offer an excellent alternative. Of course mixing and brush painting or airbrush application can still achieve results especially if you’re a perfectionist and only the right colour will do,
This is another area where competition has had a marked effect on quality in recent years. There now seem to be a few individuals willing to have a go and some with considerable skill. The old thickly nickel-plated grilles used to repair Dinky’s 24, 30 and 25 series are giving way to crisper, bare castings to be finished by the buyer. Many castings are getting lighter and more well finished, taking a lot of the hard work out of restoration.
There is pretty much everything available and the new generation of casters will also do commissioned work adding a new dimension to the hobby. This process won’t be cheap but if a project warrants it, then why not? In the USA some items are now being cast in Mazak. A good example are parts for the Prameta Jaguar XK120 where wheels, headlamps and bumpers are all available looking and feeling as per original, which will please some and no doubt horrify others.
Home casting is also on the rise as some new collectors see it as part of the hobby, and what could be more satisfying than making your own parts? After all, this must be how many of the commercial producers started out.
Having restored the extremities of two fatigued Dinky 28 series vans using one new copy casting, I’m all for white metal kits based on old models. I’m well aware that model cannibalisation maybe wasn’t in the mind of the manufacturer originally, but it does show another facet to their existence.
These kits are very good for Code 3 modelling and I’ve seen some excellent chops made from a combination of kits and original castings. They looked very good and must have been great fun. The basic premise of having a copy of a rare and expensive original still persists but collectors have explored the possibilities. I will carry on using these castings to restore ‘down-at-heel’ pre-war Dinky toys, which as restorers will know is no mean feat.
Many readers of this magazine will be die-cast collectors but for tinplate fans it’s all changed in the past decade too. Mainly due to the internet, the worldwide market is starting to support the production of more and more tinplate parts.
Here the US excels with the Classic Tin Toy company amongst others making items that are truly works of art. Lithographed tinplate parts have been available for some time in the USA and the standard is museum quality. If you would like a set of printed suitcases for your Bing limousine, look no further. Here in the UK te tin collector’s favourite, Tri-ang Minic, has been well served by Arthur Clapp, who makes accurate and affordable parts. Arthur makes screen and dash units, headlamps, bumpers and even the two-part tinplate wheels.
Other makers such as Steve Flowers can supply the tin grille units, sliding doors for Dustcarts and many more. Arthur’s stocklist, meanwhile, means the Meccano cars and planes are very well served indeed, and others are quickly filling the gaps making even the most playworn specimens successful candidates for restoration.
The numbers of Chinese copies of classic tin toys are providing a good source of cheap readymade spares. The future's definitely bright for tinplate.
Transfers and stickers
In the last spares review I cited the poor quality of some reproduction transfers. It was not unusual to see typefaces badly matched with artwork poorly recreated. I’m happy to say that in the main this is no longer the case, which is down to technology and the pursuit of authenticity.
All the big manufacturers are well served here and there is little that cannot be acquired, but quality varies widely. There are now some excellent transfers available for both the Budgie and Crescent ranges. Tri-ang Spot-On now have practically every transfer available. Even the pressed steel Thames Traders and Routemasters have transfers available, though their sources may take some detective work.
For Tri-ang Minic the range of transfers available is smaller and comparatively expensive, but the quality is superb and shows what can be achieved. Transfers for the Austin J40 pedal car? How many would you like?
Later of course paper stickers replaced transfers on toy vehicles and many of these too are available as reproductions. Due to their simple nature and authentic fitting paper stickers can look very convincing. I recall seeing a Corgi ERF van with repro ‘Moorhouses Jam‘ stickers and it was frighteningly good!
There has never been a better time to restore toys and the sheer variety on offer is testament to increasing demand. Whilst it may be sometimes easy to criticise certain items, it should be remembered that manufactures have to balance the quality of a part with the retail price the market will bear. That said, the quality of the parts has increased enormously over the past ten years and it is hard not to marvel at the skill and ingenuity of the manufacturers: Yes as collectors we really have ‘never had it so good’!
Classic Tin Toy Company
Massive range of parts for all sorts of antique toys.
Quality repro boxes for Dinky, Corgi, Spot-On and many more.
Tel: 01204 845279
Minic, Meccano Constructor, Hornby, Shackleton and more.
Tel: 01985 213783
Glazing, replacement windscreens.
Tel: 01424 722279
Antique and collectable toys and replica boxes
High quality castings.
Tel: 07934 629975
Parts for large scale Tri-ang models including pedal cars.
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