Corgi’s famous model vehicles captured the imagination of millions of baby boomers and, what were once simply toys for boys, are highly sought-after in the expanding collectables market.
Corgi Toys (trademark) is the name of a range of die-cast toy vehicles produced by Mettoy Playcraft Ltd. in the United Kingdom. The Mettoy (Metal Toy) company was founded in 1933 by German émigré Philip Ullmann in Northampton, England, where he was later joined by South African-born German Arthur Katz, who had previously worked for Ulmann at his toy company Tipp and Co of Nuremberg. They decided to market a range of toy vehicles as competition to Meccano's Dinky Toys model vehicles, which had dominated the British market for many years. Corgi Toys were introduced in the UK in July 1956 and were manufactured in Swansea, Wales, for twenty seven years before the company went into liquidation.
The range was exported worldwide and sold in large numbers. Some of the best known and most popular models were of cars made famous in film and television such as the Batmobile, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and James Bond's Aston Martin DB5 – which remains the largest selling toy car ever produced. Although the largest single vehicle type featured in the Corgi Toys range were models of cars from manufacturers around the world, this article sub-divides vehicles into genres, wherever possible, to allow a more detailed look at the variety of models produced by the company.
The first Corgi models appeared in 1956 and covered British-built saloon cars of the period. Names redolent with nostalgia including the Ford Consul, Austin Cambridge, Morris Cowley, Riley Pathfinder, Vauxhall Velox, Rover 90 and Hillman Husky were among the first to be produced. Each model sold for 3/- (15p).
Always at the forefront and to ensure a point of difference from other die-cast vehicles, Corgis were sold as the ones with windows. Other later innovations included Glidamatic spring suspension, opening bonnets and boots and diamond jewelled headlights.
Without doubt, Corgi's best known model is James Bond's Aston Martin DB5. First produced in 1965 and featuring ejector seat and front-mounted machine guns, it was an instant success earning the UK Toy of the Year Award. Priced at around 10/- (50p), by 1968 more than 3.9 million had been sold. At an auction, a rare gold-plated version given only to visiting VIPs to the Corgi factory made £1,300.
One of the top selling models of all time, reaching five million units, is the 1966 Batmobile. Other best sellers include the John Player Special Lotus Formula 1 racing car and the Ghia L 6.4 (which had a moulded Corgi dog lying on the rear parcel shelf).
In 50 years, Corgi has produced models of virtually every type of car, bus and truck. Some of the most sought-after model cars include the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally Mini Cooper S (£300 to £400); the 1966 The Man from U.N.C.L.E's 'Thrushbuster' Oldsmobile (£250-£300) and the 1959-61 Ford Thunderbird Hardtop, pale green body (£175-£200). If you have got the right Noddy car, produced in 1969, lurking in the attic it could be worth an amazing £700 or even more!