Thursday July 21, 2016
Written by Andy Roberts
In the formative years of many people of my vintage (i.e. those born the year of the moon landing and the debut of the Austin Maxi), there were two principle methods of acquiring a new Corgi model.
The first was to wait until a birthday or Christmas; that die-cast toy shaped present under the tree was as much a sign of a splendid day as much as Morecambe and Wise, several helpings of After Eight Mints, and several relatives snoring during the Queen’s Speech.
However, the central problem for so many of us was that such days occurred but once a year whereas our plan was to have an entire (replica) garage full of Corgis. We would scan brochures for old favourites such as the Batmobile or new models such as the Lotus Elite, before undertaking some heavy duty window shopping. A newsagent might have a small display cabinet underneath the bottles of Trebor pear drops, and there was the even more tantalising option of a branch of Gamleys in the newly opened local precinct. Meanwhile, an increase in pocket money had to be negotiated, and possibly extra washing-up duties endured until, after far too many weeks, the funds for the purchase of a blue Jaguar XJ12 Coupe had been painstakingly acquired. It was a proud moment in my life up to that date, one on a par with being promoted to blackboard monitor.
This was a buying pattern of several generations of Britons; one established when the first Corgi toys were proudly displayed amongst the kites and spinning tops of a Ladybird book style toy shop on the 9th July 1956. Their launch slogan was ‘The First with Windows’ and this was quite a selling point as their Dinky toy rivals would not have this feature until 1958. After all, if 1/6d worth of lawn mowing wages were to be invested in a die-cast model, as opposed to a couple of trips to the local ABC cinema, then only the most accurate representation of a Ford Consul would appeal to the discerning customer.
Four years later, Corgi pioneered opening panels on a British toy car – their Aston Martin DB4 had a working bonnet – but was just a prelude to their breakthrough in 1965. The James Bond DB5 remains in production to this day after over seven million examples, and it remains a prime example of the right model launched at the right time for the right market.
The last-named was often a parent buyer, in part because 9/11d was a sum of money beyond most nine or ten-year-olds and for the reason that it allowed a Hillman Super Minx driving dad to dream about being the Sean Connery of outer suburbia.
That was, and remains, the appeal of Corgi toys – vicarious motoring pleasure. It did not matter if you wanted to be the next John Steed or Mrs. Peel in The Avengers or emulate Roger Moore’s eyebrow-raising exploits in his aquatic Esprit – there was a model to suit your tastes and dreams.
The box for The Spy Who Loved Me Lotus stated that the Bond car within was not actually submersible, a warning that was blithely ignored by countless juvenile 007 fans. A safer option was the silver Ford Capri 3000S from The Professionals, which afforded future motorists the priceless chance to emulate Lewis Collins. But regardless of whether you acquired a Corgi via a postal order from a relative or after months of depriving oneself of Swizzle’s Double Lollies, it would be a purchase always to be remembered.