Flashback Friday With Editor-In-Chief D. Randy Riggs – In Small Scale

In Small Scale – From the Jan/Feb 2016 Issue of Vintage Motorsport

Photo: D. Randy Riggs

Not too many years after growing out of pajamas with feet, like a lot of red-blooded young males, my fascination of wheels began at ground level, cars and trucks I could push around on the carpet while making siren and vroom noises.

Born in the lead batch of baby boomers, most of my peers were as hooked as I on miniature vehicles, and thanks to the new abundance of the era, the postwar manufacturing boom was not only cranking out consumer goods by the millions but also lots of toys of all kinds for kids from coast to coast. Though the ’50s were captured mostly on black and white film, real life with toys could not have been more colorful, even before multi-hued plastics began making a vivid appearance in this realm.

Names like Arcade, Buddy L, Dinky Toys, Hubley, Marx, Matchbox, Smith-Miller, Tonka and Tootsietoy were as familiar to kids as “Fun With Dick and Jane,” and that’s not including American Flyer, Lionel and Mattel, which made different kinds of toys. Hot Wheels were in the future, but by then I was older and had moved on to real cars.

One lucky grade school friend of mine had an Austin J40 pedal car, like the ones the kids race each year during the Goodwood Revival’s Settrington Cup, and I was envious of his good fortune. After all, it had headlights and a horn that worked (!) and a hood and trunk lid that opened. There were even Dunlop pneumatic tires and a leather seat. The cars were actually made by the Austin Motor Company Ltd. in South Wales by disabled Welsh miners utilizing metal scrap cuttings from the Longbridge Austin motor car factory—the J40 roadster based on the 1948 A40 Devon and Dorset. Made until 1971, some 32,000 were produced and they are quite collectible today. I still want one.

There were also promotional models that were popular for a time (some of which were banks), again, usually 1/25th scale or 1/24th scale, with Banthrico, AMT, PMC and Jo-Han in the mix. Typically they were given away at dealerships to prospects or to young lads like me who were tagging along with pop as he looked for a new car.

Though the British and French Dinky Toys remained a favorite of mine and taught me about “foreign cars,” model car kits were the next thing that me and my car pals focused on since interest in promos was fading. Kits offered more detail like opening hoods and parts to add to the engine, interior and chassis. More fun!

My first was a Revell Authentic Kit—a 1956 Buick—and it was an awful model, as far as kits go. At 1/32nd scale the body, instead of being one piece as later AMT and Jo-Han kits were, was molded in sections. So for this newbie model builder, keeping the sections together while gluing them was a huge challenge. The end result was not pretty, with glue smudges showing, but it was a start. At least I was using the glue and not sniffing it, like some in later generations did. By high school, AMT kits occupied a big space on my basement workbench and I eagerly awaited each new release and couldn’t wait to build The Visible V8 engine kit by Renwal.

Nowadays I collect the Dinkys I coveted as a kid, though for treasure searches eBay has mostly replaced antique toy shows, which I miss. However, today we have thousands of collectible models of all types and scales to choose from—detailed in ways never thought possible years back.

On visits to private car collections I always see many scale models blended nicely with the real thing, even mind-blowing, tiny hand-built engines that actually run, or 1/8-scale replicas that can cost $10,000 or more. I’ve seen 1/43rd scale models lined up by the hundreds in glass cases, 1/18 collections of replica stock cars, and those who collect only models of certain brands like Corvette or Porsche—all of it looks so much at home mixed in with road art.

The perfect T-shirt for those of us who collect in small scale reads, “Still Plays With Cars.” That’s because we do!