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Corgi Cars and die cast toys



Founded in 1956 Corgi has captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of boys with its 60+ years history of manufacturing die cast toys. What were toys to the children of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are now high priced collectable items, with some toys fetching thousands of pounds at auctions today. Corgi still today produce both toys and collectables, with ranges of high quality limited edition aircraft, trucks, cars, buses and TV and Film memorabilia.


Corgi in the Making
Corgi Toys were originally manufactured by Mettoy Limited, founded in Northampton in 1934 by Philip Ullman and Arthur Katz. For the first four years, the company distributed stamped metal toys which were designed and tooled at the factory but manufactured elsewhere. In 1938, Mettoy itself began to manufacture toys in Northampton. With the outbreak of war, production was increasingly turned over to defence contracts and in 1941, toy manufacturing ceased completely.
By 1945, the Mettoy Swansea factory was up and running again and 1946 saw the launch of the company’s first illustrated, full colour catalogue. Three years later, thanks to Mettoy’s success in export markets, a second factory at Swansea was leased. The company moved its headquarters to Swansea in 1952, although design and development remained in Northampton. 

Welsh connections
In 1956, the manufacture of pressure die cast toys began and the Corgi brand was born. The name was chosen because of its association with royalty, and its Welsh connections – the Corgi dog is a Welsh breed and the factory was based in Wales. The name also was short, sharp, and easy to remember. Although die cast miniatures were no longer a novelty, Corgi rapidly became a leader in toy vehicle manufacturing, thanks to its ability to create models with an authentic appearance – cars with windows, interior fittings and opening doors. Ten models went on sale that year, four of which had flywheel motors.



Historic marques
As well as the Ford Consul, the Corgi range also included the Austin Cambridge, Morris Cowley, Vauxhall Velox, Hillman Husky, Rover 90, Riley Pathfinder, Bedford 12cwt van, Austin Healey and Triumph TR2. Towards the end of 1956, the Corgi Collector Club was launched and the following year saw the first-ever Corgi catalogue and Corgi advertising on TV.
The ‘swinging sixties’ was a period of innovation, with the development of intriguing features such as opening bonnets and boots, detailed engines, ‘Glidamatic’ suspension, jewelled headlights, figures and Corgi Kits. Memorable models included the Chipperfield’s Circus, Massey Ferguson tractor and Midland Red motorway express coach. Most memorable of all, with over 10 million sales, was the James Bond Aston Martin DB5, which marked the beginning of a long relationship between Corgi and the Bond franchise.


On top of the world
The sixties were, in many ways, Corgi’s heyday. In 1961, Arthur Katz, Corgi’s managing director, received an OBE for his services to the toy industry and over 7.5 million pieces were sold. Corgi Toys reached its peak in 1967 and became a world leader within the toy industry.

Up in flames
The end of the decade saw the introduction of ‘Golden Jacks’, a series of models with detachable wheels and built-in jacks, and the ‘fantasmagorical’ Corgi model of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, which cost 22 shillings. It wasn’t all good news - in March 1969, a serious fire gutted the Swansea warehouse, completely destroying a year’s worth of stock. The results were devastating and customers turned to other brands for their supplies.

During the 70s, the company’s fortunes changed. Mettoy had experienced a decline in sales in previous years and by 1971 the Northampton factory was dealing with redundancies. The situation improved when the company reached an agreement with Fisher Price to manufacture and distribute their toys to the European market.

Film and TV specials
Mettoy’s new products included Corgi Juniors with ‘Whizzwheels’, designed to appeal to younger children. Other key products of this period were derived from film and TV series, such as ‘The Magic Roundabout’, with its tremendous play value; ‘Batman’, ‘Kojak’, and ‘Tarzan’. In 1977, the James Bond ‘Underwater Lotus Esprit’ model was produced to coincide with the release of the Bond film ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.



Boom years
Peter Katz, son of Arthur Katz, became chairman in 1977. During the following year, the company enjoyed a rapid recovery with peak profits. Aided by advantageous currency rates and a boom in the popularity of toys associated with film and TV, Mettoy recorded an increase in profits. Other manufacturers in the industry were less fortunate – after financial struggles, well-known brands such as Dinky and Lesney went into liquidation.
At the start of the 80s, Mettoy adopted a strategy of diversification and divestment to combat changes in consumer trends. Children were gradually rejecting traditional toys in favour of computers and electronic toys, and the favourable export conditions of the late 1970s were affected by the economic downturn. Sales were down by five million pieces, resulting in redundancies. In 1982, Mettoy launched the Dragon computer, a highly acclaimed family computer. Despite its initial success, the product was never developed sufficiently and failed to keep up with competing brands. A programme of divestment followed but Mettoy could not find a way to survive and save the business.

Management rescue
In 1983, an official receiver was called in; however, by March 1984, a successful management buy-out had taken place, resulting in the formation of a new company, ‘Corgi Toys Ltd’. Under this new title, Corgi concentrated on its strengths – the design and production of high quality die cast models. The company worked hard to win back the confidence of the trade, focusing on two distinct markets: the toy market and the adult collector.
In spite of success and worldwide acclaim, a lack of capital investment restricted Corgi’s range development. In 1990, much of the production switched to the Far East. At the same time, the company was taken over by the giant American toy company, Mattel.

The age of nostalgia
In January 1991, the Swansea factory and offices were closed and Corgi moved to Mattel’s UK headquarters in Leicester. As well as producing models for the traditional toy market, Mattel developed the ‘Classics’ range during the first half of the 1990s, with the emphasis on commercial vehicles of the 50s and 60s - ‘the age of nostalgia’. The authenticity of the vehicle designs and the exceptional attention to detail, combined with the limited production, made these items extremely collectable, and they were soon much in demand.
In the mid 90s, Corgi introduced the ‘Original Omnibus’ range of 1:76 scale bus and coaches, a series of collectable items that are still produced today.

TV favourites
As well as these nostalgic pieces, Corgi continued its interests in the world of TV, with the development of models such as ‘Mr Bean’s’ Mini, ‘Inspector Morse’s’ Jaguar, and the Morris Minor from ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’. During this decade, Corgi experienced yet another change of ownership. A consortium buyout, led by the managing director of the time, resulted in the birth of ‘Corgi Classics Ltd’.


2000 and onwards
The new millennium saw the launch of Corgi Classics Inc, a sales and marketing operation based in Chicago, USA. The UK company moved to a larger premises in Leicester; Corgi’s new Gift Division was launched; and a number of new character licensing deals were secured, including Enid Blyton’s ‘Noddy’, for younger Corgi enthusiasts. Corgi also responded to collectors’ interests and reintroduced models associated with popular TV and film characters, such as ‘Knight Rider’, ‘Charlie’s Angels’, ‘Dr Who’, ‘Red Dwarf, and ‘Thunderbirds’.

Collectable wings and wheels
The early part of the decade also saw the development and growth of the ‘Aviation Archive Collection’, a series of highly detailed collectable die cast aircraft, mainly from World War Two. Corgi also introduced ‘Hauliers of Renown’, a range of 1:50 scale collectable trucks based on the vehicles then travelling the roads of Britain, including those used by world famous transport and logistics company, Eddie Stobart. Both of these collectable series feature in today’s Corgi catalogues.

Memorable models
Within the collector and licensed model categories, the most memorable models of the ‘noughties’ were the Scania R Series Truck, Bond Aston Martin Vanquish, ‘The New Avengers’ Streakers, ‘Captain Scarlet’, ‘Little Red Tractor’, Supermarine Spitfire (with working parts), Bristol Lodekka FS, and the special Corgi 50th anniversary edition Ford Consol. In May 2008, Hornby Hobbies Ltd purchased Corgi for £8.3 million: the company now sits comfortably under the Hornby umbrella of hobby brands.





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