Baskingshark is a veteran model car collector and former hobbyDB team member. Today he shares some whimsical history of Spain’s foray into character diecast vehicles.
Spain: Home of the Least-Authentic Character Diecast Ever!
It’s widely considered that the British Budgie Toys model of Gerry Anderson’s Supercar was the first-ever TV/movie tie-in character diecast model. And that Corgi’s models of the Volvo P1800 from The Saint and James Bond’s Aston-Martin DB5 were the ones that really kicked the trend into high gear.
But in spite of Corgi’s first Bond DB5 being gold rather than silver (the silver paint available at the time made it look unpainted), one of the biggest priorities for toy companies making these toys was authenticity. The other was, of course, making sure the models were licensed.
Unless you were in Spain.
The Spanish diecast industry had several brands that remained popular throughout the 1960s-1980s including Pilen, Guiloy, Mira and Guisval. Pilen even supplied models to Dinky Toys in its later years. And all of them made some of the least-authentic, least-licensed character diecasts ever.
To start with, there was Starsky & Hutch and their famous Ford Gran Torino in red with white stripe, authentically modeled by Corgi. Wanting in on the action, Pilen decided nobody would notice the difference if they gave their 1/43 AMC Javelin the same paint job and called it “Starsky & Hutch” on the box label. It was a 2-door American, car, right?
Weirdly, however, they did make a much more authentic (although likely equally unlicensed) model in their 1/64 range. This was a new casting of the Gran Torino featuring opening doors and was produced in both red/white and civilian colors as well as in some Police versions.
Not to be outdone, Guisval got in on the Starsky & Hutch action too, using their existing 1/30 scale Chevrolet Camaro model. While Pilen stuck to their standard plastic box for the impostor Javelin, Guisval went all out with special packaging and newly-cast figures of the show’s two leads and a bad guy.
These aren’t even copies of the Corgi ones, surprisingly. They also produced special “Starsky & Hutch” packaging although later boxes say “S & H” on the header cards, which might well have been a lame attempt at avoiding copyright infringement (which it wouldn’t have done since the show’s publicity photos of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul as their characters were still front and center!)
There’s no record of whether either company got sued over the models but it seems unlikely since Pilen didn’t stop there. As the 70s gave way to the 80s, Starsky & Hutch ended their TV run but a whole host of new shows arrived. Including Knight Rider.
Known in Spain as El Coche Fantastico, Knight Rider prominently featured KITT. KITT was, as everyone knows, a talking Pontiac Firebird. But Pilen didn’t have a Firebird casting, or permission from Glen A Larson Productions to make models of the car. So once again, they turned to the models they did have…
Among these was a casting of the Intermeccanica Indra in its 1/43 range. This was bizarre enough already, the Indra being a very obscure sports coupe built in tiny numbers by the small Turin-based company Intermeccanica for sale exclusively in Germany. Definitely not a Firebird.
It did, however, have pop-up headlamps like the Firebird so presumably Pilen figured that was a good enough starting point. And unlike the Javelin, they decided to put a bit more work into this one Modifying the casting, they closed off the rear windows, added a Firebird-esque hood scoop, a rear spoiler, and a slot that sort-of matched where KITT’s flashing front light went, painted the model black, and decided that was enough to make it KITT-ish.
The result was marketed on cards with line drawings of David Hasselhoff as Michael Knight, Edward Mulhare as Devon Mules, and Patricia MacPherson as Bonnie (although their names weren’t mentioned). It was also sold in Pilen’s standard clear plastic boxes as “KITT 2000.” A blue version was also produced.
Guisval sat Knight Rider out but not to be outdone, Guiloy decided they wanted in on the KITT action. They didn’t have a Firebird casting either but still managed to produce two “KITT-adjacent” models in different scales.
One used the 1/43 ex-Politoys Maserati Ghibli casting, also finished in black with an orange sticker on the nose. The other used the 1/32-ish Ferrari 308, done up in the same finish.
Mira, meanwhile, steered clear of TV shows. They were too busy with superheroes; Spider-Man and Superman to be exact. Over in the UK, Corgi had made Superman’s Supermobile – a sort of space-ship thing with pop-out punching fists (weird enough already) and Spider-Man’s Spiderbuggy, a Jeep with a winch that carried a web-net containing the Green Goblin.
Perhaps inspired by this, Mira produced… Superman’s Citroen CX and Spider-Man’s Chrysler-Simca 150.
Quite why Superman would opt for a weird hi-tech French executive sedan or Spider-Man would choose a distinctly lackluster European family hatchback was never on the radar.
Both models were fitted with plastic roof-fin/gun moldings and bright logo stickers. So proud were Mira of these models that they produced them in two scales; 1/43 (Superman | Spider-Man) and 1/64 (Superman | Spider-Man) with the larger versions incorporating figures and lavish header cards.
The last word in this weird chapter of character toy history must, however, go back to Guisval with their model of Baretta’s, er, Fiat 130 Coupe.
Baretta was a detective series which ran from 1975 to 1978 on ABC and starred Robert Blake as unorthodox plain clothes cop Tony Baretta whose favored choice of wardrobe was a newsboy cap and a brown suede jacket. He was frequently aided in his investigations by Rooster (Michael D. Roberts) a pimp/informer who preferred… brighter outfits. Baretta’s car in the show was a beat-up 1966 four-door Chevrolet Impala nicknamed “The Blue Ghost.”
Baretta was nowhere near popular enough – or kid-appropriate enough – to generate any tie-in toys in its home market. Presumably, however, it was well-received in Spain and as a result, Guisval decided that in the absence of an Impala casting, they’d upgrade Baretta to a Fiat 130 Coupe (which they modeled already in 1/30 scale) in spite of the fact that the 130 Coupe wasn’t sold in the US.
They also produced authentic figures of Bareta and Rooster in recognizable outfits to accompany it AND a special box which misspelled the name of the show as “Bareta,” leaving out one “T.” That should fool the copyright lawyers!
All of which adds up to some very strange – but highly collectible – models for diecast enthusiasts and fans of the shows alike. And if anyone knows quite why this is such a Spanish phenomenon, let us know in the comments!
Cool! Also, Johnny Lightning did a bit of the same, I have a couple 1:64 “Mad Max” cars, a Chevelle and a AMX, all movie cars were Aussie Holden’s and Falcons I believe! Lazy manufacturing, “Nobody will notice” LOL!
These are all so great – I had no idea these Spanish diecast were so prevalent! But don’t forget the VW S&H! https://www.hobbydb.com/marketplaces/hobbydb/catalog_items/vw-scirocco-2845e2a0-2986-4cea-bc0e-d0540aa52a5f I thought this one was strange but after having seen all these, not so much any more!
I need all of these. Especially the Starsky and Hutch Javelin!
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