Obscure Brands Posts

Odd, Obscure, Out-of-the-Ordinary: 10 More Unusual Model Car Brands

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Over the past couple of years, we’ve shared some brands of diecast vehicles that are off the beaten path, obscure, or just plain odd. Some of them are offshoots of famous brands, some of from other countries and never widely distributed worldwide, and some disappeared quickly for various reasons. Some of these unusual model car brands have strange histories, some occupy weird niches, and some of them make really exquisite models. What they have in common is that you haven’t heard of most of them… until now.aurora vibrators

Aurora Vibrators

The original early 1960s Aurora slot cars were slow, and not really ideal for racing. And they emitted a loud buzzing noise, resulting in the name “Vibrators.” Yikes! In the mid 1960s, the company upgraded the chassis for performance with faster engines and wider tires (which sometimes required cutting a bigger fender opening on older castings. And despite the loud name, the new ThunderJet chassis was also much quieter.

AJ’s Race Savers

aj's race saversSpeaking of slot cars, AJ’s was best known for their accessories and “hop-up” kits to make your cars perform better. They created their own segment of slot vehicle, however, with the Oscar Track Cleaner. These were futuristic street cleaner designs that actually functioned to clean the metal electrical rails in the tracks. The design was expanded to add ambulances and other trackside vehicles. Neat and clean!

Maxwell Toys

maxwell toysVehicles from this Calcutta brand fell into two categories: crude knockoffs of other diecast brands like Matchbox and Tootsietoy, or crude original models inspired by other diecast brands. There is something sadly funny about the ill-fitting, weirdly proportioned parts that makes you want to give them a home. Also, the box art is pretty great across the board.

Fine model

This was a curious brand from Japan… Every modestly detailed 1/43 car they made appears to be a sedan shape. No fastbacks, convertibles, wagons, trucks. Just sensible, Japanese sedans. Nothing fancy. Just, well, Fine.

Kawabata Kikaku

Kawabata Kikaku mazda cosmoLike Fine Models, this company made only models of 1/43 JDM vehicles. Unlike Fine, they were a bit better detailed and had a lot more variety, including sports cars, wagons, ragtops, and even a nice miniature of the legendarily strange and wonderful Mazda Cosmo.

Nakajima Dreamcar

Nakajima DreamcarAnother obscure Japanese brand, this company thought outside the box. Their niche was fantastic concept cars like the Ferrari Modulo or the Fiat Abarth Coupe 2000. These are cars that largely don’t exist from other diecast companies, so they are rather unusual.

Amaze-A-Matics

hasbro amaze a maticsIn the late ’60s, Hasbro produced “The Fantastic Car with a Brain.” These models were propelled by a drive system similar to an old computer punch card that dictated when the car would turn, stop or back up. The first batch included an early GT-40 and three very rare American concept cars. In fact, this might be the only model of the Buick Century Cruiser show car ever made. Later models (a Dune Buggy and a VW Beetle) were designed for customization including larger rear wheels and other features. These were released as Computacars by Mettoys in the U.K.

Wiz-z-zers Spin Buggys

This was a spin-off from another toy… literally. In the early ‘70s, Mattel created a line of gyroscopic spinning tops called Wiz-z-zers. Instead of the old method of pulling a string to spin the top, these had a built in friction motor with intense gearing that would let them spin for a really long time when revved up on that delicate hardwood floor. (Sorry Mom and Dad!) As cool as that was, the company also made the Spin Buggys (sic), a pair of vehicles that were motivated by firing up the top and dropping it into a hole in the roof so it engaged the rear axle for instant acceleration. You could choose from a blue funny car-esque model or an orange C-Cab delivery van. Both were made of thin, lightweight, flexible plastic, so while they moved quickly, they were also very delicate and few examples have likely survived.

The Essence Of The Car

essence of the carThis is a case where odd is beautiful. Imagine illustrating the most iconic features of a unique classic car in a few brush strokes… The Essence of The Car basically does that in 3 dimensions. These models are really abstract sculptures that use minimal shapes to unmistakably capture, well, the essence of a particular design.

Avon

avon mail jeepSure, you could give your 1970s man aftershave for Fathers Day or his birthday… but if that scented, burning liquid came in a car-shaped bottle, even better. Avon offered their wares in all kinds of shapes (including a mail box for the “First Class Male.”) But the most collectible were the vehicle based ones such as a Ferrari, Jaguar XKE, Corvette, and a U.S. Mail Jeep for that “Extra Special Male.”

Did you have any of these when they were new? Do you collect them now? Let us know in the comments!

10 More Off-The-Beaten-Path, Obscure, Odd Model Car Brands

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Over the past couple of years, we have shared some brands of diecast vehicles that are off the beaten path, obscure, or just plain odd. Some of them are offshoots of famous brands, some of from other countries and never widely distributed worldwide, and some disappeared quickly for various reasons. Here’s another batch of Odd Model Car Brands that fit all of those categories and then some…

Tonka Totes

Tonka Totes Dune BuggyWhen you think of Tonka, you usually think of indestructible metal vehicles like the Mighty Dump truck. But in 1971, Tonka tried something completely different. The Totes line were all plastic, including flexible axles that were unfortunately a bit too soft. Despite the neat designs and sparkly plastic, kids were disappointed when the wheels broke off, so the line was discontinued after only a couple years.

Weird Wheels

structo weird wheels dune buggyNot to be outdone by Tonka, Structo, another brand known for rugged metal vehicles got weird in 1971. Their Weird Wheels vehicles each featured one axle with two wheels. The bodies were designed with most of the weight underneath the axle, so the cars always rode upright. The first models featured recognizable cars (VW Beetle, 1930s hot rods, a dune buggy) and the second group got a bit wackier with an airplane, UFO and caveman in a hot tub. Weird indeed!

Mini Lindy

Mini Lindy camperAmong model car kits, Lindberg tends to fall a notch below more popular brands like AMT and Revell in terms of quality and detail. In the early ‘70s, they briefly hit it big with their Mini-Lindy series. Each kit was about 1/64 scale, although each car was scaled to take advantage of the same size wheels. So the AMC Gremlin looks giant compared to the School Bus. Priced at 79 cents a kit, and available in a rainbow of colors, these models were all the rage for a few years.

Imposters

aurora imposters vwAurora had been making a name for itself in model kits and slot cars for several years when they unleashed the Imposters series in the early ’70s. The short lived offshoot consisted of three mild mannered cars… A VW Beetle, A Ford Pinto, and a 1940 Willys Coupe. When these brightly colored cars were wound up, they would move slowly for a bit… and then the body popped up, the chassis extended, and the transmogrified dragster took off quickly. These were big and heavy (bigger than 1/18 scale) and pretty impressive to see in action.

Vatutin Electromechanical Toy Factory

Vatutin FerrariNothing remarkable about this brand, really… they made a series of crudely detailed 1/43 European cars with opening features. And they were never widely available in the U.S. But that company name… Wow!

Saratov Laboratory of Minimodels

SaratovAnother company probably most noteworthy for an amazing name. Their 1/43 models of Russian marques featured modest detail and lots of opening parts (all four doors on some sedans). In truth, this lab was really just concocting rehashes of other Russian brands, most notably Radon Models (also a great name!)

System I-Leg

System I LegIsn’t that the Lego logo? The billion dollar Danish company that makes plastic building toys? Yep. Before becoming the multimedia juggernaut they are today, Lego made a series of plastic and metal vehicles from HO to 1/43 scale. From 1955-1970, new offerings were all plastic, and approximately HO scale. None of them had a single element that allowed you to attach a Minifig, although their display cases did.

Wannatoy

WannatoysWannatoy? Of course you do! This company made incredibly simple plastic cars and trucks… A car might consist of a one part body and a pair of single piece wheel and axle assemblies. For something more elaborate, their “Bubble Top Coupe” included a fourth piece, the clear canopy.

VinylLine

Vinylline Mercury CougarHere’s another company that offered single piece bodied cars, but with more accurate detail and scaling than you usually see. And they made some desirable cars like the BMW 2500 and first generation Mercury Cougar. Color choices were odd (yellow wheels?) and they tended to warp, which is common for this kind of toy.

Shot Wheels

Shot Wheels

wacky packages shot wheels stickerSince the late 1960s, Topps has produced Wacky Packages, a series of stickers and cards that feature parodies of famous products, including “Shot Wheels” cars. (“Cheapest heaps in the world! Guaranteed to self destruct!”) The sticker only showed one model, the lemon-shaped “Lemlin,” but over the years, various customizers have built real models featuring punny twists on the names of real Hot Wheels cars (Squirting Image, Dead Baron, etc.). These were not just one offs, either… in some cases, the cars had a limited run of 300 or so produced models, selling for more than a lot of Super Treasure Hunts or other collector favorites. To people of a certain age, these are the perfect combination of nostalgia and snotty humor.

More Colorful Model Car Brands You Might Not Have Heard Of

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

A while ago, we shared a list of unusual Model Car Brands with strange histories. The response we got was terrific, so we did another list. Since then, we’ve dug up enough other odd brands to compile yet another batch of model and toy cars you may have forgotten (if you ever heard of them at all.) All in all, this round of models comes from seven different countries if you’re counting!

Dream Become True

Dream Become TrueNo, that’s not a typo, it’s just clunky translation. This company started as “Dream Become True”, possibly playing off Chinese auto company Build Your Dream. They then changed it to “Dream Becomes True” which is still kinda clunky. Their main offerings are Model Cars in 1/32 and 1/24 scale, which are fairly detailed and include working parts as well as lights and sounds.They also make some pretty basic models of mostly high end exotic cars in 1/64, including about the only model of the Koenigsegg CCX available and, even if the doors don’t open correctly.

Gay Toys

gay toys school busSimple, inexpensive toys molded in color… what could go wrong? The sheer coincidence of the name unfortunately became a headache for the company, (parental objections, etc.) so they didn’t produce many models under this brand. And well, when you try to do a search online for them, well, just make sure you keep “safe search” turned on. Even better, look for them on hobbyDB instead.

Quiralu

QuiraluQuiralu models were made in France in the 1950s and ’60s and included several microcars. The company and their models went into hibernation for many years until the original molds were resurrected in the late ’90s. They were used again to make a limited number of models with the same body castings but slightly different tinplate base and window glazing. The colors for each generation are often loud and fun.

Radon

radon model carThe name Radon probably doesn’t have any strange connotations in Russian like it does in other parts of the world. These cars are cold war relics, from a Russian state factory. They are mostly 1:43 scale diecast Soviet vehicles, including marques that aren’t likely to be reproduced in any other country. As a bonus, they do a lot of limos and other service vehicles, which are always neat to look at.

Rextoys

rextoysThis Portugal based company is best known for their models of 1930s American cars. Detail is simple, but the cars sometimes come with well-known passengers… You can get the Cadillac V16 Convertible with President Franklin D. Roosevelt riding in the back, or, if you prefer, Italian actress Cicciolina. But not together, even though that would be really awesome!

Simba

SimbaThey Farbwechsel when they Temperaturwechsel! Simba, despite the very elephantine name, was a German company that made mostly models of German marques. Their color change cars were revolutionary at the time, as they were among the first where the color depended on the temperature of the water.

Smelly Speeders

Maisto Smelly SpeedersSure, these look like standard Majorette models. Except they have some odd color combinations, especially the brightly colored tires. And when you open them, well, the reason for the name becomes obvious. Each car was scented in generally favorable aromas such as coconut or strawberry, not unlike those emanating from your car air freshener. Unfortunately, if you find one in the package, there’s a good chance the scent has worn off over the decades.

Tomte-Laerdal

Tomte-LaerdalStarting in the 1940s, this company produced primarily models of German cars but also one of an American military Jeep. Bodies were made of a single piece of rubbery plastic in a single color (some look kind of swirly) with a separate clear windshield in some cases. Details were crude at best. Later models mostly eschewed the clear parts for solid molded windows. Based on their Datsun 240Z model, it’s safe to say they were still making these at least into the early 1970s.

Starmada

StarmadaStarmada is fairly new to the model car business, debuting at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg in 2009. They offer mostly European marques with a heavy emphasis on Mercedes-Benz. These are sold under the name Brekina in many countries. Two really neat things about them… they make a lot of odd body styles such as limousines and hearses. And if you can believe it from the photos, these cars are 1/87 scale, some of the most detailed cars you can get for an HO railroad.

Victory Industrial Products

Victory Industrial ProductsVictory Industrial Products or VIP was a small company that began its life during the second world war in a boat house which stood directly alongside Kingston Bridge in Hampton Wick near London. It was founded by two men, Captain William John Warren and Gerald Fenner Burgoyne who set up the company to manufacture small electrical components for the Ministry of Supply. Not quite nanotechnology, but the components were useful for making model trains, 1:20 plastic models and 1:32 slot cars. They were mostly odd, utilitarian cars, but charming in a huge way.

Do you have any favorite odd brands we haven’t covered in these articles yet? Let us know in the comments!

More Odd Brands From the Island of Forgotten Toy Cars

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

A few weeks ago, we shared a list of unusual car brands with strange histories. The response we got was terrific, so here’s another batch model and toy cars you may have forgotten if you ever heard of them at all. All in all, these models come from seven different countries if you’re counting! These models from the Island of Forgotten Toy Cars are even more obscure than the last batch!

Muky

Muky

There’s something familiar about Muky model cars, even if you’re not at all familiar with the brand… Many of their models bear a (ahem) strong resemblance to various Hot Wheels offerings. These cars were obvious knock-offs from Argentina, but the mold and decoration quality suggests a copy of a copy of the original. Or were they? Some Hot Wheels historians believe the molds were sold to this company, and that Mattel no longer owns them.

Alskog Design

Alskog

Approximately 1:43 scale, these models are molded in bright, soft plastic with oversized wheels and cartoonish proportions. The design and materials of these cars resemble the rubbery plastic cars of the ’50s, but they are much newer than that. This Swedish company began in the mid ’60s and has produced much more recent models including late 1980s Volvos (did we mention they’re Swedish?)

Best Box

Best Box

Why settle for Matchbox when you can have Best Box? This Dutch company designed them to be cheap competitors to the 1960s Matchbox offerings, but these less detailed cars didn’t make the leap into Superfast territory. The brand was later renamed into Efsi and the molds are now owned by Holland-Oto but are not in production anymore.

Dream Tomica

Dream Tomica

What. The. Truck? This very strange series of models inspired by Japanese anime includes some really weird mashups of overly cute animals and cars/trucks/buses. The series also features some almost but not quite realistic models, which seem out of place at first. These other cars are based on illustrations from the Initial D comics and cartoons, so they actually fit in.

Phat Boyz

Phat Boyz cars

The scale on these cars is hard to pin down… from the side, they are slightly larger than a Micro Machines car, but as you turn towards the front, they are about twice as wide as they should be. The effect can be sort of dizzying.

Anguplas

Anguplas

These plastic 1/87 scale cars from Spain are ideal for a model railroad but might need a little work to fit in. The detail is very basic, and they had a tendency to melt and warp over the years. Still, these represent some fairly unusual models, so improving them might be worth it. Or you could try to find the Eko versions of these cars… This better-known company bought the molds in the mid-60s and continued to produce some of them using better materials.

Jo-Han

Jo Han

This company made numerous dealer promo cars in the 1960s for marques such as Rambler, Studebaker and DeSoto, as well as ambulances and hearses. The molds were only in use for one year as promos, but someone at Jo-Han had the brilliant idea of re-releasing many of them as kits, an idea for which we should all be grateful. The original castings were usually curbside models with no opening features, so the kits often were modified to include underhood detail and sometimes custom options or even working steering. Jo-Han kits enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s and were most recently produced sometime around 2013.

Sabra

sabrachevelle

Sabra was a model car company from Israel that produced some very nice models of mostly American cars from the late ’60s through the early ‘70s. The full name of this line, “Gamda Koor Sabra,” translates roughly to “Israeli-born midget toys.” Given the ongoing state of conflict in the area, their model of a 1964 Chevelle station wagon in United Nations livery seems appropriate.

Midgetoy

Midgetoy

Like many other companies in the immediate post WWII era, A&E Tool And Gage Company found themselves scrambling to keep their machines running after their military products were no longer needed. As mold makers for Structo Toys, who made 1:12 and other large scale vehicles, they decided to apply the same technology to a smaller scale around 1:64 or so. Since the bodies were created with a simple two part mold, detail was seriously compromised, but in a way that’s actually kind of charming and fun. Many of their vehicles featured full wheel skirts which made production easier, and gave them a sort of futuristic look.

Winna

Winna

These were similar in construction to the Midgetoys, right down to the hidden wheels. Made in the 1930s, the designs were not based on any specific models and the brand is largely forgotten. But seriously, when’s the last time you saw a Bakelite model sports car with a clockwork motor?

Ten Model Car Brands With Unusual Histories

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Anyone who’s collected model cars for any amount of time has become acquainted with the major diecast brands as well as some of the small-market, niche-oriented companies. There are a lot of older brands that have gone by the wayside, or have been bought and sold so many times you aren’t sure who they are anymore. Here are a few diecast oddities to add to your collection.

Jet Wheels/AMT Pups

jet wheels amt pups mustang

Jet Wheels was a company that made realistically proportioned 1:65 scale models with working suspension and opening hoods or other features. The earliest cars from the late 1960s were in fact made by AMT, (they called the series “Pups”) who then sold the business and the molds to Mego. The original range of 8 American street cars was augmented by a series of Formula 1 cars as well as some garage and track accessories. Some of these were later released under the Tuffy and Super Speedy names, but they eventually faded into history..

kenner fast 111'smini macks dump truck

Fast 111’s

Kenner’s foray into 1:64 scale diecast only lasted a few years in the late 1970s, but they made some interesting cars. Some of them were souped-up models of production cars, while others were far-out fantasy rides. What tied them all together was the rear bumpers, which stuck out and angled upward so you could read the license plate. Each of these cars represented a different state, so the plates were kind of a big deal. The packaging also had a neat feature, a transferable “title” that was to filled out by the kid who bought it and then filled out again if it was traded or sold. Clean copies without writing on the back are somewhat rare these days.

Mini Macks

This range of toys included a variety of construction equipment such as dump trucks, loaders, and tractors, not all of the Mack brand vehicles. This was one of several brands available from Zee Toys in the late 1970s. Detail is surprisingly vague, as they appear to be direct, unauthorized knockoffs of Matchbox cars from a few years earlier. With different wheels and the wording removed from the base, they just seem a bit “cheaper” than the originals.

Zylmex

zylmex ford thunderbird model a

zulmex supervan barris

Here’s another brand from Zee Toys, one that tried a little harder than Mini Macks. Detail is again pretty basic, especially the interiors, but at least they were trying by creating their own original molds. And they even made a model of the George Barris SuperVan, so that has to count for something, right?

tough wheels 32 ford

Tough Wheels

This was a brand of inexpensive, crudely detailed cars perfect for letting your kids play with in the sandbox. In a strange twist, instead of these cars being based on another well-known brand, the molds served as the basis for a revival of another popular brand. In the early 1980s, as Dinky was headed for bankruptcy, Kidco rebadged some of these cars under the Dinky name, a sad step down in quality. Despite the crude detail, Tough Wheels managed to score a few licensed properties such as M*A*S*H vehicles.

Burnin’Key Cars

burnin key cars

Then there were the Burnin’ Key Cars, a subset of Tough Wheels. These came with a very cool feature: a spring-wound motor that was activated by a slightly out of scale key. As with the Tough Wheels brand, they managed to finagle licensing deals with some popular TV shows, including Magnum P.I. and Knight Rider. For several years, the Burnin’ Wheels name lived on as a Matchbox brand and then again as part of Maisto. Each change of ownership brought vastly improved designs and packaging.

Doepke

doepke jaguar

You may not recognize the name, but if you’re of a certain age, you should know their cars… Doepke started off as a family company in 1946 making military vehicles and other toys. The owner’s mother suggested they make some more peaceful toys, so they created some very large scale kits, about 1:12 scale, of a Jaguar XK120 and an MG TD… The bodies are made of thick diecast metal, while other parts were white metal, plastic or stamped steel. Both cars featured working steering and suspension. The MG was branded as the “MT” so they may not have had the rights to produce that particular model. While only available for a few years, these kits were huge sellers at the time.

Fresh Cherries

fresh cherries

Hard to say if these models were meant as a sincere tribute or something of an ironic joke. This division of Motor Max made models of Pintos, Gremlins, LeBaron wagons and such… not exactly the keys to real-life excitement. On the other hand, it’s been hard to find models of these cars if you did want them, and Fresh Cherries cars were nicely detailed with delicate luggage racks and other bits. They came in several scales including 1:24, 1:64 and 1:87, all in high quality packaging. They even did 1:16 radio controlled versions of some of these cars, and you have to admit that’s beyond awesome.

Grell

grell trabant camper

It’s understandable if you don’t recognize this brand… This German company made mostly promotional models of Trabants and Wartburgs and Moskviches that were given away not in cereal boxes, but in cases of beer! In fact, only a few of their models represented common Western European marques like Volkswagen or Jaguar. Some of their packaging evokes a strong Cold War era image, something you don’t see every day at any scale.

hallmark road rover

hallmark road rover

Hallmark Road Rovers

Wait, Hallmark? Like the card company? Yep! In the early 1970s, Hallmark introduced a series of overtly cartoony cars called Road Rovers, which looked almost like balloon creations. They were roughly the size of 1:64 scale cars, but because they are so oddly proportioned, scale is irrelevant here. The early cars were all metal and represented familiar vehicle types such as fire trucks or Volkswagen Beetles. After a decade hiatus, the brand was revived in the mid 1980s with plastic bases. The new line included reinterpretations of several of the originals plus designs that transformed objects such as vacuum cleaners or piggy banks into cars.