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Magpie - Figure It Out!

Magpie - Figure It Out!

COLLECTING MODEL CARS is one thing – but what about the other side of the coin, the accessories? It rather depends on exactly what you are collecting, of course, and in what scale.

If it’s run-of-the-mill 1:43 diecasts then possibly you’ll come across figures already within the range: take Corgi, for example, with its racing pit crew. Some Corgi toys actually came with figures (often sitting), so in a sense they were ready for action. If it’s bespoke, white metal diecasts that light your candle, then this moves up a gear. Happily you can find 40mm white metal miniatures, usually unpainted, with which to populate your vignette or diorama. If you take a look at the products of Andrew Stadden you’ll find a useful range, all crying out for a coat of colour. These will repay attention to detail but there’s nothing quite like a well-made miniature car flanked by a little boy gawping or maybe a gentlemen from the press with his camera at the ready.

Personally I find the 40mm scale great: the models are not too big and if you go to the trouble of buying a resin base (there’s no shortage of purveyors of slices of realistic tarmac, and Eau Rouge springs to mind here), you end up with something very realistic indeed. However, white metal models, when made up by professionals, don’t tend to be too cheap – so that resultant diorama could signify no little investment.

Collectors of Husky Toys (the offshoot of Corgi, not the furry dogs!) were provided for, though, and with care you can unearth some of the figurines that were retailed in blisters on those distinctive cards.

If, however, you’re not fussed by expensive replicas, and want something bigger than Husky, then it’s the 54mm scale of cars and vehicles that beckons – and here, the plastic toy soldier comes into its own. Civilian figures are to be found, it goes without saying, but if you’re a devotee of the glamour of the race track, then this is where it starts to get interesting. Strange to relate, toy soldier manufacturers don’t appear to have been enamoured with racetracks, preferring to knock out fighting infantry and cowboys and Indians, along with knights in armour, pirates and even subjects of the Roman Empire. Car racing didn’t really get a look-in, which was surprising, given the numbers of racing cars that appeared in manufacturers’ lists.

Anyhow, luckily for us one or two did see the gap in the marketplace - and furnished figures accordingly.

The dominant trend in the late 1960s and early 1970s was, of course, slot racing. But before the slot racing era really took a hold of the nation’s youth, you could still pick up plenty of racing cars in plastic or lead or even tinplate.

Whilst most were bereft of any sort of accompaniment, Kentoy came to the rescue. A UK company which produced a small but varied range of figures (Dan Dare figurines and WW2 infantry give you an idea of the breadth of subject matter), it brought out a set of pit crew that included a racing driver. There were five gents in all, mounted on a well-illustrated card plinth that doubled as a racing pit. One chap carries his helmet whilst another wheels a separate tyre. There’s a fellow with an oil can and spanner (remember, this was the 1950s!) and there’s a chap with the archetypal oily rag.

The final fellow is not dressed in white overalls, wields a huge chequered flag. You’ll find these figures, separately, in job lots of toy soldiers but surprisingly many have survived intact on their card plinths and cost £20 - £30, assuming the errant wheel is still sitting in its cut-out slot.

They are all hand painted and whilst simple in design, they add instant character to any collection of racing cars of the same scale. Look around and you might find some other relevant figures by the same maker: there’s a chap in a duffel coat hunched over his box camera whilst another chap leans on his arm: he merely requires a car for support. Best of all is the pair of St John’s Ambulancemen, running, with a stretcher between them. A far cry from the hi-tech medical teams that populate F1 today, perhaps, but a lovely, imaginative addition to any small diorama.

Because slot racing was the beall and end-all for so many years, it’s hardly surprising to relate that the likes of Scalextric and Airfix provided their own figures. The former produced, in the early days, two groups of four spectators, cleverly moulded together, in pink plastic: these, once painted, would populate the grandstand. Pit crews were made (ideal Xmas or birthday presents for the youngster who already had the track and cars, and maybe even a pit). Retailed in cellophane-fronted window boxes like toy soldiers of the era, these could be found painted. They always looked a bit spindly to my mind, but that’s merely a personal observation.

Airfix, for its part, being wellversed in the arts of injection moulding, came up with a set of 12 figures labelled as track officials and spectators. Within the polybag four different mechanics, a pair of drivers (one sprinting towards his car, presumably in some sort of Le Mans race), a photographer (kneeling – a thoughtful pose), mother and father and child, along with a programme vendor and a spectator in a duffel coat (obviously such apparel was the height of fashion at the time).

These are well-detailed and crisply moulded in white, all waiting some colour. It’s a great little set which does turn up on auction sites every so often – and it’s a real trip down Nostalgia Lane for anyone seeking to recreate the 1950s in this scale.

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Magpie - from p. 4 of issue June 2016
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